Architect Kiran Kalamdani

Tete-A-Tete with Experts Dated:  Jan. 16, 2015
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Architect: Kiran Kalamdani

Kimaya, in Sanskrit is often a reference to miracles and to achieving seemingly impossible results. True to its name, Kimaya Architects, though operating from a small town (Pimpri Chinchwad) in Maharashtra, have designed projects that have won critical acclaim. We catch up with the power behind the Kimaya movement, Architect Kiran Kalamdani.

When did you start Kimaya? What was the mission behind forming Kimaya?
Kimaya started in October 1989 after Anjali and I returned from York. The mission behind it was to put to practice various theories about Architecture, Interior Design, Urban Design and Conservation we had heard about in college in Pune, Delhi and York.

Contrasting with the general trend of specialization, Kimaya is a practice that extends even into poetry, teaching, journalism, research, activism and photography. How do you see them all amalgamating? Is a generalist view more beneficial than a specialization?
All the various disciplines are complimentary to the need for variety, freshness and unusual combinations that will lead to a better understanding and unusual presentation of each discipline and in the end enrich experience. Specialization and generalization are two sides of a coin where each of these are necessary depending on the situation without fear of or favour to either. So none is beneficial than the other as a rule it all depends on the situation and particular case one is talking about.

You are an Architect, Urban Designer, Conservationist, Landscape Designer, Interior Designer. Which role do you enjoy the most?
There is no single one that interests me completely or any one that I might choose over the other. All these partitions between disciplines melt in the oneness of experience. For the outsider and the man on the street these partitions do not matter. Each of these actually help in a better understanding of a subject or a work of art.

Tell us something about your approach to your projects.
We try to defy the typical methodical approach. As architects we approach projects either with a highly passionate understanding of the central subject or a comprehensive and inclusive understanding of what is required or a multiplicity of viewpoints that need to be incorporated in the final solution. It takes time in any project for the final picture about the intended programme to emerge. For example in a project for developing the memorial for Kanhoji Angre the Maratha Admiral it was necessary to understand the heroism and his contribution to Indian history, whereas while designing the Jain house a poem and a photograph that summed up the essence of a house without corners! So in conservation projects it is necessary to understand the values that are enshrined in the stones while in new projects it is necessary to identify the inner aspirations of the occupant.

Please share any adaptive reuse projects Kimaya has been a part of.
The Shaniwarwada project has been a case of adaptive reuse where a former aristocratic enclave was converted into a place for active recreation and a cultural platform of the city. The Bapu Bhavan or National Institute of Naturopathy was a case where a former residence and clinic was recycled into an institute dedicated to the cause of Naturopathy. The Jer Villa was a project where a former residence of a very famous family of the city was converted to a corporate guest house.

Tell us something about your most favorite project.
Difficult to single out one, as projects are like your children. You create them, nurture and look after them till they grow independent and ready to take off on their own. So to name a few favourites Shaniwarwada, Vishrambagwada, Council Hall, Jer Villa, Jain House, Ganeshkhind, Savitribai Phule Memorial, Ruston Greaves Hall…. Difficult to stop.

You have worked extensively with Intach and several Governmental organizations too.
Yes our ambition in conservation took us initially to INTACH and later to several Government agencies who can raise the resources necessary for such projects

What has your experience been and what are your recommendations based on this experience, if India is to conserve its architectural and cultural heritage.
It needs to be economically viable, culturally acceptable and practically maintainable. At the moment very few options exist for someone who wants to passionately maintain his or her ancestral home. Banks and economic institutions need to become more amenable to such projects. A whole market economy needs to develop around tourism and the nostalgia industry that goes with heritage conservation. History students need to be taught tourism and project related research. Architecture students need to know how to use details and concepts that relate and negotiate between the past and the present. Civil engineers need to widen their palettes to include specifications and techniques from an older time and place. Electrical engineers need to be able to understand the finer aspects of servicing older buildings. Project and Construction managers need to find innovative ways of approaching conservation.

A lot of such projects that you work on can be draining not just on an organization's resources but also at an individual level. How do you keep the motivation going?
In Marathi there is a saying that means ‘A dead chicken does not fear the fire’. So it is a matter of getting used to a lifestyle whereby you are well past motivation and any such external needs to keep you going.

What has been your biggest challenge so far?
Staying Alive with all value systems intact! Creating a next generation that uses all the advantages of our generation and carries the value systems forward.

What challenges do you continue to face and what is your strategy to tackle them?
Creating more awareness and acceptance for conservation and related aspects that enrich contemporary living.

Who are the people you admire the most?
Anonymous makers of sculpture, painting and music of India who created some of the most enduring and memorable masterpieces for all time regardless of whether they got the credit or not!

What do you like to do when not working?
I like reading, photography, travel, music, theatre, cinema, poetry, painting, drawing and sketching, meeting people.

How would you like your work to be recognized?
As someone who did honestly try to practice what was preached. And preach what he practiced.

What is your advice to the youngsters joining the profession today?
To experience, think as deeply and widely as possible so that their expression would have the necessary dimension.

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