Vrinda Kanvinde


Tracing Architectural Authorship through the Work of Indian Modernist Achyut Kanvinde

Advised by Lisa Haber-Thomson

Independence from British rule for several colonies was not just a political and ideological phenomenon, but also spatially articulated through modernism. In India, the adoption of the International Style was symbolic of a shedding of identity tied to a colonial past. Nehru, often lauded as the “architect” of modern India for his development of science and technology in a bid to catch up to the modern West, sent young professionals abroad for further studies to America and England. They were to be tasked with rebuilding a new, “modern” nation on returning. One such architect was A. P. Kanvinde, who studied at Harvard under the instruction of Walter Gropius in 1946.

This thesis positions itself in the growing body of work that attempts to subvert the West-dominated canonical reading of modernism, instead trying to bring in counter-narratives from the third world. In looking at Kanvinde’s work, it examines architecture and authorship not just through the development of style and quest for an “Indian” identity, but also through questioning the trope of the architects as heroic figures and asking if they can truly be sole authors. Works of architecture come out of a process of collaboration, and are implicitly shaped by socio-political context, and by constraints such as site, climate, and budget. These inquiries into the process of architectural production are made through the project of the National Science Centre, New Delhi.

This thesis deals with the twofold theoretical problems of an incomplete archive and proximity to subject matter by reexamining the accepted way of conceiving of and writing history to include personal oral histories and written correspondence to supplement the material archive of written works and architectural drawings. 

Animation of a collage juxtaposing Western figures such as Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius with other, often silenced personalities who worked on their projects, to showcase the of the multiplicity of authorship.

Illustration of a small groups of people approaching a Nation Science Centre in NewDelhi, India. A long four-to-five-storied masonry building of several modular sections and featuring large dish antennae and an astronomical observatory on the rooftop.
A sketch of the National Science Centre, New Delhi, by architect Achyut Kanvinde. From the Kanvinde family archive.