Architect Tony Joseph who designed South India’s tallest apartment tower says that the state needs a vertical growth plan

The biggest challenge for an architect is to build something seminal, which captures the heart and mind. Architect Tony Joseph did so two decades ago coming up with projects like the Kumarakom Lake Resort and the Vythiri resort in Wayanad, which are still rated as some of the finest wellness spaces in the region. He has once again caught the imagination of people with his latest and perhaps “tallest” work; South India’s highest tower—the 40-storey Choice Paradise.

Sitting pretty in his swanky penthouse, designed by him, Tony soaks in the surrounding blue-green beauty that lies beyond. He says, “Kerala is very rich in natural beauty. There should be vertical growth plan for the State.”

Range of works

Away from glory of the skyscraper, Tony’s major works have been in building resorts. After novel works in the State his firm moved on to international assignments, designing the spectacular Capternay Resort and the Round Island Resort in Seychelles.

The Alila Diva in Goa, the Madhuban Resort in Gujarat and the Radisson Temple Bay Resort in Mahabalipuram are some of his recent projects in India known for the regional influences that they derive upon.

As an architect Tony knows that a resort gives an architect a signature whereas the branding for a high-rise is always for a builder, especially in Kerala. “The architect remains faceless in apartment buildings, whereas a resort gives him a signature. Information about the designer will make him more responsible, which is a good thing. This awareness is slowly increasing.”

It was way back in the 80s that Tony chose to pursue architecture because it was the confluence of art and science. He was a student of science and a lover of art. After completing his studies from Manipal, he gained experience working with masters like Satish Gujral and Patrick Monteiro and also at Auroville.

This was further augmented by his stint in the U.S. for his post-graduation, where he was deeply influenced by the regionalist design principles of his professor, the renowned American architect Charles Moore. He returned to start 'Stapati' in 1989.

The most distinctive feature of his architecture has been and is, interpreting tradition in a modern context. “We are about that,” he says, explaining that his guiding principle in a project is to “listen to the land.” Twenty-three years ago when he did his first project, he recalls that architecture in Kerala was in a flux. “We started using traditional elements and that in a way changed the way people looked at architecture. It began a revival of sorts.”

For him, an architect plays a pivotal role in shaping the skyline of a place. “A design evolves from the existing land and context. We are given fabulous virgin sites. We pray that we don’t damage it. We can never claim to improve upon God’s work”, he says modestly.

In Capternay Resort, Seychelles, the team worked on a pollution ravaged site and hence reviving the environment was fundamental. Tony says he notices a visible change in awareness among clients with a growing concern for the environment and a desire for the finer aspects in design.

Choice Paradise, his latest work, has been a journey into the unknown. “It is a daring thing to attempt because we were faced with issues that we had not attempted before. From foundation to the safety issues we had to look into everything, some for the very first time.”

With his work expanding beyond the state and going international Tony changed the format of his firm, bringing in some of the best known names from the field as partners and associates.

In one of the ongoing projects, an integrated township housing over 1,200 apartments in Mangalore, the design was evolved after a detailed study on diverse aspects like health, environment, transportation and energy. “In such complexes the main objective is to give the occupants a sense of community. We analysed 10- 12 scenarios and then came up with the design. This was an interesting study which helped us focus more on the human element in large-scale vertical developments”

However, Tony is disillusioned at the haphazard manner in which planning is done for our cities presently. He has always been a strong advocate for proper planning and urban design for cities, bringing in the best experts wherever required to create a comprehensive master plan and policy guidelines.

“Why should commercial be an evil word? Conservation and commercialism can go hand in hand. The whole procedure needs to be corrected. Currently the notion that a Kerala roof is a must for beautification project is very limiting,” he says, finding no comprehensive policy regarding such matters.

For, architecture is not just about beauty, people, lives, design and land but about all that and more. He says that architects link all that in their work, something that is visible in Tony’s elegant living room, atop the high rise designed by him.