Constructive conversations

Anjali Jhangiani
Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Chatting up urbanist Madhav Raman about how architecture in cities can be more greener, cleaner and prettier

Co-founder of Anagram Architects, Madhav Raman, has earned quite a reputation within the architectural community. With many feathers in his cap, he continues to be experimental with his work, bringing in a fresh perspective towards architecture in the country. The architect-urbanist was a speaker at the recently held Design Dekko, an initiative led by Godrej Group, to bring together the collective wisdom of thought-leaders from the design space. “Conversations are the seedbeds of good design. It was exciting to think outside silos and cross pollinate ideas,” he says. We pick his brains about his work, his methods and his ideas.
It is essential to be eco-friendly in every aspect nowadays. How do you integrate this into your work? 
It’s important to consider that no act of architecture is inherently eco-friendly. Sustainable architectural practices need to ameliorate the impact of building on the environment. This can’t only be done through tactical design thinking. Deeper, strategic questions, of the kind of living architecture induces, need to be asked and urgently answered. This can range from evolving material innovation and creating ecological empathies to making fundamental changes in the lifestyles created by architecture. We try and do all three in our work. The challenges are many but the most important one is to manage people’s aspirations to a better life while being more aware and frugal consumers. A lot of the answers lie in connecting cultural comfort with physical well-being.

Old cities like Mumbai, Kolkata, Delhi are torn between preserving history and adapting to modern times. What is your take on this as an urbanist?
This is an outcome of cities transforming from being repositories of traditional identities to being spaces of innovation and new globalised material and cultural productions. The churn is natural because it reflects our own societal conflicts between tradition and modernity. The good thing is that a lot of opinions on this conflict that were left out of the conversation, are now finding voice. And so it is key that government must include these as legitimate stakeholders in city transformation processes.

Tell us about your work in material innovation. 
At my firm, we consider the material construction of architecture an important area for both innovation and expression. So much of how spaces are used is determined by how open or closed they are to the external. We look at material, both natural or industrial, and construction techniques, both modern and traditional, critically, not just for environmental and financial costs but also for cultural and technological relevance. In fact, we strive to ensure all four aspects are addressed in our architecture. We feel it is important for architects to choose wisely between speed and sustainability while deciding what to build with and how to build with it. 

What lessons would you pass on to young architects building tomorrow? 
More than lessons, we are essentially responsible for the kind of planet we are passing on to future generations. There is no question of building tomorrow if there is nothing to build with and nothing to build for! Building requires resources and we certainly haven’t used them wisely this past century. I think the most important thing for building in the future is to understand the nuanced cultural links humans have nurtured with the Earth and with each other in the past and to embed them in our motivations to pursue technological innovations.
Why must public spaces accommodate installation art? 
We live in cities to live close to each other and so dense cities are the best cities. Naturally, this puts a high premium on large privately held spaces. Therefore, it is important for every city to offer its citizens easily accessible shared public spaces. In India, because of our large urbanising population, we can’t afford large European style plazas. Our streets and roads provide a bulk of the shared public spaces in our cities. As a result, almost every Indian city’s culture is discernible on its busy streets. Unfortunately, the banality of urban commute tends to disengage us from our cities. Installations and street art are therefore significant cultural engagers and instigators.  They can also serve as important identity anchors for the different precincts of a city. 

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