FOLLOWING THE FOOTSTEPS OF APPUKUTTAN NAIR
Now our office is doing the renovation of the Kalakshetra Theatre. So happy to get involved in this project about which I was hearing from its architect Shri Appukuttan Nair during my early career days. Many things which I learnt about traditional architecture of Kerala was from him. The initial design phase is over and I felt that he is standing behind my back and giving approvals to the design changes that we are making to the great building of Kalakshetra’s Koothamabalam that he has designed more than 30 years ago.
When I used to work with Laurie Baker, I used to meet him. He was a bit doubtful in the beginning, later on he shared quite a bit of his knowledge with me, saying that you are the only person who had come to me to learn about the traditional architecture of Kerala not as part of writing a thesis, or an assignment or a dissertation. I was thrilled when he asked me to design the residence of his elder son, Mr. Jayasankar.
Shri Appukuttan Nair was the president of the Margi Club, which was actively involved with the Kathakali and Kootiyattom teaching in Thiruvananthapuram. Both of us were involved in the design of the interiors of the class rooms which was carried out by a master mason Anil Kumar. One of the architects who visited Margi Club two or three years ago told me that the brick murals which were created at that time are still there. Although Shri Laurie Baker and Shri Appukuttan Nair had not met each other, both of them had great respect on each other’s works. Shri Appukuttan Nair had a deep knowledge about traditional performing arts and he has written many articles on these subjects.
When the exhibition on the Contemporary Architecture of India was held in 1985 as part of the Festival of India in Paris, from Kerala, only the works of Shri Appukuttan Nair and Laurie Baker were selected. Although only few buildings of his design such as the Koothambalams at Kalakshetra at Kerala Kalamandalam and Chennai Kalakshetra survive now, he has designed many structures and he used to say that when I have done the design, my part is over. When so many architects were talking about Critical Regionalism etc., he showed by designing Kerala Kalamandalam in the 1970s. Shri Appukuttan Nair never wanted to get fame or publicity and I used to tell him that if you do not pass on your knowledge to the next generation, then our relevance will not be there. Finally, he agreed to write about his experiences and knowledge about traditional architecture. He wrote a few pages on Kerala’s traditional architecture and gave the hand-written script to me. But as the author he put my name in his hand-writing and told me to get it published. I said that I will never do this and the article he has written might be there in one of my old files. He told me that I have to write it down and he will talk about the experiences, but unfortunately I got a little busier with my work. He passed away in 1994 and the fact that I did not spend more time with him, learning about his experiences and writing about them, remains as one of the great things I missed in my life.