Triveni Kala Sangam

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Architect Joseph Allen Stein Triveni Kala Sangam


Joseph Allen Stein came to India in the early 50s - at a time when the full glow of the 'Nehruvian enlightenment' was influencing the emergence of an entire new, modern India. While other famous architects were coming and working in the country around the same time - Le Corbusier, Louis Kahn, Charles and Ray Eames, Edward Durrel Stone, Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew -Stein differed from them in that he had made India his home and sought to be actively involved in the making of the new society. It was in his New Delhi buildings - notably the Triveni Kala Sangam arts complex (1957-77) and the ICC (1959-62) - that his full design personality emerged. In Delhi, surrounding the IIC he continued to build a series of buildings, which have become landmarks - the Ford Foundation, the United Nations, the World Wide Fund for Nature and most recently the huge India Habitat Centre. If anyone could match the Lodhis and their architecture, it is this series of buildings built by Joe through the 1960s and 1970s.


JOSEPH ALLEN STEIN, the architect, who died at the age of 89 in Raleigh, North Carolina, on October 6, was a major icon, quiet and self-effacing. Stein arrived in India in1952, as head of the newly formed Architecture and Planning Department at the Bengal Engineering College in Calcutta, little realising that he would stay on.


Born in 1912 in Omaha, Stein studied under the Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen at the Cranbrook Academy in Detroit, Michigan, in the early 1930s. This legendary campus, designed by Saarinen and filled with
sculptures by Carl Milles, the Swedish sculptor, influenced Stein's design philosophy. The American Midwest was the centre of a regional modern movement influenced by the work and teachings of Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan. The design approach developed was very different to the Bauhaus modernism then taking hold in Europe, which arrived on the American shores with the immigration of Walter Gropius, Mies Van der Rohe and others just before the Second World War. The Bauhaus tended to be insensitive to local culture and materials of building, and advocated a hard-edged design philosophy using industrial elements. The influence on Stein, on the other hand, was a view, which incorporated organic materials, brick, stone and wood, with a willingness to decorate through texture and volume, yet retaining a simplicity and human scale. Stein moved to California in 1938 to work with the Austrian Richard Neutra, who became another great influence. Neutra's spare, elegant houses were carefully sited in the California landscape with large glass vistas blurring the boundaries of interior and exterior. He also married Margaret the same year, and she became not just a companion, but a crucial design colleague. Moving north to San Francisco, Stein became a vital part of the design scene in the Bay Area working with architect John Funk and landscape
designer Garret Eckbo, eventually opening his own office. Living in Mill Valley, Joe Stein designed a number of houses, which became recognised as major examples of the 'California School'. As a team, they had planned and designed a large cooperative residential community at 'Ladera' near Palo Alto, which had idealistic social aims of simplicity surrounded by landscaped beauty in the post-War peace. Unsuccessful in raising financing, Joe and Margaret Stein moved to Europe in the early 1950s. Richard Neutra, who had been invited by the Government of West Bengal to be an adviser, proposed Stein's name as head of the newly formed Architecture and Planning Department at the Bengal Engineering College in Calcutta. Accepting the invitation, Stein arrived in 1952, little realising that he would stay on.

He has written of his initial reaction: "It was a very stimulating, extraordinarily interesting time, India was almost newly Independent. It was like coming to the United States when Thomas Jefferson was alive,
something like that. Nehru was Prime Minister, who was an outstanding man. He had his flaws - many great men are flawed, maybe all human beings are flawed. But he was an extraordinarily beautiful and intelligent man, and he cast an aura over India that was very attractive. At that time the memory of Gandhi and Tagore was fresh and bright in India, and had very much influence among the students. So students were very attractive people to work with... they were idealistic and dedicated."