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  • Ariya Antony

Sustainable Architecture: Frozen Music or Not?

Dakshina Chitra, this was the 3rd time I had been there. But what I see and what I feel as I move through the spaces has never been the same. Amidst the long verandahs, green courtyards, complex sloped roofs and building materials in their almost true form, we a group of students, professors and working architects attended the workshop taken by BK where sustainability and vernacular architecture were the main agenda of the lectures.

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Workshop on Sustainable Architecture

The workshop spanned over 3 days. On the 1st day, the classes were more of the interactive type. We started with the basics of architecture. What is architecture? Many architects and non-architects had put forth definitions for the same. All had similar ideas with different perspectives. ‘Commodity, Firmness and delight’ said Sir Henry Wotton and ‘The masterly correct and magnificent play of masses brought together in light’ said Le Corbusier. But in all this nobody talks about the user and that’s where most of the architects fail in the design.

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Then we went back in history, wondering what the 1st man-made shelter would have looked like and how it evolved to what we see today. This brings me to one of the major topics of discussion, vernacular architecture. “Architecture without Architects” is what B. Rudofsky called it. There is no better way to put it. Building with local materials or using the local building techniques or getting it done by the locals are only some of the features in vernacular architecture. But the major factor is that no trained architect or designer is involved in the planning or making process.

The Craft Bazaar at Dakshinachitra

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The architectural style of a country, a city, or a town varies from each other as well as changes from time to time. The root cause of these diverse features could be social-economical, technological, climate-related or cultural reasons. These were the next issues we discussed. Moving on we talked about the failures in architecture. For example, the usage of asbestos, which was once considered a boon to the construction industry, later had to be completely banned due to the health problems it caused. This was an example of how technological advancement failed us. Also, we looked at some of the planning and rehabilitation projects which affected the social and cultural life of people. Like developing housing for fishermen's families away from the coast.

Click to know more about Tharangambadi Housing

Documentation of Buildings in Dakshinachitra

The latter half of the day was spent doing a very interesting activity. All of us were split into groups and were sent to different functional buildings of Dakshina Chitra. We were asked to observe, infer and study the walls, roofing and other elements of the building. It was remarkable to see the interplay of different materials and construction techniques throughout the campus. At the end of the day when each of us presented the information we collected and the inference we made, one thing that we learned is, “Sustainable architecture” is not a feature that came into the picture in today’s world. It had always existed but nobody pointed it out. The sustainability of a built form depends on; what it is built with…how it is built.. how flexible in planning it is…how long can it last….etc. It is not just about having a rainwater harvester or solar panels or being a platinum-rated building.

The Agricultural House of Tamil Nadu in Dakshinachitra

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The next couple of days we journeyed through the life of Laurie Baker and how he influenced Dr Benny Kuriakose. He also told us how he got into this field and how he reached where he is right now. Dr Benny Kuriakose had a long chat about his major projects like the rehabilitation of the tsunami-affected villages of Tharagumbadi and Chinakudi, the revitalization of Muziris, the introduction of a wayfinding system in Muziris, Palliative care centre (a hospital which can be called home) etc. As he explained about each of his projects we could see the passion and the dedication spent on each of them through every word he spoke.

Click to know more about the Institute of Palliative Medicine

Those 3 days spent in Dakshina Chitra got me thinking about how architecture affects people in different ways, at different points in time. Whether you are the user who uses it, the designer who’s designed it, the labour who’s made it or a layman seeing it as he passes by, the impact it makes is never the same. Architecture is always changing, through the built and the unbuilt. It can never be frozen.

- Ariya Antony

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