“Sustainability is an attitude, a state of mind, which touches all aspects of man’s life – be it food, clothing, or shelter.” — Ar. Malaksingh Gill
A disciple of the esteemed Laurie Baker, Ar. Malaksingh Gill is a pioneering architect based in Mumbai, Maharashtra. As Gill quotes ‘from designing farmhouses to farmer houses and everything in between ’, the architect specializes in eco-friendly alternative building technologies. He believes and propagates vernacular construction, the use of local building materials, and sustainable architecture. Gill’s design process seamlessly integrates the context and climate leading to the creation of a holistic building.
While remaining a Gandhian at heart, the architect is also a favored professor at Rachna Sansad Academy of Architecture, Mumbai, Maharashtra introducing young minds to the age-old building systems of our ancestors.
Gill’s practice is based on four pillars outlined by Mahatma Gandhi for the construction of his house in Sevagram, Wardha. He suggested the house ought to be erected at a minimal cost from materials available within 1km of site radius. The fabrication of the edifice must concentrate on employing local artisans, thereby boosting the regional economy and imbibing a sense of identity. Finally, the structure must amalgamate with the settings and combine naturally with man-made. These timeless principles led to the creation of a dynamic architectural pursuit in sync with the preservation of long-established adobes while fulfilling the aspirations of its proud patrons.
The Architectural Philosophy
Architect Malaksingh Gill’s design process involves a calculative study of the context and climate of the locale. Firmly rooted in the ethnic institutions of heritage, the architect explores novel organizations while reviving the salient features of age-old adages.
Research Before design
Before designing any abode, the architect conducts a thorough survey of the site. A comprehensive study enables one to realize the native context and building traditions and then adapt sensitive solutions. In dwellings developed by Gill, climate plays an indispensable role in determining design concepts, roofing systems, and expressive facades.
The architect assures that the materials and the construction techniques adopted befit the political backdrop and socio-cultural conventions of any hamlet. Hence, careful investigations of long-lost customs of the community assist one in bond with the genius loci of a place.
The Approach is the Key
While working in an air-conditioned office gawking at a computer screen, an architect finds himself estranged from the actual manifestation of architecture itself. Naturally, the precision achieved by computer-aided drawings is necessary but it’s only a means to the end. Setting aside this saleable notion, Gill believes: ‘A work of an architect only begins with completion and handover of the concept, design and technical drawings.’
Working on-site with the masons educates an architect to learn noteworthy lessons of humility, unlearn a multitude of high-end design principles absorbed in architectural schools and adopt improved construction strategies.
Employing Local Labour
Unlike many contemporary firms, Gill’s firm abstains from maintaining a definite team of contractors, masons, and carpenters. On the contrary, the architect makes a judicious attempt in understanding skills possessed by inhabitants of the community. Following the footsteps of his mentor Laurie Baker, Gill realized that his ‘true teachers are the villagers.’ Such an approach successfully blurs the boundaries between architecture and engineering. The architect maintains that only after learning from the right source, it is possible to fulfil impending challenges in a sustainable dwelling. Employing the provincial people also results in the propagation of colloquial construction equitably.
Teaching and impact in the architectural community
Architect Malaksingh Gill has played a key role in abolishing trending misconceptions about natural materials like mud and stone. Contrasting the short life of R.C.C structures, mud and stone have proven their longevity in ancient palaces and defensive forts. Over twenty years, the architect has worked relentlessly to create awareness about environmentally sound architecture.
Apart from inculcating patrons, the architect also trains students and sustenance enthusiasts via lectures, camps, and workshops. These sessions not only reveal the scope and impact of vernacular architecture but also its preservation properties.
The Architectural Practice
In the Talk the Walk series conducted by Godrej Interio, the architect throws light on false notions promoting construction in cement. In villages, a cement house or a pakka house is an implicit symbol of the dominance, status, and well-being of a family. As a result, their counterparts in the mud and timber dwellings indicate unfavourable lifestyles teamed with heavy maintenance.
Strangely, on inquiring the inhabitants one of the major reasons for opting to build concrete houses stems from the free government schemes. Gill silently points out the flaw in this restricting perspective, where the Awas is limited to a building.
Instead, ‘Awas is a culmination of the entire resource catchment area, ensuring availability of food and water in harmony with the microclimate and resources for building. Such dwelling generates a sense of being happy in a modest lifestyle, so the patron will continue building in the same fashion.’ To solve the difficulties encountered in maintaining these humble homes, Gill ensures its residents that inexpensive and minimal upkeep will preserve their cherished homes. Furthermore, the construction process aims at establishing relations amongst the community, relieving the occupants of the preservation of edifices.
Architect Malaksingh Gill (Season 1) [TV series episode]. (2017, May 29). In Godrej Interio (Executive Producer), Godrej Interio Talk the Walk | Architect Malaksingh Gill [Video on Youtube]. Godrej Interio. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=khXavA-lA3g&t=208s
Malaksingh Gill. (n.d.). Architect Malaksingh Gill. Architect Malaksingh Gill. Retrieved June 16, 2021, from http://www.architectmalaksingh.in/