Photograph by Andreas Deffner

Jane Withers: Our sense of time has changed so much with the forced slowdown, and for many of us it has taken on new texture and meaning, but you have been considering this for a long time – how did this come about?

Anupama Kundoo: I think it goes back to very basic questions I asked myself when I was young. I grew up in India, which is an old civilization, but I was in Bombay where there was this flurry of things happening all the time. People looked busy, they were increasingly stressed, they were doing all kinds of things. But the city and built environment looked worse to me, year after year. This was my perception as a child. It felt like no matter what you did, you never saw the fruits of it.

The more I went into this question of time, I realized that people are so busy saving other resources like money, but they are ready to give up their personal time. I came to the essential question: What is the cost of saving time? Are we paying for it with environmental, social, economic disruptions? I realized more and more that time is all I had.

Photograph by Andreas Deffner
Anupama designed Hut Petite Ferme as a home for herself soon after graduating as an architect. Inspired by the simplicity of rural shelters, trunks of casuarina trees are tied together with coconut rope.

Photograph by Andreas Deffner
Anupama lived at Hut Petite Ferme for 10 years. The experience was a formative influence on her holistic approach to architecture and people, materials and lifecycles, and interest in seeking refinement with minimal means.

Health, happiness and wellbeing

 

Jane: How is this approach that you call ‘Taking Time' reflected in your buildings?

Anupama: I do believe the purpose of architecture is health, happiness and wellbeing for humans, individually and collectively. Architecture is required by humans because our biology needs it. But sometimes we wind up doing things because we are creatures of habit, even if it doesn't serve us well. We are on autopilot making matchbox houses. And it is this commodified version of architecture that keeps getting perpetuated. So, my first step was to radically question my personal use of time to think before I act. That was the point when I liberated my personal time by taking big risks and seeing what it is like when you reduce things.

One of the issues is that mainstream industrialisation had started influencing the way we think. When we think of paper, we think of an A4. We all have the same WC. And it's the same with homes but the standard home doesn't work for many people. Why don't we say ‘Okay here are the things that we want to offer as a standard product, and here are the areas that you can do on your own, so we can express individuality.’ You go to old cities like Venice, and the whole city has one kind of signature, but within it everything seems a little different. Everybody says that material rethinking is going to be expensive, but in reality it is only more expensive from the point of view of laziness and habits. Somehow, I think Covid has caused us to connect because we all have similar questions and that gives a lot of hope. Now we know that we can behave differently. We can be flexible. We can adapt.

Image courtesy of Anupama Kundoo
Line of Goodwill is a design for high-density compact housing for Auroville, the experimental town in Tamil Nadu.

Image courtesy of Anupama Kundoo
Envisaged as co-housing clusters with cascading terraces, the project is being developed using co-creation methods to move away from standardised housing formulas.

Comfort

 

Jane: And what about bringing these ideas into architecture and the materials you work with? Your buildings have such a strong atmosphere, a sense calm. In a way you are building a comfort zone but with a different language from what we're used to. I'm interested in how that evolved and what you consider the essential elements in this language?

Anupama: I like that you mention comfort because that's what I feel. I never try to provoke through architecture, I try to create calm spaces where you just feel good. I realised that there is a material aspect, which is very expensive, and is out of many people's reach. But there is a thing about proportions and harmony, and an alchemy about the way things are put together. So that what is manifested has a soul, and it helps you to be generous and overlook the shortcomings in the material, whether they are humble or not.