‘Mahesh Architecture’ review: Shaping Kerala’s architecture

Among architects of Kerala, N. Mahesh is a well-known name, having shaped the design landscape of the State and paving the way for the next generation of practitioners to be valued as important professionals.

The volume, Mahesh Architecture, takes readers through the evolution of Mahesh’s journey over the last 40 years. He built big institutions, high-end resorts, malls, offices, small houses and spaces. Over time, some traits of his design have been a consistent part of that story, but there have been steady changes as well. It is easy to see how each project has evolved out of critical contextual responses, while celebrating core themes, like a modernist sense of design, an eye for grand and opulent spaces flooded with natural light, and a keen intent to carry out interesting detailing which elevate each project to a level of high architecture.

Starting from his railway station projects in the late 1970s, corporate projects in the ’80s, exotic resorts and commercial offices and retail units which are the hallmark of his practice, the book tries to bring out the diversity of his work.

Interspersing these varied typologies are small projects like the Bell Museum built for his wife Lekha Mahesh, which explore his ability to traverse from the grand to the minute with equal ease. The book highlights his sensibilities of approach to design which evolved in relation to the changing times. His ongoing projects address stronger concepts of sustainability and respect for existing landforms with the creativity of a master architect, like in the resort designed for the Kansa Hotels in Udaipur — perched on a hill top with the building wrapped around the slopes, or the Sree Arpana Residential Township, in Salem, Tamil Nadu, which emulates the colourful and vibrant spaces of Tamil villages and small towns.

The book is interestingly laid out with graphically attractive plans of the designed spaces, set alongside large and colourful photographs, making it a pleasing and readable visual journey for the architect and non-architect alike.

Rich legacy

A great insight is provided right at the beginning of the book with an in-depth interview of the architect, exploring his inheritance and his views towards the future of the profession. The interview digs into the academic and research work publications which are fallouts of this very diverse and intense architectural career, moving from the aesthetics of soft architecture through timber in the modern context to the cataloguing and documenting of traditional Kerala temples. We delve further into the personal life of the architect, through an intimate portrayal of him by his younger brother, N. Srinath.

What is lacking, however, is a critical analysis of his works, which would have taken the book to another level, holding its own place in architectural critical thinking in the best libraries of the world. Despite that small miss, the publication accomplishes a deep insight into one of the great design and professional minds of our times, a lesson for all students and practitioners of architecture, and an illuminating read for the non-architect.

Mahesh Architecture; Compiled by N.P. Thirukode College of Architecture Trivandrum, ₹3,900.

The reviewer is an architect and teaches at an architecture college.

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Printable version | Nov 27, 2021 6:35:39 AM |

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