The world needs dreamers and the world needs doers. But above all, the world needs dreamers who do. ~ Sarah Ban Breathnach And Dharmesh Jadeja has done both, dream and do. A civil engineer by education, Dharmesh is an inspiration to those who think dreaming big is too much hard work.
Decades back he questioned the wrongs in the field of construction and architecture and set off in search of the solutions. Over 25 years later, that has still not changed, his studio Dustudio, formerly BuildAur, has been broadcasting the flagging glory of indigenous practices, traditional techniques and reinforcing their relevance in a contemporary setup.
The firm indulges in thorough research of local material and techniques and consistently engages with artisans to blend the ancient art of building with progressive designs. Each project by Dustudio is a pure craft of perseverance and their practice a meditative expression.
Rather than discarding traditions they choose to aesthetically celebrate them through their work. Their designs are so eloquent that they merely don’t take traditional practices forward but put them on a pedestal. The basic language is minimal but the execution is tediously intricate.
Apart from their mainstream practice that comprises of residential, hospitality and urban design they also collaborate with several organisations and institutes to orchestrate change on a larger scale. One of their ambitious commitments is the Dhrafa Studio in Dharmesh’s home town, initiated in association with Shaurya Foundation, which aims to establish creative ties between urban and rural communities through research and study programs.
Dharmesh is also one of the most celebrated calligraphists in the country; for him calligraphy is a personal expression that allows him to balance out the demands of his architectural profession. Here Dharmesh divulges the strengths of indigenous practices and its versatile nature to adapt to the current contemporary scene.
From securing a degree in civil engineering to choosing architecture as your vocation, it’s been an interesting journey. Please walk us through it….
After securing the degree in late 80s, like most professionals, I too, was looking for a direction to pursue in my work, but was not satisfied with what was going around in the mainstream construction and architecture industry then; that is when my search brought me to Laurie Baker’s work.
Though very brief, my interaction and study of his work, inspirations, approaches and projects in Kerala, completely changed my outlook towards architecture as well as opened up a whole new direction to pursue.
I decided to explore indigenous practice, materials, principles in architectural design and its applications along with new forms for contemporary use. I moved to Auroville; attracted by its ideals and the character, and I have been here since over 22 years now. I have enjoyed this journey full of challenges and surprises while being fulfilling at the same time in a very deep sense.
A judicious effort for detailing is distinctly visible in your work. What is Dustudio’s design philosophy? How does the choice of materials, construction techniques and their application finally take shape on the drawing board?
Our processes in design and detailing are primarily based on local strengths of materials, culture, artisans, design principles, and whatever it involves. We do try and learn a lot from the local skills and materials used in local context as well as aesthetics, which grounds our work and makes it one’s own.
Our designs and buildings involve a lot of interaction with the owner, thereby making it their creation, rather than ours. Our strength lies in the acceptance and merging of our work in local community or individual context rather than being a reflection of our skills.
Auroville has been tagged as India’s answer to a utopian city. What role has the spiritual and experiential vibe of the society played in your studio’s practice?
I believe strongly in the principles of Auroville and its inspiring idealism; however, as the world and India has changed in last decades, Auroville has to keep up with the pace with which the change is taking place around us, within and outside the country.
To be relevant, Auroville will need to look very deeply within its own organisations to live up to the ideals it is founded upon. I give all the credit to Auroville for a challenging and wonderful environment that it has created where one’s capacities are put to test, whatsoever your field of work is.
The environment and community structure here nurtures, challenges and inspires at the same time while one finds their own path for expression of their creative potential.
I have always taken Auroville too seriously and continue to do so; while I have learnt from my experiences here in several fields, I do get the strength to innovate and experiment simply by being in this environment.
Fearlessness and putting yourself out of your comfort zone, according to me, are two main characters of our learning process at our studio.
We love operating on the edge, taking challenges and charting our own path for creative processes through actual projects; our village studio at Dhrafa, my native place in Gujarat, is one such initiative where we do part of our work from our village base for a few months in a year; equally inspiring and challenging.
It is evident that a lot of effort has been taken to turn to traditional methods in your work. Are these techniques easily substitutable vis-a-vis our modern materials and techniques?
Designers today need to move out of their comfort zone and explore new ways of expression in various fields while creating space for craftsmen and traditional systems. Rather than looking for substitutes for just materials and techniques, we need to create opportunities for our building artisans.
We need to study their ways of operating and create opportunities for them to demonstrate in various ways that suit our requirements, aesthetics and context in today’s world.
Richness, diversity and resilience of our traditional building materials and techniques is unmatched, we simply need to understand it better and learn new ways to create forms and processes that integrate it, rather than make it exclusive or unviable in today’s context.
Owing to lack of appreciation the legacy of crafts and arts is gradually declining, as a result the artisans community of India is dramatically shrinking. How can architects and designers play a role in encouraging and enhancing their lives?
One of the simple ways is to create demand for their skills, supply will follow soon; much of the artisans community in building trade is not using their skills, they are underutilised and following the mainstream thoughtlessly. There will always be some projects that can create resources, possibilities and space for these artisans with a bit of an extra effort.
We need to create the systems that reward such efforts rather than look at it as indigenous or vernacular expressions. Our contemporary projects need to integrate the resilience and restraint of our traditional systems, thereby creating a space for such expression in design.
Earth architecture has been an indigenous practice in India, yet we rarely see it being practiced today, especially in an urban setting. What would make it more universally practical?
I would say earth architecture has always been universal; we simply need to see where in an urban setting an earthen architecture can be applicable. Surely it is possible in cities like Ahmedabad, where outer limits have regulations that encourage low rise buildings as well as it is in vicinity of villages with a lot of resource.
It is challenging to find its purely urban applications but I am sure designers can do a bit more of brainstorming on this and come up with creative applications.
The time has come when we start redefining our notions of luxury, space, experience, etc and see what quality of life our modern comforts have led us to. Let us find some space for earth in this; architecture is just one of that, art can be another.
An architect whose work has inspired you deeply… And why?
Apart from Laurie Baker, I am very much inspired by the genius of Geoffery Bawa and Luis Baragan for the ways they have redefined their own traditions through contemporary practice.
Also, I recently visited the work of Banmu Tang in Taiwan and found it truly inspiring in today’s context especially the way they have integrated nature, landscape and minimalism in their architecture, scale included. There are many more young practitioners who also inspire me in many countries like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Africa, and of course India. I follow many of their projects to learn from their approaches and experiences.
A heritage structure that displays idiosyncratic construction techniques and has made a lasting impression on you?
The various techniques in Mandu, use of local innovations and resources in the architecture throughout Saurashtra in Gujarat, the perfection of terracotta temples in Bishnupur, West Bengal, ecological integration in Rajasthan, the scales in Nalanda and rural innovations in mud, thatch and bamboo in Bihar, etc have been a great influence on the processes of our design and understanding of traditions along with its deep linkages with environment, culture and issues of sustainability.
You are one of the most eminent calligraphists of the country. In what way does your art collaborate with your architecture?
My calligraphy practice is much more of a personal expression to practice restraint and resilience that I wish to learn from architecture. It teaches me discipline, minimalism and rootedness of a creative process that one experiences while on this journey.
The calligraphy practice complements my architectural practice by making it complete by integrating personal expression and search with the responsibility of being an architect whose work is much more on a community level, and their contribution to the society, in general.
When out of your creative space what do you enjoy doing the most?
I write articles and poems sometimes, if that is not creative space..!! However, I enjoy “chai pe charcha” and company of my inimitable friends in Porbandar; and I am getting into farming soon in my village of Dhrafa where you will find me at my studio, sitting and chatting on a khatla soon, like a true Rajput!!
Interview by Shweta Salvi