How The Salvage Queen Is Mastering The Art Of Using Traditional Crafts In Architecture

Shreya Krishnan, Principal Architect at Shreya Krishnan Design Office focuses on creating climate-proof, handcrafted, and co-created buildings with a focus on environmental and social responsibility, while keeping the client and end-users at the centre of the project.

What were the guiding principles for any project that you work on? 

How do you choose the materials for the same. We select materials based on the following priorities: 

1) Using materials that are salvaged/reused to reduce the carbon footprint of the project. 

2) Locally available (within a 100km radius if possible) to reduce the carbon footprint due to transportation costs. 

3) Using materials that might have positive co-benefits such as promoting local livelihoods and crafts. 

For example if we need to pigment the walls, salvaging/reusing is not an option, but we prefer to go with lime plaster applied by local skilled craftsmen if possible. We try to use locally available or Indian stone in all our projects rather than imported stone as we believe Indian marbles/sandstones are undervalued and more robust with high aesthetic values.

What are some of your favourite decor, design, or architectural elements in your projects?

In our project “House with a Pond,” we used salvaged wood from the existing structure to create sunshades completely out of wood joinery without using a single nail. We asked wood joinery craftsmen from Kerala to come and work on the site, and they put it together. 

Five years later, it’s still going strong. We also used waste Jaisalmer stone that had been used for flooring to create a floor mural of the Adyar river at the entrance foyer, as the house is near the floodplain of the Adyar river in Chennai. Similarly, in “House by the Beach” we had designed a solid granite stone column base which was inspired by traditional South Indian homes, the stone was worked on by local craftsmen in Auroville.

Let us know about any recent interior project in which you engaged or intended to employ the local artisans/craftsmen of India.

We recently completed a project called “Tamil Modern” where we utilised the crafts of Tamil Nadu and brought them into the 21st century. We asked artisans from Chettinad who traditionally weave kottayam baskets to create a woven wall panel and wall partitions denoting the five landscapes of Sangam literature.

We also created a one of a kind wall to wall carpet woven by local women in Bhavani, a village famous for its rugs called “jamakaalam.” We created a jamakaalam design with a modern twist. The artwork on the walls celebrated the local graffiti artists who were capturing everyday life and people on the streets of Chennai as well as the traditional Tanjore art of Tamil Nadu.

How important is the role of Academicians and Institutes in incorporating regional crafts in innovative design?

Academics and institutes are integral in incorporating regional crafts by way of researching traditional materials such as bamboo, mud, cane, and others, and creating standards and data that can help professionals in the built environment such as myself to specify these materials in my project with a stronger research base.

Do you think the use of more local materials & traditional crafts can be a game changer in sustainable architecture designs? What is the future for craft and makers in the design industry? 

I believe that they can be, especially if they are infused with an aspirational quality that can compete in the imagination with the chrome and glass high-rise malls & towers of Gurugram.

I think there’s some way to go, but the truth is as most companies are looking towards going low-carbon and sustainable, there is nothing better than traditional crafts, As an architect, one of the reasons I like to promote local crafts in my projects is to reframe traditional crafts as an aspirational luxury product.

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