Dressed in a black blouse and white skirt, Anupama Kundoo walked elegantly towards the lectern, at Thanima-2, an international conference for architects held recently at the National Institute of Technology, Kozhikode.
“Indians are one-sixth of the world population, but we have only 2.4 per cent of the world’s land,” says Kundoo. “This is a huge problem. The number of people on the footpaths of Mumbai are much more than those who live in multi-storey buildings.”
This internationally-reputed architect makes buildings that have low environmental impact and are suited to the local socio-economic conditions.
She displayed an example of this at last year’s architecture biennale at Venice. In a 2,500-sq ft installation, she set up a 400 sq ft prototype of a low-cost house. “The house was handmade,” says the 49-year-old Anupama.
“I took the help of artisans from Tamil Nadu who made blocks 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 cm thick, ferrocement that is made of fine chicken mesh has a thickness of only 2½ cm. “Thanks to the mesh, the tensile strength is evenly distributed,” she says. “So, it is more earthquake-resistant and ductile than concrete.”
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,” says Kundoo, who holds the chair of ‘Affordable Habitat’ at Universidad Camilo Jose Cela, Madrid, and was the Strauch Visiting Critic at Cornell University. “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.
Anupama, who has also taught at Berlin, New York and Queensland, says she always 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,” she says.