The Heart & Soul of Mud Architecture: Revathi Kamath.
“My whole effort is to make mud a viable material” once said Revathi 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. But 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, try looking up things as simple as ‘Revathi Kamath architect’ or ‘Revathi Kamath projects’ and you will be amazed. The scale and the nature of projects she’s done are truly inspiring by all means.
Holistic ideologies of Revathi Kamath
It is commendable that she was the master of all. While her mud architecture has been touching new heights she was also credited for the tallest steel structure in India. Isn’t that amazing that she was flawlessly the master of both the 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”.
This implies her simplicity. This shows that Kamath was a very humble person who was in immense love with this 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. She has earned laurels for her work, some of the noteworthy works being the Jindal auditorium Raigarh, Tribal museum Bhopal and the 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. Her ideology of associating human behaviour 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.
And these ideologies were not limited to paper, it did actually translate into the design. The materials were procured from the site itself. The arrangement of spaces was in a manner to attain maximum daylight and natural resources. Judicious use of non-renewable materials was done. Overall, the house was not a burden on the ecosystem. Rather it was something that helped the ecosystem recover nag 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 the 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’s earlier 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 realise the phrase ‘Revathi Kamath architect’ was not limited to her being an architect, but it had more depth to it. She had a deep sense of understanding of materials. She empathized with users. She took into account the lifestyle of the users. The social traditions and economic strata of her users were the major focus in her designs. 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 endeavour 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 one 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 her marvellous works.
NAAD- The wellness centre 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, thus 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 so as to add meaning o the design purpose of a wellness centre. 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 were replicated with that of 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 distressing 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 tribal museum Bhopal reflects the everyday life of the tribes and the built forms are fashioned as per 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 the materials, forms and geometries. Special heed was paid to the spatial fabric of the museum. Local stones, bricks, grass and earth were predominantly used as these were the building materials actually used by the tribes as well. The entire structure of the tribal museum Bhopal was put together with the help of steel trusses and crenellated beams.
Jindal auditorium Raigarh is another of Kamath’s magic. This was planned as a cultural centre in the city of Jindalgarh in India. With a capacity of 2000 seating’s the auditorium was designed to house major events. The mild steel structure of Jindal auditorium Raigarh is composed of structural steel plated and beams.
This was one of the contrast projects done by Kamath as it did not involve mud, stone and local bricks. Nevertheless, Revathi managed to paint her sustainability thoughts here as well. Shading devices were used on the façade that helped in passive cooling and also acted as aesthetics. 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. Hence, smart use of landscape was done by Kamath to pacify as well as balance the aesthetics and the scale.
The Tal Chhapar Rajasthan is quite an unusual project by Revathi. It is a black antelope sanctuary in the Churu district of Rajasthan. The design focus was 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 neighbouring inhabitant population and other architectural requirements for the forest department. Revathi here introduced the concept of sustainable livelihood to the women of the neighbouring 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. But what he left behind is a great legacy. Embracing her ideologies, learning from them and developing our work on the lies of sustainability and holistic developments should be the endeavour of each of us, Revathi is no more, but 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.