Every edifice should speak the language of its country, says Anne Feenstra, displaying friendly buildings at an exhibition in New Delhi

Three different structures by three different architects in three totally different countries and settings… but what binds them is their innate connection with the human beings who not only reside in them but also around them. Disappointed by the number of skyscrapers and high-rise buildings that lack a distinct identity of their own, Dutch architect Anne Feenstra brings us glimpses of these unique structures to inspire, sensitise and spread awareness, in the photo-exhibition ‘Architecture for Humanity’.

An initiative of Anne’s arch I, supported by the Centre for Media Studies and Embassy of the Netherlands, the project has taken off with three countries but as it progresses will travel to new countries and incorporate similar sites.

“We would like to do research on these sites, a detailed study on the culture, background, climate and the process of architecture. My mother doesn’t know anything about architecture and she recently visited India and she would look at these malls and giggle. I, too, was flabbergasted by the contradictions, the craft material for building available here and such structures. Where was India in them… nowhere. A building is meant for human beings. As an architect, we should create friendly buildings. You can call them green, sustainable, etc. This project is a platform for a dialogue in this area and addressing urban issues,” says Anne who divides his time between Afghanistan — where he teaches at the Kabul University — and India, where he is a member of the visiting faculty at the School of Planning and Architecture.

The process

As for the three buildings included in the first leg of the project, Anne feels you can’t get more diverse than this. And he is right. While the visitors’ centre at Pamir National Park in the Wakhan corridor in Afghanistan, built by Anne, is made of rockstone, Vasanth and Revathi Kamath’s residence is a mud house in Anangpur village, Haryana, constructed on what was once an abandoned quarry site. The third, Villa Maarsingh, made by Onix architects at Leeuwarden in the Netherlands is fashioned out of locally available timber.

“It’s a miracle that such structures have been built. The area in Afghanistan on which the visitors’ centre is built has the highest mountain of the region, which is 7000 metres high. With Marco Polo sheep and other endangered species, it is rich in bio-diversity and thus the government is developing it as a tourist destination,” explains the architect who worked with 104 unskilled labourers on the site. “There are schools built by Americans in the region but I have heard people saying that they would never send their kids there because the material used isn’t compatible to the climate. They say they would rather keep herds there. First by involving the locals, we created an ownership, and the material, the rockstone serves them well. We found a guy who makes grinding stones. I took him to the riverbed where we spent an entire day selecting stones to be used as capitals on the columns,” he adds.

The villa in Leeuwarden scores on the simplicity factor which is quite common in rural Dutch settings. “Two divorcees got married and live there with their four kids. It has been designed in such a manner that even though you live together, you don’t have to do everything together. There are special layers within the house, unexpected corners,” relates Feenstra. As for the Kamaths’ mud house, he says, Revathi has literally put her hands in mud. Though made out of an age-old material, it has a unique contemporary expression.

(The exhibition continues till October 31 at India Habitat Centre.)

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