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Updated: June 2, 2012 16:18 IST

A family of designs from a family of designers

Ranjani Govind
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Architects Indrajit and Nita Kembhavi
Architects Indrajit and Nita Kembhavi

“Our country is seeing economic progression and it is the right time to permeate a new sense of design experimentation,” says architect Indrajit Kembhavi in an interview with Ranjani Govind

Have you ever heard of a family of six architects huddled together in a two-generation mélange of time-honoured values that form the backbone of their contemporary design ideas? As one enters the ‘Kembhavi Architecture Foundation' office in Jayanagar the aesthetic chemistry inherent in the designer-family is apparent. Shrugging off all the appreciation, Indrajit Kembhavi modestly says, “We spend time in arriving at our designs, and that is the best investment we make.” Hundreds of projects in India best known for their design, material and space value are discussed and explained, for, “each has its own blueprint criteria, the design brought in for a particular significance,” explains Indrajit.

That's what the Kembhavis are up to. The journey started with the senior couple Sharad and Nalini getting together in the early 1970s after passing out of J.J. School of Architecture, Mumbai, and the ‘brick-and-mortar design process' was seen with a different eye after flagging off their new office at Hubli.

Kembhavis are natives of Bijapur and Nalini's ancestral lineage has its origins in Pattadakal that represents the high point of an eclectic art of the Chalukya dynasty. And with Sharad's interior design specialisation in the U.K., the couple's individuality and thought process are evident in their projects.

They won the ITDC national prize for a chain of hotels back in 1974. Name and popularity extended beyond the city and country to bring in different contexts of design and inspire their children Indrajit and Parth to get absorbed into the world of designing built spaces.

Couples Indrajit & Nita and Parth & Sowmya added more architectural strength to their family with post-graduations and specialisations in Construction Management that proved additional pillars for running an architectural firm that could take up challenging and exploratory projects. By 2007 Bangalore too had the presence of the Kembhavis.

Says Indrajit, “Starting from smaller projects like homes, our firm slowly expanded its footprints into a large variety of projects including hotels, public buildings, real estate, healthcare, transportation, industrial, religious and other sectors. In large cities we have noticed a lot of firms getting typified but we were blessed with uni-category projects.”

And the six under the same roof, isn't it ‘a clash of family ideas?' “It's amusing to see the six of us putting our heads together while dealing with concepts. While it is advantageous in debates, we do not fight, though our discussions get intense for a nice mix of experience and youth,” says Indrajit.

PropertyPlus caught up with Indrajit S. Kembhavi, Principal Architect, Kembhavi Architecture Foundation, to understand the signature features that mark what they are for spaces today.

Tell us something about your built public spaces in Hubli and Gulbarga that have gained attention…

Some of our public buildings such as the Police Commissionerate and the Ramakrishna Vivekanand Ashram in Hubli, and the Institute of Naturopathy and Yogic Science in Hulkoti gained public attention. The police headquarters in Gulbarga became a point of definition as it was the only gold-rated LEED building certified without air-conditioning.

We had provided wind towers to cool and humidify the space, managing a 12-degree reduction in temperature! And built at around Rs.850 per sq ft, it was a cost-sensitive model which stood out and demonstrated that green buildings need not be expensive.

Describe some of the sensibilities you believe in, and how you have taken them in your projects.

As far as architectural sensibilities are concerned we believe that architecture as a subject is highly contextual, it is the spirit of the locale and function that determine the thought process rather than imposition of a style or set pattern. Hence we play with a large palate of materials ranging from raw stone in some contexts to chrome and glass in the other.

Give us details of your experience in affordable housing such as the Ashraya project. You spoke of your challenge in bringing out 250 sq. ft houses with a Rs. 25, 000 budget for each. You told me about the atypical foundation, on-site tested concrete blocks, sheet roofing and filler slabs; and smokeless choolas that you brought in for the project.

Affordable housing is actually a vast subject, the affordability of dwellings depends on the segment being catered to. For example, for the poorest in the society the affordability scale is all together different, and is essentially catered to by the government. Our major experience in this realm was when we had the opportunity to work on thousands of houses for the Rajiv Gandhi rural housing corporation where we designed houses at Rs. 25,000 to 28,000 per house.

In fact, the Ashraya housing in Hulkoti became an important symbol of success as we had to build these houses in black cotton soil using hand-driven piles. We designed a more permanent roof out of waste as filler material, we could even accommodate smoke-less choolahs for cooking, leach pits for sanitation etc.

Some others were essentially real estate driven but the affordability components were brought in essentially through value designing and cutting costs by sharing of resources and optimising material consumption through planning.

You said at Kembhavi you don't get bogged down by cost or style, but go along the chemistry of the requirement bearing in mind the climatic conditions that decide your design and material factors. Can you relate this to your experience with the cancer hospital and the Institute of Naturopathy?

Our projects are spread out from affordable to super luxury, from rustic to hi-tech, from cancer hospitals to hospitality, even churches, temples, ashrams, prisons, railway stations etc.

When we worked on the Institute of Naturopathy, we searched for a lot of local stones, composed them with rural techniques, and fused filler slabs to achieve thermal comfort. This project near Gadag is a good example of a contextual green project depicting continuity of a traditional construction inherent to North Karnataka architecture.

Whereas in some projects like the new railway station at Hubli or Akshaya Belvedere Serviced apartments, the palate is extremely hi-tech and contemporary where we are playing with glass, chrome, zinc and lasers.

It is the context that determines the flow and it is a pleasure to experiment using different media. We are in fact looking forward to propagate a lot of technology such as video walls, oceanariums etc. in projects, trying to get in a new dimension to space and experience.

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