It was a wet July afternoon in 2016. We have been on a flooded, muddy highway of Aya Nagar, one among Delhi’s many unorganised city villages, that the municipal map by no means acknowledged. And but, there was MN Ashish Ganju, holding out a newspaper to point out the date, and taking of the pot-holed busy market road. He would ship the picture to the collector and directors. This city sprawl on the fringes of Delhi-Gurgaon border had change into his karam bhoomi for over twenty years.
When he arrived right here, this village largely populated by gujjars, was the place migrants lived. Houses, with barely two toes deep basis, and stacked up like ice cream bricks had no means for water, sanitation or waste administration. Ganju, an architect and concrete designer by coaching, initiated the Aya Nagar Development Project as a method to present that change was potential for those who concerned the group. In an interview to The Indian Express, he stated, “Cities are not economic engines, they are a collection of human beings. In this century, we have seen a loss of urbanity, not the maturity of it.” He was preoccupied with enhancing the constructed habitat of town, not simply by structural kind, however understanding the social, anthropological and indigenous capacities of its folks. It directed his life-long seek for what Indian structure ought to be.
A instructor, mentor, and pal to many, Ganju introduced vigour and freshness to understanding cities and the best way we stay. He handed away on May 5, as a consequence of Covid. He was 78. He leaves behind his spouse Neelima, and daughters Tara, Surya and Chandani.
Trained on the Architectural Association School of Architecture, London, within the mid-60s, Ganju returned to India in 1967, however one thing was amiss. What he had learnt and what was on the bottom have been in several languages; the realities didn’t match. He was perceptive to know that Western textbooks couldn’t comprehend the best way Indians lived and cities developed. He started instructing on the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), New Delhi, within the early 70s, and that’s the place he met architect Narendra Dengle. With Dengle, he co-authored an essay on the ‘Discovery of Architecture’ in 2014, which was a definitive view of what we had ignored in our studying of contemporary structure in India. It would change into a seek for understanding the historical past of India by autos of literature, visible arts, philosophy, non secular research, and the sciences.
“When he returned to India for “higher studies”, it was amongst folks in humble environments, amongst villages and disenfranchised communities. In 1978, he labored with UNICEF as advisor to the federal government of India to construct rural group centres. With him, I discovered a morphic resonance, since I used to be additionally working in Bengal and Bihar on rural housing. He labored with a deep conviction, he may cause and argue with open-mindedness, and construct long-term associations whilst he mentored quite a few younger architects by the TVB School of Habitat Studies, the place he was founder-director,” says Pune-based Dengle. Ganju’s initiatives have been unfold throughout the nation, from Kashmir to New Delhi, Bhopal to Port Blair. He was additionally on a number of committees with the federal government of India, as advisor for upkeep of the Rashtrapati Bhavan and redevelopment of the Lutyens Bungalow Zone.
Ganju’s path to structure was all the time by the group he was constructing for. Be it the Press Enclave residential complicated in Saket (1974), the place he grouped homes into 5 blocks to maintain the size human and intimate, or the Dolma Ling Nunnery at Dharmshala (1992), which honoured Buddhist ideas of residing with nature, or when he sat down with the 1000 residents of G Block, Aya Nagar (2017), to construct bogs in each house. “People learn from their own experiences and conversations with one another. We as designers were only facilitators,” Ganju had stated.
When he co-founded Greha in 1974, with like-minded folks together with Dengle, architects Ashok Lall, AGK Menon, Ramu Katakam, historian KL Nadir, and artist Sheeba Chhachhi, the main target was on marginalised folks in rural and concrete settlements. The concept was to “develop knowledge and methodologies concerning settlement systems more suited to our history and cultural context”. His unquenching zeal to have interaction with the local people led to the Aya Nagar Village Development Plan. When then chief minister Sheila Dikshit visited Aya Nagar in 1999, she discovered the undertaking inspirational and declared it as a mannequin village, appropriate for growth.
Ganju’s “Architecture and Society” conferences that have been held on the India Habitat Centre each month gave impetus to architect-academician Parul Kiri Roy. She took these concepts into her classroom and rural design studios in SPA. “The focus was about architecture as not just an object in space, but how it was fundamental to life and living. So, what is the role of the community, how did we see ourselves as part of that community, what was our role as citizens, and how did we set ourselves as architects who influence the built environment. The kind of intent, energy and drive that professor Ganju had is what got me hooked. I realised my education is incomplete, and I still had a lot to learn. With him, we worked on the Mehrauli history project. From him we learnt to keep our beliefs and hopes alive. While we always second-guessed the impact our lives and work had, he showed us what it meant to never give up. He would often say, ‘if you get out of your classroom and to the streets and dialogue with people there, you can bring about change, since you are a built environment professional’,” says Kiri Roy.
Ahmedabad-based conservationist and historian Rabindra Vasavada, says, “With his passing away, we have lost a base – a base that he developed in Greha and his home and office. He wanted to re-orient architectural education towards indigenous sensibilities, and he was quite passionate about it. He was developing proposals for universities, which would allow students to look and think in that way. And he was constantly thinking about this and working on it, through seminars, workshops, and international conferences.”
Everyone who is aware of Ganju testifies to his indefatigable ardour for his work, be it in Aya Nagar, exploring the values of Indian structure or his concern for waste administration and sanitation within the metropolis. For him, structure was a deeply religious pursuit, the place he mixed his information of Kashmiri Shaivism and Tibetan Buddhism.
“He was a one-person institution. Though he went through a conventional training in architecture, he was able to question it in a radical way, without any biases, and remain true to his search. Reaching his Aya Nagar studio was never easy, but once we were there, everything was forgotten in our conversations, that almost never got done in a single sitting. We always came away with new thoughts after meeting him. Whenever he said is what he stood for. How many architects do you know who live in an unauthorised colony, or fight and argue, under the blazing sun, with a PWD people over sanitation pipes not fixed right? It shows his conviction in what he believed,” says Delhi-based architect Snehanshu Mukherjee.
While his ambition for a Museum of Indian Architecture made him embrace folks from all walks of life, architect Nirmal Kulkarni recollects his conversations with Ganju over the making of a museum. “He spoke of Greha’s projects, including the Museum of Indian Architecture, which would be a place of inspiration, where people can go and learn about themselves. For him, architecture doesn’t happen just like that. It doesn’t begin with a person, it was about daily life ultimately. He was always searching, how did the tribals build, he held discussions with sociologists, anthropologists, scientists as a way to find answers,” says Kulkarni.
Yet in all this, he by no means gave up on pursing magnificence in structure. Architect Henri Fanthome remembers his first go to to Ganju’s workplace, greater than 17 years in the past. The method the spiral staircase curved to the mezzanine, the roof tiles and brick partitions, the sunshine streaming in, it left an impression on Fanthome who was in awe of the busy-ness of the place, but “nothing was out of place”. “One never saw him as trying to be a legend or an architect, he just went about doing what he believed in. I worked with him for nearly three years but I never stopped working with him. He had a refreshing spirit and an undying ability to go after what he believed in. He was the beginning of my unlearning,” says Delhi-based Fanthome.
Since 2017, Ganju and Dengle have been concerned in instructing the Building Beauty Program, constructed on the concepts of British-American architect and design theorist Christopher Alexander, in serving to college students perceive what soulful, humane environments could possibly be.