Gabled roofs, laterite stone walls and traditional balcões often find a place in Goan architect Dean D’cruz’s work.
Dean’s work has a fantastical aura to it, be it his widely recognised Nilaya Hermitage or his lesser known residences. Some choose to call him India’s answer to Gaudi. Just like the famous Catalan architect, Dean too fearlessly plays with the material palette and romanticises form to an extent that it almost seems artistic.
But his buildings have always respected his traditional heritage; in fact, to a great extent his work in Goa has glamourised the local architecture of the state. In times when architects selfishly think about their creative potential and use sustainability as a gimmick, Dean’s work consciously advocates sustainability and green architecture. These environmental sensibilities also extend towards the State of Goa, as Dean is a member of a high level committee currently focused on urban interventions, sustainable principles and conservation.
My first meeting with him was a decade back when I was as a student, since then he has evolved as an architect, but as a person Dean comes across as the same humble and laid-back individual that made a strong impact on me all those years ago. It is an honour to present his views and experiences in this space. Read on to know why.
You have said before that architecture was not your first choice of vocation; at what point did you start believing that this was the right career choice for you?
I grew up wanting to be an automobile designer. Its only in my second year of architecture I realised the fulfillment that we can have as architects, creating and visualising objects almost individually; unlike the poor automobile designer as one cog with hundreds of other engineers to hammer creativity into a saleable product.
You studied in the prestigious JJ College of Architecture in Mumbai, what made you choose laid-back Goa to establish your practice?
Practising in Bombay seemed daunting with the prospect of struggling for the first 10 years with apartment interiors, the next 10 years with restaurant and shop renovations and the last 10 years with possible houses in Lonavala or Alibaug! There could be 10 more years but I would have run out of my inheritance by then! Goa seemed a much better place to stretch that inheritance!
Your earlier work, in a good way, glamorised traditional Goan architecture. What is the most difficult part of convincing these high-end clients to take the traditional route?
Low costs is one very powerful convincing tool. So long as your clients are assured that whatever you design will cost less than the conventional, they will give you a free hand with whatever direction you choose. We, of course, felt that we needed to respond to the strongly prevalent style of traditional architecture of Goa but reinterpret it in our own way.
Trends change every few years, new technologies are introduced in answer to the scale of construction and rapid development; in the wake of all these developments where do the traditional techniques and skilled craftsman stand?
We have always tried to preserve craft in our buildings not just for nostalgia but for reasons of ecology and social continuity. New technologies and materials do bring benefits but their factory models disconnect communities, rapidly changing employment patterns and diminishing the connect between trades people and the buildings they make.
We see a few glimpses of Laurie Baker (use of traditional techniques and material) and Antoni Gaudi (use of form and metalwork) in your work. Do you have any favourite design icons?
Yes, Baker and Gaudi are great influences and it is their hands-on and free thinking approach that is admirable.
There are a number of designers pushing the boundary today, but unlike the supporters that Baker had or the patrons that Gaudi had, they are handicaped by briefs that lack vision and their creations are limited to some functional requirement, losing out on the potential excitement of architecture.
Sustainability has become the current buzz word in the industry; some architects are really proactive while some use it for effect. What according to you should be the approach of a designer to achieve an all-inclusive sustainable project?
It is sad that a number of architects simply apply set down guidelines of green rating systems at times at the cost of a simple sensible approach. Formulas and point systems make things easy but the real challenge is to think out-of-the-box and to debate the very design requirements. Can we build less? How much flexibility can we introduce? How long is the building really needed for? Do we need to build at all, or can we solve the problem by a non-architectural solution?
You have always believed that design is a combined effort and your firm’s initiative Design Valley endorses that. Can you tell us something more about Design Valley?
Design Valley is an initiative by a few architects and designers to create a platform to brainstorm and challenge each other on new directions.
It would act as a centre for research and learning, creating a data base for all to use. It would offer a holistic design service in all fields – from the macro area of urban planning to the micro area of product design and communications.
You are a member of a Goa State Level Committee. How has been the experience so far and how do plan to tackle the increasing urban interventions?
The main thrust of the committee was to prepare the new regional plan for Goa, but I believe its greater goal was meant to have capacity building for the people of Goa and to empower them to plan their futures themselves through ward level interventions, keeping the State as a whole in mind.
On a lighter note Your favourite space in your office?
A small rest room with a pull out bed for my after lunch power nap.
The Goa that tourists miss out on when they just laze around on the beaches…
Villages with a strong sense of community, forests with an amazing diversity of wildlife. The beaches and tourism in Goa now, is a mess and it amazes me how people still throng here.
A young architect whose work you admire…
There are a number who have the spirit of experimentation. It is sad however to see a great amount of talent lost on individual houses catering to idiosyncratic needs.
The efforts of this channeled into buildings with greater social contributions would see a more effective architecture that would bring about real change that our country greatly needs.
Interview by Shweta Salvi