Anthony Raj

Tete-A-Tete with Experts Dated:  March 29, 2014
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Architect: Anthony Raj

Anthony Raj, an architect who instantiated the concept of indigenous architecture in India shares the journey of his career and his approach towards projects with the public. Go through this short interview section to know more about his style, work and inspirations

Some Personal Information that you would like to share.

Some Milestones in my professional life:
•    Founder, Centre for Indigenous Architecture
•    Executive Director, Shriram Group, Chennai. (1994-2011)
•    Managing Director, WordCraft.(1989 onwards). 
•    Editor & CEO, Fortune India, Investment Monthly, Mumbai. (1983-88)
•    Assistant Editor, Business India, Mumbai (1979-81)
•    Research Assistant, Tata Economic Consultancy Services, Mumbai.
•    Advertising – R.K.Swamy Advertising.
•    Marketing - Economic & Political Weekly, Chemical Weekly.

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

In 2011, I started the construction work at my family’s farmhouse near Pondicherry with inspiration and help from Prof. Satyaprakash Varanasi and Mr.Dharmesh Jadeja (Auroville). Midway through the project, I started experimenting with various techniques of Indigenous Architecture. Thus was born Arulville. In the process, I learnt about the beauty and the benefits of native architecture. As a layman, I felt that it was important to share these with others like me.  This led to my foundation for the Centre for Indigenous Architecture. With many young Architects visiting Arulville, I was surprised to find that Indigenous Architecture was not a part of the curriculum for B.Arch.
Sometime in mid 2013, a former colleague of mine, and an admirer of Arulville and Indigenous Architecture, commissioned me to build a Vedapatashala in the outskirts of Chennai. The project is spread over a 2.5 acre of land, and comprises at least four building. The first building, a Guest House of 3000 sft, consists of 4 Studio Apartments, each with its own large living room, a kitchenette and a spacious bathroom. Extensive use of exposed brick walls, Palmyra joists, Madras Terrace for ceiling, pinched tile roof, 12 wood pillars are some of the main features. The building will be completed in the next two months. Meanwhile, we have started constructing the next building, which will have a Dormitory and a Study Hall for about 30 children. A 1400 sq. ft. open hall on the first floor will serve as a Prayer and Community Hall. Adjacent to that, will be a Dining-cum-Kitchen unit, with an Overhead Tank to serve the entire campus. The foundation for this has been laid. The fourth unit will be a central Washroom for the children, and visitors. The entire waste water will be recycled through an adequately large leach pit and used for gardening.

Tell us something about your approach to your projects.

The basic design approach is indigenous architecture, with minimal dependence of electricity for cooling purposes. Effort is made to minimize use of cement, steel, paint and similar manufacture products, to reduce cost. Most of all, the campus is designed to function fully, with the least dependence of electric power and to remain cool even at the height of South Indian Summer.

What defines your style?

There is nothing fancy. I prefer straight lines, long and unwinding verandas. Also, there is 100% correlation between form and functionality. And, not to mention, there is minimal use of material. We believe in encouraging and empowering artisans with knowledge of local building materials and methods. And at all times, the built space should be in sync with nature and regenerative making Design & Architecture future perfect.

Which kind of projects do you enjoy the most?

I hope the Centre for Indigenous Architecture will be retained in the future to build similar community campuses. Discussions have been initiated with a Catholic Convent to build a Meditation Centre for the nuns, using indigenous architecture. And we hope to bad a few more similar projects.  Each of our projects must become iconic and a source of simple pride for its owners. Just as Arulville is a source of joy and pride for my family.

Tell us something about your most favourite project.

With just one and a half projects, there is nothing much to talk above. Arulville is our only fully completed project to date. And in another six months, we will have the Vedapatashala demonstrating our design philosophy and benefit the community of its users and visitors. We believe each of them will stand out as unique and naturally belonging in its environment.

Who/what inspires you and your works?

The beauty and the benefits of indigenous architecture inspire me. 

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

It is not about the architects. The entire humanity is just a temporary custodian of our earth. And we have no right to damage its sustainability.

What has been your biggest challenge so far?

I am just starting out, in my 60s! The lack of greater knowledge of indigenous methods and materials is my real handicap. But thanks to the artisans working with me and young architects and engineers who keep updating my knowledge base, I do not feel that challenged anymore.

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

Just keep learning and experimenting every day.

What drives you?

Pardon my repeating myself. The beauty and the benefits of indigenous architecture inspire as well as drive me to work better.

Any words of wisdom for youngsters starting out today?
Follow your heart. Climb every mountain coming your way. 


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