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Revisiting the life of Revathi Kamath, the torchbearer of vernacular architecture

The architect known for ecologically and socially sustainable architecture leaves behind a legacy of the works that brought craft skills from India into the architectural expression.

by Meghna MehtaPublished on : Jul 24, 2020

Revathi Kamath, who passed away on July 21, 2020, was a ground-breaking Indian architect in the field of sustainability and mud architecture, with her revolutionary ideas and design works. The Delhi-based firm Kamath Design Studio that she set up in 1981 with her husband, late Vasant Kamath, explored traditional techniques and materials in a new form, giving back the community what it may have lost with the advent of industrialisation and modernisation. Interestingly, Revathi is also known to have built an exquisite steel structure, a 33-metre high gateway for the thermal power plant at Raigarh, Chhattisgarh for Jindal Steel.

Gateway for Jindal Power Plant, Tamnar, Chhattisgarh (2006)| Revathi Kamath | Kamath Design Studio | STIRworld
Gateway for Jindal Power Plant, Tamnar, Chhattisgarh (2006) Image Credit: Courtesy of Kamath Design Studio

Revathi’s works and ideologies belonged to a school of thought that pushed her towards pursuing a ‘new vernacular’. Born in Bhubaneswar, Odisha, Revathi obtained her graduation as well as post-graduation from the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), New Delhi. She then went on to work with Joseph Allen Stein, Balkrishna Doshi, Romi Khosla and Narendra Dengle.

She met her husband Vasant, who passed away in September 2019, while working at the GRUP (Group for Rural & Urban Planning). Revathi also taught as a visiting faculty (1984–87) and an assistant professor (1987–91) at the School of Planning and Architecture. 

Mud School for ‘Muskan’ , Bhopal (2016) | Revathi Kamath | Kamath Design Studio | STIRworld
Mud School for ‘Muskan’ , Bhopal (2016) Image Credit: Courtesy of Kamath Design Studio
My whole effort is to make mud a viable material. The embodied energy of mud is the lowest. Mud is the most recyclable and sustainable material on this planet; it only uses small amounts of mechanical energy and huge amounts of human energy. It sustains human beings. – Revathi Kamath
Lakshman Sagar Resort, Rajasthan (2010)| Revathi Kamath | Kamath Design Studio | STIRworld
Lakshman Sagar Resort, Rajasthan (2010) Image Credit: Courtesy of Kamath Design Studio

The studio addresses diverse social, economic and geographical contexts through their humble and grounded architecture. The Anandgram Project for the rehabilitation of slum dwellers in Delhi was one of the early projects that gained recognition. “Revathi & Vasant Kamath will be remembered for their lifelong commitment to an ecologically responsive, socially responsible architecture, beginning with the 1983 Anandgram resettlement project,” mentioned Ranjit Hoskote, poet, author and art critic, on his Twitter account. Revathi is noted for her sensitive efforts for conceiving the ‘Evolving Home’ concept for redevelopment. She consulted with 350 families to understand the individual needs and to provide them a first home on the ground.

I am constantly moving forward. In the future, I see a lot of human beings living in harmony with nature. – Revathi Kamath

Revathi represented India and the belief she had in its traditional methods to the world. Three of her projects were nominated for the Aga Khan Award - Akshay Pratishthan School in Delhi, Community Center in Madhya Pradesh and Nalin Tomar House at Hauz Khas, Delhi. She also presented her work Traditional Architecture in India for the festival of India in Paris in 1986.

With her continuing belief in promoting ideas of the vernacular architecture, she was a part of the contributing team for the Eternal Gandhi Multimedia Museum as well as the co-curator and designer for the exhibition Craft: A Tool for Social Change. Her other notable projects include the Desert Resort and the Lakshman Sagar resort in Rajasthan, the Museum for Tribal Heritage, Bhopal, the Gnostic Center, Delhi, a research center for growth of consciousness, Weavers Housing in Madhya Pradesh, Jiva Wellness Center and University for Yogic Sciences.

Laxman Sagar Resort (2010) | Revathi Kamath | Kamath Design Studio | STIRworld
Laxman Sagar Resort (2010) Image Credit: Courtesy of Kamath Design Studio
Vernacular is indeed more sustainable. Vernacular is something that belongs to the people and place. – Revathi Kamath

Today, it is rare to see the reflection of one pertinent ideology through the work of a firm spread over decades. In this case, the ideas, beliefs and faith in the revival and propagation of mud as sustainable architecture remained with the Kamath’s for 38 years and are certainly a legacy to learn from and revere.

Also read here, architect Swanzal Kak Kapoor’s heartfelt tribute to the late architect, Revathi Kamath.

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