Monday, October 13, 2014

Golden Jubilee Celebrations of Department of Architecture, College of Engineering, Trivandrum













A couple of awesome talks by Ar.Benninger and Ar.Peter Rich!!  Benninger took us through his works, right from one of his first projects to the recent IIT project that he is doing, explaining his thought process and inspirations. He impressed upon us the need to develop our own architectural language and explained about the evolution of such a language through the chronology of his projects.

Peter Rich's presentation was filled with slides of his drawings and hand renderings, which were truly amazing. What was truly inspiring was that during Benninger's talk, Peter Rich was intently scribbling notes and sketches in his sketchbook, constantly keeping on learning even at this age. One of Peter Rich's strong advice to young architects were to travel across the length and breadth of India and study the vernacular and traditional architecture which the country had to offer. He was of the opinion that this would be the best form of learning for any young architect, learning from history and re-interpreting it in your designs. He further called for architects to become more of activists, standing up and raising their voice for causes that they believed in. All in all, it was a really inspiring talk.








Thursday, October 2, 2014

Helipads on top of High rises in India - is there a rationale?

I was reading through the article regarding the Los Angeles' Mayor's announcement saying that for new buildings it wasn't mandatory to have helipads on top as per fire rescue guidelines, as they limit the city's skyline to flat topped boxes and wondered about the relevance of this rule in an Indian context. The intention behind the Mayor's move was to have a more interesting skyline for Los Angeles, giving architects the freedom to go beyond flat-tops.


Image courtesy  - www.dailynews.com

los-angeles-no-longer-requires-helipads-on-buildings-allowing-for-bolder-skyscraper-designs



The logic behind this particular guideline, which is mandatory as per the National Building Code for buildings above 60m in height, is to have an escape mechanism for helicopter evacuation in case of fires in high-rise buildings. Although altruistic in intention, the practicality of landing a helicopter on top of a burning building needs to be analysed, with several experts felling that this is extremely dangerous. What is interesting is that Los Angeles was one of the few remaining cities in the US were this rule existed. Alternate mechanisms like separate elevators for firefighters, additional staircases etc. could be more effective and practical. 

In an Indian context, as was seen during the recent fire in Mumbai, helicopter evacuation was sought as a last resort to evacuate the trapped firemen. There also, the helicopter did not touch down on top of the building but only lowered the Navy sailor to rescue the trapped firemen. This does lead to question whether such a tactic can be employed instead of having a full fledged helipad on top. There have been plenty of instances where the DGCA has refused permission to land a helicopter on top of these helipads citing safety concerns. If the helipads are seen unsafe by the aviation authorities then why bother having them in the first place?

Image courtesy - www.indiatimes.com

More than any aesthetic consideration, one needs to wonder whether spending such a lot of extra money for the structural design and reinforcement required for erecting a helipad on top of a high-rise building is worth the expenditure if it is not going to be of much practical value. This is especially relevant in high-rise residential developments where this cost accrued to the builder is directly transferred to the resident. We need rules and regulations which work, which are practical and which takes into consideration all the stakeholders and not merely rules which exist on paper for a feel good factor. We must also understand that the value of a life is paramount and should not be compromised at all. It is high time that we rationalize the regulations and take into confidence the building community so that they do not cut corners and come up with inventive solutions to work around ineffective rules. It is thus critical that we revisit these regulations and reframe rules which are really effective and relevant in today’s context. Parallelly, we need to strengthen and better equip our fire services to deal effectively with emergencies in high-rises. The Los Angeles announcement has come at just the right time for us to introspect on our situation and address the existing concerns.


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Laurie Baker Centre for Habitat Studies

Tha magic of Baker still lingers on. Had been to the Laurie Baker Centre for Habitat Studies in Trivandrum. I feel it is one of his least visited designs as it is slightly away from the city. But the simple beauty of his designs are still so inspiring. Scroll down and explore!!
















Tuesday, July 8, 2014

HEAR YE RAIN GODS!

Seriously, what is happening with the monsoons in Kerala? The first week of July is coming to an end and we are still waiting for the first real signs of rain! Sure, there has been intermittent rain, sporadic and in fits and bursts. But what of the consistently heavy downpours that one associates with the monsoon in Kerala?...what of the cozy days spent indoors with a cup of hot coffee and a good read, listening to the incessant chatter of the raindrops on your roof?...what of those school re-opening days when like an accurate clockwork it would start pouring for the first school assembly?...what of those puddles of water on the roads?...alas, they all seem like distant utopian memories. Memories that look destined to be just that – beautiful vignettes stored away in the recess of our minds.

Is all of this related to the innumerable changes in the ecosystems that we human beings are bringing about? Has it got anything to do with that dreaded word – ‘climate change’? If so, how are we as architects contributing to this either directly through our actions or indirectly through our inactions? How is the built environment contributing to these?


All of these are questions that we need to ponder over as yet another day drags to an end without any sign of the rain gods making an entry anytime soon..

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Studio Mumbai - Bijoy Jain interview


Forum Mall, Mangalore


Went to the newly opened Forum Mall in Mangalore recently. Saw this interesting installation in the central atrium made up of hanging colourful umbrellas. Found it pretty interesting.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Architectural scenario in Kerala

The architectural scene in Kerala is going through a very interesting and critical phase. Following the amazingly refined traditional wooden architectural period, the architectural scene in the state meandered meaninglessly following the collapse of the princely state system under the administration of the British Empire. The architectural intervention of the Britishers resulted in an eclectic mix of public architecture which manifested most prominently in the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture. This, however, was limited only to a few sporadic public buildings and did not extend into the residential typologies. Following independence and subsequently, the formation of the new state, there was a period of stagnation when there was a total lack of imagination and direction. This was further augmented by the easier access to cement and concrete technology, resulting in the creation of meaningless concrete boxes. The waves of the modern architectural vocabulary of the post-independence architectural experiments of Corbusier in Chandigarh and of other practitioners in the rest of the country gradually began to wash over the shores of Kerala and resulted in their translation into the residential architecture of the state, but was limited mostly to the residences of the rich. A lot of fanciful and interesting designs evolved during this period, but soon fizzled out.

It was also a time when the nascent profession of architecture began to take its initial steps in the state, struggling to establish a meaningful presence in the local architectural scenario. This struggle continued well into the start of the new millennium, aided by a slew of factors – the lack of visionary and strong willed initial practitioners, absence of visionary clients, failure to strike a chord with the masses, absence of conceptual clarity and a unifying ideology. If in places like Ahmedabad and Chandigarh, there was a clear direction forward vis-a-vis, defining a modern architectural vocabulary for a new India, surprisingly, in Kerala, this was completely missing. The zeal for a new direction and language was missing – both among the practitioners and also among the academic circles, where the quality of discourse was average at the best.

It was also the time when Laurie Baker made his mark in the built environment with his unique designs. The inherent beauty and logic of his designs caught the imagination of the common man, who went in for the ‘Baker model’ homes, which were unique, sustainable and cost effective. That it took a man like Baker, a supposed foreigner, to understand and frame the issues and to work towards evolving an architecture which addressed these concerns, also tells us of the lack of local architects with genuine empathy and understanding. Thus, Baker created a remarkable body of work which were timeless, which are relevant even today.

Following a phase of gradual consolidation, the architectural profession in the state is now at a crossroad. We are presently in a confused state of existence – unable to make up our minds whether to offer continuity – off imagery, of form, of materials, of spatial planning and functionality...or, to tangentially deviate into uncharted territories and untrodden paths to define a new vocabulary, where the risk of committing errors are greater, where the chance of being proven wrong are much higher...
This presently manifests in a language which borrows heavily from both the past and the futuristic globalised forms, often creating hybrids which are as confused as the viewer is of their state of being. It has also resulted in architects following an imagery of globalisation without necessarily having the conceptual depth and understanding, often ending up as impoverished imitations.

However, out of this merging of old and new, sometimes works of real value arise, works which are grounded in the present, taking cues from the past, while looking forward to the future. Albeit rare, such spaces offers hope – hope that the architectural profession is not done and dusted yet – that there can be creative solutions for the issues we face today, that we as professionals can rise up above mere commercial considerations.

A positive offshoot has been the improvement in the quality of the academic discourse, where there is an infusion of younger blood and ideas. The stagnation and depreciation in the standards of education in the state has been gradually arrested.  Yet, only the downward spiral has been arrested as of now – there is a lot to be done to grow up and evolve. This realisation that it is high time that the standards of academic discourse has to rise has brought in a gradual change of attitudes, a change of focus, which will only benefit the young minds growing through this system. It is again a crucial period for the architectural education scenario in the state, with plenty of new private colleges being granted permission to start their intakes for the architecture course. A lot of these colleges lack the basic infrastructure and lack educators who are of good calibre, often settling for mediocrity just to get the course up and running. The fact that this situation will adversely impact the minds of the children learning there does not seem to matter for a lot of such institutions. The unforeseen fact is that in a few years, there will be an abundance of half baked professionals graduating from such institutions flooding the architectural scene - graduates who are not at all fit for practising architecture, ultimately dragging the profession even lower. This situation must be addressed urgently by all concerned so that there is a dialogue on the way forward.

Another malady plaguing the architectural scenario in the state is the lack of quality research done, both academically as well as by the professionals in the field. This aversion to research has to be overcome for meaningful solutions to emerge. In this age, research is crucial, for the professors as well as the practitioners and is one way to bridge the chasm between academics and practice.


Thus, architecture in Kerala is in a heightened state of flux, where the opportunity to shape a better built environment clearly exists and is one of the mandates that lies before the profession. This opportunity must be delicately addressed to frame the issues, to open up more meaningful exchanges and to ultimately evolve a relevant architecture vocabulary that addresses the needs and aspirations of the people and to guide them forward as stake holders in shaping up a better future environment.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Renovation of own residence at Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala by Ar.Sujith.G.S

The existing house consisted of two levels on a gently sloping site, where one entered from the top level through a small semi-open verandah. A small living room and 3 bedrooms were arranged in the upper level, with the dining and kitchen on the lower level to accommodate the slope of the site. The existing design was a simple one, made interesting by the utilisation of the slope of the site. However, the major functional and aesthetic disadvantage of the existing house was its small central living room. The room was itself small and its functionality was totally reduced by the placement off the 3 bedrooms around it. Thus, 3 separate doorways branched off from this living room. In addition, the entry door as well as the staircase opening was again positioned into this small room. Thus, there were circulation paths all around, ultimately diminishing the usable space inside the room.

Naturally, one of the major requirements of the renovation was that the poor design of the living room be addressed. In the end, this was done by sacrificing one of the smaller bedrooms directly behind the living room. The single common wall connecting this bedroom and the living room was demolished with the result that it totally opened up the whole space. In addition, one of the doors to the masterbed was shifted so that it increased the privacy and also for improving the efficiency of the circulation spaces. The window on the leftside of the entrance was removed and a landing alcove created to access the stairs leading to the top floor. This further opened up the space, bringing in another dimension to the spatial volume.

An additional floor was created on the top by adding a multifunctional space which doubled up as an informal lounge and a study. The overriding concerns were to create a space which was open, well ventilated and yet, one which was private. Thus, the vocabulary evolved consisted of floor to ceiling openings, large overhangs and ample greenery. The space was a simple one, a linear volume which opened out onto the landscaped terrace garden on one end and onto the lush greenery of the treetops on the other end, creating a corridor through which wind traversed continuously all day long. The small terrace garden elevates the overall design, creating a well proportioned space which is very private, all the screening provided by the coconuts and the ficus tree canopies. This landscaped garden with the river pebble bedding and green palms help in anchoring the space.  A bedroom space and toilet make up the rest of the space on this floor.







There is an inclination towards the earthy in the form and texture of the materials used – a combination of exposed bricks and pristine white walls, offset by the earthy colour and texture of the matt floor tiles. This is enhanced by the large openings all around, designed in simple steel joinery, creating a seamless transition between the inside and outside. The wardrobes in the bedroom are finished in exposed mdf and glass. The furnitures in cane along with the vibrant hued fabrics spice up the space adding more life. The rustic theme is carried forward in the accessories like the terracotta urns, the traditional old hanging lamp etc. The framed black and white photographs on the walls, taken by the architect himself, add a lot of character to the space.






















Saturday, April 5, 2014

Mahabalipuram


The amazing Shore Temple at Mahabalipuram revisited after a long time. Timeless beauty

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Vadakkumnathan Temple, Thrissur

Went to the amazing Vadakkumnathan temple in Thrissur. Totally amazed by the magnificence of the structure, by the many layers of meaning, by the rich history and wonderful colours. The architecture is timeless and stirring, moving you to appreciate the concepts of worship and mythology and the power of spirituality. Stone, wood, fire, light, shadows...all combine to create an out-of-the-world experience. Sensory, aromatic, acoustic and tactile senses – all are heightened to encompass one in a state of contemplation and peace. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Mr.Jose Joseph's residence at Calicut by Stapati

It is not very often that one gets to see residential spaces that are designed in a simple yet elegant manner. The Jose residence is just that. A simple juxtaposition of spaces shorn of ornamentation, treated in a very understated elegant manner.

The residence as such is placed on an elevated level from the entrance road, following the contours of the site to keep the cutting and filling to a minimum. It is a composition of white rectilinear volumes interspersed with plenty of greenery. One of the focal points of the design is the semi-covered living space, which is partly cantilevered out. The entrance, along with this living space is at a higher level than the front yard. One has to climb up through a series of landscaped steps to reach an entrance court. The indirect entry through the lush greenery helps set the tone for the entire design.



The entrance court is a pebble covered landscaped court, which is covered on top, thereby creating a space that is at once open and yet, one which is sheltered. From this court, one can either access the semi-covered living area or enter into the main house through another set of steps. The semi-covered living area is a space for relaxation. The cantilever makes the space seem to overhang and float into the landscape in front. The roof is a glass canopy with traditional reed mats on top creating a textured pattern which filters the sunlight during the day and creates an interesting play of light and shadow. The informal old wicker chairs in white further adds to the ambience.



As one enters the main block of the house, one is greeted by a well detailed wooden door with niches on the side walls. One enters into a large expansive space which forms the living and dining spaces. The thing that is immediately noticeable is the openess of the space and the greenery outside. Floor to ceiling sliding doors cum windows frame the sides, creating a continuum between the interiors and the exteriors, thereby ensuring a flowing of spaces which is not rigidly demarcated. The gravel covered landscaped yard thus becomes an extension of the interiors, inviting one to step out and become part of the nature. Thus, the living and dining area is completely washed in natural light with the lush green of the landscape forming a constant backdrop.



The dining space is a double height space and is made all the more interesting through the play of volumes. The staircase leading to the upper floor is interestingly done with no balusters on one side of the flight, adding to the openness of the space. The steps are finished neatly with treads in saw cut wooden planks.

The interiors are finished in a very subdued colour scheme of white and grey, complemented by the black of the cudappah flooring. However, this subdued palatte is enlivened by the lush green outside and further by the bright colours of the various fabrics in the furnishings.

The entire house is interspersed with artworks, which impart a unique ambience to the spaces. Truly, it is these little touches, done with impeccable taste, which serves to add vitality to the whole composition.