Between the earth and sky

Free spirit:D’Cruz can get adventurous with forms and structures.

Free spirit:D’Cruz can get adventurous with forms and structures.  


Goan architect Dean D’Cruz creates a riot of colour, bends steel bars to make unfathomable shapes and uses materials sumptuously in his designs.

My preference has been projects that adhere to or wish to explore the green ideas

There is so much free spirit in his buildings, but he hardly evokes his Goan identity to explain them. His designs are about forms from the past with links to tradition, but you quickly realise they are his own invention. When he describes his buildings, names of socially conscientiousness architects such as Laurie Baker pop up, but his buildings can be ostentatious and simply fun loving. Dean D’Cruz, the well known and the prolific architect from Goa, is not a bundle of contradictions, but a designer who could create a riot of colour, compress different forms within a small frame, bend the steel bars to make unfathomable shapes and use materials sumptuously with ease and without apology. He enjoys his buildings and so do his admirers.

Dean D’Cruz’s 25 years of practice includes a wide variety of buildings from residence to resorts to institutions. The leitmotif, if we can call it so, includes exposed building materials, fluid shapes, pitched roof and tiles. There is a strong preference for the Goan laterite rubble masonry that is often elegantly juxtaposed with well plastered walls.

Without any pun intended, many tend to compare him as the Indian Gaudi. Antonio Gaudi was a Catalan architect of the late 19th century known for his innovative forms. When I met D’Cruz in Chennai and brought up Gaudi’s name in the darkly lit restaurant, it was hard to figure if D’Cruz blushed. But he did say, “In comparison I do not even come close to the daring innovations of Gaudi.” But there is no doubt that D’Cruz can get adventurous with forms and structures that he made famous by his designs for Nilaya Resort, Goa.

Startling effects

The uninhibited juxtaposition of various materials produces a riotous effect similar to that of Gaudi’s buildings. This is probably where the comparison between the two stops or for that matter with Baker. D’Cruz’s architecture is like a stylised version of the truth — more on the style side. His buildings do not evoke any moral dictum as some architects are known to do through phrases such as “honesty of materials”.

Irreverent designs

D’Cruz’s architecture can at times get very irreverent and work at the level of fantasy. He can design Japanese style rooms with wooden floors, comfortably place them in the Goan shores and let them rub shoulders with his other buildings modelled on Kerala architectural style. With the same ease, he can slip from fantasy and design seriously expressive buildings such as the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, Karvar. The roof here floats and is designed to evoke the imagery of trees with their branches holding a canopy. The interior of the church looks like an amphitheatre set inside a grove. If you think his architecture has taken a serious turn, he can quickly shock you with his jungle lodges that unhesitatingly cover the brick walls with mud to produce an ethnic effect. Some critics may cry foul and dismiss it as scenic architecture. But DCruz looks at it his way: “I prefer to work with local materials, use it as creatively as possible and may end up producing a recognisable style. But it is not a signature that I use.”

Reflecting on his practice, he admits that there was a time when he felt his vocabulary was getting limited and restrained. “Wanted to break free. As a young architect, I was more a systems man. Structure and steel appealed. I may not do the chrome and glass architecture that is widely prevalent now, but I would like to explore other possibilities.” So when a industrial group approached him for a training centre, he decided to move away from the scattered layout of smaller buildings and try something that reflects the technological associations of the company. Hence it was not surprising when D’Cruz mentioned that the Arab World Institute designed by Jean Nouvel in Paris as one of his favourite buildings. Here, he explained, the technology is internalised, made expressive and put in the service of the building.

Going green

In recent years, D’Cruz is increasingly concerned with ideas of sustainability and green architecture. “I have stopped working on houses that are sprawling and energy guzzling. My preference has been projects that adhere to or wish to explore the green ideas.” He is visibly happy when he describes how he was able to build a 1,500 sq. ft house near Vasco, for a moderate sum of Rs12,00,000. “The competition we were short-listed for at Pune and our work at Noida focus on how to make the building sustainable and reduce its energy consumption,” he explained.

The idea of sustainable development pervades his concern for the city and region. As an advisor to the Government of Goa, he advocates against urban sprawl and instead prefers compact growth. He opposed the spread of SEZ, the previous regional plan and any insensitive exploitation of Goa. Behind his advocacy his desire to be rooted in Goa is visible. “I am thankful that I started practice at Goa. It has allowed me to explore many ideas and take the route that I have taken. Any other place might have been a little stifling for me.”

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