‘We are a vast nation with habitual wastage of resources’, Anthony Raj

‘We are a vast nation with habitual wastage of resources’, Anthony Raj

‘There are millions of families with no roof over their heads, particularly in the slums.  For lack of employments in semiurban and rural areas, people are flocking to cities. It would be cheaper to provide them jobs in agriculture and other fields. But there is no political will or even the desire for that among our policymakers. What we need is social engineering of a different order, that focuses on indigenous people and their local livelihoods. Without these, we will continue to build concrete jungles based on inhuman architecture’, says Anthony Raj, Founder-Director, Centre for Indigeneous Architecture, Chennai in an exclusive conversation with sawdust.

Anthony Raj-min

Anthony Raj-min
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Anthony Raj, Founder-Director, Centre for Indigeneous Architecture, Chennai
photographs: Anthony Raj

What is the future of architects and interior designers in the current market scenario?

Unfortunately, architects and interior designers have become extensions of the Marketing Wings of manufacturers of building materials and fittings. They just prescribe or authorise what products may be used. Very often, the clients also tell architects and designers what they want used! Forgive my rudeness, but as long there is a growing market for these items, architects and designers will do good, under the prevalent regime.

Have the skillsets and knowledge being updated by all professionals in the fraternity?

Each architect and designer must answer that question to him/herself. It is in their personal and professional interest to keep upgrading themselves.

There is a gap between academics and professional work? How do you propose to bridge the gap?

There seems to be a vast gap between what is taught in the Universities and what is required at the work site. Even the brightest of the students are not equipped to deliver from Day 1, or capable of striking out on their own. More hands-on exposure at constructions sites will help.

How can architects / interior designers be more productive in their field?

I guess it is a matter of the level of personal motivation and drive.

Why offices in world over are called the “second home” share your views?

Again, it is a matter of personal choice. Very often misguided priority is the reason. There has to be a work-life balance, with a bias in favour of Life.

How to tackle the housing crisis from your vision?

I think there are two different aspects. On the one hand, we have a glut of unsold housing properties. This is a combined result of corporate greed and bad economic policy choices by the governments.

On the other, there are millions of families with no roof over their heads, particularly in the slums.  For lack of employments in semiurban and rural areas, people are flocking to cities. It would be cheaper to provide them jobs in agriculture and other fields. But there is no political will or even the desire for that among our policymakers. What we need is social engineering of a different order, that focuses on indigenous people and their local livelihoods.

Without these, we will continue to build concrete jungles based on inhuman architecture.

What is your opinion about sustainability? How do you incorporate sustainable practices into your projects?

There is no alternative to sustainability, is there? We have to go back to minimal use of resources; particularly land, water and other natural resources. Not only do we follow this in design and construction, but in every aspect of life.

First and foremost, we try to add green cover to the selected site. No trees are cut. New ones are planted.

At the second stage, we study carefully, the on-site and off-site features – climatic and geographic – to position the blocks accordingly.

We then attend to the core building design, concentrating on the two main aspects of climate responsive strategies – shading and ventilation, mandatory for designs in hot humid climatic conditions.

Shading the external walls (up to 50%) from the sun is very essential in the hot humid climate. Keeping this in mind, verandahs are designed as buffer spaces that protect the main external walls from direct sunlight. These shaded buffers prevent the conduction of heat to the interiors.

Today, we are partial to the major use of the Rat-Trap Bond style of constructing walls, which uses less bricks and cement. Being labour intensive, our projects provide local livelihoods, which is a major concern of indigenous architecture.

Habitats themselves are naturally lit and ventilated, offering maximum thermal comfort and consume less electricity. This is achieved by using vernacular techniques like:

  • Exposed brickwork, Rammed Earth Walls, Pitches / Tiled Roofs, Madras Terrace, which help in thermal insulation.
  • Louvered wooden windows and doors control natural light and ventilation manually.
  • Verandahs around the core building, to protect the external walls from intense solar radiation.
  • Use of Kota and Shahabad stones and Terracotta and Athangudi tiles reduce the internal heat gain of the floors and make them comfortable for the users.
  • Jallis at appropriate places to protect the interiors from direct glare and sunlight. Openings are well ventilated and self shaded, adding to the protection of inner spaces from heat.
  • Using Salvaged wooden windows, doors and pillars, is resource efficient. Reconditioned old wood helps save existing trees.
  • Such construction techniques are highly resistant to radiation and help in maintaining a comfortable indoor environment for the users.

Tell me in detail about Energy Conservation and Efficiency – will this Energy Conservation work at all in our country? 

Again, it is not a matter of choice. We have to learn to live with limited resources. Right now, we are a vast nation with habitual wastage of resources, particularly Energy, be it at our weddings, offices, governments.  Responsible use of energy is a moral prerogative towards the future generations.

The pessimists always argue that economic growth always comes at the cost of our environment. They claim that it’s inevitable that materials will be depleted, and pollution will increase as billions of people adapt to a modern way of life.  Can you tell our readers what you feel about it. 

It is unfair to call such responsible people pessimists. All over the world,  so-called Economic Development has come at the expense of the environment. More so, at the expense of indigenous people who are driven out of these spaces. Millions of poor people have been duped out of their habitations and livelihoods – in the name of economic growth. This has only led to the situation where top 400 people in the world owning more than 80% of global wealth. The situation is much worse in India. Corporate greed is instrumental in undue depletion of minerals, water and many other natural resources. The environment is denuded by this greed, which is aided by rapacious economic policies promulgated in the interest of the rich and the greedy. Call this economic growth?

India is leading the energy growth rate of 3.7% in commercial building sector. In this HVAC alone consumes 31% of the total electrical consumption – comment.

Mindless and irresponsible. Inordinate HVAC consumption is due to design that is not sensitive or suited to our climatic conditions and resource position.

Is there a definite role for modular construction in our industry?   What do you think about them.

All design approaches and material usage techniques that result in minimal use of resources, are welcome. If modular construction can achieve that, so be it.

Why learning to build like our ancestors is essential for the survival of the planet

Sustainability. Ancestral houses were built for and by the indigenous people, using sustainable local materials and methods. Sustainability was the key concept.

Locally obtained Materials were used in their natural form. These materials were well capable of turning into earth or their natural form after years of serving its purpose. Thus, this will also engage local people building their own houses instead of depending on specialized technicians, providing local livelihoods.

Thus, vernacular is both efficient in using the site and also provided employment to the locals – always sustainable.

Unfortunately, we are now importing fully designed houses in semi knocked down condition, from China. This is what happens, when 42 people garner the equivalent wealth earned by more than 4 billion poor people.

What has architecture got to do with this?

Can a history of architecture ever be useful?

Good question! The answer is even better, and we all know it. “Those who fail to learn the lessons of history, are condemned to repeat it”.

Let’s save our souls, our people and our economy – by going back to Indigenous! Ghar Waapsi of the more genuine kind!

How do you bring newness in every project of yours?

CFIA approach to each building is different and always concentrates on the site. The design is always a product of a lot of research and mind work. The materials and the display of design though natural, earthy and warm stands out amidst all the other buildings in the locality.

This can be attained by just introduction of new materials and experimentation on the availability. For example, the doors and windows used in our buildings are all not newly made but procured from the old buildings that are being demolished. Such simple acts of reusing materials save on the cost and also make your buildings classic and iconic structures. 

1 Comment

  1. the natural resources are depleting fast i.e potable water , conservation of the same should on priority and unless there are lots of measures taken by the government to the individual this task cannot be achieved. the other important aspects every one speaks is linking of rivers post independence time but there is no road map for the same which would avoid confrontation of sharing water .

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