Most people recognize her as a pioneer of ‘Mud Architecture’ in India, someone who gave it a new dimension. However, as an architect as well as a person, she was much more. A person who wouldn’t hesitate calling a spade a spade, with an unmatched sensitivity towards nature and her craft is something we always will remember about her. WADE ASIA and Surfaces Reporter (SR) have been associated with architect Revathi Kamath through her works. She was the recipient of the WADE ASIA Sustainability Champion Award in 2018. She has also been the recipient of the prestigious Aga Khan Award. This article is a heartfelt tribute to the great architect with some not so known facts about the architect which she reveled during her presentation at WADE ASIA. If you have knew her well or have a message to share about Ar. Revathi Kamath and her work, please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Early Influences & love for Architecture
Born into a Tamil Brahmin family in Bhubaneshwar, Revathi Kamath’s initial year with her Engineer Grandfather paved a way for her becoming an architect in later life. Her grandfather who was the Chief Engineer at New Town, was very interested in architecture and thus used to subscribe a lot of architecture magazines. Since she lived with her grandparents, she was contantly in touch with those books that gave her an in-depth exposure to the subject that kindled a desire to be an architect.
Flipping through the pages of those books, Ar Kamath was familiar with names like Robert Venturi, Bruce Goof, Frederick J. Kiesler and Frank Lloyd Wright at very early in her growing years and thus deepened her understanding of different forms of architecture. Her father, who too was a civil engineer, was working on the Hirakud Dam, so Revathi spent her time in Bengaluru as well as surrounding tribal areas, that shaped her understanding and made her sensitive towards the organic forms of architecture.
Talking about her early years, during a conference, she said, “As far back as my memory takes me, I had always wanted to be an architect. From the age of about five to sixteen, my annual holidays in Bangalore were spent browsing through my grandfather’s architectural journals. I would drown in the world of Frank Lloyd Wright, Bruno Taut, Bruce Goff, Oscar Niemeyer, Fredrick Kiesler and Eric Mendelsohn. Keisler’s Endless House is ensconced in my subconscious, and Kenzo Tange, whose incredible stadia were imprinted on a medallion that I wore around my neck through my college days.”
She did her Bachelors in Architecture (1977) from the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), Delhi when on a trip to Kerala, she came across the works of Laurie Baker. That was a transformative trip for her as it was when after seeing the examples of Vernacular Architecture, she decided what she had to do in her life.
Later she did her Post Graduation in Urban and Regional Planning (1981) too from SPA. During this time, Ar Kamath began working with the Group for Rural and Urban Planning, in partnership with Vasant Kamath, Romi Khosla, and Narendra Dengle where later in 1981, she opened her own studio with architect Vasant Kamath by the name of Revathi and Vasanth Kamath which later came to be known as “Kamath Design Studio – Architecture, Planning and Environment” (2005) after the joining of their son Ayodh Kamath.
At the building site, she remembered the words of Mahatma Gandhi, when he said, ‘Recall the face of the poorest and weakest man you have seen, and ask yourself if this step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him’.
“The poorest and weakest at the building site was not a man, but it was a woman, a beast of burden, carrying head loads. The lowest of the low in the building industry. How could the quality of her life in the building industry be improved? What were her skills? How could her life be more fulfill, creative and joyful? With these thoughts I ventured into the practice that Vasant and I set up in 1980.”
The Anandgram Rehabilitation of Impoverished
Revathi Kamath’s very first project, The Anandgram, was the rehabilitation of community of traditional performing artists and craftspersons called the Bhule Bisre Kalakar Sahkari Samiti who lived under the Flyover in Shadipur Depot, Delhi.
The Anandgram Project for Rehabilitation of slum dwellers near in Delhi was one of architect Revathi Kamath’s earliest work in 1983. She is noted for her sensitive efforts in conceiving the “Evolving Home” concept for redevelopment. She consulted with 350 families to understand individual needs and to give them their first home on the ground.
For a year, Revathi worked closely with them and evolved a design where they could live and work simultaneously. During that project, Revathi got the understanding of stabilized brick houses and since then she kept evolving the technology of Mud Architecture and stabilized earth construction.
With time she became one of the most sustainable architects India has ever produced where her project spoke greatly about her understanding of Ecology and the wisdom gathered from various traditions across the world.
“Building with earth has been great. It’s not a passion. It’s a compulsion because I feel it, in the ecosystem we live with.”
Ar Kamath didn’t limit herself to India; she took inspirations from vernacular architecture practices across the globe like the bamboo artisans in Indonesia, Combodia and adobe architecture of Mexico, earth architecture in China and continued to experiment with them in her projects. Talking about working ecologically, she said, “Building with earth has been great. It’s not a passion. It’s really a compulsion because I feel it in the ecosystem we live with.”
CHAMPION OF SUSTA INABLE ARCHITECTURE
The Kamath Design Studio has been involved in a wide variety of projects – starting with Seemapuri and Anandgram slum resettlement projects and then moving forward into private developments like the Desert Resort in 1984, Management Institute in 1989, and the Kohima Cathedral in 1991.
Despite being a champion of sustainable architecture through her use of Mud and other materials commonly associated with impoverished communities in luxury projects, Ar Kamath used to critisize LEED ratings claiming that India already has many sustainable building techniques that are long existed outside the ambit of the recognized standards. Her own house was a true embodiment of her ideology.
Sitting atop a land that was once a quarry, the Kamath House was designed and built “embodying the ecological principles of interdependence, recycling, democracy, partnership, flexibility, diversity and as a consequence of all those – sustainability” in her words.
Talking about imbibing the natural element and habitat in her projects especially in her own house, Ar Kamath said, “I think the prime importance should be on incorporating nature and sustain it during the process of building, acquiring materials and then living in it. Making nature a part of our home at Anantpur is really what I believe in. I remember I wanted to incorporate solar energy for cooking but there was an issue of monkeys. So, I made these incredibly beautiful solar cookers, embedded with mirros and when the monkeys used to come, they just went on to their way without bothering the set up. Only nature decides what you are going to do and how you are going to live. You only have to allow that to happen. We have created such architecture that is sensitive to nature. We have regenerated the entire flora and fauna in that space that we have occupied for 25 years. While the city has engulfed the forest, here, you can see the forest embed in the house itself.”
“The poorest and weakest at the building site was not a man, but it was a woman, a beast of burden, carrying head loads. How could the quality of her life in the building industry be improved? With these thoughts I ventured into the practice that Vasant and I set up in 1980.”
Legacy for Woman Architects & designers Ar Revathi Kamath was the receipient of prestigious WADE Sustainability Champion of the Year Award 2018 during a glittering event, awarded by legendary architect Raj Rewal and Vertica Dvivedi. While talking about her experience about gender discrimination against women in the field of architecture & building design, Ar Revathi Kamath during WADE ASIA Conference for women in architecture, design, art & enginnering, exclaimed,
“In the academic space, gender discrimination was a mere irritant. It did not assume proportions to undermine my creative flow. The workspace was a little more threatening, and I developed a protective shield of being argumentative. The attribute of argumentativeness was enough to see me through the initial years of office work, but being at the building site was a prohibitive experience. The sacred space where drawings were transformed into material reality was not a zone of comfort for a woman architect. Here I encountered hostility, resentment and a deep sense of mistrust. The challenge was to deal with these negative emotions and transform them to create a positive environment for the transfer of information from the creator/thinker to the doer. There was an urgency and immediacy to formulate strategies to get the job done.”
Ar Revathi Kamath receiving WADE Award from Ar Raj Rewal and Vertica Dvivedi, Founder, WADE ASIA
Contrary to many other women architects and designers who sometimes lose themselves in the shadow of their famous husbands while working together, Revathi was a clear exception. She always had her own identity and infact worked on many projects independently despite being associated with Vasant Kamath, who was an institution in himself.
The Museum of Tribal Heritage at Bhopal
“Only nature decides what you are going to do and how you are going to live. You only have to allow that to happen.”
-Ar Revathi Kamath
She once said, “If you are a woman architect and you are working with your partner, it doesn’t mean that you have to work on a single project. You can work on your own project and express your own sensibilities and ideas. And that is what I have done in this 38 years old practice. People may say that since we are husband and wife, our work is replaceable but it’s not.” Ar Kamath told during WADE ASIA.
EACH PROJECT BRINGS THE NEXT CLIENT TO ME BASED ON THE EXPERIENCE OF MY BUILDINGS
Revathi Kamath always tried to use local architecture, local aesthatics, local material and local craftsmen. Talking about it, she had said, “The resort in Laxaman Sagar in Rajasthan, despite using no exotic material, is very luxurious, laid back and quiet exciting. So, you can see that the local architecture, the local materials, the local aesthetic, have all been integrated and from being associated with poverty, the same materials are now associated with luxury.”
However Ar Revathi Kamath was never in the favour of calling the use of local material and architecture ‘Vernacular Architecture’. During WADE ASIA 2018, answering a question about the future of Vernacular Architecture, she admitted that she didn’t like the word, Vernacular. She went on to say, “I think it’s a wrong word to describe the indigenous wisdom of our people who belong to a place. I believe in the evolution of knowledge. It is the focus of my practice and I don’t go around begging for work. I don’t take part in competitions. I don’t socialize to get work. Each job brings the next person to me to work, so, my practice is really been built up through words of mouth and the actual experience of my buildings, which is the way it should be.”
Local Materials are Never a Problem
Being an avid advocate of local materials, Ar Revathi Kamath, said that the clients always understand the need for them. “I’ve never faced any challenge in making my client accept the material I am using. I’ve always had positive responses, because of this attitude that the client has to come to you for what you have to offer.”
From Mud to steel DIVERSE WORK OF AR KAMATH
While Ar Revathi Kamath is synonymous to Mud Architecture, she is also credited for the tallest steel structure in the country; JSPL Gateway, Chattisgarh having the height of 33m. Talking about its construction which is also an embodiement of local Chattisgarhi art, she said, “The Gateway forms the entrance to a power plant located at Tamnar in Chhattisgarh. Tribals have been the main inhabitants of the state from pre-historic times. Their culture has shaped the character of these lands until the industrial invasion of the recent past.
I was interested in computation, so I just drew this tower which was based on the patterns I saw with tribals living in Chhattisgarh like the magician’s ladder, their implements of their fishing nets, etc. I just drew these drawings and I shoot these to the industrialist who said build this immediately. And, we put it as a gateway to the power plant. The drawings were made by us and fed directly to the CMC machine. This steel gateway was directly fabricated from those drawings.”
Ar Revathi Kamath in the eyes of THOSE WHO KNEW HER
Special message for the legendary woman architect of India Ar Revathi Kamath
Nalini Thakur, Professor of Architectural Conservation, School of Planning & Architecture, Delhi (A friend of Ar Revathi Kamath)
“The last time I met Reva, as we all called her, was at the all women dinner party thrown by Prof Mary in India International Centre, just before I left Delhi to return to Chennai. We caught up with a lot of news but never thought that would be my last time meeting her. Reva and I found ourselves together in the final year of her B.Arch. I found her easy to talk to and since then been a friend. She was an amazing person even in those days. We had taken “Indian Sculpture“ as elective taught by Prof Vidya Daheja. Our main assignment was to write a paper on Cave Art and Architecture, which entailed a visit to many cave sites in Maharashtra prior to the paper for submission. It was quite a trip, we were all women bocth the students and the teacher. The instruction we got was a schedule of the day, the time and cave to meet. We had find our way and our collective sense of adventure helped. The point I want to bring out was at that time, I discovered Reva’s keen sense of earth sciences. The cave sites were made up of many types of stones. They may look ordinary but when cracked they had crystalline features. Her fascination for the geological culminated with the buying of a rather large and heavy hunk of amethyst which she took home carrying it all the way. Much later, I observed that she had carefully kept that amethyst in a special place along with her things. Reva had an equal and passionate interest both art and science. Her design talent was evident from student days. I remember her initial project for the street performers / puppeteers of Shadipur (Delhi). Mention must be made of both Vasant and Reva, they worked together. They were both talented good designers but with different approaches to design. Their different contributions to the same building can be recognized. Reva can handle very tiny spaces and her approach to Bhuli Bhatiari was from that a woman’s perspective. In short they complemented each other. Being a qualified Planner, I invited her my studio class when they were studying Mirza Ghalib’s neighbourhood in Shahjahanabad to teach the students and they thoroughly enjoyed her inputs. Reva’s untimely death is a great loss for the profession and for me the loss of a friend.”
--Nalini Thakur, Professor of Architectural Conservation, School of Planning & Architecture, Delhi
"Revathi Kamath had the courage to step into a seemingly ‘non-commercial’ niche within the field of architecture."
--Ar Canna Patel HCPIA, Ahmedabad
“Ar. Revathi Kamath, known as a pioneer of mud architecture in India, had the courage to step into a seemingly ‘non-commercial’ niche within the field of architecture, very early in her life. Her interests and passion led her to design projects for and with the underprivileged and marginalized communities. This itself speaks volumes about her. She has influenced many students, aspiring them to understand the various social aspects of architecture. I did not know her personally; but as a woman architect from that generation, she would have had to overcome substantial obstacles to be the success story she is today. It is indeed a terrible loss for the world, the architectural fraternity and the student community. With numerous projects in her portfolio, her work will continue to inspire the society. From a world which provides very few favourable opportunities to women architects, she has been one of the very few who succeeds in turning these into successful ventures. We have indeed lost a sensitive person and a valuable designer.” --Ar Canna Patel HCPIA, Ahmedabad
"Revathi Kamath was one of those few Women Architects, who has not left any stone unturned to raise the level of Architecture in India."
-Ar Prem Nath, PNA, Mumbai
“Very few Architects practice this profession with upmost passion & dedication – Ar. Revathi Kamath was one of those few Women Architects, who has not left any stone unturned to raise the level of Architecture in India, but to also preach this humble art! Ar. Ravathi’s organic & nature friendly Architecture has probably rightly given her the title as “Mud Architect” through her designs for the Desert Resort at Madhawa, Mud house at Delhi and many more such ‘close to nature’ projects. Her philosophy about architectural consciousness was not only holistic but also contemplating human culture and civilization through time. As a fellow architect, I couldn’t agree more with Ar. Revathi that the practice of architecture always enabled an individual to evolve a multitude of interests and skills, as I too believe that, an Architect is next to God – he not only needs to foresee the future but also needs to be knowledgeable on all subjects to be able to serve all kinds of clientele and all types of projects. It is imperative to mention that Ar. Revathi Kamath has not only been an excellent architect, but has been an inspiration to many Women in our country to pursue their passion and reach its epitome. With this I pray for Ar. Revathi’s Soul to Rest in Eternal Peace – Om Shanti, Om Shanti, Om Shanti!” -Ar Prem Nath, PNA, Mumbai
As A Tribute To The Ar Revathi , Surfaces Reporter Has Compiled A Collage Of Her Projects & Quotes Shared By Wade Asia
DESERT RESORT, Mandawa, Rajasthan (1984)
The resort is based on a traditional Shekhawati village and individual rooms are modelled on the different house typologies in a village, such as a potter’s house, a weaver’s house or a farmer’s house.
While the rooms incorporate all the luxuries of the contemporary hospitality design, the use of traditional materials, techniques and forms ensures that their knowledge is preserved and kept relevant today. The rural woman’s skills were predominantly used to create the aesthetic of the resort.
Besides sweeping and dusting the local women regularly plaster the walls and paint them with contemporary compositions as well as traditional design.
It is the eco-literate architect who can rebuild the human hnaabitat sustainably.
MUD HOUSE, Mandi Village, Delhi (1989
The house at Mandi, 15 km south of the urban limits of Delhi, is one of the first “architect designed” houses in India to be made from sun-dried mud bricks.
The walls of the house are made of soil dug out from about four feet below the surface of the site after which the top soil was restored.
The mud was then molded into bricks and dried in the sun. The foundations are of locally available schist in random rubble masonry with lime mortar prepared at the site using indigenous methods.
The decision to appoint me as the architect for House at Mandi was taken by Nandita Jain, one of the owners of the ‘Times of India’ newspaper. She was the first of many women patrons who supported our architecture.
Nalin Tomar House at Hauz Khas Village, Delhi (1992)
The design of the house acknowledges the fact of the new high-density medium-rise development and attempts to absorb it into the existing networks and syntax of the village. The six levels of the entrance arm of the ‘L’ are treated as a minaret capped with a dome while the building steps down towards the Hauz Khas monuments. The masonry arches, timber columns and brackets, and metal grills attempt to create an architectural vocabulary that is contemporary and yet acknowledges the living traditions of the masons and craftsmen that built the building. It is important to note that most of the masons who constructed the home, lived in the village itself. The project was nominated for the Aga Khan Award for Architecture.
"I had never heard of a female architect (with the exception of Rosemary Sachdev) till I learnt of Jane Drew, wife of Maxwell Fry, in a climatology class, and Denise Scott Brown, wife of Robert Venturi, in the theory of design class. Pravina Mehta, the ‘Indian’ architect, activist and scholar was heard of only through gossip.
Akshay PratishThan School, Delhi (1991)
The Akshay Pratishthan School Annexe was designed to meet the evolving needs of educating and imparting skills to differentially abled children along with able bodied students from disadvantaged backgrounds, to enable them to learn and live together. This structure was designed and built in two months while the Main Building of the school was being constructed. Its initial function was to house five classrooms, and once these shifted to the main building, it housed extra- curricular activities such as a crafts centre, a gymnasium, a play space and an amphitheatre.
The exigencies of time necessitated the structural separation of the roof and the walls so that they could come up simultaneously. The roof is a corrugated sheet donated for the cause and was covered with thatch and creepers to improve thermal performance and blend it with the mud brick walls. The Annexe attempts to create elements of joy, excitement, beauty and scale. It seeks to establish a strong tactile relationship with material, built form and space that are missing in the resettlement colonies from where most students come. The Annexe is also in deliberate contrast to the rectilinear, brutist, main building which appeared to have little to do with the world of the child.
Kamath House, Nagpur, Haryana (1997)
The mud house at Anangpur Village, Surajkund, Haryana, is located on land that was once a quarry, mining quartzite and Badarpur stone dust. The ecology of the area had been devastated by the mining and the original scrub forest had been chopped and ravaged for fire wood.
The mud house is an attempt to heal the wounds inflicted on the earth and establish a niche in the ecosystem that is expressive of emerging ecological values.
While the city has engulfed the forest, here, you can see the forest embed in the house itself.
Auditorium, Raigarh, Chhattisgarh (2008)
The JSPL auditorium, is an example of tackling a technological challenge. Situated on the edge of the school campus and adjacent to the amphitheatre, is the cultural focus of the industrial town of Jindalgarh and its numerous satellite townships. It has a capacity to seat more than 2000 people to cater to these needs. The stage is designed for the performance of large dance, drama, and public functions, as well as the screening of the latest Bollywood films downloaded through the satellite link and projected on the 18 metre wide screen.
The mild steel structure is made up of girders, plates and rods manufactured at the adjacent steel plant and are fabricated by local welders on the site, supervised by engineers from the steel plant. The composite trusses create a column free space of 55 x 55 meters and 22 meters in height, to accommodate the main body of the hall. The enveloping circulation spaces and deep verandahs serve as the entrance porticos on all four sides.
The structure is expressed as being separate from volume of the hall and forms a shaded buffer around the building that shields the interior from the hot and humid exterior thereby substantially reducing air-conditioning loads The resolution of the structure and steel joinery details give the building its fundamental aesthetic, while the form and the relationship with the surrounding terrain softens its monumental scale.
Gateway for Jindal Power Plant, Tamnar, Chhattisgarh (2006)
The Gateway forms the entrance to a power plant located at Tamnar in Chhattisgarh. Iconic images of tribal constructs – the magician’s ladder stepping upwards, linking the earth to the sky; the swing of the gods pivoted to its supports, symbolising movement and absorbing the variations in the rhythmic forces of nature; the bamboo fishing basket, the umbrella hat, and the winnow, all shaped with a gentle parabolic curve, characteristic of the split bamboo weave, have all been amalgamated with industrial technologies and materials to shape the form of the Gateway. The pylons delineating the skyline, carrying electricity away from the power plant, determined the scale of the installation.
A statue of Ardhanareshwara on the banks of the nearby Mahanadi River was interpreted as an abstract composition incorporating the manifest and the void. Meditative qualities of the concentration and radiation of lines in space forming the hyperbolic paraboloids suggest a transformation of energy. The two hyperbolic paraboloid halves are independently hinged on the base and connected to each other by arched members .
2009, Gnostic Centre Campus, New Delhi
The Gnostic Centre is a campus for spiritual and academic learning sandwiched between Delhi and its suburb Gurgaon. The landscape and architecture of the campus act as an oasis for contemplation and oneness with nature. With bamboo as prime material, the buildings on the campus consists of a conference centre, a tea pavilion, a guest house, and cottages for residents (under construction), with a proposal for an amphitheatre, a dining hall, a hostel, an arts centre and a health centre. The campus comprises multiple interconnected tracts of land surrounded by agricultural land and suburban “farm houses”.
The artificial leveling of land in these surrounding holdings has disrupted the natural drainage patterns of the topography and causes large amounts of water to drain into the Gnostic Centre during the rains. The design of the campus is therefore organized around a network of swayles that drain the surface runoff and recharge the groundwater while creating a gently rolling landscape.
The buildings on campus are provided with decentralized anaerobic Shankar-Balaram sewage treatment systems that release water that is used for irrigation. Read www.surfacesreporter.com to know how bamboo became the prime material for the center.
This project is among the latest creation of Ar Revathi Kamath. The temple is just completed in 2020.
"I came to know Ar Revathi Kamath closely when her name was nominated for WADE ASIA AWARD. We met her at her studio. She talked about her projects in details. I could see the innate passion in her eyes. Minute details were very important for her and took most of her time. She showed me different forms of mud she was experiemening with. She would let nature intervene and build around it. Though she was not the winner of WADE Award that year, her name was among the top nominations for sustainabilty every year. Finally in 2018 she was the WADE SUSTAINABILITY CHAMPION. She was there for the day along with Ar Vasant Kamath. Her presentation was full of learning. Same year, in a women’s platform, both of us met as fellow awardees. We celebrated cheerfully. Her work was her life. Our last communication was when she had messaged about Ar Vasant Kamath’s condolence meeting. I respected her as the much-required, strong voice in sustainable architecture of india. There is so much to celebrate her work, the legacy of experimenting with local materials and the voice of a woman architect who has lived & worked in her own terms."
Vertica Dvivedi, Founder, WADE ASIA Asia’s Largest platform for Women in Design
Ar Revathi Kamath- Building the sustainable way
Ar Revathi Kamath Won WADe Sustainability Champion Award 2018
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