Saturday, October 28, 2017

Lessons From Around The World

Architects Brijesh Shaijal and Jayakrishnan Karattiyil, founders of the World Architecture Travel group, talk about their experiences

Photos: Paper Island in Copenhagen; architects Brijesh Shaijal and Jayakrishnan Karattiyil; members of the World Architecture Travel group in Vietnam

By Shevlin Sebastian

In Copenhagen, Denmark, there is a place called Paper Island. Here several empty paper godowns have been converted into places where food is served, in separate units. It is located beside a river. “The godowns were in bad shape but it was renovated,” says the Kozhikode-based architect Brijesh Shaijal. “Now it has become a vibrant and popular area.”

Brijesh had gone to Denmark with a group of 30 architects, mostly from Kerala. All of them are part of the World Architecture Travel (WAT) organisation, of which Brijesh is the managing director, while Jayakrishnan Karattiyil is a co-founder.

Whenever the WAT group goes to a country, they would visit the architecturally important places and also interact with the local architects. “These architects would show us their projects on site and explain how the design has been implemented,” said Jayakrishnan. “It is a personalised tour. Then we go to their offices where they show us their recent projects. It is an enlightening experience.”

Sometime ago, one group had gone to New York. While there, they did a walking tour with a local architect. “He explained to us how the development took place, as well as the layering of the city,” says Brijesh. “We began to understand the city from a different angle.”

And an idea has sprung up to do something creative in the Kalai river area near Kozhikode. “There are many old factories,” says Brijesh. “Nowadays, it is not functioning at all. Earlier, the wood used to be transported through the Chaliyar river and came to Kalai. Nowadays it is all transported through trucks. These godowns can be transformed, like the Paper Market.”

In fact, the architects have already made one attempt to make a difference. On Gujarati street, in Kozhikode, there are old houses. They have converted one of them into a space called a Design Ashram. There is a working space, a travellers' hostel, an art gallery and a space for cultural events.

Interestingly, Brijesh finds the architecture styles of Kerala so different from other countries. “The houses in Kerala are made to show off, rather than to fulfill an individual's or a family's need,” he says. “We always think, 'What happens when a guest comes? What do others think about my space or my home?' Even in terms of aesthetics, the house owner wants to make it appealing to the visitor. In Kerala, people have an attitude that you can only be valued when you are able to showcase your house.”

This can lead to a lot of wastefulness. Architect Saumesh Menon (name changed) has built a 20,000 sq ft. house, because the client wanted to impress society, and to get good marriage proposals for his son and daughter. “But years later, when the children get married and move away, there will be too many rooms that will remain closed and dust will gather in it,” says Saumesh.

However, he is hoping that these foreign travels, the last of which was to Vietnam and Cambodia will change mindsets. “We have a few academicians who have come on these trips,” he says. “They will be passing their insights to their students, and who knows this might create a change in our attitude towards houses and buildings.”

As for their future plans, Brijesh and Jaykrishnan are preparing for their next trip. This time it is to Mexico and Cuba and will take place in January 2018. Asked why WAT has chosen these countries, Jayakrishnan says, “Both are vibrant countries with interesting architecture. We thought we would study that and maybe use some of the ideas for our work in Kerala.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode)


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