Monday, May 22, 2017

Being True To Nature

Noted architect Anupama Kundoo makes buildings that do minimal damage to the environment and uses local materials

Photos: Anupama Kundoo by Juan Rayos. The prototype of the dining room of 'The Wall House'. Photo by Andreas Deffner

By Shevlin Sebastian

Anupama Kundoo, with flowing black hair, and dressed in a black and white blouse-skirt, walks elegantly towards the lectern at Thanima-2, an international conference for architects which was held recently at the National Institute of Technology, Calicut.

Indians are one-sixth of the world population, but we have only 2.4 per cent of the world's land,” says Anupama. “This is a huge problem. The number of people on the footpaths of Mumbai are much more than those who live in multi-storeyed buildings. We are in denial of our social segregation.”

The internationally-reputed Anupama makes buildings that are low-cost, have low environmental impact and is suited to the local socio-economic conditions.

She displayed an example of this at last year's architecture biennale at Venice. Within a 2500 sq. ft. installation, she set up a 400 sq. ft. prototype of a low-cost house.

The house was hand-made,” says Anupama. “I took the help of artisans from Tamil Nadu who made blocks made of ferrocement (a cheaper and different type of concrete) at the Technical University of Berlin, with the help of German engineers. Then they came to Venice and made the walls and floors on the spot.”

Ferrocement has many advantages. While reinforced concrete is 15 cms thick, ferrocement, which is made of fine chicken mesh, is only 2 ½ cms. “Thanks to the mesh, the tensile strength is evenly distributed,” says Anupama. “So, it is more ductile than concrete and earthquake-resistant.”

This kind of house can be assembled in five to six days. So you save a lot of money and time. And local masons can build these simple components in their own backyards.

Meanwhile, the trip had an impact on the artisans. “Because they spent time in a heritage city like Venice, they realised that there was no need to imitate anybody,” she says. “In fact, they felt proud of their Indian heritage.”

And so does Anupama, who passed out from the JJ College of Architecture, Mumbai in 1989. Thereafter, for the next 12 years, she lived in Auroville, Pondicherry, where she built several innovative buildings. The most notable one was her own residence called 'The Wall House'.

It is L-shaped, with a courtyard in the middle and was built using traditional achakal bricks and terracotta tubes. As a result, she had reduced the use of concrete and steel. The dining table was made from a single log of wood, while the bathroom has an open-to-sky design. Incidentally, a life-size replica was shown at the 2012 Venice Biennale.

Apart from her building projects, Anupama is an academician. Today, she holds the chair of 'Affordable Habitat' at Universidad Camilo Jose Cela, Madrid, and was the Strauch Visiting Critic at Cornell University. Earlier, she had taught at Berlin, New York and Queensland. And she urges her students, especially those from India, to use local skilled and unskilled labour, along with the members of the local community for their projects. “In this way, the impact on the environment will be minimal,” says Anupama. 

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi) 

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