“The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity.” – Leo Tolstoy.

The purpose of architecture has always been to create for people, for their lives and stories. But, in these times of commercial success, sometimes one might feel like architecture is losing its purpose. Looking at the work of Anupama Kundoo then makes you think. It inspires us to learn about our roots and our people and question the notion of modernity. Her practice could be described as “Architecture for people and by people”. By taking a different path and setting her own standards, Anupama Kundoo has established herself in her own niche and inspired many others toward authentic modern architecture.

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Wall house, the architect’s residence in Auroville_©Alka Hingorani and Javier Callejas | anupamakundoo.com

Life and beginnings

One of the most well-known and awarded Indian architects, Anupama Kundoo, first studied architecture at Sir J. J. College of Architecture, University of Bombay, completed in 1989. Her thesis on “Urban Eco-Community: Design and Analysis for Sustainability “was awarded the Vastu Shilpa Foundation Fellowship in 1996. Starting in 1990 in the quaint town of Auroville, her practice has been a prominent step in a different direction. A heavily researched-based practice, Anupama Kundoo emphasises building spaces for humanity. She has pursued authentic architecture, which is connected to its roots and has a genuine sense of modernity.

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Hut in Petite Ferme, the first residence in Auroville Kundoo built in 1990_ ©Andreas Deffner | anupamakundoo.com

Her practice began very early in her career, and being in Auroville allowed her to experiment, which played an important role in laying the foundation of her vision for architecture and living.

Her meeting with the chief architect of Auroville, Roger Anger, led to years of collaboration on the development plans of Auroville in the initial years of her practice. Anupama Kundoo has designed a number of the city’s important institutional buildings, including the town hall and several housing projects. Her practice focuses on materiality, indigenous techniques and efficient use of resources. Kundoo has been building extensively in India and has had the experience of working, researching and teaching in a variety of cultural contexts across the world. 

Time, People and Knowledge

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The interior of the Wall house shows the terracotta bowls embedded in the ceiling and the play of light and shadow amongst the spaces _©Alka Hingorani and Javier Callejas | anupamakundoo.com

Anupama Kundoo grew up and studied architecture in Bombay but gravitated towards South India, going against the grain of rapidly growing commercial architecture in the city. During her time in Auroville, whose philosophy of human unity drew her to a more holistic vision, she was able to learn, experiment, and pursue her own agenda. In looking back at her practice over the past three decades, it could be described as based on three main aspects: time, people, and knowledge.

According to her, we cannot make time, but we can take time. She sees time as a forgotten resource in architecture. Architecture is deeply connected to time as it is a process that embraces the present, the past and the future. 

She emphasizes taking our own time to do things. Instead of viewing something which saves time as efficient, one should take time to evaluate each action and moment in how it will take shape in the future. Even in the case of her projects, she takes her time to research the problem and design accordingly. 

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Voluntariat Homes for Homeless Children, Pondocherry_©Alka Hingorani and Javier Callejas | anupamakundoo.com

Her work seeks to go beyond being her own and become something for the people. Using indigenous techniques for construction and engaging the local community in the process of creating architecture, she focuses on building for humanity. She tries to design in such a way that the makers engage with hand and mind to produce objects they are proud of, and transform simple materials with care and intelligence into spaces which live. In her design, craftsmen and occupants with their knowledge, stories, and aspirations are highlighted in a way that goes beyond their expectations and challenges them. Such spaces feel more connected to their people.

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Full Fill Homes, Auroville, built in 2015, use ferrocement in experimental ways to create affordable and modular housing_©dezeen.com

She is of the thought that the act of building produces knowledge just as the resulting knowledge produces buildings. Her practice is heavily research-based and uses innovations based on traditional construction techniques and natural materials. According to Kundoo, an architect should invest more time in thinking, researching, sharing knowledge and building instead of only focusing on optimisation and time-saving processes. Architecture goes beyond just building; it is about learning, living, thinking and observing too. More than a nostalgic approach to traditional crafts and construction techniques, she thinks of technology as simply the practical questioning of assumptions that may have long gone unexamined.

Notable works

Some of her well-known projects include her first residence at Auroville. The Hut in Petite Ferme is an example of a modern but very simple dwelling, having a thatched roof. Her designs use the materials and type of labour available locally and create economically and environmentally sustainable spaces. She has also collaborated with Roger Anger, who was Auroville’s chief architect, to create a group of buildings for the Town hall complex. It is characterized by shaded walkways and materials like brick and concrete used with their natural finishes. Her designs of public structures for the community of Auroville include the Multipurpose Hall for the Sri Aurobindo World Centre for Human Unity, which is an eight-pillared massive concrete pavilion. Voluntariat Homes for Homeless Children, which was built in 2008 in Pondicherry, used a unique method of baking the bricks. The catenary shaped domes were built with raw mud bricks. The structures themselves acted like the kiln and were fired along with other things required which were inserted in them. this saved a lot of costs and made them more durable and water-resistant. For her, even something like this is technological innovation.

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Voluntariat Homes for Homeless Children in Pondicherry, an image of the structure itself being fired to strengthen the mud bricks_©Alka Hingorani and Javier Callejas | anupamakundoo.com
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Town Hall Complex built for Auroville in 2005_©dezeen.com

A different way of life

Anupama Kundoo has always gone against the flow, from leaving Bombay to go to a smaller town at the beginning of her career to choosing to emphasize taking time. According to her, one should not give up before trying and accept life with all its surprises. She always wanted to pursue my questions and my curiosities and make my own path. She sees architecture as beyond just a building, but rather something that envisions the human habitat and shapes the built environment in a way that marks and makes society’s evolution. Architecture which connects to its makers as well as occupants creates well-being, not only individually but also in the community. She emphasizes questioning the simplest things and studying thoroughly before making micro-decisions, which are efficient and suited for the environment and its people.

She has always believed that all of us have a destiny and a purpose beyond ourselves in our lives, and we can shape our destiny with our own hands. Anupama Kundoo continues to walk on her path, expanding her practice even outside India. She continues to teach, learn and experiment. Her journey and ideology definitely inspire one to not be afraid to go our own way and to live our life to the fullest.

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Library of Lost Books, an installation in Barcelona, Spain uses recycled books as canopies for reading to reconstruct trees as a symbol of growth and the acknowledgement of resources_©Javier Callejas | anupamakundoo.com

References: 

  1. ‌Architecture + Design. (2022). Anupama Kundoo: Redefining the Principles of Architecture. [online] Available at: https://www.architectureplusdesign.in/ad-exclusives/anupama-kundoo-redefining-the-principles-of-architecture/ [Accessed 4 Jun. 2022].
  2. world, S. (n.d.). Anupama Kundoo on her approach to time and the meaning of being an architect. [online] www.stirworld.com. Available at: https://www.stirworld.com/inspire-people-anupama-kundoo-on-her-approach-to-time-and-the-meaning-of-being-an-architect.
  3. Anon, (n.d.). Anupama Kundoo – architects. [online] Available at: https://anupamakundoo.com/.
  4. Magazine, W. (2021). Anupama Kundoo and the architecture of happiness. [online] Wallpaper*. Available at: https://www.wallpaper.com/architecture/anupama-kundoo-profile [Accessed 4 Jun. 2022].
  5. Dezeen. (2020). Ten key projects by Indian architect Anupama Kundoo. [online] Available at: https://www.dezeen.com/2020/11/20/anupama-kundoo-architecture-projects/
  6. channel.louisiana.dk. (2020). Anupama Kundoo: More Common Than Different. [online] Available at: https://channel.louisiana.dk/video/anupama-kundoomore-common-than-different [Accessed 5 Jun. 2022].
Author

An observant and wandering soul, Gandhali has always been fascinated by the power that words can hold. While exploring architecture, she developed an interest to learn about spaces and the life in them, and about seeing architecture through words. She strives to be able to express through her words too.

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