Fry and Drew: Conference

‘The Influence of Fry and Drew’ Conference, Abstract 12

Claire Louise Staunton and James Price, ‘Subverting modernism through autonomous urbanism’

The film Corrections and Omissions (2013, James Price) presents two cases of anarchic urbanism in contemporary Chandigarh. The first concerns the domestic dwellings built for low and mid-rank government employees in Sector 22, designed by Jane Drew & Maxwell Fry. Residents have defied the Chandigarh edict on a small scale by adapting the buildings to their individual and family needs; by altering the room size, use and the building shape as well as permitting “homeless” low caste families to squat on their allocated land in exchange for services such as cleaning, guarding or ironing.

Secondly, the film introduces to the viewer the off-grid village of Burail. In a struggle to keep perfect order and perfect form within the 56 sectors that make up the city, the temporary slums which appear on the fringes of the grid are systematically flattened by the state. The exceptions to this are the villages that pre-date the arrival of Le Corbusier and his team, and still exist enclosed by the masterplan. Burail lies in the centre of sector 45. Its community has persistently defied all planning regulations, is built along an irregular, diagonal axis; its thoroughfares and alleyways missing from the official city map.

The paper unpacks and allies these two examples of anarchic architecture as a subaltern creation of complex spaces, which subvert the grid, and disrupt several current narratives that de-politicise or renew colonialism. Such urbanism operates within an alternative economy outside of the dominant forces of capital and development and is an inherently political act. The paper proposes that these practices expose the contradiction between the principles of indigenous architecture (Drew 1963, Drew & Fry 1964) which insisted upon learning from the vernacular thus adapting designs for the needs and habits of future Chandigarh residents and the modernist imperative to uphold the truth of materials, which guards pure design from “from whims of individuals” (Chandigarh Edict). Furthermore, this paper suggests that the increasing heritagisation of Drew & Fry’s buildings are antithetical to their ambitions for their architecture and renders the planned districts de-politicised.

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Claire Louise Staunton is the director/curator of Inheritance Projects and Flat Time House, London. Inheritance is a small group of independent curators and researchers (Laura Guy, Becky Ayre) that organises exhibitions, events, new commissions, publications and research projects. Initiated in 2007 as a vehicle to interrogate museological schemata, the narrations of history and personal and national heritage Inheritance has developed into wider territories of investigation. Inheritance works with artists, musicians and writers in collaboration with institutions to produce new knowledges and develop politically informed, critical discourses around particular topics or situations. The exchange between Inheritance curators with filmmakers, artists, writers, residents and historical artefacts offers a multiperspectival narration by a number of speakers from different places and times.

Inheritance leads a long-term investigation of the visual culture of intentionally planned urban areas (New Towns) and their migrant populations. This research project has involved a project space in Shenzhen which served to question heritage and art history in a new migrant city, an exhibition and ‘Research Lab’ unpacking the theoretical and practical applications of community at MK Gallery, Milton Keynes and more recently a performative presentation concerning the willing blindness of new developments, at Sarai, New Delhi. Other key project areas include the destabilisation of heritage through artists’ activities often redressing colonial, feminist and wider political histories in the contemporary. This has included a residency programme with the National Trust, a radio show and exhibitions in traditional museum spaces.

James Price is a documentary and experimental filmmaker who has been working with Inheritance Projects since 2010. Price’s films have been shown on the BBC, Channel 4, and More4, in art exhibitions and international film festivals. Television projects include the mini-series What is Freedom? (Channel 4, 2009) a critical investigation of liberty and freedom in USA, and A Piece of the Moon (Channel 4 / More 4, 2008) an exploration of the capitalising of outer-space and the agents who are establishing the market. The People In Order series (Channel 4, 2006) has gone on to be shown at festivals in the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Australia and the USA and was the first series of 3 Minute Wonders to be selected by Channel 4 in their annual review of work. James Price has also exhibited video installations and photography in the UK. His 2006 installation, Conversation, an exploration of human interaction and judgment, has shown in the UK, Canada, the USA, and Iran. This work is being distributed as an educational aid in the UK, Australia and North America. In 2012 he produced The Body Adorned a semi-permanent installation in the Anthropology Department at the Horniman Museum, London.

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