Architecture must obey the ecology of the territory, says Vinu Daniel


The avant-garde architect’s creations in ‘clothcrete’ will be part of a climate change exhibition in London

The avant-garde architect’s creations in ‘clothcrete’ will be part of a climate change exhibition in London

Slender curves defy gravity; the brickyards play hide and seek; spiral staircases float in the air and twisting walls unfurl like sails as streaming sunlight creates art on floors and walls.

Sustainability meets style in Kerala-based architect Vinu Daniel’s buildings made from mud, bamboo, scrap metal, tyres, casuarina trees and local materials.

In May, Vinu’s creations in “clothcrete” (a term he coined to describe the fabric used for the sculpture) will be showcased at the Barbican Center in London as part of a global exhibition on climate change called Our Time on Earth. .

In a zoom interview, Vinu points out that the theme is relevant to the world we inhabit today, especially in Kerala. He believes that the floods that devastated the state in 2018 and 2019, and to some extent in 2021, are a clear indication of climate change and global warming. Among the thousands affected by the floods were weavers from Chendamangalam. Said Vinu: “About 300 weavers lost their means of earning a living and lost stock worth ₹45 lakh, yarn and their looms. I chose these damaged textiles for this exhibition on climate change.

Architect Vinu Daniel's creations in 'Clothcrete' will be showcased at the Barbican Center in London as part of a global exhibition on climate change, 'Our Time on Earth

Architect Vinu Daniel’s ‘Clothcrete’ creations will be showcased at the Barbican Center in London as part of a global exhibition on climate change, ‘Our Time on Earth | Photo credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Using a slideshow, Vinu explains the process of making clothcrete. Damaged clothing from the weavers was soaked in lime and earth and draped to form chairs, stools and screens. “We arrange the curtains artistically for aesthetic effect and these are reinforced with fiberglass and plastered with earth and lime,” says Vinu.

The dried pieces are polished with coconut shell, and the material acquires a sheen, similar to those seen in “the draperies of Leonardo da Vinci’s Pietà or Bernini’s masterpieces” , says Vinu.

He had tried experimental work in the now closed Tease Me Café in Kottayam. The cafe had a concrete fabric background and seats. It was draped and folded to create a dramatic backdrop that looked like curtains fluttering in the wind.

Architect Vinu Daniel's designs in 'Clothcrete', which will be on display at the Barbican Centre, London, from My to August 2022

The creations of architect Vinu Daniel in ‘Clothcrete’, which will be presented at the Barbican Centre, London from My to August 2022 | Photo credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

“With the same technique, the damaged fabric was used to sculpt my creations. It’s about reminding people of the destruction caused by climate change in people’s lives,” says Vinu.

His architectural firm Wallmakers, founded in 2007, is working with Save The Looms to provide a solution to the floods that have devastated the lives of weavers.

He hopes to use the damaged yarn to build workspaces for the weavers and install the looms on the first floor of the structure. “The walls of the building will be made of reclaimed wires bound with steel cables which will eventually support the traditional Kerala-style pitched roofs,” Vinu explains.

Vinu has “designed an immersive space to present stories of change, which explores action, looking at grassroots organizations and changemakers around the world to find out what is happening on the ground,” a Barbican statement read.

The pavilion will also have 10 screens that will feature a series of “video stories from those working at the grassroots to bring about change in the way we interact with the environment to fight change and hold polluters to account.” of the earth “. After London, the exhibition Our Time on Earth will travel around the world for three to five years.

Architect Vinu Daniel's designs in 'Clothcrete', which will be shown at the Barbican Central, London.  All works in the exhibition were carried out by a team of architects and masons in Shoolagiri, near Hosur in Tamil Nadu

Architect Vinu Daniel’s designs in ‘Clothcrete’, which will be shown at the Barbican Central, London. All works in the exhibition were carried out by a team of architects and masons in Shoolagiri, near Hosur in Tamil Nadu | Photo credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

All the work for the exhibition was produced in Shoolagiri, near Hosur in Tamil Nadu, about two hours from Bangalore. “We are building a community space for Baiju CK and there is a team of architects and masons there. In addition, two to three architects from Bengaluru join us in our work. They believe in my philosophy of sustainable architecture,” says this disciple of the legendary Laurie Baker.

Baker, a Gandhian, had asserted that buildings should be constructed of materials available within a “five mile radius”. “Now what is readily available everywhere is rubbish and scrap. So I insist on recycling aesthetically and functionally in my buildings,” says Vinu

Architect Vinu Daniel

Architect Vinu Daniel | Photo credit: special arrangement

Working with a group of like-minded young architects, Vinu says he hopes to frame them in his philosophy of using local materials to build structures that don’t harm the ecology. “Camouflage architecture, in which buildings do not distort or destroy the landscape of a place, is the way forward to protect the ecology. The architecture must obey the ecology of the land; on a hill, the building must be in symbiotic alignment with the landscape and the ecosystem. I follow this principle for all my work in Hosur,” he says.

A bridge in Karjat, Maharashtra, designed by architect Vinu Daniel

A bridge in Karjat, Maharashtra, designed by architect Vinu Daniel | Photo credit: special arrangement

Even without a permanent address or a roof over his head, Vinu, who calls himself a “wandering architect”, changed and challenged the building blocks and aesthetics of architecture. His calling card is his signature building style which he uses to build homes, museums, community spaces, cafes and places of worship.

“Now I work with tires. Since retreading has become obsolete, more than three lakh tires are thrown away every day. They are ideal building blocks,” says Vinu.

Vinu recycles tires to build a museum dedicated to the late SP Balasubramaniam (SPB) in Chennai.

“Give me some bric-a-brac, I can keep building,” he says.

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