Swanzal Kak Kapoor recalls Revathi Kamath and her passion for earth architecture

Kapoor, who had worked with the late architect, believes it was Kamath’s unique gift to connect with people, the place and the culture in the tradition of building with the earth.

by Swanzal Kak Kapoor Published on : Jul 24, 2020

Even as the Indian architectural community tries to come to terms with the sudden news of the passing of Revathi Kamath, there is a special poignancy in the relevance of her life and work in the circumstances the world is facing today. To the world at large, she was a venerated architect who championed a world where people, ecology and the harnessing of traditional skills stood centre stage.

Kamath House, Anangpur, Haryana (1997)  | Revathi Kamath | Kamath Design Studio | STIRworld
Kamath House, Anangpur, Haryana (1997) Image Credit: Courtesy of Kamath Design Studio

To many, she was a teacher who despite her sometimes brusque exterior, revealed a deep sensitivity and caring for the earth. To architects, who were fortunate to work with Revathi and Vasant at the Kamath Design Studio, she was an inspiring and passionate mentor who helped free many of us of the conditioning of our architectural education. An incredible sensitivity to line, form, balance and repose was inculcated in us and she had a deep horror for the mindless consumption and display that was creeping into Indian architecture in the late 90s. She shared freely her struggles as a young woman architect in Rajasthan when the Mandawa Desert Camp was being built, as well as the joys of the wonderful earth home that Vasant and Revathi built at Anangpur in Haryana, India.

Desert Resort, Mandawa, Rajasthan (1984) | Revathi Kamath | Kamath Design Studio | STIRworld
Desert Resort, Mandawa, Rajasthan (1984) Image Credit: Courtesy of Kamath Design Studio

As a 23-year-old working in their studio, a farewell lunch at their home for a departing office colleague was my first introduction to the wild beauty of the Aravalis: I remember asking with deep awe, “What did you do?”, she looked at me and smiled and said, “Nothing.. we let it be..”

A chance visit to the Tribal Arts Museum in Bhopal two decades later brought back keenly her authenticity and artistry in practising architecture as a living culture and something sacred. Hers was an unself-conscious architecture that breathed freely and deeply.

Tribal Arts Museum in Bhopal (2004) | Revathi Kamath | Kamath Design Studio | STIRworld
Tribal Arts Museum in Bhopal (2004) Image Credit: Courtesy of Kamath Design Studio

Her focus remained on making a simple material like mud viable even as she often remarked that most people did not fully comprehend its ability to heal. Revathi and Vasant represented a generation of architects who stood steadfast to their values and truly practiced a deeply ecological, humane and socially conscious architecture. Together, they questioned assumptions and the dominant modern aesthetic to champion a softer, gentler sensibility that glowed with an indigenous consciousness.

Gnostic Centre Campus, New Delhi (2009) | Revathi Kamath | Kamath Design Studio | STIRworld
Gnostic Centre Campus, New Delhi (2009) Image Credit: Courtesy of Kamath Design Studio

She believed architecture was her one true calling and had a special empathy for the lesser privileged. Speaking about her first project of working with artisans, she said, “I didn’t design for them but I designed with them and it was really a common kind of consciousness which pervaded the design”.

Jiva Wellness Center, Haryana (2016) | Revathi Kamath | Kamath Design Studio | STIRworld
Jiva Wellness Center, Haryana (2016) Image Credit: Courtesy of Kamath Design Studio

This was her special gift; to connect deeply with people, the place and the culture in a timeless tradition of building with the earth. At a GRIHA summit in November last year, she spoke of an ecological civilisation as our collective future of human beings living in harmony with nature and a positive and holistic search for being.. her words seem prophetic today.

Laxman Sagar Resort, Rajasthan (2010)   | Revathi Kamath | Kamath Design Studio | STIRworld
Laxman Sagar Resort, Rajasthan (2010) Image Credit: Courtesy of Kamath Design Studio

It is only while writing this that I wistfully realised how many of her words and thoughts have echoed through my life and practice in different forms. In homage to a visionary who saw far beyond her time.. you are deeply mourned.

Also read here, STIR’s tribute to architect Revathi Kamath.

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