by Zohra KhanOct 21, 2022
Indian architecture studio Wallmakers, led by its principal architect Vinu Daniel, has won the Royal Academy Dorfman Award for 2022. Celebrating the innovative ideas and practices that explore the future potential of architecture, the Royal Academy and The Dorfman Foundation honoured the Indian firm for its exemplary outputs and experimentation in the field of architecture. The judges were also moved by the Indian architecture firm’s creativity and willingness to take risks while realising sustainable buildings. Beyond the principles of sustainable architecture and local materials, Wallmakers’ projects rest harmoniously in sensitive ecologies and challenging natural landscapes. The jury included Farshid Moussavi RA; Director of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, Farrokh Derakhshani; Pulitzer Prize-winning author Hisham Matar; Cornelia Parker RA; Peter St John and Zoë Ryan, Director of the Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania. The other three finalists in the competition were Apparata from the United Kingdom, dot architects from Japan, and Semillas from Peru. While the India-based practice was selected as the winner of the architecture award on September 15, 2022, the announcement was delayed as a mark of respect following the passing of the Royal Academy’s Patron, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
With the aim of minimising the carbon footprint of the construction industry, the practice embarked on the journey of abandoning conventional ways of creating and experimenting with new techniques in 2007. Since then, Wallmakers has been on a quest to transform natural and waste materials into extraordinary forms and spaces that exist in nature as they belong to the site. Always on the move, the office-less firm mostly works from the site and explores, creates and imagines while working alongside the workers on site. Talking about the winner, Farshid Moussavi RA, Chair of the 2022 Royal Academy Architecture Awards Jury, mentioned in the press statement, “Wallmakers’ work engages with issues raised by the climate emergency with a creative energy and urgency that will inspire architects to reconsider the impact of their work in relation to ecology and the consumer economy. Vinu Daniel began work as Wallmakers after coming to a point where he had all but rejected architectural practice as it was being taught. The jury was impressed by Vinu’s willingness to improvise and take the risky route of exploring unprecedented interventions, as much as his insistence on treading lightly on the planet. There is a strong sense that this is an architect who is just getting going and we will all follow Wallmakers’ career with the keenest interest.”
Among the many projects that raised the small firm in Kerala to fame are St. George Orthodox Church in Mattancherry, Chirath Residence, and Pirouette House which brought back the construction technique of free-flowing brick walls. For the Shikhara residence in a west-facing site, the architects translated the human habit of “holding up a hand to shield their eyes from the harsh west sun” into architecture. Designed based on a dream sequence, The Ledge in the sloping landscape of Peerumedu is camouflaged within the natural landscape while jutting out of the land like an extension of itself. Sharing his emotions on the win, Indian architect Vinu Daniel shared in the official release, “Winning was surreal but it really means that institutions like the Royal Academy are evidently promoting the unconventional and the alternate, especially since all the finalists stray away from conventional approaches. The award truly indicates that the world has taken a pause from fast development and destruction to look in a new direction. I hope this encourages other institutions to promote the work of the thousands of young artists and architects who struggle daily to promote their cause.” He added, “Wallmakers hopes to popularise non-linear architecture practices which take architects away from offices and bring them onto their site, where they can study and minimise the damage our work brings to ecosystems. Hopefully, in future we will create a positive symbiosis with the ecosystems we build on and teach the importance of natural habitat to everyone, ranging from the workers at the site to clients who sponsor us.”
Royal Academy Dorfman Award aims to garner a wider appreciation and understanding of architecture’s vital relationship to culture and society. Defining the award’s principles, Sir Lloyd Dorfman CBE, Trustee of the Royal Academy Trust and Founding Partner of the Awards stated, “The Royal Academy Dorfman Award recognises the innovative, the unconventional and the risk takers. It is an award that looks to the future of architecture and how architects are responding to a changing world. Our previous winners have come from Iran, Thailand and China, and I am delighted that this year’s winner is from India. The spectrum of countries highlights the global reach of the prize as well as the power of art to transcend geo-political differences.”