The Loneliness of a Long Distant Future (Dilemmas of Contemporary Architecture)

The Loneliness of a Long Distant Future (Dilemmas of Contemporary Architecture)

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Item Code: NAF893
Author: Romi Khosla
Publisher: Tulika Books
Language: English
Edition: 2002
ISBN: 8185229554
Pages: 260 (Throughout B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.5 inch X 7.0 inch
Weight 650 gm
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About the Book

The loneliness of a Long Distant Future is about the passing of global events and conflicts in some geographical spaces seen through the window of contemporary architecture. It is about the obliteration of existing context (in Kosovo. Jerusalem, Samarkand, Tibet) and the formation of new architectural identities in the twenty-first century. Romi Khosla takes the reader regions that have witnessed catastrophic changes. He recalls the initial concern of modern architecture, of bringing about social transformation through design. He has witnessed the growing disorder in these regions and argues design. He has witnessed the growing disorder in these regions and argues for the need to engage architecture as a solution. In the essays that compose this book, Romi Khosla re-defines the broader social concerns of architecture. He argues for a reconsideration of architecural ideals, even while accepting the need for ethic-free haute couture designer buildings. This is required because of the newly-emergent polarities that are becoming apparent: issues such as order and disorder, state and non-state government, globlization and regional resistances to it. He concludes with two ambitious solutions, conceived as metaphors of architecture in regions where dirty military solutions have been imposed on communities.

About the Author

Romi Khosla is an architect whose design studio is in Delhi. He graduated in Economics from Cambride University, worked with Price Waterhouse in London and then graduated at the Architectural, Association, London. His professional work has always encompassed concerns about economic development and architecture. During the last six years, he has spent considerable time in the Balkans, Palestine, Israel, Tibet, Central Asia and China as a Principal international consultalnt to the UNDP, UNESCO and UNOPS. Romi Khosla’s writings have been extensively published in India and abroad: they include Buddhist Monasteries in the Western Himalayas (Ratna Pustak, Kathmandu,1979) and Future Schools in Palestine(UNESCO, 2000).


While reading Romi Khosla's manuscript I was reminded of a remark made to me by a Hungarian filmmaker when I had visited that country a couple of years ago: 'Thank God the twentieth century is over. It was a terrible century!' I had vehemently disagreed with him at the time. India's independence after two hundred years of colonial rule alone was enough to make the century worthwhile for me. Nowadays I would be less vehement, though on balance I would still adhere to my position.

While the century witnessed, according to Khosla, 187 million deaths through human decisions and actions', its achievements have turned out to be less durable than we had imagined. The collapse of the socialist project of course was momentous, but no less so was the other development of the late twentieth century that was closely intertwined with it, namely, the process of 'globalization' under the aegis of the dominant capitalist powers. This, apart from pushing millions into abject poverty, threatens, with apparently increasing success, to reverse the process of 'decolonization' itself. The abrogation of independence of the third world that was started in the economic realm in the eighties and nineties is now being carried to completion in the political realm, especially after September 11, under the 'Bush Doctrine': 'Whoever is not with us is with the terrorists and hence deserves to be so treated.' I would now feel less confident citing India's independence to my Hungarian interlocutor, for the content of that independence has been, and continues to be, whittled down. It is not surprising in this context that 'abstract futures', as Khosla puts it, are no longer on the agenda.

And yet I would not dismiss the achievements of the twentieth century. Taking India as a 'representative sample', at least two phenomena stand out. First, notwithstanding the betrayed promises of independence, notwithstanding the continued existence of the mass poverty that was bequeathed to us by colonialism (poverty in the modern sense, involving insecurity, which is qualitatively different from what existed earlier), there has been a dramatic improvement in the living conditions of the people, including the poor. This has been largely a result of technological breakthroughs, but independence has helped garner the fruits of these breakthroughs for the benefit of the people. In colonial India people 'died like flies' {what else does a life expectancy of twenty- seven years mean?}; contemporary India is much better off in comparison.

The second phenomenon is an enormous change both in societal relations and, parallely, in the consciousness of the people. The change in relations has been marked by the acquisition of greater rights by the people, while the change in consciousness has been marked by a greater awareness of rights, a greater desire for freedom, and a rejection of hierarchies and, more generally, of fatalism. It is noteworthy that in India, from one general election to the next, the proportion of the underprivileged- dalits, tribals and women - who exercise their franchise has kept going up even as the middle classes have become increasingly apathetic towards the electoral process.

Khosla uses the term 'ancient futures' to capture the turning of backs to 'modernity' that is currently visible in many third-world societies in the wake of the collapse of 'abstract futures'. But the quest for 'ancient futures' is characterized by two features of significance {Hindutva being an exception in both respects}: first, its anti-'modernism' is associated with an anti-imperialism; second, it has not sought to usher in feudal class hierarchies though it has degraded the status of women}. The quest for 'ancient futures', in other words, has occurred within a 'modern' context, eschewing what is palpably unacceptable to the people and being contested where it has not {for example, in the case of women}.

To put it differently, the twentieth century has been marked by an enormous diffusion of the 'bourgeois revolution' from a few metropolitan countries to far-flung corners of the third world. This fact is so little appreciated that a word on it may be in order.

The notion of the 'bourgeois revolution' that we all have identifies it generally with a replication of the experience of the advanced capitalist countries. And since such replication is not possible both because the historical context is different today and more fundamentally because the success of the 'bourgeois revolution' in the west owed not a little to the subjugation of the third world, the tendency invariably is to debunk the vigour of the (arrested and no doubt potentially circumscribed) 'bourgeois revolution' as is occurring in the third world.

This, however, is erroneous. The fact that this 'bourgeois revolution' has not followed the same trajectory as it did in the metropolitan countries, for example, breaking land-ownership concentration, or the fact that it has not ushered in capitalist industrialization rapid enough for meeting peoples' aspirations or for closing the 'gap' with the advanced countries, or even the fact that the autonomy of the bourgeoisie itself has been undermined by imperialism, causing severe tensions within the 'bourgeois revolution', should not obscure the ubiquity of the 'bourgeois revolution' that has been a feature of the third world in the twentieth century. Indeed, the internal and persistent struggles against fundamentalist regimes underscores this fact. furgen Habermas is right in drawing attention to the 'collapse of the utopian energies of the nineteenth century' in recent years, but this collapse has not gone to the point where the people lack the energy to defend their gains in terms of 'bourgeois' rights.

Putting it differently, the collapse of the extant socialist project should not mislead us into believing that the freedom project unleashed by the French Revolution, of which the socialist project constituted a legacy, has also collapsed. Indeed, the collapse of the extant socialist project itself was predicated on the promise of greater freedom. The fact that the ex-socialist countries have taken an altogether different trajectory from that visualized by the protagonists of the change indicates not that the change was not informed by the desire for freedom, but that there were severe constraints imposed by the existing material conditions which always limit the range of possibilities and prevent the spontaneous outcome of peoples' actions from coinciding with their intentions. (The aftermath of the collapse of extant socialism thus vindicates, paradoxically, the truth of Marxism.)

'Modernity', it would follow, is a derived project, derived from the basic project of human freedom. The question that confronts us is: if the socialist project has collapsed and if the reactionary religious fundamentalisms that have sprouted in its place are capable only of stifling rather than carrying forward the project of freedom, then how does the quest for freedom get advanced in the current conjuncture? If there are no 'abstract futures' and if 'ancient futures' are non-starters, then what is to be done? This question constitutes the central concern of Romi Khosla's book. Though it is examined and answered within a discourse relating to architecture, this discourse itself is located within a broader social context.

The specificity of his answer lies in his moving away from an exclusive reliance on the nation-state as the principal agency of change. Whether it was in third-world economies interested in accelerating development in the period after decolonization, or in advanced capitalist economies interested in achieving high levels of activity through Keynesian demand management, or in socialist economies interested in undertaking comprehensive planned development, the post-war period was characterized by a pervasive perception of the nation-state as the agency of intervention on behalf of the people. This role of the nation-state was not confined to the sphere of the economy; it encompassed almost every sphere of social life. The contradiction between an active agency role for the nation-state and the process of globalization which exposes the country to free movement of internationally mobile finance capital, and hence to its caprices, is by now well-known. In the con-text of this contradiction, .while the 'nee-liberals' have advocated a withdrawal of the state from any role other than a mere supporter of internationally mobile finance capital. critics of 'neo-liberalisrn' have argued for a restoration of the agency role of the state by placing controls on the cross-border mobility of finance capital.



Introduction One 1
Prabhat Patnaik  
Introduction Two 9
Rami Khosla  
Abstract & Ancient Futures 21
Countermodernism 31
Awarding Architecture 64
Museums for Another Future 83
The New Canaanites 103
The Long Distant Future 211
Notes 242
Acknowledgements 243
Credits 245
Index 248

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