No Wonder The ‘Great Forgotten Material Of Our Time’ Is Staging A Comeback

In Conversation with 
Monica Khosla Bhargava, Principal Architect at Kham Consultants

We in India have a huge amount of local materials to choose from, and technology to help us – why don’t not we take the materials and skills to build a sensitive and responsive modernism out of that?  

India has been a rich reservoir of materials and skilled craftsmanship. There are a few reasons for the design and material product industry to shift their radar to the West in the past century. Technology, industrialisation, mass production and marketing strategies are the significant markers. This has led to an identification of Modernism in design with expressions from Europe and America. The good news is that it has reached its saturation. Worldwide, designers are looking for fresh inspiration stories from Africa and South Asia.

How do you stop a so-called familiar-looking classical architecture from more than just a skin on the outside of the building?

Conserving classical architecture is also about preserving our chapters of history. At times, when preservation is done insensitively, it may seem like a mere skin on the exterior. But, it is important to maintain the architectural style and characteristics while incorporating modern essential services like lighting, air conditioning, plumbing, structural strengthening, fire fighting etc for it to remain relevant and comfortable for modern usage.

The interiors too, can be creatively designed to highlight the experiential aspect of the space and yet make it feel fresh and new!

Do you think incorporating traditional wisdom in architecture can contribute to the culture of a city or a nation?

Knowledge of architecture which is obtained from historical documentation and studies in this subject is very valuable in understanding how people of a culture, city or nation live, but it should never be confused with myths and beliefs which also abound in the name of traditional wisdom.

Describe the role of Academicians and Institutes in training the pupil to create innovative design using local crafts?

There is a huge lacuna in our country of academic institutes which teach product design using local materials and techniques. This is one of the reasons that these techniques remain as crafts and cottage industries. These techniques are the ones that we need to encourage for product design, so that they can be mass produced using technically educated labour and then break the existing dependence on western technology and products.

In this design climate, it is important for India to develop colleges for product design and skill development. This will enable creation of a rostrum of designed products using local materials, as well as factories or production centres, where technically trained personnel can implement these designs to perfection.

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

Every project of mine is designed with bespoke elements which engage local artists and artisans. Bengal has a very strong artist community. Using terracotta wall murals by sculptors is a favourite in our projects. We use it as an admixture of surkhi, marble dust and white cement. This enables us to work on very large surfaces as compared to traditional terracotta which gets restricted by the size of the kiln, and this also gives the project a contemporary feel.

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