Architecture

REVIVAL OF NALUKETTU- INSPIRED HOMES

These Sepia-Coloured revival brings back a strong sense of nostalgia with ‘back to the roots’.This heightened longing for the good old days has been instrumental in bringing back many classical architectural styles, and one of them is the nalukettu veedu in Kerala…

WORDS: TEAM URBAN VAASTU

NALUKETTU means four blocks and a typical house built in this fashion would be divided into a north, south, east, and west block.

The nalukettu was a typical feature of the Kerala tharavadu tradition, where joint families lived together for generations with a patriarch and matriarch overseeing all their affairs. At the centre of the house is a nadumuttam, which is an open courtyard that served as the focal point of interactions between the family as well as various household activities and festivities.

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The larger and wealthier families had ettukettu or, the rarer, pathinaarukettu houses featured eight and 16 blocks with two and four courtyards respectively.

All of these houses were built following the principles of ancient thachu shastra or the science of carpentry and developed during the 18th and 19th centuries, a time when the Nairs and Namboodiris dominated the society with their power and wealth.

These aristocratic families who prided on their lineage and the name of their tharavadu would build extensive naalukettu homes that would feature a grove with a snake mound to facilitate the popular worship of snakes, a basil leaves plant installation made of stone or brick, and even a pond for the exclusive use of the family.

Naalukettus can be sprawling, entirely built on the ground floor or can go up to three storeys high.

RICH AND INTRICATE DETAIL
Typically made of teak wood or the wood from wild jackfruit trees, brick, and mud, these houses had superior ventilation and lighting that kept the house well lit and aerated at all times.

A padippura is a distinguishing feature atop a naalukettu gate consisting of an elaborate, temple-like gopuram.

The entrance to the house would have a verandah designed to receive visitors. Inside, the nadumuttam is surrounded by rooms on all sides like the ara, a special room meant to store valuables.

Granaries, cattle sheds, kitchen and utility, dining halls, bathrooms, bedrooms, puja rooms, wells and other purpose-built spaces filled all the corners of a naalukettu. Another feature that showcases the technical ingenuity of these complex yet very thoughtful structures is the roof.

Gabled windows on the top of all naalukettus ensured cross-ventilation at all times and let in enough light into the attic while extended rafters gave ample protection from the heavy rains that are characteristic to Kerala.

A DISAPPEARING HERITAGE
Nalukettus faded into oblivion as socio-cultural changes swept over Kerala.
Education gained prominence, and more women began migrating from a life led entirely inside sooty kitchens to the outside world of work and independence.

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Nuclear families evolved with men and women settling down wherever work took them resulting in the break-up of the joint family system.

Soon, naalukettus housed only the elders in the family and the upkeep of
such large properties became near impossible.

With the demand for elaborate homes dying, architects lost the special skill sets required for building these traditional houses.
Today, only a few of the original nalukettus remain mostly in the form of museums or heritage homestays.
Modern constructions now sport some features of the nalukettu style of architecture like the sloping roof, a small verandah supported by tall pillars, and a mini courtyard in the middle.

Used by not only houses but also restaurants, ayurvedic spas and other establishments that are traditional to Kerala, the nalukettu design is now seeing a massive reprise.

It is not uncommon to see nalukettu houses for sale in cities and real estate agencies advertising low- cost nalukettu houses to customers. And although not as glorious and rambling as the older nalukettu houses, they are a treat to the eyes.

PUDUCHERRY’S AUROVILLE AND AUROVILIANS

AUROVILLE IN A GIST
If one is to imagine a picture of people belonging to 52 different nationalities residing in 100 settlements lying scattered alongside an idyllic avenue in the countryside all in one frame, well, that’s Auroville! Popularly known as the City of Dawn, Auroville is a destination…

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AUROVILLE IN A GIST
If one is to imagine a picture of people belonging to 52 different nationalities residing in 100 settlements lying scattered alongside an idyllic avenue in the countryside all in one frame, well, that’s Auroville! Popularly known as the City of Dawn, Auroville is a destination that catches the fancy of those inclined toward idealistic learnings.

The sanctity of this international community lies in its dedication to peace, sustainability and divine consciousness. Located down south inland from the Coromandel coast in Tamil Nadu & Puducherry, Auroville is now set to become a universal township.

The Aurovilians hail from about 50 different countries, differing in culture, age, caste and creed, yet bonded by a common purpose, that is to represent humanity which resonates with Auroville’s vision to attain unity within diversity in the mankind.

Initially designed to accommodate half a lakh people, this serene haven now caters to a population over 2500, with residents from across the world and nearly 60% foreigners. 12km to the northwest of Puducherry, Auroville was instituted in the year 1968 by the cofounder of Puducherry’s Sri Aurobindo Ashram, referred to as ‘the Mother’, when about 5,000 people came together near the banyan tree at the center of Auroville for an inauguration ceremony attended by delegates from over a 100 nations & pan India.

Each of the representatives brought with them a handful of soil from their motherland, to be mixed into a white marble urn in the shape of a lotus that now stands at the heart of Amphitheatre.

The notion behind Auroville was to develop it into an ideal township, dedicated to an experiment in human unity.

In the mid-1960s the model was conceived and put forth before the Govt. of India, who gave accorded support and furthered it to the General Assembly of UNESCO which then, in the year 1966 passed a consensus, acclaiming it as a project of significance to the future of humanity, with a strong backing from their end.

Hence today, Auroville is acknowledged as the foremost internationally recognized continued experiment in human unity and transformation of consciousness.
Moreover, it also incorporates conducting practical research in sustainable living with regards to prospective socio cultural, economic, environmental, as well as spiritual needs.

ECONOMY
The Aurovilians are engaged in a wide variety of projects, right from organic farming, renewable energy and handicrafts production to Education and Information Technology, employing 4000 to 5000 local villagers in totality.

Over 5,000 people, mostly from the nearby localities, are employed in various sections and units of Auroville.

Other activities include afforestation, organic agriculture, basic educational research, health care, village development, appropriate technology, town planning, water table management, cultural activities, and community services.

Instead of paper and coin currency, residents are provided with account numbers connected to their central account

while the visitors are requested to get a temporary account and a debit card called as the ‘Aurocard’. Residents of Auroville are expected to furnish a monthly contribution to the community and help the members whenever possible in cash or kind through their work. The guest contribution which is a daily emolument paid by the guests of Auroville, forms an integral part of the township’s budget. In return, there is a system of maintenance wherein Aurovilians who are in need, can accept a monthly maintenance sum from the community to look after the necessities.
The Central Government owns and manages the Auroville Foundation and finances a small part of Auroville’s budget, through contributions from its commercial units. What constitutes a significant part of their profits to the township include building construction units, information technology, small and medium scale businesses, as well as the items sold in Auroville’s own shop in Puducherry – producing and re-selling items such as handmade paper for stationery items and its famous incense sticks which can be purchased or sold in and outside India.

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THE CITY PLANNING
Meticulous planning and thoughtful design is where the peculiarity of this township lies. At the center of the township lies the Peace Area, comprising the Matrimandir and its gardens along with the amphitheater with the Urn of Human Unity.

RESIDENTIAL ZONE
Laid over 190 hectares, this zone happens to be the largest of the 4 city zones, girdled by parks on three sides. The crown road is planned to act as the main access to the zone while the 5 radial roads shall act
as sub routes, dividing the zone into sectors of increasing densities. This zone is focused on ensuring a harmonized habitat acting as a link between individual and communal living. More than half the area is dedicated for open spaces with the remaining 45% as built up, thus
maintaining a balance between urban density and nature whilst following planning standards.

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INDUSTRIAL ZONE
This zone which is located north of the Peace Area is spread over an area of 109-hectare. It is earmarked for green industries that aim to help develop Auroville in its endeavor to become a self-supporting township. It is created to overlook the city’s administration, apart from comprising small and medium-scale industries, training centers, arts and crafts.
INTERNATIONAL ZONE
Designed to host national and cultural pavilions, the International Zone is a 74 hectares wide arena lying westside of the Peace Area. It emphasizes on safeguarding unity in diversity within the mankind, aligned with goals of Auroville.
CULTURAL ZONE
Another 93 hectares have been reserved as the Cultural Zone, a place for applied research in education and artistic expression. It also caters to other facilities including and not limited to cultural, educational, arts and sports.

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Although incomplete, the Green Belt is a quoted as a successful case of transformation of a wasteland into a well-functioning eco-system. Serving as lungs for the whole of Auroville, its further planned extension with an additional 800 hectares will make it into a remarkable demonstration site for soil and water conservation, ground water recharge, and environmental restoration.

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GREEN BELT
The city spanning over a radius of 1.25 km will be encircled by an equivalent Green Belt 1.25 km
wide.

As a zone for organic farms, dairies, orchards, flora and fauna, this 405-hectare large belt shall not only offer a recreational space but also work as a buffer with habitats for the wildlife beside serving as a source of food, timber and medicines.

Moreover, it shall be a fertile zone for applied research in the sectors of food production, forestry, soil conservation, water management, waste management, and other areas working toward facilitating sustainable development.

Although incomplete, the Green Belt is a quoted as a successful case of transformation of a wasteland into a well-functioning eco-system.

Serving as lungs for the whole of Auroville, its further planned extension with an additional 800 hectares will make it into a remarkable demonstration site for soil and water conservation, ground water recharge, and environmental restoration.

PLANNING APPROACH AT AUROVILLE
Auroville is all set to lay a benchmark in planning settlements with deep rooted urban-rural linkages to provide a setting that vaunts of integrating both under one umbrella for a mutual wellbeing.

It shall act as a model for rapidly urbanizing Indian and foreign cities to replicate and emulate.

This would help in the formulation of an integrated masterplan for Auroville and its hinterland, wherein both city and environment, rural and urban areas would ingenuously complement each other.

The Master Plan strategy at Auroville is to determine how economic and intellectual resources, which are usually associated with urban areas, can advantageously be used to enable a balanced development and in conceiving a socially just and economically sound society.

Auroville’s perception is to lay the foundation of a city that will utilize land to meet economic requisites by pioneering development strategies with an optimum density mix, aesthetically appealing urban forms and adequate amenities.

The results of such innovative methods will be available for application in both rural and urban areas everywhere in support of their development.

WHAT PEOPLE LOVE ABOUT AUROVILLE
Rejoicing in an atmosphere of its own, Auroville is a place known for its ‘Beauty in Simplicity’. It’s a place reflecting a beautiful communion of like-minded people from all over the world who believe in mental peace and live with minimal expectations.

One of the visitors quoted his experience describing about the beautiful gardens and the inner parts of the unique spherical shaped Matrumandir, where one can meditate in a circular hall with beams of sunlight falling on a clear crystal ball creating a unique environ for meditation.

It is often written about as a thriving spiritual, sustainable and symbiotic society.

From the beautiful Auroville beach to the ancient Irumbai temple, from beautiful green villages lined with community farms to wonderful modern architecture and exciting vegan food catering to every taste bud, there are many experiences to be had here.

Every traveler must take a solo, solacing trip to this wonderful place!

Vaastu for Entrance Door – A Gateway to Positivity into your home

The entrance of your home is the entry to your ‘kingdom’. This gate should be maintained with utmost care. Take in a few tips to keep this entrance clean and positive…

WORDS: RINKU B

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Vaastu Shastra has great importance for entrance door in a home, as this is the place from where energies, either positive or negative, enter and exit a house. Having said this, it is obvious that if more negative energies are entering a home from main door then people in the house will not prosper. On the other hand if more positive energy is entering a home then the residents will prosper.

The entrance door should be located in proper direction, because all the positive and negative energies revolves around this door, and enter through this door. The main door should also be kept be clean and beautiful. It should be free from any obstruction both from inside and outside. The main door establishes a significant relationship with the outside world. The entrance door is the mouth of a house which welcomes all the positive opportunities, so this door should be large and inviting. And hence Vaastu Shastra for main entrance is an important consideration.

Direction of the Main Entrance Door:
The experts of “Vaastu Shastra” suggests East, West and North direction to be more effective for the inhabitants. The main door through which you enter to your house is considered to be the gateway which brings new possibilities and hopes in your life. It is very important that the door opens entirely or at least to 90 degree. Vaastu believes that a door which opens completely brings all the positive energies and opportunities into the house. A door which cannot open entirely may restrict the flow of positive energies as well as opportunities.

Some other factors to be noted while constructing the main door:
– Avoid main door facing a destroyed building or an abandoned house.
– Construct the main door in such a way that no shadow falls over it.
– The door should not be placed exactly at the corner of the walls, instead keep the door away from the corner at least by a few inches.
– The main door should be constructed with good quality material preferably wood. Vaastu suggests avoiding metal frames of metal doors.
– Avoid having a wall in front of the entrance door.
– Do not keep a dustbin near the main door.
– Avoid facing the main door towards intersecting roads.
– There should not be any obstacles like electric pole, water tank in front of the main door.
– Do not construct the main door facing directly to the opposite house.
– There should not lie a heap of stones or bricks just in front of the main entrance.
– A garage or a store room should not be located just in front of the main entrance door.

All these are considered as obstructions which might hamper the progress in a house.

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Architecture helps me to connect physically and tangibly to people, nature, and emotions.

Architect Shishir Beri is a lover of nature, solitude, meditation, philosophy, yoga, photography, all arts, writing poetry, painting, films, gardening, farming, and deep ecology – all this is exemplified in his work as an architect and him today, as a design professional concerned deeply about nature and sustainability. From designing public spaces to educational, commercial and residential projects, this very capable man has done it all with the love for nature in mind. Read on to know more…

WORDS: RINKU B

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Shirish Beri is a man with simple looks and unconstrained philosophies, who has been whole-heartedly living with nature. One can say that his perspective towards life, society, spaces, architecture, architects is beyond a normal man’s thinking. An Architect, an Artist, a Photographer, a Poet, a Writer, a Philosopher, a Teacher and definitely a gifted human being to whom the world seems quite simple!

Born in November 1950, Shirish Beri graduated in architecture from School of Architecture (CEPT), Ahmedabad in Jan 1974. Instead of pursuing higher studies in the U.S., he opted for living and working in the mountains near Kolhapur (with his father and brother’s architectural firm in Kolhapur) from June 1974. He felt that after studying architecture for six years, it was necessary to decondition oneself and unlearn rather than spend two years learning for Masters’ degree abroad.

Ar. Shirish Beri’s works, which tend to reflect his values and concerns in life have been bearing their distinct mark on modern Indian architecture since 1975. They strive to address his life concerns of man moving further away from nature, from his fellow human beings and from his own self.

Through his work, Shirish Beri probes the multisensory and the immeasurable dimension of space while trying to evoke a reflective pause amidst todays clutter and background noise. He feels that issues of sustainability can be aptly addressed only through the right attitudes and goals. His designs try to achieve an inherent sense of unity and harmony with various natural and man-made elements and forces. He has designed a number of campuses for national & regional level institutions for research, rehabilitation, health care and education, along with various other types of buildings.

His has received tremendous worldwide fame and recognition for his work. His works have featured in various national & international publications on Modern Architecture, magazines and newspapers. His most recently published book “Spaces inspired by nature” is being received very well.

It is interesting to see the relationship between you and nature in everything you do. Please tell our readers about the human being in you.
As a human being too, my concern has always been to design spaces which would help in bringing people nearer to each other. I always prefer open, accessible and participatory spaces to closed, gated communities. Further, I feel very much concerned about the tremendous inequity in our society. We have people spending ₹ 50,000 a day and we also have people who do not eat one square meal a day.

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Thus, as a small gesture, I have created a “Humane Equity and Dignity Fund” from a major part of my personal earnings and savings. This money is used only for the truly needy, the ‘have nots’ of our society and for institutes working for these people. Seeing the smiles on these unfortunate faces is a great reward in itself.

Your poems, paintings, sketches, photography and designs reflect the philosophy in you. What made you choose architecture as a profession?
Architecture helps me to connect physically and tangibly to people, nature, emotions etc. simultaneously. Just as language is the medium for my poetry, space is the medium for my architecture and I have a great fascination for exploring this medium of space. I have been toying with the idea of making an hour longon ‘space’.

Your thought, “Can architecture become an expression of our human spirit, where the measurable and the immeasurable work together?” Could you elaborate on this?
Any architecture becomes an integral part of the users’ existential, spatio-temporal set up. But, many a time, architecture is conceived as a material, tangible, measurable envelope only. To me the intangible dimension of feelings is very important too. Our human spirit is immeasurable too.

So can our architecture strike the right balance between the measurable and the immeasurable?
My film “The unfolding white” tries to explore whether our work can help in taking us closer to this wholeness or oneness of life? It is an attempt to relate my work expressions to my journey, search, understandings and concerns in life. Its 12 minute version can be seen on you tube and on some other ‘world architecture’ sites.

Being a nature lover, how different is it to design an Agriculture college from other institutions?
Central landscaped courtyards as in other projects were proposed here too. As an agricultural college, I had provided special departmental courtyards to grow / display that particular department’s relationship plants.

How special is Kolhapur Institute of Technology to you? What was the thought process behind the design?
It was special then, in the first ten years of its existence. Later the main trustees’ changed and insensitive additions, expansions were done, the amphitheatre was reduced in size, the workshops were mutilated and unfortunately, the spirit of the design got lost.

In 1997, the 8th International design competition, Osaka, Japan, yours was one of the winning entries to win an award. How does it feel to think of it now?
There were a number of Indian entries in this competition. My entry was the only Indian entry to win an award from the 1021 entries from around the world. It felt good to receive this important international award in Japan that year.

Every teacher should be a co-learner. What is that one important learning you get from students of today’s generation?
I always learn through the process of answering their questions. Some of the issues raised are worthwhile and while articulating my answers, I get a better sense of clarity myself. Even in terms of technical questions, I have to be prepared or I have to prepare myself to answer them. Besides this, one stays young and abreast with new concepts and ideas.

An excerpt from your philosophy: ‘Man is being isolated and is missing the meaningful interaction with fellow human beings’. How do you look at ‘technology’?
The problem starts when technology is looked upon as an end rather than as a means. If used judiciously, it can help in bringing people together. But many a times, technology reduces warm, humane interaction. Spaces too can be designed in such a way that they act as catalysts in better human interaction.

You are a different person with simple looks and beautiful philosophies. Do you find anything challenging in life? If so, please tell us about it.
Every person, every happening, everything is a challenge in life…. especially today when all these are commodified for material gains. I see three major challenges and sicknesses of today’s times. We seem to be suffering from.. .. N.D.D. – Nature deficit disorder -where we are cocooning ourselves in an artificial, secure, sanitized man made world that is alienated from nature. .. Poverty of time- where we are rushing around without appreciating what is near us. .. A fatty degeneration of our conscience (in Nani Palakhiwala’s words) where our single minded pursuit of money is impoverishing our mind, shriveling our imagination and desiccating our heart. Thus, I try to and have actually managed to stay away from all these modern ailments. To do so, I have opted to stay out of the rat race and one upmanship; I have been very choosy about jobs so that my involvement in the works in hand is not diluted. Somehow, money was never an incentive.

What inspires you other than nature?
I am inspired by any genuine, creative expression in any art form. I also feel inspired by the lives of people who are contented and happy even with very few material possessions; by people who delve deep inside themselves to realize their fullness and oneness with this life energy; by people who live to make others happy – humans as well as other living creatures.

How should a person be, to work with you? What is the work culture at your office?
That person should first of all be a good human being who is passionate about design. He /she should be on a continuous journey of discovery in life and in design. The work culture in my personal studio /office is informal but with a sense of discipline and commitment.

“Any serious architect’s approach to his architectural design would evolve from his understanding of life.” – Ar. Shirish Beri

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Almost all the production staff sits in my associates’ offices, so my office is small with only 3-4 persons. I do not have a special closed cabin and the entire office is not air conditioned.

Your advice for architecture students opting to spend two years abroad for Masters’ degree.
After graduation, each of them needs to spend some quiet time – a few days alone by himself/herself, to find out what their true potential, their true aspirations are. They should not just go abroad for Post-Graduation just because that is the trend. If what they aspire for matches with what they will achieve abroad, they must go. Once there, they must be open to absorb, adsorb all that they experience there in order to make their repertoire a rich, fertile ground for their designs to mature and fruition. They must remain alert and aware to avoid excessive conditioning.

Major Recognitions:
– Great Master’s award for 26th JK AYA 2017. Only one architect from 11 countries is selected for this award in every two years.

‘Architecture+Design & CERA Awards’ 2014 – “The hall of fame award”. Only one Indian architect is selected / voted to receive this award.

8th International Design competition, Japan – 1996 his was the only Indian entry to bag one of the prizes awarded to outstanding works from the 1021 entries from over sixty countries.

Arcasia gold medal 2009-2010 for the best designed public-institutional building in Asia.

Arcasia gold medal 2017 for the best designed single family residence in Asia.

Cityscape + Architectural review award 2006 at Dubai –in the first three from 260 worldwide entries.

This interview is contributed by ‘The Economic Times Architecture & Design Summit’.

Living it up – Country-Style!

While designing a home or a farm house, opting for Country style architecture allows the use of natural materials in traditional ways that often bring in natural light, ventilation and the serenity of the outdoors through the use of materials like terracotta, wood and stones.

WORDS: RINKU B

The Country Style type of architecture is often considered unobtrusive and natural in character that proves to be quite valuable at times of progress. Apart from the main benefits it offers, country style encompasses precious beauty, reflected in the style’s diversity and a sense of naturalness. This style is unique for every country; the most famous are English, French and American types, demonstrating the rural charm of each of them through simple things, known since childhood.

Decor and furniture
Country style means pristine materials, embodied in the interior items, its covering and decor. While nowadays it is almost impossible to live without modern consumer electronics, yet if you would like to embody the features of this style within your house, it is better not to display modern appliances, but to conceal (build in, hide) them.

Natural materials
It is unusual for country style to use plastic, linoleum as well as glazed surfaces, as it favours only natural, of true nature materials, used for home decoration.

Walls could be covered with paint or wallpaper with delicate ornamental tracery, while the ceiling is often decorated with wooden beams, highlighting the country style atmosphere.

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Practicability (usability)
Country style will perfectly suit you, if you prefer a comfortable, everyday life-adapted and practical interior with the items, easy to clean, wash, relocate and demanding minimum costs and time to care about.

Bedroom Country Style
Country style will create a cosy, tranquil and laconic atmosphere in bedroom thanks to the visually pleasing palette, simple surface treatment and nice accessorizes in the form of desk lamps with textile abat-jour, figured napkins or a cover of patchwork.

The ceiling in country-styled bedroom should be just whitened; however sewing it round would be the best option. Walls should be smoothed out, ceiled or covered with wallpaper with floral pattern.

Living Room Country Style

Designers usually highlight the fireplace, decorating the chimney`s portal with tiles or stone masonry as well as with firewood baskets, hammered candlesticks or plates or even a wooden-framed landscape picture.
Whatever country’s spirit is reflected in the ideal country style, it is always a key to the pristine wilderness, cosiness as well as a home and a bit naive way of life, possible to be seen in the village.

Laurie Baker – Architect for the Common Man

Laurie Baker was renowned for his initiatives in cost-effective energyefficient architecture and designs that maximized space, ventilation and light and maintained an uncluttered yet striking aesthetic sensibility. Born in 2007 in the United Kingdom, Laurie Baker received Indian citizenship in 1989 and was renowned as ‘the master of minimalism’, and offered a unique tradition of architecture that blended man and nature. Excerpts from an interview…

WORDS: RINKU B

Q. What is the philosophy that guides your work and the issues that are important to you?
A. I ask myself: Who are we building for? I am mainly concerned with the lower and lower middle class, simply because they get left out. Previously they all knew how to do their own buildings, all the indigenous styles – the cottages, for instance, are very distinctive wherever you go, in every district. The people themselves took an active part in making them. Now they’ve lost their skills and they look outside for help. People who normally do architecture don’t go near such people. Those who do anything for the lower strata – the Government, the Church and other organisations will pontificate on what they need but very rarely consult them.
So, I’ve always been more interested in working for people down at the bottom end – nothing fancy or saintly – but when I came to India during the war, I became interested in leprosy for various reasons. There’s an organisation called Mission to the Lepers. They were just realising that the old homes were out of date and what they needed were hospitals where they treated leprosy like any other disease.

primarily. And my feeling as an architect is that you’re not after all trying to put up a monument which will be remembered as “a Laurie Baker building” but Mohan Singh’s house where he can live happily with his family. But there must be thousands of others. I don’t know why I should be singled out for the honour of being the only Indian architect.

Q. Partly perhaps because you’re a foreigner, but more so because your buildings use elements that are essentially Indian – like jaalis and courtyards.
A. Yes, but again these are not things that architects have sat down and designed. In Kerala nice curled- up roofs or nice jaali patterns were a slow evolution, an R+D and empirical development to meet your needs with limited means, to also suit the climate and the cultural patterns, to cope with wild beasts or wild neighbours. What we see in indigenous architecture is this response. That of course is very, very Indian and sometimes local to just one particular district. To me obviously an ordinary English window in a hot climate without winds and torrential rains can be a real

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Here they had such homes, which they wanted to convert and I came out to do that. So right from the word go I was involved with the lowly, the small town people, the depressed, and the question was always of trying to make a little money go as far as possible. Whether I wanted or not, I got into low-cost design but I got more and more interested in it. And all the while I realised that although this was a specialist’s bit of India, it (leprosy) was very little different from all the other forms of poverty, with its stigma and isolation, and the same thing applies to slums and housing. So I’ve never been interested in big high-rise buildings, or stadia for ASIAD. Not that anyone would dream of asking me.
From this I also realised it was equally stupid to do all this low-cost housing only for the poor. Nobody really has the right to throw so much money around when there’s so much need. That’s why at the same time I got interested in doing things for people in the upper strata who wanted to get their money’s worth without unnecessary waste of material. And in that way all sorts of things came along including big industrial commissions.

Q. One way of perhaps demonstrating to the poor that low-cost building doesn’t necessarily mean poor quality is to do similar things for the rich, is that right?
A. Yes! Why plaster, indeed, when you can get better effects from the actual building materials. So if I’m only building for “the poor” it would seem that I would not want to put the plaster on for them; but if Rajiv Gandhi wants a house then, of course, I’d put the plaster on for him. When I do it for people whom they aspire to imitate then they feel better about it. Actually I’ve never found the need to do this because they know the meaning of money, so they can understand the cost reduction principles better than the middle and upper middle class. I think the most satisfactory jobs for me are those for the lower middle class – the NGO’s, accountants, teachers – people who do interesting jobs and are important for the country, but get paid miserably. And they’re very open to new ideas, or adjustments.

Q. You’ve been called the only “Indian” architect, why is that?
A. Yes, I don’t know quite what that means. I think very little of my foreign-ness shows in the buildings I do and I’ve never ever said, “We do it this way.” In any case my clients have always been very Indian, I’ve not even had the foreign-returned to deal with since I work with the poor

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horror. So I learn my architecture by watching what ordinary people do; in any case it’s always the cheapest and the simplest. They didn’t even employ builders but families did it themselves. And it works – you can see it in the old buildings, wood jaalis, in particular, with a lot of little holes filtering the light and glare. I’m absolutely certain that concrete frames filled with glass panels is not the answer. There are better alternatives. In places that are running short of wood and stone, there are other materials available and other principles to follow. Life-styles, living patterns and the availability of materials and skills do change, but the weather hasn’t changed, the temperature hasn’t changed, it still rains…but where we should have just improved what was not entirely satisfactory we’ve introduced something completely alien.

Q. Now with the requirements for housing on such a large scale is it possible to build the traditional way?
A. Well, yes and no, there are a number of things that have changed but the whole social pattern is changing as well. Kerala is very different from the rest of India. It’s like a chess-board. Each square has one family. There are none

of the dense village settlements of Uttar Pradesh or Madhya Pradesh. Except for the commercial development at the crossroads there are only paddy fields and coconut groves. Now this is changing and with larger numbers few can live off the land and with more people moving into the cities we have to make changes. Gulf houses have started appearing in the paddy fields.

Q. Traditional architecture is very direct and simple in the way it solves a problem or is suited to a climate. At the same time it is rich and complex because it varies from region to region. Isn’t this what we are really losing?
A. I can never understand an architect designing 500 houses all exactly the same. It doesn’t take much to put all the components into at least half a dozen other combinations. If only we didn’t level sites and eliminate trees, instead plan to go around them. Then we wouldn’t get the long monotonous rows. With variation of materials in Kerala nearly every- where – well, either you have laterite and granite, or brick and laterite, or laterite and mud, – it’s perfectly easy to mix up materials on any given site, so the possibilities for variety are endless. I was doing a colony for civil servants, all from different parts of the country now retiring and wanting to settle in Kerala; they are honest people with not much money, so they formed a co-operative, got land from the government and divided it into different plots. They asked me to build because I build individually for a person. What I usually do is talk with the client, the family, ask what they want, what kind of building they are likely to be happy in. If they are fairly orthodox I give a straight- forward plan. Then I’ll do a plan that I think will be good for them. If I think they are more adventurous, I do an outlandish plan – a round one or a triangular one. And I present all three and leave it to them to make the choice. If they had their own individual plot I’m sure they’d have selected the simple unimaginative house, but because they’re all together in a small colony they’ve all picked the outrageous one. Now there are circular houses, moonshaped and heart- shaped houses… but all exposed brick outside with filler tile slab roofs. The filler slab works out cheaper than the tile and timber roof and it satisfies this craze for being modern. With people in a thatch house wanting a tile roof, those with tile roofs want concrete, so they have their aspirations, but the wood and tile roof is still by far the best one.

Q. But people can no longer build the traditional way because timber is scarce. Couldn’t a government policy make it possible for some forests to be planted specifically of building species?
A. Yes! I keep bringing this up at planning meetings, why we don’t deliberately plant timber with quickgrowing trees for building material. It’s ridiculous that timber which is a renewable material has no clear-cut policy. We have some teak forests in Kerala but they are for commercial purposes, not for individual house builders.

Q. That’s rather lopsided, that industry can get bamboo and other material at a subsidised rate but a man who wants a few odd pieces for a house must pay market prices?
A. It’s very sad. My nicest work is in wood, big trusses in houses, halls, but I can’t afford it anymore.

Q. Do you admire a building for its exterior, the composition of its facade, or its proportions?
A. I’ve never consciously used any system of proportion, nor for that matter does “architecture without architects”. Really, a door is a standard, it sets the scale of a building, its shape and size is taken from the shape and size of a person, and the rest follows from there. The age of the individual architect is gone. There are a few architects – Correa, Doshi among others. I’ve no great feeling for modern works. They are interesting as individual buildings, as feats of engineering. A lot of good modern buildings remind me of furniture. There’s one particular one in Trivandrum that looks like a harmonium. About other buildings, I just don’t know. I am completely outside the mainstream of current architecture.

Q. People have started talking of mud housing as the great liberator, perhaps the only solution to the onefamily, one-home idea. Do you see it that way, as well?
A. People who can pay for their buildings, I usually sound them about compressed earth blocks. They always say, it’s very interesting but, Mr. Baker, you’ve got to realise this represents my whole life’s savings and I’d want the house passed on to my son, etc., etc. It’s very, very difficult to get clients for mud buildings.

The age of the individual architect is gone. There are a few architects – Correa, Doshi among others. I’ve no great feeling for modern works. They are interesting as individual buildings, as feats of engineering.

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When it comes to the poor, who’ve already been living on mud, they know it only for its disadvantages. Their dream is a brick and cement home.
A school I’m doing for the deaf and dumb near Cape Comorin is a mud building using compressed blocks and concrete roofs. My client in this case is an Englishman married to an Indian. And he is a teacher and very keen on the rugged rural look. What I’ve wanted to do is a colony for fancy people. And I think we should do buildings in mud but the clients just don’t come my way – they are just not prepared to take the risks.Q. Perhaps it should start at the top with the upper middle class, moneyed people, living in mud buildings.
A. Yes, may be the Prime Minister’s residence… that’s why I hesitate when I am offered a commission, because what I’ve got left of a working life I’d like to concentrate on mud. Not something rural and folksy but proper decent mud building. My dream is to get hold of some realty industrialist who will produce a piece of land and allow me to put up a mix of housing all in mud and rent them out. I’m very keen to develop this idea of rental building; at the moment we have them only for offices; but say someone is working in the city he should be able to rent a mud apartment.

Q. It raises a lot of questions about ownership of land in the city. After all, why should one man own an acre in the centre of town, the other nothing – it’s not equitable.
A. It’s ridiculous for the government to announce “a house for everybody before the 21st century.” They won’t get it anyway. Of course my main interest in mud is not just that it makes better buildings but also how much energy is involved in producing the material. To me, if we are going to meet the challenge of 25 million needing a house in the 21st century, I’m sure it’s not possible in the conventional way whereas I think it could be done in mud.

Q. But it would require a lot of changes in building policy byelaws, etc.
A. Yes. Mud buildings are not allowed in urban areas. There’s a school that ASTRA (Application of Science and Technology for Rural Areas) has done in Bangalore for the children of the Indian Institute of Science staff – a big complex of buildings using compressed earth blocks. In the city it was approved by the Bangalore authorities, which is a very big step. It works very well – after all, what more destructive clients can you have than children?

Q. A recent article suggested that your method of working is rather unique and that you spend your afternoons rummaging through junk, recycling waste.
A. A lot of material can be recycled, even if it’s old fashioned. One of my clients pulled down an old house and we built a new house, bigger than the original and still had bricks left over. Of course in those days, people built thick walls and the bricks were much stronger. So we built nearly twice the floor area in about half the material. The old tiles and wood were all of superior quality. Quite often clients do have old property which is difficult to upkeep. They are no longer living there – so they end up pulling it down and rebuilding at half the cost of the building.

I think a lot of the need for new housing is exaggerated because a lot could be done to upgrade what’s already there. Of course, the easiest thing is to bulldoze and rebuild, but less so now because of labour costs.

Q. When you were designing this room, for instance, what were the decisions that occurred on paper and which were spot on-site decisions?
A. I draw something mostly for the benefit of the authorities but on the whole I design as I go along (shows me bits of paper in pocket). What’s the point of drawing everything really? Most of my drawings are done when I’m driving along.

Q. You make a number of decisions that most architects could never make without an engineer. At times it seems that you are almost testing or teasing the material – the thin brick walls, for instance – by taking it to the very edge. The way Maillart did for concrete. Nobody could realise that concrete could be so delicate till he built all those bridges.
A. Well, I’ve been brought up with the idea that they (engineers) are people you can consult if you’re in a hole or if you are designing something special. Now we think of air-conditioning as something you apply to a building. You run a duct through a false ceiling or stick a box in the window, but the architect no longer cares. He knows if he can’t do something he can always fall back on the mechanical engineer.

Q. Do you change your method of working, design and construction when you build outside Kerala – in U.P. or Gujarat, for instance?
A. Oh, yes. Very much so. I have to go along with the local style to which I bring my own adjustments and variations. I think it’s foolish to impose your own ideas when you’re dealing with people who know what their problems are, and you can’t know these till you’ve actually lived in a place. The soil may be riddled with white ants, or the wind may blow in a particular direction. Of course, if I see they are doing a lot of concrete boxes, and I can make something better, I’ll demonstrate it to them. I don’t expect any innovations to take hold for a long time. It’s a very slow process. Now, for instance, in Trivandrum, I find a lot of jaali walls. When I first came (some 20 years ago) the flat concrete roof was everywhere; now the sloping filler tile roof which I do is becoming fashionable. Of course, it’s taken 16 years.

Q. You are the adviser to the Kerala Government on housing. To what degree do you influence the design of new housing colonies?
A. I do get on these housing committees, but our interests are different. They don’t want to cut down cost; I try to build cheaply, using elements from traditional architecture but updating them to 20th century technology and lifestyles. So I go on and on, year after year; they listen and do just what they want.