Revathi Kamath: The Heart & Soul of Mud Architecture
“My whole effort is to make mud a viable material” once said Revathi Kamath when asked about her unusual style of architecture. She was one of those sensitive architects who had managed to ‘strike gold’ from the mud. Revathi had managed to add a new dimension to mud architecture with her path-breaking projects. It is extremely unfortunate that we no longer have her with us. Architect Revathi Kamath passed away on 21st July 2020 leaving us all in grief.
However, she is still with us in the form of her marvellous works in mud and contributions to vernacular architecture. If you are still unaware of her glory, let us learn about ‘Revathi Kamath as an architect’ and explore her projects. The scale and the nature of projects she has done are truly inspiring by all means.
Holistic ideologies of Revathi Kamath
Revathi’s love for mud architecture had touching new heights. She also was credited for the tallest steel structure in India. Isn’t that amazing that she was flawlessly the master of both worlds? In an interview on being asked about her ‘favourite’ project, Revathi replied; “My favourite is the next one. The one that’s yet to come! I am constantly moving forward. In the future, I see a lot of human beings living in harmony with nature. There will be a lot of positive and holistic search for our being. I see an ecological civilization as our collective future”.
Kamath was a very humble person who was in immense love with the subject of architecture. Dedicating her heart and soul to sustainable and vernacular architecture, she has managed to create a vast legacy. As a result, her works reflect on sensitive and revolutionary projects. Some of the noteworthy projects by Kamath are the Jindal auditorium Raigarh, the Tribal museum Bhopal, and Tal Chhapar Rajasthan.
Revathi strived to establish an architecture that resonated with a holistic way of life. She believed that architecture and design had the power to influence lifestyle and human perception. Thus, she was of the opinion that architecture had the power to consciously regulate human civilizations.
Transforming Thoughts to Reality:
Kamath’s ideologies were not limited to paper. She actually transformed most of her thoughts into design. Her ideology of associating human behavior with architecture is very evident in one of her earlier projects, the mud house. This mud house at Faridabad is fondly famous as ‘Revathi Kamath Mud House’. The ecology in the vicinity of this house was once ruined by illegal mining activity. Therefore, Revathi’s approach towards this design was an answer to this devastation. Her ideology here was to establish a responsive design that aids in the healing of the wounds that mining gave to the ecology.
The materials used in this project were procured from the site itself. The arrangement of spaces was in a manner to attain maximum daylight and ventilation. Judicious use of non-renewable materials was also done. Overall, the house was not a burden on the ecosystem. Rather, it was something that helped the ecosystem recover and enhance further. Hence, with a thought process so strong there is no doubt that the client’s house is still known as Revathi Kamath Mud House.
Another ingenious design that is on the list of top Revathi Kamath projects is the ‘Evolving House’. The concept of the evolving house focused on creating an incremental space for the weaker sections of society. The aim here was to create a scheme wherein the underprivileged could live and work in the same space. Thus, as the name suggests, it was truly ‘evolving’ the lives of the needy.
Foundation of strong ideologies: Revathi Kamath’s Early Life:
Alumni of School of Planning and Architecture at Delhi, Revathi started her stint with The GRUP – Group Rural and Urban planning. She had the opportunity to closely work with the ‘starchitects’ of that time Romi Khosla, Vasant Kamath and Narendra Dengle. Working with the stalwarts of the industry gave Revathi an edge and perception towards design. But it was her love and exposure to architecture and works of international architects right from childhood that made her the personality she was.
Even in the time of eighties, Kamath’s thought process was something we could call as ‘ahead of time’. Working with organisations like GRUP brought in a change in Revathi. She began to translate design and architecture further in the realms of economic, social and cultural diversities. The Anandgram project was one of her earliest that reflects her qualities of empathy and sensitivity.
Even as a child Revathi would spend a lot of time understanding works of various architects and styles and importance of architecture. The idea of socially responsible architecture and sustainability was so immensely deep-rooted in her. There are two instances of her life that makes us realise that her ideologies and beliefs were more than just thoughts. She had lived life the sustainable and holistic way and that is what very much translated into her buildings.
The first is when she built a small temple in her vicinity with the locally available and sustainable materials, whereas the second instance in of her present-day office, built-in mud. Her office in the upmarket area of Delhi adds an unusual contrast to this otherwise mundane fabric. Both of these instances of two ends of her life show how she embraced the holistic way of life. Sustainability seems to have completed the circle of life for Revathi Kamath.
Revathi Kamath & her unique style
On speculation of her works, belief systems, and style one would realize that Revathi Kamath architect was not limited to her being a designer, but it had more depth to it. She had a deep sense of understanding of materials. Revathi empathized with users and took into account the lifestyle of the users. The social traditions and economic strata of her users were the major focus of her designs.
A Personal Interview of Revathi Kamath:
She was once interviewed for a show for the Doordarshan, the government broadcasting platform. If one happens to have seen this interview, there is no way that once could escape from getting lost in her aura. The interview features Revathi talking of her projects briefly. Moreover, at one point she is seen describing her approach for a cluster development project. She stated that to understand the users better and in order to make sure that her design approach caters to the users in the most appropriate way, she decided to talk to one of the women of the settlement. As a result, she is seen stating that how the woman helped her with her memory of the village and how the initial drawings were made.
The interview further states how Revathi understood the importance of the local aspects of everyday rural life like the community square ‘chaupal’. Revathi even focused on everyday life and is seen addressing the local words ‘Chula’ and ‘charpoy’. Revathi explained that the organic nature of rural settlements though seems to be just an organic mass, involves high order and hierarchy. Therefore, she made it her endeavor to understand these details right from the local population. She undertook a unique exercise where she made a note of the dimensions of the settlements with the help of the local woman. This woman would give dimensions in terms of length of a hand and fingers, and Kamath made note of it and converted it into schematic and dimensional drawings.
This was the style of Revathi Kamath, unusual and precise. These incidents put light on the fact that she went out of the way to add the touch of precision to her works. This is why even today Revathi Kamath projects still remain the most admired.
Magical work’s of Revathi Kamath
Let us now have a look at some of her marvelous works.
NAAD- The Wellness Center and Spa
Naad wellness resort showcases the unique design wherein Revathi had made efforts to make all the spaces oriented towards the central water body. Moreover, the hierarchy of spaces was such that natural ventilation is enabled, giving the spaces a natural healing property. Naad Wellness Sonipat has the best use of environmentally conscious materials and design strategies to get in the natural light. It adds meaning to the design purpose of a wellness center. The whole effort was to create a space that induces tranquillity. Kamath tried achieving this abstract challenge by incorporating a series of water bodies and water walls. Moreover, the landscaped areas drew inspiration from the Garden of Eden. There was a predominant use of Rajkot’s eco-friendly tiles in the construction, adding a touch of sustainability. Naad wellness resort was thus seen as a space promoting freshness and a de-stressing environment.
Revathi here tried to bring to light the culture and lifestyle of the tribal population of Madhya Pradesh through her design. Her design of the tribal museum Bhopal reflects the everyday life of local tribes. Moreover, the built forms are fashioned on the tribe’s everyday life. Hence, she made it a point to understand the culture of the community and then translated them in the form of materials, forms, and geometries. Special heed was paid to the spatial fabric of the museum. The museum predominantly features local stones, bricks, grass, and earth. These were the building materials actually used by the tribes as well. The entire structure of the tribal museum Bhopal is put together through steel trusses and crenelated beams.
Jindal auditorium Raigarh is another of Kamath’s magic. This is a cultural center in the city of Jindalgarh in India. The auditorium was designed to house major events, with a capacity of 2000 spectators. The mild steel structure of Jindal auditorium Raigarh comprises structural steel plates and beams.
This was the most unique project done by Kamath. It did not involve mud, stone, or local bricks. Nevertheless, Revathi managed to paint her sustainability thoughts here as well. The use of shading devices on the façade aided passive cooling. They also helped in improving the aesthetics of the building. The use of the structural trusses helped Kamath in creating a huge column-free space. She tried to use this as an advantage and tried to achieve aesthetics out of the structural systems. This rendered Jindal auditorium Raigarh a monumental look. The smart use of landscape can also be seen in this project. It helps to pacify as well as balance the aesthetics and the scale.
Tal Chhapar in Rajasthan is quite an unusual project by Revathi. It is a black antelope sanctuary in the Churu district of Rajasthan. The design focus here was not limited to creating the built facilities for the sanctuary. It rather also focuses on creating spaces for the caretaker’s residence, the development of the neighboring inhabitant population, and other architectural requirements for the forest department. Revathi here introduced the concept of sustainable livelihood to the women of the neighboring villages. Through her local sensitive approach, she tried to understand their culture and its effects on their spatial needs. Thus, Kamath then tried to reverse the existing colonial structures with the one that the local population one identify themselves with. Kamath’s approach was to revive the local identity at Tal Chhapar Rajasthan.
Moreover, with a view promoting recyclability and eco-friendliness, she used materials like fly ash bricks, recycled stone and bamboo.
Revathi’s absence from the architectural industry is surely a huge loss. However, what she left behind is a great legacy. Embracing her ideologies, learning from them, and developing our work on the likes of sustainability and holistic developments should be the endeavour of each of us, Revathi is no more, however, her ideologies are still alive in her projects and in the minds of all the young architects who look up to her and address her as ‘The heart and soul’ of mud architecture.