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Those living in glass houses...

Anjali Prayag

Bangalore-based architect Anil Bhaskaran believes in minimal use of glass. Tune in to Nature, he says, and bring back those verandahs, pandals and courtyards.

The Jal Bhavan in Bangalore.

In a city where architects are inspired by the glass and granite buildings of the West, Anil Bhaskaran is an antithesis of the trend. "I see no point in spending money on expensive glass boxes and offsetting the heat generated by them using air-conditioners and then running up huge energy bills," he says.

He is one architect who believes in the minimal use of glass. "We don't have to blindly follow the West. Most of us forget that we live in India, which is a blessed land. We can afford to have an open-to-sky kind of architecture." He refers to the old-world practicality of verandahs, pandals and courtyards. Indians have always had the right mix of internal and external spaces in their buildings, he says. But, unfortunately, use of glass-granite has become the soul of the IT sector today, he adds.

If this trend continues, Bhaskaran fears that Bangalore will go the Mumbai way. "Thirty years from now you'll have brown buildings because the buildings would have started deteriorating, apartments would have changed hands, and there will be no accountability or responsibility for maintenance."

In an effort to improve the cityscape of Bangalore, he started Idea (Initiative for Design Excellence in Architecture) Centre last year. "Our core strengths are creation of special and designer buildings with emphasis on cost-effective, environment-friendly structures," he says. He plans to make the centre a research and development hub for architects across the country.

Bhaskaran and his 15-member team also believe in generating a concept for the customer to suit his or her personality. They also factor in the surroundings. Infosys Mangala is one such project that gives credence to this concept. The building, located in Mangalore, is influenced by the step farming technique practised in coastal Karnataka.

Bhaskaran strongly believes that Nature offers an amazing variety of designs to copy from, a palette of colours to choose from and an inspiring range of shapes and forms. "I always tell my interns to use their hands and not their set squares when they design a building, and this will definitely create an effect," he says. Nature is beyond prediction so let your designs be that way, is his lesson for newcomers in the profession.

"Are there any straight lines in Nature?" he asks. Then you realise how the world's first eight-storeyed arch-shaped building came up in Bangalore. Jal Bhavan, which houses the offices of the Karnataka Urban Water Supply and Drainage Board, is a huge wave on the city's Bannerghatta Road.

"This building is a big achievement for me, one because in the government sector this was one of the first innovative designs and, two, it was built in a record time of 11 months," he says. Before he started work on the Ramana Maharshi Spiritual Centre in Bangalore, Bhaskaran says he did quite a bit of reading on the spiritual guru. He discovered that the Maharshi focussed on two things: his love for the universe and his belief in minimalism. He also realised that the Maharshi showed his love for the universe through the concept of the Panchaboothas, or the five elements: jal (water), vaayu (air), prithvi (earth), aakash (sky) and agni (fire).

This Bangalore-based architect was also inspired by the fact that the Maharshi practised semiotics or the science of symbolism. Therefore, certain areas of the ashram in Bangalore are influenced by this science. For instance, the open reception area represents vaayu, the pool represents the jal, the open air theatre the aakash, and so on. Then, of course, all the building materials are eco-friendly and energy saving. "You can be a successful designer and still make a commercial success of your designs," he says. For instance, when he designed an apartment building recently, he gave it a pandal-like structure. This is one place in the apartment building where residents can walk around or cool off on a hot day. "While I had another intention (to reduce heat inside the building), the builder and the apartment owners see the pandal as a new and unique style and now the builder wants this in all his other projects," says Bhaskaran. He recommends the use of verandahs because they cut down heat in buildings by 50 per cent. "We have to make buildings more climatically conducive to this country," he adds.

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