When asked about one of her best projects, Revathi Kamath replied: “My favorite is the next one. The one that’s yet to come! I am constantly moving forward. In the future, I see a lot of human beings living in harmony with nature. There will be a lot of positive and holistic search for our being. I see an ecological civilization as our collective future”.
With a heavy heart, we pay our tribute to Ar. Revathi Kamath who passed away on 21 July 2020. She is a source of inspiration to many and has left a void that will always be missed. She was the kind of person who believed in her vision for making the society a much better place than before. She saw hope, inspiration, and enthusiasm in every project she ever did!
Revathi Kamath was an architect and planner, based in Delhi. She has pioneered and revolutionized mud architecture, utilizing materials normally associated with India’s most impoverished communities to build luxury structures for resorts and wealthy private homeowners, while also working with the unprivileged sections. She wanted to remove the association and assumption of mud only as of the material for poor people in society. Her works speak for her ideologies very well.
Her early years went through reading and diving into the architectural journals of her civil engineer grandfather—into the contemporary works of Frank Lloyd Wright, Bruno Taut, Bruce Goff, Oscar Niemeyer, Fredrick Kiesler, and Eric Mendelsohn; that ultimately sparked her interest and deepened her understanding towards different forms of architecture. Although she was quite vocal about not liking the minimalist approach and works of Mies van der Rohe.
Revathi Kamath completed her bachelor’s degree in Architecture (1977) from SPA, Delhi; and a postgraduate degree in Urban and Regional Planning (1981) from SPA, Delhi as well. She believed that the true architecture, in every sense, is never any fancy style or fabricated objects, just to categorize as new and be imposed on the environment. She always looked into the sustainability aspect of buildings, and always sought to fulfill her social responsibilities of being an architect.
She worked with Stein, B.V.Doshi, and Bhalla for a year, just after her graduation. Later, she worked with Rassik International, architects and furniture designers in New Delhi. Her initial practice was in a partnership firm, The GRUP (Group for Rural & Urban Planning), with Vasant Kamath, Romi Khosla, and Narendra Dengle. She also worked with the National Institute of Urban Affairs and was a visiting faculty and Assistant Professor at the SPA, Delhi.
With her husband, Late Vasant Kamath, she co-founded the firm in 1981, later to be known as Kamath Design Studio – Architecture Planning an Environment, which deals with a wide range of projects in social, cultural, economic, and geographical contexts. With detailed and intricate work, the firm has designed and built over 400 projects to date.
A few months back, though for an extremely short period of time, I got an opportunity to get insight into how she worked and practiced, which I am totally grateful for. I still remember her telling me to divide the bay area into 3 small bays, so that it will help to get smooth circulation along the corridor, with no columns causing hindrance in the movement. These small principles and small nuances and details are what set aside a legendary architect from the rest.
Her diversified skills can easily be seen in two of the most publicized contributions to architecture—her mud house (Katchi Kothi) and the JSPL Gateway.
Embodying all the ecological principles of recycling, independence, partnership, flexibility, and whatnot, Revathi’s personal mud house aka Katchi Kothi at Anangpur Village, is a manifestation of her philosophies and approach, making it a crescendo of mud architecture. Once a quarry land, the house has transformed the ecology of the area that was devastated from mining, chopping the trees off, and exposed groundwater. The mud house acted as a medicine on the wounds of the affected earth and has provided the ecological values in the making of an ecosystem.
Stating most of the many sustainable building techniques have already existed long before, outside of the recognized standards, she was an open critique of LEED (the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). She was an unwavering patron of locally ecological and socially sustainable architecture.
Being the tallest stainless-steel structure in South Asia to date, the JSPL Gateway is an entrance to a power plant in Raigarh, Chhattisgarh, India. At 33m height, it was designed and fabricated digitally and is a dialogue between local tribal geometries and industrial technology.
For her insightful works, her three projects— Akshay Pratishthan School in Delhi, Community Center at Maheshwar, and Nalin Tomar House at Hauz Khas, Delhi— have been nominated for the Aga Khan Award.
Apart from her projects, she has contributed to the exhibition – “Traditional Architecture in India” for the festival of India in Paris, in 1986. She was also in the design team for the Eternal Gandhi Multimedia Museum. In 2003, she was the co-curator and designer for the exhibition “Craft: A Tool for Social Change” for VHAI (Voluntary Health Association of India). She had recently worked on the Museum for Tribal Heritage, Bhopal; the Gnostic Center, Delhi—a research center for growth of consciousness, Jiva Wellness Center, and Jiva University for Yogic Sciences.
For practicing nearly four decades of sustainable design, Revathi Kamath received the World Women in Arts, Architecture, and Design (WADe Asia)—Sustainability Award in 2018.
With great courage, she defied the odds and followed the path that is not so conventional in today’s architectural practice. Her contributions will always be remembered and her projects will speak the design legacy that she carried with her full potential.
She thought that the undergraduate courses must have more emphasis on environmental challenges. “We need more schools of architecture and civil engineering programs to teach students about environmental impact, energy consumption, waste management, water recycling, and air-water-indoor pollution,” says architect Revathi Kamath who works with mud, bamboo, and wood along with the judicious use of cement and steel. (https://www.educationtimes.com/article/careers-arts/65873166/Do-you-want-to-be-an-eco-literate-architect#gsc.tab=0)
Her works were informed by a crystal-clear environmental purpose. Her firm’s work was driven by the well-grounded and mature green sensibilities. Her unique ability to preserve the old local traditions and thoughtfully incorporating it in her contemporary structures is what makes her different. She played different rather than the set norms in the field of architecture. From a small mud house for poor families to the kothis and bungalows for rich families; she had, in a true sense, pioneered the mud architecture and had added a new dimension to sustainable architecture. This is a great loss for the architectural community around the world. And we will surely miss her!