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Indian architecture firm, The Wallmakers, wins The Royal Academy Dorfman Award 2022

The prestigious award salutes new talent in architecture for their innovative and pioneering ideas

Pirouette House,Trivandrum © Jino Sam; courtesy: The Wallmakers

The Wallmakers, the architectural firm helmed by Kerala-born Vinu Daniel, has won The Royal Academy Dorfman Award 2022. The prestigious award is given by London’s Royal Academy and The Dorfman Foundation to new global talent in architecture. The annual award honours architects or practices who “reimagine the future and respond to their geographical and socio-political challenges”. Based purely on nominations, the other finalists for the award include architectural firms from Peru, London and Japan.

Since 2007, when Daniel began his firm, he has been engaged with questions of “Why should we build?” and “What should be build?” which have led him to do structures that not only preserve the symbiotic relationship with nature but also employ waste and scrap materials. The jury for the award was “impressed by Vinu’s willingness to improvise and take the risky route of exploring unprecedented interventions, as much as his insistence treading lightly on the planet”.

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Daniel, who began work with mud bricks, is known for some path-changing projects such as the IHA Residence in Trivandrum, where he used base plates of washing machines as scrap grills, and Pirouette House in Trivandrum, which showcased the use of Compressed Stabilized Earth Blocks with a contemporary twist. The award wins him £10,000 as prize and global recognition for his work of over 15 years.

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Jackfruit house, Vengola © Anand Jaju, Syam Sreesylam; courtesy: The Wallmakers

Kerala is home for Daniel, a College of Engineering Trivandrum graduate, though one cannot quite pin him to a state or location. If one may call him a barefoot architect, he works like a nomad who travels to his sites and is based there till the end of the project. His time at the Auroville Earth Institute (2005-06), exposure to works of architect Laurie Baker in Tiruvananthapuram, and his innate reflective approach have helped him create an ethos that is focused on nature and craft. However, he does not fight shy of technology, using them in building parametric facades and turning walls into staircases, all along ensuring material and technology suit the site.

The Ledge, Peeremedu © Syam Sreesylam; courtesy: The Wallmakers

He began work as an architect by building compound walls, pretty much using his own family and friends as labour. Though once a reluctant architect with a passion for music, Daniel grew into his practice employing things he saw around him. With local materials such as mud bricks, or wood, or bamboo, he kept to the integrity of the material and the site context.

Portrait of Vinu Daniel; courtesy: The Wallmakers

But what marks him as a maverick when it comes to architecture is the unbuilt. “I’m more proud of what I have not built,” he says often. One such instance was when he had to build in a low-lying area in Kerala, which was often water logged. He knew any other architect would fill up the area and build on it. Instead, he convinced his client to “hang the facade and let the land be”, which meant the house would be lifted above the ground, mosquito-protected while giving ample scope for the natural inhabitants of the land – snakes, frogs and insects – to move about freely.

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In his acceptance of the award, Daniel quotes Mahatma Gandhi in his conversation with Baker – “A house which sources materials within five-kilometre radius is the best way to build for India.”

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First published on: 30-09-2022 at 06:18:24 pm
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