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No BRICK in the wall

Srinath Advani designs buildings that look like anthills and take inspiration from a child's doodles

Srinath Advani: I just listen to Floyd and Doors and go wild.

CHEESE AND pineapple could be a munchie. Or could be an inspiration for a building. For architect Srinath Advani, it's the latter. He has been designing radically different buildings for three years now, drawing inspiration from objects as diverse as anthills and rods that jut out from the back of a truck. His clients back him all the way, he says, and this is important when he's designing buildings that look strikingly different from the clutter and ornamentation we see around us.

Advani's buildings have clean, uncomplicated lines. No fuss, no frills. He conceives minimalist buildings — people's homes, a fantasy-inspired Montessori in Sadashivanagar (for which he perused CRY cards to study children's drawings and finally came up with its ragged edges from scribbles he made himself in one of his father's books as a child), and now a cylindrical fire station. "Why do buildings have boards on them?" he asks. "Only because they all look the same. But fire stations, hospitals... they provide a service and people should be able to make them out without a name board."

He gives much of the credit for his fundamentally different designs to his art teacher at the Ken School of Art, which he began attending at age nine. "My teacher taught me to speculate," he remembers. "This is important in design because the newness comes from speculation." After his stint at Ken, where by 10th Standard he had begun attending every day, Srinath says he learnt an important lesson: perception is like a projector — you project past experience on to reality and it's only when you leave your baggage behind that you see the effect of reality.

Much baggage was left behind when he finished his course at Manipal and went to Melbourne to do an architecture course that incorporated intensive research element. He was the only Indian at college, and he says this forced him to deal with statements such as, "So, have the Portugese left India?" To which, tongue firmly in cheek, Srinath would look at his watch and reply: "Yeah... I think the last one is just leaving."

The actual course was much better informed and Srinath's thesis dealt with European design and Oriental philosophy, where he readdressed design philosophy in Hindu temples. "Hindu philosophy talks about truth and beauty, but the carvings have no reason," he says. "I'm looking at a deeper essence to be brought out in a subliminal way." Renaissance didn't happen in India, he says, and that's his explanation for why designers in India are too scared to speculate.

He reflects appreciatively on the short stints he had at architectural firms abroad. "You don't have to work," he says. Taken on as a conceptual artist for a boutique hotel, he indulged himself doodling with various fountain pens — which are a craze with him — and found himself sketching Volkswagen cars for half a day. Building shapes later took inspiration from the lines of the cars he had doodled. "Design abroad is as much about learning as it is about unlearning," he says. It's this philosophy which forms the core of his present job — in Advani and Associates, which his dad, also an architect, set up in the early Seventies.

When Srinath designs his buildings, he doesn't know beforehand what shape they will take. "I just listen to Floyd and Doors and go wild," he says. "Reality is not a problem." And so, the "process becomes sanctum", and the drawings take on a life of their own, guided by intuition and design decision. He says emphatically: "Truth, beauty, and freedom form a tripod on which anything else can stand." But the one book that really influenced Srinath was not Ayn Rand's Fountainhead; rather the defining book in his life has been Irving Stone's biography of Michaelangelo,

The Agony and the Ecstasy. "I've read it so many times," says Srinath with passion. "Those lines `Bleed me of art and I have not enough left in me to spit... ' " he pauses, reflectively.

So what does a thoughtful young architect think of Bangalore's urban jungle? The problem is that there is no agenda for architecture in India, he says. We need to make buildings function. "The reason the west is coming here is because when you say Indian architecture, you think raw and rustic and stone carvings which isn't urban aesthetic. We need to bring in something more in tune with urban aesthetic," he says. With some practicality. Glass buildings just don't make sense facing the west, for instance, and so, Srinath's projects are grounded in reality and use "good ol' bricks" as building blocks.

Although he hasn't had many violent reactions to his startling building designs, he remembers a house he made which stands on a hillock and looks sloped. "A child saw it and started crying that the building had fallen down," he laughs. The main challenge was not convincing clients about his plans, but convincing his own team, Srinath says. There was a reluctance with doing something new, and it was hard to convince contractors, but now his entire team works together in the "horizontal structure" which underlines the company's philosophy and on-site masons phone him if something isn't taking proper shape.

It hasn't been that easy with some of the students Srinath teaches. They hesitate to criticise his work, which by the way he encourages, and are usually surprised that his designs can be implemented. "It's sad," Srinath says. "They're students. They should just go wild." Well, they don't. But from the geometric shapes and vibrant colours of Srinath's buildings, it's clear that he certainly does. If you have a building on the drawing board, contact Srinath on


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