Abhikram under the heading of ‘Our Mission’ on their website are these lines, “To explore design directions and design processes which make the external as well as the internal environment, functionally, psychologically, environmentally and spiritually, more contextual, integrated and comfortable.”
Abhikram, the word in Sanskrit means ‘initiation’, and I don’t think this design based in Ahmedabad and lead by the architect duo of Nimish Patel and Parul Zaveri could have chosen a better name.
These stewards of the Earth’s resources have already initiated a unique ‘green approach’ and they take special care to see to it that they build structures that are spiritually nurturing and respectful of creation.
Interviewed By Mala Bajaj
What was the genesis of your firm Abhikram?
Abhikram was started by us in 1979, with a view to explore design directions & processes which make the built environment functionally, psychologically, environmentally and spiritually more contextual and more comfortable for the end-user.
Built environment to us, means:
A response to human needs;
Responses to the human needs must go beyond the function, economics and aesthetics, and also cover human comforts; Human comforts comprise physical as well as psychological aspects;
Adequacy of physical and psychological comfort leads to increased productivity, better human relationships, and overall peace and harmony for the end-users; and it is only when we, the architects/designers, also address these issues, that the contribution of the profession to the society is likely to increase in geometric progression.
What have been the rewards of practicing ‘your’ kind of architecture?
There have been many, and we continue to be rewarded everyday with more of these. Some of the significant ones are:
We have understood the value, as well as the relevance, of the traditional knowledge and wisdom in our professional and personal lives. This has contributed to our continuous growth.
This realisation has helped us re-establish the use and relevance of the traditional materials, processes, technologies and craftsmanship skills, in contemporary context, through our projects. We have been exposed to the skills and capabilities of our traditional crafts persons while contemporizing the use of crafts in our designs.
Our efforts, to generate employment for the skills of the traditional crafts persons in present day projects, have demonstrated extremely encouraging results. One of our project, ‘The Oberoi Udaivilas’, had generated employment for 300 highly skilled traditional crafts persons for over 3 year. Most of them have found a greater demand for their skills and crafts on their own subsequently. There have been many more with similar results at their respective scales.
Use of a highly sustainable material like Lime, as mortars, plasters and paints, has found greater acceptability even in our current projects, reducing the use of cement. This has also demonstrated its contribution in reducing the heat ingress in new buildings.
We have learnt the value of collective creativity, with humility, in the application of our knowledge, in our designs.
How far away is India from mainstreaming ‘sustainable’ architecture in the context of new developments?
‘Sustainability’ for our country seems to have been defined by few other countries, so as to serve the objectives of their own economic gains, in this market driven economic development model. And our own professionals are lapping up the ‘Green’ label, without even checking if it is ‘Green enough’ for our needs and priorities.
We are pursuing the objectives of ’Maximizing the Savings’, which is more appropriate for western countries, rather than those of ‘Minimizing the Consumption’, which is far more appropriate for India.
Torrent Research Centre is possibly still the largest passive cooled building in India and in use for the past 14 years. During this period, it has recovered the entire civil and finishing cost of the building, from its energy savings only, and has been consuming a quarter of the maximum energy bench mark set for hot dry climate by Teri-Griha. Despite this well established fact, even after seven years, the benchmarks have still not been revised appropriately for the higher performance standards.
That is how far we are from mainstream ‘Sustainable Architecture’. Labels and awards, based on intents only, are still being seen as more important aims, rather than the actual performances criteria.
Which are the buildings of India that you admire or get inspired by?
We would like to divide these into three categories viz..
The first is all the historic areas of the country till 1930’s. In this category we admire every significant temple, mosque, fort, palace river bank, and a majority of ordinary residences in any part of India.
The second category is from 1930 to 1991, during which the Art Deco and Modern Architecture were the principle influences. In this category, we admire the Golkonde House at Puducherry, the Gandhi Museum at Sabarmati Ashram, Ahmedabad, the Bahai Centre at Delhi, the Kanchanjanga apartments at Bombay, Mr. B.V.Doshi’s residence at Ahmedabad, the Anandgram complex at Delhi, most of LaurieBaker’s buildings, Rajghat at Delhi, innovative and experimental architecture of Auroville, and many more buildings.
In the post liberation, from 1991 some of the buildings we admire are: Raj Vilas near Jaipur, the Crematorium at Surat, the Crematorium at Rajkot, Anand Niketan School at Rajkot, Rang Shankar Auditorium at Bangalore, Works of Renu and Sharukh Mistry, of Dean D’Cruz, of Sanjay Prakash, of Vinod Gupta, of Gautam Bhatia, of Latha & Jaigopal Rao, of Vasant and Revathi Kamat, of Chitra Vishwanath and of many others with similar out looks to life and architecture.