The last few years have been greatly challenging for architecture in India.
Moving away from straight forward commissions, clients have started seeking comfort in announcing competitions for projects of varying scales, and letting an expert jury panel make the decision of whose design is best suited in terms of context and sustainability.
While the idea of competitions is to nurture talent, whether this really happens entirely depends on who constitutes the jury, the level of transparency with the result and the generally unspoken art of lobbying.
The Tale of Amravati
With the long-awaited bifurcation and formation of Telanaga and Andhra Pradesh in 2014, Amravati, the capital city of Andhra Pradesh, was proposed.
In 2015, the foundation stone was laid and a future city, spanning 217 square kilometers was conceived.
In order to achieve a city that was envisioned to live up to its Sanskrit translation, Adobe of the Immortals, a competition was announced and on 12th December of 2015, Maki and Associates was invited to participate in the concept design of the Government Complex in the Amravati Capital city (it has been stated that Vastu Shilpa Consultants and Rogers Stirk Harbour+Partners had already begun working on the brief before Maki and Associates were invited). The jury consisting of Christopher Benninger, K.T. Ravindran, Ervin Viray, Suha Ozkan, Rajiv Sethi and Keshav Varma, was selected to analyze the results from Maki and Associates, Vastu Shilpa Consultants and Rogers Stirk Harbour+Partners, based on the client’s requirements and in an effort to avoid fee based and other nepotistic discrepancies.
However, as per the recently submitted letter to Vijay Garg, Vice President of the COA, Fumihiko Maki, Principal of Maki and Associates, goes in-depth into how the overall selection and review process for the Amravati Capital city competition was flawed.
There’s More Than Meets The Eye
‘Maki and Associates wins the competition for the concept design of the Government complex of Amravati Capital city.’ The selection of Fumihiko Maki’s proposal was done by an accomplished panel, and announcements of the result and renders of the scheme were publicized greatly across various media outlets. On several occasions, the Government of Andhra Pradesh (GoAP) asked Maki and Associates to make changes to their proposal in order to make the design more ‘Indian’.
At some time during May, 2016, GoAP asked a group of seven Indian architects to submit a scheme for the same Government Capital Complex. While this was done without the knowledge of Maki and Associates, at a later point, they were asked to choose between three of the seven empaneled architects who would be part of the project and act as local architects.
The report by Professor Ravi Anand, who was commissioned by the Capital City Management and Development Corporation to evaluate the empaneled architects was never made public or even shared with Maki and Associates.
During a visit of three Government officials to Tokyo in July, 2016, it is indicated by Fumihiko Maki, that while the visit was extremely tardy, there was a clear desire by the officials for Maki and Associates to work with Hafeez Contractor as the local architect. While Ravi Anand’s report was hidden away, he is reported to have said that his recommendations are against the “political” choices of the APCRDA. Fumihiko Maki also claims to have other sources that confirm Hafeez Contractor was ranked last in Ravi Anand’s report.
On October 24, 2016, Maki and Associates were terminated from the project for reasons that were “demonstrably false”. In early December, it was publicly announced that Foster+Partners would design the Government Capital Complex along with Hafeez Contractor. While the announcement took everyone by shock, no designs or proposals were made public.
Foster + Partners has been selected as the winners of an international competition to design a new £500 million capital for the state of Andhra Pradesh in southeastern India. The brief calls for a new 365 hectare masterplan that will serve as a new municipal capital for India’s eighth largest state, which lost its previous capital, Hyderabad, when state lines were redrawn two years ago.
The capital city of Amravati boasts of being the city of the future, with a population that will reach 11.25 million in just 20 years. With 3,36 million promised jobs, Amravati promises to become a pioneering city.
If we put aside the numbers and look at the Amravati competition fiasco subjectively, what comes to light is the widespread nepotism and corruption that looms deep into the annals of every profession. When the competition was announced and the participating architects revealed, the Indian architecture profession was aghast about the need for a foreign architect to design an Indian city. Over time, brand value has taken precedence over context and indigenous values.
From apartments to airports and now cities, a disconnected design is being favored in an effort to have a foreign architect’s name on the billboards and advertisements.
With the increasing opacity and whimsical atrocity with which competitions are being carried out today, the purpose of going through the effort of hosting a competition becomes questionable.
To quote Jane Jacobs: “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody…”