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Aditya Prakash, 85, a Prominent Indian Architect, Dies

September 30, 2008

By David Sokol

Aditya Prakash
Aditya Prakash

Aditya Prakash, a British-trained Indian architect closely affiliated with Le Corbusier’s Chandigarh project, died August 12. The 85-year-old was traveling to Mumbai with a community theater troupe to perform in the play Life Never Retires.

Prakash graduated from London Polytechnic in 1951, and in the following year studied at the Glasgow School of Art. In 1952, he joined the Chandigarh Capital Project—an undertaking by first Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru to build a new Punjabi capital to replace Lahore, which was partitioned to Pakistan in 1947. Le Corbusier employed a team of nine Indian architects and planners for the project. According to Prakash’s son, the architect and author Vikramaditya Prakash, his father probably would have stayed in the U.K. were it not for the lure of the Chandigarh commission.

Aditya Prakash lived in Chandigarh for 56 years. He worked most closely alongside Le Corbusier on the design of the School of Art. He also collaborated with British architect Jane Drew on the General Hospital, located in Chandigarh’s Sector 16 neighborhood and completed in the early 1950s, as well as the city’s Type VI houses. Vikramaditya Prakash says his father, a spirited debater, was critical of the Chandigarh plan, often stating that he learned everything from Le Corbusier, “even if it was in arguing against him.”

Vikramaditya Prakash says his childhood in Chandigarh was punctuated with “inevitable, innumerable evenings of architects from around the world sitting in our living room, arguing alongside my father about the legacy of Corbusier in Chandigarh and its relevance for modern India. My father was always spearheading the case that Chandigarh’s planning was escapist, and it needed to be far more sustainable than it was.”

Photos courtesy Vikramaditya Prakash

Agricultural University Hostel, Ludhiana, India.

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In 1982, the elder Prakash told The New York Times reporter Barbara Crossette that the “sunbreaker” screens designed for early residences were not the passive-solar solution originally hoped for: “When we started designing houses here we thought of Western houses—it was very a la mode. But I did a study of the sun in Chandigarh subsequently and found that sunbreakers cut out sun but retained heat and dust. We found it was better to create deep verandas. These keep out rain and sun, but allow life to move in and out as it always has done in an Indian home.” Later, in three books and a design proposal for a new capital for Haryana, a state in northern India, Aditya Prakash championed ecologically responsible design; some of his proposals, such as mixing agricultural uses into cities, are still ahead of the curve.

The elder Prakash devoted much of his career to the realization of Chandigarh, long after Le Corbusier departed. He adapted the School of Art design for the Chandigarh College of Architecture, where he served as principal for 14 years. Other local works range from the design of gas pumps to Chandigarh’s District Court and Treasury buildings. Outside city limits, he served as architect of the Panjab Agricultural University in Ludhiana. 

Beyond his architectural career, Aditya Prakash was an actor and artist. According to his son, the elder Prakash would paint two to three hours every morning. “He has a vast collection of paintings,” he says. “Some are in Indian museums; mostly they are held in private collections worldwide.” Much of his work has a Le Corbusien aesthetic. 

Vikramaditya Prakash, an architecture professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, is launching a new program that will help continue his father’s legacy. From January to March 2009, a group of undergraduate and graduate students will spend three months in Chandigarh looking at how Corbu’s plan “is transforming in response to the new global economy of India.” The program is being organized in collaboration with the Chandigarh College of Architecture. Professor Prakash says it’s a cliché for a son to say that he models his life after his father, “but in my case, it is almost literally true.”

Aditya Prakash leaves behind his wife, Savitri; three children, Chetna, Vandana, and Vikramaditya; and seven grandchildren. A nonprofit foundation has been established in his name. To learn more, contact his son at vprakash@u.washington.edu.

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