Alex Jacob

Tete-A-Tete with Experts Dated:  March 29, 2014
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Architect: Alex Jacob

A clever approach to projects and an out-of-the-box perception and judgment of architecture define this man. Alex Jacob, the Bangalore based architect shares a brief account of his life, background, work and style. Delve into this section to get a clear picture.

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I have done my Architectural graduation from MIT, Manipal, in the year 1984. Subsequently, in 1990, I underwent a six month training program at an Architectural office in Hiroshima. My schooling was in Kerala and Ooty. Although born and brought up in a small village, I had exposure to the inhabitants of the rest of the country, as well as foreign nationals from a very young age, and this kind of broadened my outlook towards life.

Typical of many Indians, I harboured notions of playing cricket at a higher level, but never progressed beyond college and district level. Somewhere along the line I was drawn to rock and more specifically progressive rock music, and the day dreams moved onto visions of being a lead singer in a band, although much of my singing never progressed beyond the bathroom stuff. I used to be a fitness fanatic, but now my exercise is restricted to walking and an occasional round of golf. Although introverted, I enjoy socializing with good company. I enjoy travelling and would love to see more of the world, the sinking rupee permitting.

My college days were a breeze of good times, just doing enough to gain a first class in the final year, but my real education started with Ar. V.K.Girdhar with whom I worked for six years, a man of immense patience and an ability to teach, as well as detect the talent in people he came across. I am completely indebted to him for having shown me the direction towards interior designing, as well as for having given me the opportunity to design my first pub Purple Haze, which won me some national recognition. To date, he continues to patronize me, as I am sure he does with very many others who worked for him. I spent a year and a half with Charles Correa, looking after his Bangalore operations. The time spent with Charles was like going to finishing school. It rounded my approach to architecture and he is one the Architect whose work philosophy I admire the most. 

When did you first start your practice and what kind of projects have you been doing? 

I started my practice in 1991, and have followed a principle laid down in our strictures.”Thou shall not solicit work “; a philosophy that was better off in the sixties. For some strange reason I wish I were an adult in the 60’s than born then, as my taste for music produced in the 60’s and 70’s remains steadfast, as also the kind of Architecture that flourished before the advent of computers.

Which kind of projects do you enjoy the most?

I have been doing an odd assortment of projects, and am glad so, for when I get a spate of projects of a similar kind, it tends to be boring and the imagination dries up. It takes me ages to firm up a concept and once there, I like to move decisively. Rejuvenation of my creativity is also long drawn, so when there is a lull in the work, I go golfing, loaf around and watch people. Lack of work never worries me!

Tell us something about your approach to your projects?

My approach to work is that over the years I have found that the really challenging work, the projects where you get infinite freedom are very , very few; but of late I have a few in my bag.  Even after twenty odd years of practice, I get projects where I am told what exactly to do, especially when it comes to the appearance of the building. While facades are important, the greater joy lies for me in what lies beyond the doors, much as I admire inner beauty in humans over ostentation.

What defines your style?

 My style is very eclectic, uncomplicated, contemporary, but my roots are definitely ingrained in what I do. It takes maturity and selflessness from a client to let go and allow a professional do what he thinks is best. Those are the clients who get the best out of me.

Who/what inspires you and your works?

I am inspired by nature, a newly sprouting leaf in my garden brightens my spirit, I am inspired by the natural beauty of a woman, I am inspired more by intellectual rather than artistic expressions of architecture; for example in ancient Japanese architecture structural members would be embellished, although minimally, as opposed to facades elsewhere, where one gets giddy looking at all the superficial ornamentation, not knowing what to focus on. Having said that, two extremes of building expressions that I have admired are The Notre Dame in Paris and the Potala Palace at Lhasa. The time spent in Japan has made me very good with tight spaces, an example being my office built on a 17 ‘x 55 ‘ strip of land.

Tell us something about your most favorite project?

My favourite project has to be the Vijayans’ residence, where I got to work on it from concept till the end, with a great amount of freedom.

Do you feel architects and designers should be concerned about environmental sustainability? 

The environment should be our greatest concern. God knows we have damaged it enough. Our work always embodies water conservation and treatment if possible, I use open wells extensively to recharge the soil and advocate solar power to all our recent clients. Greening with trees has been a passion for me, and this is one area where I feel a lot of builders can do much more towards giving back to the soil what they take away. Hard scaping is good to keep clean surroundings, but water must percolate and trees must be planted extensively.

What has been your biggest challenge so far? 

My biggest challenge has been the administrative aspect of running an office. The various taxes and fear of punitive measures if we make a mistake, takes up so much of time that I could have used productively otherwise. The professional tax office gets about a thousand rupees from me every month, but they insist that it be delivered by cheque to their office in person. Courier is not allowed and online payment is not active. Then there is TDS deductions and their filing which is such a nuisance,often inducing petty penalties; not to mention service tax and income tax.

What challenges do you continue to face and what is your strategy to tackle them?

Challenges continue to manifest in the form of aspirations from clients, difficult sites or badly designed buildings where we go in to create interiors, and yes budgets! We have no choice but to work around it.

What drives you?

I feel I am yet to bring out the best in me. I guess that drives me. Every time a new project comes by, I am enervated by a desire to excel with new ideas, sometimes they get deflated halfway.

Any words of wisdom for youngsters starting out today?

To the youngsters , all I have to say is that do not pursue money at the beginning, pursue knowledge and gain experience, instead of rushing into starting their own practice.  Getting good at design is a very long journey and the good practitioners get better with age, just like good whiskey.

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