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The Baroda College building with the great dome Image Credit:

“The Baroda College, designed by Robert Chisholm, is a truly creative act of architecture, one that bears comparison with the finest buildings being constructed anywhere in the world at that time ... In this building, Chisholm gave shape to his philosophy and achieved a lyrical beauty which even Lutyens could not surpass ...”

– Charles Correa at VISTARA — The Architecture of India, the Festival of India, 1984

 

On January 18, Baroda will pay its respects to the master builder who left an indelible mark on this city in western India. The Robert Chisholm Centennial Exhibition is a tribute to an individual who contributed in shaping Baroda and its heritage and identity from 1880 to 1910 — the Capital City of the erstwhile Baroda State of the Gaekwads.

The two-week show will be opened by renowned architect Dr B.V. Doshi, followed by a panel discussion, titled “Reflections and Conversations on Robert Chisholm and An Architecture which changes and shapes Cities”. The other panellists include architect Yashwant Mistry, professor R.J. Vasavada, artist Rekha Rodwittiya, and Maharaja of Vadodara, Samarjitsinh Gaekwad. The discussion will be moderated by professor Pratyush Shankar, acting Dean of the Faculty of Achitecture, Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology University (CEPT), Ahmedabad. The event is being organised at the Old Baroda State Guest House in Kamatibaug, which the Municipal Corporation has spruced up.

The Robert Chisholm Centennial Exhibition (1915-2015) is being deemed a precursor to the VADFest 2015 — the first large-scale international cultural festival being planned for Vadodara — running from January 23 to 26.

Robert “Fellowes” Chisholm was one of the most distinguished architects practising in India between 1860 to 1910 and his projects were built across various regions of the Indian subcontinent. His initial phase of works emerged in the Princely State of Travancore (Thiruvananthapuram) and the Madras Presidency (Chennai), where he designed some of the most critical landmarks of the cities. During the same time he also designed the famous Holy Trinity Cathedral in Rangoon (Yangon, Myanmar) and Lawrence Lovedale Asylum & School in Ooty.

Looking back, architectural experts consider Chisholm’s designs “relevant even today for their lessons in climatic design and the use of technology in architecture”.

Chisholm came to India in 1859 as an engineer to the Government of Bengal. But he came to prominence only in 1863 when he won the architectural competition organised by the Government of Madras for its proposed university and senate house. He then moved to Madras and became consulting architect to the Government of Madras from 1872 and 1886.

When Chisholm began working in Madras, his designs followed Renaissance and Gothic styles. Gradually he began incorporating ideas, styles and designs from native architecture from various parts of India.

Some consider Chisholm to be even more significant than Edwin Lutyens, the builder of New Delhi.

The second phase, more extensive and prolific, was shaped in Baroda State through the huge institutional infrastructure which emerged here. He designed around nine iconic landmarks of the city — the famed Baroda College with its Giant Dome (the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda or MS University), the Music College at Sursagar, the Female School at Sursagar, the Nyay Mandir Court and Town Hall, the Baroda Museum, the Record Tower at Kothi, the Laxmi Vilas Palace, which was started by Major Mant, the Khanderao Market Building and even the extension wing of the Nazarbaug Palace (which was recently demolished). These buildings continue to define the heritage and identity of Vadodara.

The last and a very short phase of Chisholm’s work emerged in London, where he designed the First Church of Christian Science (today known as the Cadogan Hall used by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra) and had an unbuilt project to his credit too — the Indian Museum on the Thames — before his demise in 1915.

Chisholm was also a Fellow of Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and had delivered at least two important lectures at RIBA on his Indian works at the end of the 19th Century. “We want to make this Robert Chisholm Centennial Exhibition exemplary as the first permanent exhibition of Chisholm’s works in the Indian subcontinent, which will eventually be housed in some dedicated space in Vadodara or at the Baroda Museum,” says architect Sanjeev Joshi, who is the Curator of the Chisholm exhibition along with the Confederation of Indian Industries’s (CII) Young Indians (Yi).

On January 18, 21 of Chisholm’s works will be exhibited (including nine projects of Vadodara), comprising his large body of work which emerged in the subcontinent of pre-Independence India.

The show is being supported by VMSS, the Indian Institute of Architects (IIA), INTACH Vadodara, and “IA&B” magazine.

“We will expand the scope further with the addition of models and details of his buildings. We are very excited by the fact that we can compile and put together the works of one of the most significant architects to have worked in the Indian subcontinent in the late 19th Century,” Joshi says. “Chisholm’s work has deeper lessons on at least three areas. Firstly, Chisholm was deeply involved in generating an architecture which was responsive to the local and locational climate. This is an aspect he has reiterated in his lectures/writings. The second is the aspect of technology and engineering, which is so integral to architecture — this was something that Chisholm demonstrated through his works in all locations. The Great Dome at Baroda is an example. Such a heroic vision for a college building was a huge achievement as it continues to be one of the largest masonry domes in the world even today and the technological finesse with which the thin dome was designed in two layers — as two domes actually, one inside another — was a remarkable achievement.”

The third and most vital issue, Joshi says, is that Chisholm clearly emphasised the integration of local crafts, craftsmanship, local skill and materials and the local aesthetics in the conception and design of great edifices. “So the big ideas integrated with the contextual ideas allowed architecture of a hybrid blend emerge. This had and has very unique and significant characteristics.”

Charles Correa had delivered the inaugural Robert Fellowes Chisholm Biennial Memorial Lecture under the auspices of the Indian Institute of Architects at Vadodara in 2010. “We subsequently had Gurjit Singh Matharoo deliver the 2nd Robert Fellow Chisholm Memorial Lecture in 2013 and we have now upgraded it,” Joshi says.

“The contours of our Centennial Exhibition are a bit more serious as compared to VADFest. It is a tribute to a great and rather forgotten hero of our city and even the subcontinent — as he was instrumental in designing some of the most crucial landmarks of our city which continue to lend a strong sense of legacy to our city. The urban edifices and public buildings which Chisholm designed continue to define the identity of the city of Baroda,” Joshi says.

The interesting thing about the exhibition is that it will be a dynamic one which will grow in content through the year, which is the centenary year of Chisholm. “We will augment more stuff from RIBA, from Yangdon in Myanmar, Chennai and Thiruvananthapuram and also the Lawrence Lovedale School in Ooty,” Joshi says.

“Eventually, the goal is to produce a book on Robert Chisholm, with the possible involvement of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and RIBA.”

N.P. Krishna Kumar is a freelance writer based in Dubai.

 

Vadodara lays out the red carpet for art lovers

Fifty events, 15 venues, four days and one festival — Gujarat’s cultural capital gets ready.

VADFest 2015 is an international art and culture festival spread across the four-day Republic Day weekend — from January 23-26. Legends from across India and around the world will grace the city for a celebration of art, music, dance, drama, culture, food and a special children theatre fest.

The organisers expect thousands of international visitors and NRIs to attend the cultural extravaganza.

VADFest will showcase some of the finest performances, illustrious artists and a programme remarkably kaleidoscopic. From late night heritage bus rides, royal and street cuisines, vintage car shows, pop-up bazaars, to dance and mega concerts, the festival offers something for everyone.

There will be buses from Ahmedabad airport, trains from Mumbai and local festival buses to ferry visitors from one event to the next.

Hotel rooms, paying-guest facilities and home-stay accommodations have been arranged to ensure that Vadodara lives up to its reputation of a warm host. 

Vision

The society envisages hosting VADFest as a biannual affair bringing in national and international artists and performers to Vadodara. The society intends to bring the art commerce to the city of Vadodara, which is an established centre of art pedagogy and practice due to the well-known art institution, the Faculty of Fine Arts. The existence of private studios and artists’ collectives further attracts artists to Vadodara. 

Organisers, curators

VADFest 2015 is organised by the Art and Culture Foundation Vadodara, a nonprofit with representation of organisations such as Federation of Gujarat Industries, Baroda Management Association, Yi, CII, Round Table, and MS University.

Visual Art section is being handled by the Faculty of Fine Arts with Dr Jayaram Poduval, head, Department of Art History & Aesthetics, as the event coordinator. Heads of the Departments of Painting, Graphics, and Sculpture and other local artists will be curating the shows.

The Fine Arts event will display more than 500 works, making it the largest art show Vadodara has ever seen. The representations of the artists are from all regions of India, making it an exhibition of national importance. The curators have managed to accommodate the maximum number of significant art works and promise to incorporate more in the coming editions. 

The following seven shows are planned in the Visual art section: 

Vintage Baroda — highlighting the contributions of Raja Ravi Varma and Nandalal Bose to the Baroda Art scene. Curated by Naishad Jani, art historian. 

Magnificent ‘7’ — showcasing N.S. Bendre, K.G. Subramanian, Bhupen Khakkar, Jeram Patel, Jyoti Bhatt, and Mahendra Pandya and Shanko Chaudhary. Curated by Vijay Bagodi, artist and head, Department of Graphics. 

Indian Contemporary Art — showcasing 22 Indian contemporary artists. Curated by Sashidharan Nair, artist and assistant professor, Department of Painting. 

Pathfinders — showcasing past and present teachers and the artists who inspired art education in Vadodara. Curated by Jayanti Rabadia, artist and associate professor, Department of Painting. 

Back 2 College — showcasing 250 selected alumni of Sculpture, Painting and Print Making Departments. Curated by Vasudevan Akkitham, Vijay Bagodi, Aqueel Ahmed, heads of departments. 

Baroda Chronicles — showcasing emerging Vadodara-based artists. Curated by Rahul Mukherjee, artist and curator. 

Papyrus Indic — a paperwork show featuring more than 60 artists. Curated by Alok Bal, artist.

Along with the art shows, an international lecture series will also be held with Judy Chicago, Donald Woodman and Gavin Turk, among other participants. 

Infrastructure revamp

During his visit to the proposed sites, Saurabh Patel, minister of finance, Gujarat government, who is also the patron of VADFest, saw the infrastructure at the Fine Arts Faculty and urged the MS University authorities to refurbish the premise for the festival.

The university has since fast-tracked work on the revamping of electrification, water supply, toilets and flooring of various departments. Apart from that they are also creating gardens and landscaping and parking facility at the faculty.

Along with the refurbishing work, the university is also fixing international standard lighting system in all the studios.

The infrastructure development and the international and national exposure during the festival would add another feather to the already well-established reputation of the faculty.