I joined College of Engineering Trivandrum during 1963 for engineering studies. My preference was for civil engineering. It was during my second year of engineering studies that architecture was announced in the college. I happened to land up in that branch due to completely extraneous reasons. One of the reasons was to save myself from the wrath of a teacher who had become quite unfriendly with me.
But it was providence. Right from the first day I started liking the subject. There was no looking back.
In those days architects were considered as glorified painters by our engineering brothers.
I was trained in the modernist tradition of “Form follows Function”. But form was always preconceived, as if it could only follow, but never cope up with function.
It did not take me long to understand that the so called functionalism is another type of formalism. Especially in the dominating climatic conditions of Kerala, the products of modern architecture looked totally ill suited. But traditional building forms were a taboo for a modern architect. It was a dilemma.
After two years of doing small jobs, I took up teaching in 1971. Just like most of our young teachers in Architecture today, I also did not know how to teach and what to teach.
In 1972, I joined for Master’s Degree in Architecture at University of Roorkee. It was in their library that I came across the English translation of ‘Manasara’ – the ancient treatise on Architecture. I was not at all impressed by the book.
I became more serious about Architecture education, seminars, conferences. I decided to do my M.Arch dissertation on architectural education in India. Prof. G.M. Mandalia encouraged me.
‘Ecology’ was first introduced to me at University of Roorkee in 1972 by Prof. Viswamitter. It was an eye opener. The realization that there cannot be any ‘international style’ in architecture was to follow.
Back to school and teaching, the conviction that the knowledge of time established traditions and ancient shastras, also is an integral part of architecture education was being confirmed and interactions with traditional “stapathies’ started in the late seventies.
Kerala is very distinguished for its domestic architectural thought. “Manushyalaya Chandrika’ is a Sanskrit work of exclusively Kerala origin, a code of practice for ‘establishing’ houses. Right from the measurements, selection of site, laying out of the structures and construction of buildings. With it stipulation regarding ‘Veethi’, ‘Padam’, ‘Marmam’, ‘Yoni’, “Aaroodham’, the system looked total but mysterious. Principles of ‘Tantra’ and ‘Jyotisha’ were also involved. The method were mysterious but the products superb.
Laurie Baker was growing under stiff opposition from establishment in Trivandrum. Interaction with him proved invaluable. After 1979, when I became Head of Department, different occasions were created for his interactions with staff and students.
We had introduced the study of Kerala Architecture in to the syllabus. Students were made to take up projects of documentation quite early in their architectural career. It worked. The attitude towards tradition that it is something simply to boast of and not to be practiced changed.
As the students grew more interested, many organized work on documentation were taken up. Members of faculty showed total involvement. There was more interaction. Center for Applied and Fundamental Research provided financial assistance for these works.
The culmination of the effort was the documentation of the famous Padmanabhapuram Palace, one of the typical monuments of Kerala Architecture. Lately one of the members of the faculty has completed a PhD on Kerala Vastuvidya.
Another commitment was that on environment. The basic ideas again grew from the soil – the dominant natural elements of Kerala. Traditional buildings here look as part of nature, like anthills and beehives. Modernism was changing the face of cities and villages but buildings looked out of place. Neither were they comfortable shelters under varying climatic elements. Respect of land, and ecosystems was something to be cultivated at school. As a part of this theme, we embarked on an environmental laboratory in the school. Direct central assistance from H.R.D ministry was sought. Even though the money came by, the dream is yet to be materialized.
If I list my achievements, it will become evident that its effects have been local rather than regional.
- Developing Department of Architecture, College of Engineering Trivandrum into one of the best schools in the country.
I had inherited the school with very little assets. Now it functions in an independent building of its own and is self sufficient. It is a live school with research activities, departmental consultancy, student activities including co-curricular ones going on in full swing. It has gained an identity for itself, through its grade.
- Most of the members of the faculty and most of the promising architects working in the State were ‘spoiled’ under me during the last 20 years. Some of them have spread over the country and abroad.
- My research and studies which are little published are concentrated on three areas.
- Architectural Education: Starting from my post graduate das and spurred by the need of a young teacher with no one to guide, it was a necessity for effective functioning side by side with the intellectual pursuit.
- Kerala Vastuvidya, the mysteries of which was being viewed by engineers and architects with prejudice, superstition and callousness, was brought under observation with an open mind. Students and young faculty members got involved in the studies enthusiastically. The experience of inviting traditional ‘stapathies’ who had no modern education, to school for lecturing to architecture students on ‘Vastu Vidya’, though raised many an eye brow, was worthwhile.
- Environmental science, especially acoustics was one of my pet subjects, right from my science degree college days. How to use ordinary building materials and components to behave in an acoustically responsive manner was an important theme of study. For example, using concrete jali work in the form of resonators with different frequency response proved effective, This technic was experimentally used in one of the auditoriums and became largely successful Lack of electronic equipment to correctly assess the effect was a problem.
( I have also found out – a by product of my studies – that the timber ribs in the ceiling of Chaitya halls were retained by Buddhist monks for acoustical effect. Without these Chaitya Halls were far poorer)
- On the administrative side, I am one of the very few architect teachers who was called upon to head an engineering college. In 1991, Government of Kerala appointed me as Principal and Special Officer for starting Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Technology at Kottayam.
- In 1993, I was promoted as Joint Director of Technical Education, the first architect to hold such a post in the state.
- In 1994, April the responsibility of Director of Technical Education, Kerala was entrusted with me. It continues. But I have not given up Architectural practice even now.
- I am gratifies by the fact that some of my old students approach me with requests to collaborate with them, especially on competition projects. I have participated in quite a few of such projects with my old students and won citations and prizes. I consider this a great privilege
But will blowing my own trumpet, so much, make me deserve a covetable medal like this?