An architect who truly follows an unconventional practice as she believes she is doing what she is best at. Completing her graduation from School of Planning and Architecture during which she trained under Dr.Volker Hartkopf at the Centre for Building Performance and Diagnostics of the Carnegie Mellon University as a part of her stipulated academic training. After her graduation, she tried working under various architects but was not very satisfied and hence joined another course named “Alternative Methods of Construction” and got trained under the eminent guidance of Prof. K.S. Jagdish which was more or less the turning point of her life from where she decided to work as an unconventional architect.

Gita Balakrishnan- Echoing with Ethos - Sheet1
Gita Balakrishnan ©www.iiawbchapter.org

She soon got in touch with AVAS (Association for Voluntary Action and Services) which is a Bangalore based NGO. Although she had joined for the post of a creative educationist but soon found out that they needed an architect for coordinating shelter homes for the urban poor. This is where she turned into an architect cum social activities as she started enthusiastically participating in all the activities involved in the organization and mainly in the process of the building of shelters. She also held various community meetings and activities wherein the house dwellers were asked to draw their dream homes which threw light on various aspects like women drawing wells in their houses and men drawing shops and animal shelters for their domestic animals and all of this brought her closer to the practice she later followed.

She also got a few projects of her own quite around the same time and the first one remains very close to her heart because of her efforts involved in building a residence which lessens the burden on the environment. A few more projects with this philosophy were added to her trousseau after which she saw the need to share these eco-friendly methods of construction in the slums. A community center with the involvement of each family member was soon set up where people made stabilized earth blocks as an income generation activity which she thoroughly enjoyed.

She was also working with DWARAKA – Development of Weavers and Rural Artisans in Kalamkari Art, which, through the DwarakaRamanarpanam Trust helps many Kalamkari artists and handloom weavers in Kalahasthi, Andhra Pradesh. The Trust has been a positive move to revive Kalamkari – the art of painting on cloth with vegetable dyes. She was actively involved with other associations dealing with a study of the user acceptance of the stabilized mud-block technology in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu: a study on the non-farm sector (for NABARD), a study of the socio-economic aspects of Tibetan settlements, the formulation of a directory for rural women in order to make their access to credit easier for NORAD (Norwegian Agency for Development), and a study on the socio-financial aspects of the use of alternative methods of construction for HIVOS (a Dutch funding agency). With all these, she never turned her way back.

However, the most interesting part of her life was the starting of ETHOS as she felt the need to reach out and equip young minds to be agents of change. Ethos is an organization that focuses on uniting architectural and civil engineering colleges in different parts of the country so students can have a platform or a forum to:

1) Keep them in touch with what is happening in different colleges.

2) Expose them to the conscious choices being made by their peers.

3) Answer their queries so they can make career decisions on graduating.

This platform could extend to interactions with professionals in different parts of our country and to opportunities across the borders. Such a network would certainly facilitate easy dissemination of information and help build confident professionals who have been awake to the situation outside right from the time of joining the graduate program.

Ethos has already commenced networking opportunities with young architects and students with a specific intention of matching interest and aptitude with opportunity since this is a prime necessity in a field such as architecture. Ethos proposes to intensify this effort and extend the same to the fraternity of civil engineers. This aspect assumes special significance in view of the fact that there are very few companies/organizations that are identifying prospective employees through the typical process of campus interviews in the field of civil engineering and architecture.

Let us look at a few works and activities she has been involved with:

  1. Hosakerehalli Slum Rehabilitation

127 families of this slum are located off the ring road in the South of Bangalore. Through the efforts of AVAS, this community was fortunate to avail of a grant of Rs.20,000 per family from Rotary Midtown – Bangalore. In addition to this, 41 families were able to procure a loan of Rs. 15,000 from HUDCO. Each family has been allotted a site of size 15’x20′. This slum is located on land belonging to the Bangalore Development Authority, responsible for the infrastructure facilities. AVAS has taken on the moral responsibility to monitor and successfully implement the re-housing project.

People were constantly guided on proper planning of their houses and finances for the construction etc. Each individual family is responsible for the construction of their own house. Money is released in installments only after ensuring the judicious use of the previous installment. Sewage lines have already been laid and the constructed houses are being serviced by it. Special designs were made for the foundations of the houses on this land. A totally participatory and in-situ rehousing project.

Gita Balakrishnan- Echoing with Ethos - Sheet2
Hosakerehalli Slum Rehabilitation ©www.thehercarfoundation.org
Gita Balakrishnan- Echoing with Ethos - Sheet3
Hosakerehalli Slum Rehabilitation ©www.thehercarfoundation.org
  1. AtmadarshanYogashram

The construction of this project is approximately 10000 sq ft. Ashram for Yoga is in progress on a plot of land measuring roughly 100′ x 200′. This land is located on the ring road in the south of Bangalore. The construction is being carried out in phases according to the availability of funds. The residential block is nearing completion after which the construction of the “Dhyanmandir”, i.e. Meditation Rooms and classrooms will commence.

The plan was envisaged with an idea to achieve an atmosphere as natural as possible in the available plot of land with an outdoor semi-open dining with a rock garden. The materials are chosen also adhere to this concept and are all eco-sensitive and are the kind that avoids long-term maintenance. The walls are made of rough granite stone in composite stone masonry with the roof being in Mangalore tiles. Space being a constraint, vertical expansion up to two floors could not be avoided. All the rocks existing on-site have been left untouched and the building has been designed around them and the existing trees.

Special features:

Most doors/windows are in Burma Teak Antique columns with brackets for the entrance porch and rough granite lintels, sills, and jambs.

Gita Balakrishnan- Echoing with Ethos - Sheet4
AtmadarshanYogashram ©www.thehercarfoundation.org
Gita Balakrishnan- Echoing with Ethos - Sheet5
AtmadarshanYogashram ©www.thehercarfoundation.org

 

  1. A paper that she presented at the “Women in Architecture” conference organized by the HECAR foundation in Mumbai in February 2000.
  2. A paper she presented on “Indian Architecture – then and now” at SAARCH in Dhaka in April 2006.
  3. She was part of a panel of architects that interacted through a videoconference with architects in Boston and Baltimore at the American Center, Kolkata on “Indo-US partnerships” – a collaboration between Indian and US architects.
  4. She was one of the two architects invited from Kolkata to speak at “12×12” in Ahmadabad – a forum where selected architects and designers from across India are invited to share their concerns.
  5. She inaugurated the “Women in Architecture” forum at the architecture department of PeriyarMayammai College of Technology for Women at Thanjavur in 2000
  6. She was part of the Bangalore Urban Poverty Project – an Indo-Dutch venture as a habitat specialist.
  7. She was a volunteer with the Children’s Movement for Civic Awareness in Bangalore – that aims at sensitizing school children on environmental issues.
  8. She was part of a team that published a compilation and cost analysis of houses in Bangalore built using cost-effective techniques.

Architectural Journalist

Rethinking The Future

Sakshi Agrawal, a thorough enthusiast and an architecture student, she has a fascination for exploring the diverse Indian art, culture, food, people and places and their relationship with the architecture of a space. She is happy go lucky, fond of reading, sketching and a lot of coffee.

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