Architect Sudipto Ghosh remembers his mentor MN Ashish Ganju

Ghosh recalls his late teacher, guide and confidant, architect-urban designer MN Ashish Ganju, whose indigenous practice of architecture found anchors in local cultural practices.

by Sudipto GhoshPublished on : May 08, 2021

“Professor Ganju left us too soon. But he left us with a clear set of directions: ideas and thoughts that need to be taken up for research, discussions that must involve more and more stakeholders, education that needs to change at its core."

- Sudipto Ghosh

On May 5, 2021, a Wednesday morning, a sizeable void was left behind in the architectural mindfulness of our country. Professor Munishwar Nath Ashish Ganju succumbed to a battle with the COVID-19 virus. Prof. Ganju left us while still actively engaged with the profession and its myriad voices found within our country. His lifelong mission of promoting an indigenous practice of architecture that found anchors in local cultural practices was at the heart of a philosophy that guided his practice, teaching and research.

Throughout his career, Ganju worked around the built habitat and how people occupy them | STIR Tribute | MN Ashish Ganju
Throughout his career, Ganju worked around the built habitat and how people occupy them Image: Shyam Nath Ganju, Courtesy of the Ganju family
His search for architecture located in sustainable cultural practices rather than the seductions of abstract architectonics was still at the heart of his practice that sprinkled gems across the country.

Professor Ganju returned to India in 1967 after completing his studies at the Architectural Association, London. He taught at the School of Planning and Architecture as well as the Indian Institute of Technology until he helped establish the TVB School of Habitat Studies in New Delhi of which he was the Founding Director. While his guidance and teaching left an indelible stamp on architectural education in India as well as in the UK and Italy, where he was a visiting faculty, his practice found resonance in projects he did for His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan community in Dharamshala. His search for architecture located in sustainable cultural practices rather than the seductions of abstract architectonics was still at the heart of his practice that sprinkled gems across the country. Prof. Ganju believed that if the building was the body and architecture the spirit, then a belief in reincarnation as a continuity of matter and spirit was at the centre of an understanding of architecture and our bodies at play in a world of forms.

He was working on the urban fringe to demonstrate the principle of urban renewal by citizens | STIR Tribute | MN Ashish Ganju | STIRworld
He was working on the urban fringe to demonstrate the principle of urban renewal by citizens Image: Shyam Nath Ganju, Courtesy of the Ganju family

To anchor these rich and diverse ideas about built habitat and how people occupy them, Prof. Ganju established Greha as early as 1974. The objective of this organisation was to address the marginalised within urban and rural settlements who invariably lay outside the ambit of architectural or urban practices that define our cities and towns. Greha’s work towards Aya Nagar and Mehrauli are well documented and must be seen as fertile sites for sustained efforts in urban renewal by citizens rather than organised bodies. Greha’s other works towards education and research—be it in the field of phenomenal and ethnographical studies of indigenous practices, its periodic discussions at the India Habitat Centre on architecture and society, or its “discovery of architecture” workshops based on a publication by the same name co-authored by Prof. Ganju and Prof. Narendra Dengle – have occupied an important space in the discourse around habitat in the country.

“An architect and urban designer by training, Ganju initiated the Aya Nagar Development Project that showed change was possible if you involved the community| STIR Tribute | MN Ashish Ganju | STIRworld
An architect and urban designer by training, Ganju initiated the Aya Nagar Development Project that showed change was possible if you involved the community Image: Gayatri Ganju

Like many, I considered Prof. Ganju a teacher and a guide; a confidant even. During times when I needed advice and turned to him, I always found that gravelly voice at the end of an expectant line. Often, he would call serendipitously and our conversations, which would last an hour or longer, would leave me clearer and with purpose. Lately, his voice had sounded much more hopeful, as if events in the world were playing out as they had earlier in history. He was able to see that things were going to be alright after all.

Prof. Ganju left us too soon. But he left us with a clear set of directions: ideas and thoughts that need to be taken up for research, discussions that must involve more and more stakeholders, education that needs to change at its core. He has also left us knowing that our actions matter when there is a significant body of thought behind them, but more importantly a concern for people at the centre of such action. He is going to be sorely missed by a generation of architects who counted on his counsel, but his presence in their discussions, their work, and their thoughts and ideas will live on.

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