Rahul Mehrotra is one of India’s leading architects. He is the Principal Architect and the founder of RMA Architects located in Mumbai and Boston. He is also an urbanist and an academician who’s currently a professor of Urban Designing and Planning at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. He completed his education in architecture from the School of Architecture, Ahmedabad, and finished his master’s from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design.
He has tried to collect and express his thoughts through books, articles, essays, and lectures substantially on fields covering architecture, conservation, and urban planning. His most renowned works in literature are Bombay – The Cities Within, Conserving and Image Center – The Fort Precinct in Bombay and the editing of a book titled The Architecture of the 20th Century in the South Asian Region.
Design Philosophy | Hathi Gaon
“Architecture is the physical manifestation of society’s aspirations in the broader sense.” – Rahul Mehrotra
He also believes that when it comes to buildings, there shouldn’t be any restrictions on the colour or shape of a building as long as it fits the context. His thoughts on using architecture as a tool to create or demolish boundaries between different communities help him with designing and working on various fields and scales of architecture.
Hathi Gaon – Jaipur, Rajasthan
The concept of Hathi Gaon emerged while doing a competition organized by the Rajasthan Government. RMA Architects won the said competition and developed the structures near the Amber Fort in Jaipur.
The Hathi Gaon is a community or housing project designed for 100 elephants and their caretakers—Mahouts—working in the famous Amber Fort as tourist guides or for tourist attractions.
The Gaon was constructed over land that was destroyed because of the exploitation of sand quarries. Due to this design, the land was developed again with water bodies existing on the borders. Trees were planted and the exploited sand quarries were converted into water reservoirs.
Basic Design | Hathi Gaon
This community had inward-looking structures with one big courtyard in the middle where most of the major life activities take place. There are regular, simple houses for the Mahouts and then garage-like structures with only one exit in the back where the elephants are kept. These garages have a wide opening on the inner side of the structure which overlooks the central courtyard. This opening allows for Mahauts to interact with their elephants by providing them with the food required.
Activities such as cooking and eating food take place in the central space of the community and this increases interaction between the families. This courtyard also allows the children to play around, a little away from the elephants.
The dwellings of the families are small—almost about 200 Sq. Feet., arranged in a set of four dwellings in a square manner and these were wrapped around communal courtyards. These clustered units are situated in portions of land which lack landscape. This was a low-income housing project which has a continuous supply of water and electricity.
The water reservoirs play an important part in the lives and bonding of both the Mahaut and their elephants. So basing their design strategy around the water reservoirs and bodies helped develop the area.
The belief that residents play an important role in the proper development of the final product helped in conceptualizing the entire housing project. The dwellings are organized around internal courtyards such that they act as an extension to the dwellings as a part of the living area and an important place for socializing.
The garages created a distinct functional boundary for the interaction between the riders and their elephants while also maintaining a sense of community building between the families and the animal.
Because of it being a low budget, the construction methods were kept simple and materials used were local materials available there on-site such as stone. The location of the dwellings was such that it allowed passive cooling and natural ventilation which is a response to the context and the climate. Unlike other projects, Hathi Gaon is a project that revolves around the landscape.
Rahul Mehrotra’s ideologies inclined more towards the use of traditional techniques and merging them with western ideas that got him the recognition he has today and helped him create this well-thought community village for housing elephants and their riders.
“Our country certainly should not unthinkingly adopt western ideas when it comes to an architecture competition and instead looks for local solutions. We do not need your glass buildings and your eco-labels in India” – Rahul Mehrotra