Winner of the Holcim Award For Sustainable Construction in the year 2011 and the Architect Of The Year Award in 2001, amongst many other worthy commendations, Flying Elephant Studio is an architectural firm based in Bangalore headed by Rajesh Renganathan and Iype Chacko. Rajesh’s professional interests include architectural and urban planning directions derived from his research on spatial patterns in nature. Iype’s experience is wide, ranging from large scale hospitality, institutional, high rise and industrial buildings to residences and interior projects.
The firm thrives on the energy, enthusiasm and fresh thinking of a team of young architects who work closely with the experienced senior partners. The diverse nature, in building type, scale and location of commissions secured over the past 15 years gives their business a distinct professional versatility.
Always site-specific and drawing upon the region’s architectural tradition their concepts quite often revolve around a series of strong geometric shapes that stand in contrast to the nature around them, yet not competing with it.
Use of local people is constantly favoured by the studio which helps generate employment and development of skills. They create buildings that are perfectly suited to the client’s needs while respecting the setting and taking advantage of the natural assets of the surrounds. Armed with a variety of simple, observable strategies, their work never fails to resonate with a green ethos.
In spite of their busy schedule, Home Review managed to hook up with the principals. Here are some of their thoughts on architecture and sustainability.
How would you describe the architecture you practise?
Our approach is direct and pragmatic. It attempts to combine innovative and sensitive responses to program,climate and site, with efficient use of resources including sun, air, water and building materials. On the other hand it needs to transcend these criteria; to include pleasures of simple sensual delight in architecture, and layers of meaning rooted in locale, use and culture.
Can you give us an example where you created a green architectural roadmap?
Good architecture is generally sustainable by default. Hence we do not prepare a special ‘green’ architectural roadmap. We just try and make ‘good’ buildings by achieving more and expending less. We do not like to brag about our building’s ‘greenness’ or chase a certain certification and since each project comes with its own unique solution we cannot have just one architectural roadmap.
What is the one thing you would like to change about the architecture practice in India?
The tendency towards complicated, overdesigned architecture! There is a need for architecture that is simple without being simplistic. It takes a lot of hard work to make design solutions look effortless. In our country, somehow a lot of emphasis is laid on its exterior design. In fact if an architect submits a simple and effective plan the average client feels that not enough work has been done by him.
Which are the buildings that you admire or get inspired by?
What comes to our minds right away is the Kailash Temple in Ellora. The building may be very ornate on the outside but internally it is planned with an extremely energy efficient design. There is one more building that we admire a lot and that is the Golconda building in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Pondicherry. It is a reinforced concrete building, a pure modernist structure, sensitive to both the spot on which it is based and to the climate of South India. The architect, Raymond, used cross ventilation and parallel horizontal louvers and precast thin-shell concrete vaulting to create a ventilated double roof for insulation to help deal with the climate.
Another structure that impresses us is a mill owners building in Ahmedabad, created by Le Corbusier.
How does your firm manage to achieve business goals whilst adhering to your innate sustainable outlook?
There is no conflict, since our patrons are well informed in these matters. We are lucky that more than 90% of our clients need no additional convincing. We and our clients seem to be looking in the same direction of wanting to make a structure, that is based on a simple yet holistic style. A response to the landscape and climate, judicious use of material and the involvement of local labour is what we jointly agree upon, fortunately.
What works better for you, moulding your clients to your sensibilities or catering to the wishes of your clients entirely?
Works both ways; one improvises depending on circumstances. As a responsible professional you need to educate clients about what makes good architecture, but you also need to listen, read between the lines, and respond effectively.