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Giving spaces a soul

SHILPA NAIR ANAND
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PEOPLE Sanjay Mohe’s guiding principle is that buildings can be modern with a definite dash of common sense. He talks about his way of using spaces

Building blocksSanjay MohePhoto: Thulasi Kakkat
Building blocksSanjay MohePhoto: Thulasi Kakkat

It is illuminating talking to architect Sanjay Mohe about architecture. The sage-like architect, with his beard and big hair, gives architecture a spiritual spin. A house or a building is not just an engineering feat; it is a space that evokes an emotional response from those inhabiting the space. And that a building has to be placed within the context of a location and culture. The living space becomes a living entity with a soul and “it is not about external appearances as with a sculpture. The space within is important. You have to start from inside and move to the exterior.”

Sanjay Mohe was in Kochi for the Inside Outside show. This alumnus of Sir JJ College of Architecture (Mumbai) has worked with renowned architect Charles Correa.

During the chat he delves into the wisdom of the past where constructions revolved around nature and climate.

“In Kerala there are single houses in the midst of huge plots as opposed to in Rajasthan where houses are built in clusters. These styles keep in mind the climatic requirements of these areas. In humid Kerala you need more air circulation and in extreme climates such as in Rajasthan, houses need to insulate each other. Building was common sense-driven and we need to stick to common sense while constructing spaces,” he says.

And the common sense involves keeping nature a part of the plan as “architectural forms resultant to climate,” says Mohe, who runs the architecture firm, Mindspace with colleagues Vasuki Prakash and Suryanarayana in Bangalore.

The five elements

And aping the west in the name of modernity is not common sense, he says. “You cannot have a glass box in tropical climates such as ours. What we in India need is porosity in form, for more air circulation,” he adds. This stand, he clarifies, is not a critique of modern technology.

Whether it is a research facility or an educational institution or a home, a building has to be constructed keeping the panchabhutas (five elements) in mind. It translates into letting the five elements circulate within the space.

As part of letting the elements in, his buildings have plenty of space for air to circulate and he makes good use of natural light. As far as sustainability goes, it cannot be over-emphasised, Mohe goes on. “A building in its lifetime is, probably, the largest pollutant. The process starts with piling right up to the construction and the subsequent requirements of the building. It is the largest consumer of natural resources,” he says. He adds, “We have been talking ‘green’ and about energy conservation for a long time, much before it became fashionable.” Energy conservation and sustainability are two aspects of common sense when it comes to construction.

Some of this common sense guides the architect in the construction of laboratories and educational spaces.

While building a lab, for instance, the process is regimentality-driven, in parts. Laboratories have to meet strict international standards, cleanliness, complete with effluent treatment plants.Along with that there is provision for interactive spaces.

“G.V. Prasad of Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories gave us the brief that both sides of the brain (the artistic right and the analytical left) need to be stimulated equally. And therefore we had the brief that along with the ‘lab’ spaces there had to be provision for interactive spaces and art.”

Therefore, beyond labs there are seminar halls, lecture halls… “spaces that encourage Eureka moments” as Mohe puts it.

Cell and Bell theory

The space-to-think-idea leads to his designing educational spaces. Wide open spaces, according to him, are a pre-requisite to designing educational spaces.

“My thinking is the opposite of the ‘Cell and Bell’ theory of the old days. The belief was children be crammed in cell-like classrooms and taught till the bell went off. And then imagine that there has been a transfer of knowledge,” he says. His classroom is inspired by the gurukul tradition where children are in close proximity to nature and while learning their lessons. Plenty of space and light are prerequisites for holistic learning. Breezy open pavilions, classrooms which open out to courtyards where children have visual access to nature figure in his blueprint of the perfect classroom; ditto for colleges.

“An educational place should be such that it motivates a child to learn,” Mohe adds. Is it easy convincing school managements about such classroom spaces? “Usually the first client needs convincing. For the ones who come later there is already proof…” he says. Is he going to design something in Kerala? “Yes we are and have already seen the site in Aluva by the Periyar.” He is involved in a project with Asten Mather.

SHILPA NAIR ANAND

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