Lecture presented at The Courtyard Symposium organized by USAP; GGSIP University at IIC New Delhi on 10th March 2012
By Snehanshu Mukherjee
Over the years, I have tried to decipher the causes of issues in urbanization, the housing crisis and an Indian way of designing. This search has led me, like in the classic Indian fable of the Blind Men and an Elephant, to eventually reach a single key governing factor that in more ways than one connects and controls our lives and the cities we live in. On thinking things out, it increasingly appeared to me that the influence of “money” was all-pervading – be it in issues of housing, urban sprawls or the practice of architecture today. All the threads that I had gathered earlier seemed to lead to the ever-increasing role of “money” in the world today. In these pages I have attempted to analyse this paramount role written out for “money” to star in and its domination on the means and methods of production, control of global commerce, the growth of mega cities and thereby the very lives of the people who live and work in them.
Today market economy not only controls the lives of those who live in urban areas but has also begun to affect the rural population of India. The adivasi tribes (aborigines) who have lived unchanged for thousands of years in the jungles of India were probably the least affected by money. However the natural inclination of “market economy” to convert with a missionary zeal those so far untouched by “the idea of development” has led to standoffs between the state and the adivasis in some parts of the country.
What then is Money?
Money, as we know from its history, is a product of urbanization. Money is essential to a person’s existence in a city, where people can live without being actually involved in producing the essentials that are required to survive on this earth. The urban population for instance does not grow its own food, or weave its own cloth – instead it “buys” these essentials of daily living. Buying involves a common currency of exchange; and money while fulfilling this role eliminates the need to barter goods and services. Its current dominance as paper money has its genesis in the restructuring of the monetary system in pre-Victorian England in the early days of the Industrial Revolution. Money, as we know it, is not a real thing – it’s an abstract construct of “value” created for purposes of convenience that people jointly agree to believe in. Purchasing with money in the form of currency notes is therefore more like an act of faith. Money is ascribed with a value by common consent which is believed to be equivalent to the worth of the goods to be bought. The value of money lasts as long as people have reason to believe in its worth. When for a variety of reasons the commonly held belief is compromised, money is devalued causing inflationary conditions, which if not corrected would eventually lead to financial meltdowns.
As opposed to the inconveniences and restrictions of a barter system, money has the ability to circulate (as currency) across political and geographical boundaries. In turn, money (unlike the barter system) gives rise to a host of goods and services, the production of which the consumer is not directly involved in. Through the process of buying and selling, the monetary value of the product keeps appreciating well beyond what was originally determined by the actual producer. The abstraction created by using money in assigning value can therefore also be manipulated by powerful groups to control or create a “false value” for products and services – as is seen in the case of real estate speculation. A corollary to this is the other strategies regularly resorted to, to generate demand and simultaneously create an artificial scarcity to increase the perceived value of the goods.
Once divested from the reality on ground, as an abstraction it becomes possible for the currency system to be so “..designed (as) to foster competition among the users, rather than cooperation. Money is also the hidden engine of the perpetual growth treadmill that has become the hallmark of industrial societies.”  Unsurprisingly “numbers” drive the desire to accumulate for the sake of accumulation, which through design leads to money gravitating to the hands of a small percentage of the world’s population – the richest. The desire to accumulate also leads to an unnecessary growth in size and complexity of organizations, a decline in their efficiency and creativity accompanied by an increased belief of their infallibility.
This quality of abstraction in money which lends itself to manipulations, leads to distortions in “real values” since it assigns “numbers”, “ranking” and a “price”, thereby turning everything into a commodity. An abstract concept of value which can be manipulated (since it is divorced from reality) can also undermine the importance and therefore the intrinsic value of the essentials in life. For instance the value of food is controlled to remain low, while higher costs of industrialized agricultural inputs of seeds, fertilizers and pesticides are aggressively priced by large corporations which have driven debt ridden farmers to commit suicides in India today. The problem of ascribing a monetary value to all goods that human society needs creates distortions in the way people perceive what constitute the essentials of life. This sort of “trader mentality” has swept across the globe largely in the Industrial and Post-industrial periods of the Western World, the outcome of which manifested itself in the two World Wars. Today the battles over controlling territories and therefore resources and markets have morphed into many smaller wars that smolder like forest fires across the surface of the earth.
The Architecture of Money
Discernible change in recent times wrought by money on architecture and our built environment has been witnessed within a single human life span, though the process of change had set in much earlier during the colonial period. This quote from Rabindranath Tagore’s essay The Modern Age published in 1922 conveys the changes wrought on the Indian landscape:
“Calcutta is an upstart town with no depth of sentiment in her face and in her manners. It may truly be said about her genesis:—In the beginning there was the spirit of the Shop, which uttered through its megaphone, “Let there be the Office!” and there was Calcutta. She brought with her no dower of distinction, no majesty of noble or romantic origin; she never gathered around her any great historical associations, any annals of brave sufferings, or memory of mighty deeds. The only thing which gave her the sacred baptism of beauty was the river. I was fortunate enough to be born before the smoke-belching iron dragon had devoured the greater part of the life of its banks; when the landing-stairs descending into its waters, caressed by its tides, appeared to me like the loving arms of the villages clinging to it; when Calcutta, with her up-tilted nose and stony stare, had not completely disowned her foster-mother, rural Bengal, and had not surrendered body and soul to her wealthy paramour, the spirit of the ledger, bound in dead leather.”
Tagore too had seen and lamented the changes in the early part of the Twentieth Century, which today, after 65 years of becoming a sovereign republic has unfortunately gathered momentum after the so-called “liberalization” of the Socialistic Indian Economy. Dominant architecture today ascribes value through monetary terms and volumes of built space. Today housing complexes are being conceived as 80 even 100 storey structures, pushed by artificially hiked land prices which in turn push the Floor Area Ratios literally through the roof. Even Higher Secondary schools are forced to build up to six storey blocks in cities like Bhubaneshwar to capitalize on the land cost and byelaw provisions. With higher land costs saving on time is saving money which in turn pushes design and construction towards mechanization, industrial products and structures put together by large construction companies.
Mainstream architecture today, is a natural heir of ‘Modern Architecture” which was earlier imported into India. India then had an extensive living tradition of highly sophisticated craft skills and a crafts based industry. Modernism along with manufacturing industries had to be established through a major restructuring programme. This restructuring was a part of India’s overall economic and social restructuring through industrialization. Wolfgang Sachs in his essay “The Archaeology of the Development Idea” writes:
“To increase production at a constant level, entire societies had to be overhauled. Had there ever existed a more zealous state objective? From then on, an unprecedented flowering of agencies and administrations came forth to address all aspects of life – to count, organize, mindlessly intervene and sacrifice, all in the name of ‘development’. Today, the scene appears more like collective hallucination. Traditions, hierarchies, mental habits – the whole texture of societies – have all been dissolved in the planner’s mechanistic models. But in this way the experts were able to apply the same blueprint for institutional reform throughout the world, the outline of which was often patterned on the American Way of Life.”
The earlier crafts guild based system of design and construction of buildings was largely replaced by the Government CPWD system that promoted Modern Architecture. The CPWD system uniformly standardized construction methods, specifications and contractual arrangements across the country. The CPWD specifications insist on standard engineering solutions, so much so that whatever may be the function of the building to be built, it is almost invariably conceived as a Reinforced Cement Concrete (RCC) construction. With the result, in cities today any other form of construction, like mud bricks or thatch roofs will be deemed sub-standard and therefore will not be given permission for construction by the city authorities. Over the years the CPWD Specifications have removed items such as lime plaster and lime punning of wall surfaces – essentially works that require craftsmanship!
Through a process of “natural selection” that is governed by an increasing domination of industrial products and mechanization, building construction is being steadily removed from the realm of craftsmen to that of pre-engineered products and systems. Industrial products come with large carbon footprints and high energy embodied costs in manufacturing, which all goes towards damaging the planet’s ecology. Pre-engineered products are also designed to not rely upon local craftsmanship during installation on site. This means that the bulk of the money spent on construction today, finds its way back to the distant and often multinational manufacturers and their global distributors with very little of the money coming in to help the local economy. This situation therefore leads to an unsustainable condition which does not in any way benefit the local community. The traditional crafts based systems not only used local materials and small-scale sustainable methods of construction, it also channelized the money invested in construction amongst many individuals locally – the various craftsmen, ancillary workers on site and local material suppliers.
The resultant quality of architecture generated by the traditional versus contemporary practices is also quite apparent. The unattractive “box” like buildings which characterized the doctrine of Modern Architecture has today been repackaged into glamorous corporate Avtars in the garb of Glass Curtain Walling and Aluminum Composite Panels. These buildings, slickly repackaged and often outlandish in shape, stand out for being what they are not. It is not surprising that almost all traditional buildings, regardless of the fact whether they are owned by economically poorer families or wealthy ones, are beautiful to behold, comfortable to live in and do minimum damage to the environment. Whereas it is only rarely that we come across examples of modern architecture that could be called truly beautiful; additionally they are often impractical and uncomfortable to live in.
Unfortunately repackaged “Modernist” boxes have become the symbols of ‘development’ and material progress, legitimized by a small but powerful group of the ruling elite – policy makers, executives and technocrats; interestingly all urbanites (like me) usually with higher degrees of education but with hardly any real skills to build with their hands! Today craft has become absent even from the basics of the so-called “construction industry” – good masons with the skill to construct a brick wall properly are a rare breed today. In our country, with its still existing vast pool of human resources, it makes practical sense to design buildings that incorporate the skills and competence of the people who construct them. However, the way we are trained and practice architecture make us follow, like the economy of money, a “top down” process with a single point of control and decision-making.
The other way to practice architecture becomes apparent if we were to understand the difference in the objectives of a master builder of Traditional Architecture, and those practicing mainstream architecture today. The architects or master craftsmen of the past created exquisite works of architecture not merely for monetary gain but as an opportunity to discover their own capabilities, for the sheer pleasure of creating something beautiful or as an act of devotion and possibly to gain social appreciation of their skills. Interestingly, recent research by economists at MIT show that higher monetary incentives improved performances of people who did jobs that required mechanical skills, however, strangely enough once the jobs demanded “even rudimentary cognitive skill(s) a larger reward lead to poorer performance”. This may explain the attitude of craftsmen excelling at their work in creating exquisite architecture unworried about fixing a price or a monetary value to the end product. This may also be a reason for the decline in the quality of architecture, despite huge improvements in fees paid to architects today!
This attitude towards creation and work as something not necessarily influenced by money may still be seen amongst some of the classical Indian musicians. The deep devotion to their art can be witnessed firsthand at a live concert. Master builders of the past and crafts-persons have created architecture in the same manner as the musicians by putting in long years at apprenticeships and finally getting their chance to prove their skills in public. This was possible in a society that was not entirely governed by “money”. It is interesting to note here that in the past the societies that allowed such expressions of creativity were feudal ones. Today urban conditions governed by money through real estate do not allow the creation of a city that is more inclusive or pleasurable as the ones built in the past.
Pre-Modern Architecture was based upon principles of efficiency and economy that influenced designs and decisions through the entire design and construction process. This is visible in aspects of space planning to structural design and the use of building materials. The form and appearance of the buildings from the past clearly reflects the structural system, the properties of the materials used and methods of construction followed. The construction materials and methods would no doubt be dubbed as “low-tech” in today’s parlance; however buildings built in the past have largely withstood the ravages of time. In contrast despite the so-called “hi-tech” or “technologically advanced” construction systems and materials used today, most buildings of this era seem to age in remarkably short time spans. Traditional buildings need to be understood from the context of their time; the achievements of the master-builders and crafts persons involved in building them were no less sophisticated than the complex structures being built today. The traditional master builders evolved to very high levels of achievements given their methods of working and the materials used by them. It may not be easy, if not downright impossible, to rebuild buildings such as the Bara Immambara at Lucknow, the Gol Gumbaz at Bijapur or the Brihadeshwar Temple at Tanjore once again – this despite the “scientific” analytical design skills, “advanced” construction technology and project management methods employed today.
The problem lies not only in the standardization of uni-dimensional construction methods through the CPWD system but also exists within the system of education imparted to the students of architecture throughout the country. This is where I believe we will be able to find the space for change. Architectural education on the whole largely ignores the role of the traditional craftsmen and the architecture they built. Even during Field Study trips to historic sites, emphasis is laid on documentation through measured drawings, sketching and photographing buildings. Very rarely does a student of architecture find the opportunity to understand the highly evolved traditional craft of design and construction that actually created the building or settlement. We need to incorporate the understanding of traditional skills and systems in the architecture syllabus not as study of history and architectural forms alone, but as a positive alternative to current construction and design methods.
However we need to also understand that we cannot reverse the clock. A lesson can be learnt from the Egyptian architect, Hassan Fathy’s efforts in introducing mud construction as a practical, viable, cost-effective method to house his country’s poor. As John Habraken in his book Appearance of the Form notes, that Fathy’s well meaning efforts failed since he behaved as a “professional architect” controlling the end product in a top down process with almost no involvement of the end users in decision-making. The result was that the partially completed village at Gourna was eventually transformed piecemeal by the families that had occupied it. Habraken analysed Fathy’s experience to state, “(f)or a form to be a part of a culture it must be congruent with the interests that are peculiar for the day and age”. He further says.. “(t)hus the lesson is not that a form ought to stay for reasons of beauty, cost efficiency, climate, or geography but that each time again a match must be found between people and forms, and only when it is found both will prosper.”Masons, carpenters, blacksmiths and labourers can all become a part of the design and construction process rather than relegating them to mindlessly pouring concrete or constructing brick walls labeled “230 thick” on construction drawings. In the industrialised western world traditional hand crafting has almost died out and thereby has become exclusive and often unaffordable. In India hand crafted products can still be used by the poorest. For example, the simple clay pot crafted by neighbourhood potters is still used to cook rice or store water. The involvement of crafts in architecture essentially involves people and works towards a more humane architectural process. Hand crafting inherently is the very opposite of standardised mass production, large scale organisations and wasteful infrastructure provisions. Hand crafting respects the individuality of the artisans, their creativity and fixes responsibilities for quality and time management on to individuals and guilds. It also ensures that the economic benefits generated through this process of building reaches the local community.
Here I would like to quote a passage from Javed Malick’s Introduction to the English translation of Habib Tanvir’s hugely popular playCharandas Chor that Tanvir wrote for enactment by folk artists.
“His project, from the beginning of his career, has been to harness elements of the folk traditions as a vehicle and make them yield new, contemporary meanings and to produce a theatre which has a touch of the soil about it. …
However, Tanvir also recognizes and respects the immense creativity of the folk imagination. His approach is not exploitative in the sense of merely ‘using’ the folk for one’s own ends. In fact, he is quite careful not to create a hierarchy by privileging, in any absolute and extrinsic way, his own educated consciousness as poet-cum-playwright-cum-director over the unschooled creativity of his actors. In his work, the two usually meet and interpenetrate, as it were, as equal partners in a collective, collaborative endeavour in which each gives and takes from, and thus enriches, the other.”
I would like to end this essay with the reminder that architecture through empowering people is possible mostly at locally manageable scales of buildings such as houses, schools, colleges, health care facilities which are the bulk of the construction activity across the country; and that mega projects such as dams, airports or mega venues like the Common Wealth Games 2010 are only a small percentage of the total volume of construction in the country.
In my search for an alternative to the architecture of money, I have found the following two quotes to be inspiring. The first is by Rabindranath Tagore and the other by Mahatma Gandhi – both giants in their own rights, who were also close friends despite differences of opinion.
“There are some who are insularly modern, who believe that the past is the bankrupt time, leaving no assets for us, but only a legacy of debts. They refuse to believe that the army marching forward can be fed from the rear. It is well to remind them that the great ages of the renaissance in history were those when men suddenly discovered the seeds of thought in the granary of the past. The unfortunate people, who have lost the harvest of the past, have lost their present age.”
Rabindranath Tagore in The Centre of Indian Culture 1919
“I want the cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any. I refuse to live in other people’s houses as an interloper, a beggar or a slave. I refuse to put the unnecessary strain of learning English upon my sisters for the sake of false pride or questionable social advantage. I would have our young men and young women with literary tastes to learn as much of English and other world-languages as they like, and then expect them to give the benefits of their learning to India and to the world, like a Bose, a Roy or the Poet himself.”
M K Gandhi in Young India of 1 June 1921 as reply to Tagore’s musings entitled ‘English Learning’.
 The gradual change in rural areas from less to almost full dependence on a monetized economy is now almost complete in India. Today in certain tribal areas near Salem (Tamil Nadu), the villagers buy their daily requirement of vegetables and other food items from the wholesale markets of Salem or from retail vegetable sellers rather than grow their own vegetables.
(T Krishna of Thulir Trust in conversation with the author.)
 The idea of “development” is based on the assumption that people with little money to spend are poverty stricken, which may not be the truth – the tribes of Andaman and Nicobar Islands for instance do not find money to be useful in daily living. However “development” is forced upon them as an economic necessity. This attitude or uni-dimensional world view created by economists is discussed at length by Wolfgang Sachs in his essay The Archaeology of the Development Idea (Earthcare Books 2008) where he says: “Nehru thus fostered precisely that Western self-delusion which was also at the core of the development idea: that the essential reality of a society consists in nothing else than its functional achievements; the rest is just folklore or private affairs. From this viewpoint the economy overshadows every other reality; the laws of economy dominate society and not the rules of society, the economy. This is why, whenever development strategists set their sights on a country, they do not see a society that has economy, but a society that is an economy.”
 According to the Chamber’s Twentieth Century Dictionary (1959 edition) the word currency derives from current adj.passing from person to person; generally or widely received. Currency means – circulation; that which circulates, as the money of a country. It is worth noting here that it does not actually mean money.
 “The main characteristics of today’s system were pieced together in pre-Victorian England, just in time to trigger the Industrial Revolution. Its legacy the money system that prevails today looks as if its designers had asked: how can we create a money system that reinforces our nation-state, and concentrates resources to enable systematic and competitive heavy industrial development?” Bernarde Lietaer in his book The Future of Money (Random House 2002)
 Bernarde Lietaer in his book The Future of Money (Random House 2002)
 “Finally, the current system encourages individual accumulation, and ruthlessly punishes those who don’t follow the injunction.” Bernarde Lietaer in his book The Future of Money (Random House 2002)
 “…I think what happened basically in the last decade – I know I’m here to speak about America but I find that’s what’s going on in India – was that basically our financial system grew so large, partly because it was able to tap into massive pools of global savings from China and elsewhere that was looking for higher returns.” Comments on the financial meltdown by Thomas L Friedman , New York Times Columnist and the author of The World is Flat in Tehelka Volume 8, Issue 49, 10th December 2011.
 . The mentality of a trader or a merchant is about buying at the lowest procurement rates and selling at the highest possible, thereby maximising profits, under any condition. This principle in the “modern” world today is consciously or subconsciously applied to evaluate anything to even put a price on human relationships.
 Today in India “successful” architects and their clients discuss their achievements as a spreadsheet of “built-up” area in so many Lakh(Hundred Thousand) square foot rather than the quality or relevance of the architecture generated.
 The Archaeology of the Development Idea by Wolfgang Sachs (Earthcare Books, India 2008)
 The traditional masons today are prey to the control of local often unscrupulous “contractors” or thekedars who create the interface between the educated, richer urban population who employ these masons through the “contractors” to carry out alterations and additions to houses and flats built in brickwork and RCC by professional architects. However these additions carried out by such “contractors” and masons are without any real understanding of the complex design and behavior of RCC structures – something that can be acquired only through professional higher education. That that these masons and contractors have no access to such and education is part of the reason for this lack of understanding and as for the “contractors”, they would not be bothered to make efforts to acquire this knowledge, since they cannot be made accountable in any way for structural failures.
 Pradip Krishen’s essay recording his experience in creating the Rao Jodha Desert Rock Park at Jodhpur is an example of the depth of traditional knowledge systems and indigenous expertise which in today’s world is rarely tapped. Such expertise is sought for in a situation when the all powerful modern industrial technology fails to deliver. Pradip Krishen was faced with the daunting task of removing a scrub from the disused, severely eroded rocky land earmarked for developing the Desert Rock Park.
The site “…was overrun by Prosopis juliflora, a horribly invasive, bullying shrub from Mexico whose seeds had been scattered over the city from an airplane nearly a century ago.” Krishen describes his efforts in trying to eradicate the scrub (locally called Baavlia or the mad-one) before native varieties of plants and trees could be planted. Efforts ranged from cutting them down, to compressor-driven augers which was,
“too slow and expensive and impractical because of the extremely hard rock. Someone suggested we should try miniscule charges of dynamite. We were skeptical but tried it anyway and watched with dismay as it shattered the crest of a little rocky knoll – an element of the historic landscape we had set out to conserve.”
Eventually “..(h)elp came in the form of highly skilled rock-miners who called themselves Khandwalias (after the Marwari word for rock – khanda).” These were experts whose families for over five centuries were involved in chiseling the sand stone that built the fort of Jodhpur.
Krishen goes on to describe the way a Kandwalia went about his task:
“We invited Dhan Singh Khandwalia to show us what he could do and led him inside the Park. He chose a small baavlia no more than a foot and a half high. Around it, the rock seemed dourly monolithic with hardly a crack or faultline that we could see. Dhan Singh chose a really heavy, short-handled hammer, squatted on his haunches and looked away while he smote the rock. I thought he was looking away to shield his eyes from flying fragments of rock, but the hammer blow wasn’t fierce and nothing flew. What he was actually doing was cocking his ear and listening intently. He rang the rock with his hammer at a few more places. Somehow, the sound the hammer made told him all he wanted to know about the underlying rock. Infra-sound. How it was interbedded. How far the underlying layer ran. Where to go in from, at what angle. And how deep it was likely to yield. He shook his head at me, “Yes, I can go in here… At least two-three feet. So we left Dhan Singh there to cut and chisel away. An hour later, he had carved open the rootzone, digging down about a foot or so.”
Quoted from Journeys Through Rajasthan Edited by Amrita Kumar (Rupa)
Extract published in Tehelka Vol 9 Issue 11, 17 March 2012.
 “… rate of wages for all depended much more on the general cost of living than on the degree of skill required for this special craft or the other. The craft was much more a “calling” than a trade, and to this day Sinhalese craftsmen care more for congenial work, and personal appreciation, than for money payments. And as we have seen, in the most typical cases, the craftsman received no money wage at all; but was repaid in other ways. Many a British workman would be glad to exchange his money wage for such security and appreciation as belonged to the Sinhalese craftsman of a hundred years ago. Presents, indeed, were expected, even grants of land, but these were for faithfulness and excellence; not a payment at so much a yard or so much an hour for such and such kinds of work. For the work was art, not commerce,..” Ananda K Coomaraswamy in The Indian Craftsman First Published 1909, Reprinted 2004, Munshiram Manoharlal.
 Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. Lecture by Dan Pink on RSA Animatehttp://www.thersa.org/events/video/animate/rsa-animate-drive
 Appearance of the Form by N John Habraken, Awater Press, Cambridge 1988