An inner calling to look beyond corporate life and aspirations brought a common man to a place where he follows his heart and learnt about indigenous architecture techniques. Today he builds eco-friendly homes in India and inspires a lot many people to pursue their dreams irrespective of their age and career. Anthony Raj, who worked as Editor (FORTUNE INDIA), Asst. Editor (Business India), and Executive Director, SHRIRAM GROUP (1994-2011), is now Founder Director at Centre for Indigenous Architecture, which promotes wellness by constructing buildings using holistic architectural methods.
It all started back in 2010 when he commenced work on his farmhouse. While searching for a peaceful place he landed to Mudaliarkuppam in Edaikazhinadu, about 80 km from Chennai. Mesmerised with the beauty, vegetation and greenery of the location, he decided to build his farmhouse in an eco-friendly way. The huge banyan trees and the abundance of coconut, cashew, and Palmyra trees delighted him and his family and all that motivated him to build a place which syncs well with the natural beauty and thus they came up with the idea of constructing a house using eco-friendly material, utilising indigenous architecture techniques. And he constructed a house, now known as, Arulville which represents sustainable architecture in an exemplary way. This home is now an eco-tourism destination and is a great inspiration and motivation for architecture students and professionals and has also been documented by several architecture students.
He was already partially influenced by Dr. Satyaprakash Varanasi, a former professor of architecture and a promoter of eco-friendly and cost-effective architecture, to take up eco-freindly form of construction. So, he wrote to Dr. Varanasi, requesting his help in building his dream house who then introduced him to Dharmeshbhai Jadeja, an architect from Auroville. Dharmeshbhai gave him deep insights of indigenous architecture and did the initial designing of the farmhouse like a mini resort. But due to other commitments, Dharmeshbhai couldn’t spend more time on this project. As per Anthony, “That is when I was bitten by the indigenous architecture bug, its beauty, and its benefits. Soon, I designed the campus of the farmhouse with whatever little knowledge I had and with the help of contractors and artisans from Auroville.”
Surprising fact adding to this fascinating though sustainable architecture is that the construction team did not cut a single tree on the site.
Centre For Indigenous Architecture- The foundation and Journey
Fascinated with the beauty and benefits of this eco-friendly architecture, which not only enhances human health and happiness but also improves the environmental health, Anthony decided to spread the concept as much as he could. This is the time when he quit his job as executive director and founded Centre For Indigenous Architecture (CFIA).
Indigenous architecture, basically uses locally available materials, employing a local team of workers to boost the local economy, drawing inspiration from the local traditions and native architecture. The designs are climatically responsive and thermally comfortable, based on traditional cooling techniques which include Madras terrace, rammed earth walls, sloped clay tiled roofs and the inclusion of verandahs to protect the external walls from direct sunlight. This type of architecture uses minimal cement and steel. CFIA makes sure to not cut existing trees as a part of design and beauty of the building. The result is an eco-friendly, energy-efficient, and sustainable construction. Today, Anthony Raj is also the Managing Trustee of Word Foundation – an NGO for empowering rural youth and Director WordCraft, a Corporate Communication Consultancy.
CFIA takes up one project at a time. This helps Anthony’s team members to give 100% of their efforts and energy to dedicate to the project in every aspect of design and construction. Anthony’s second project, right after the farmhouse, was a centre called Vedapatashala where Vedic scholars teach and discuss Vedic practices. He has constructed an ashram campus right in the middle of granite quarry terrain. Then he constructed a small sustainable bungalow located on a sandy beachfront. Currently, he and his team members are working on a home for senior citizens in Chennai. The main challenge in this project is it has to be built in the heart of industrial estate and make sure to reduce the noise level, industrial heat and dust inside the premises.
Anthony very well knows that it may not always be possible to build an eco-friendly as well as an economical building at once. Hence, his approach is to combine elements of indigenous architecture with modern technology. This structure can surely reduce atleast the carbon footprints by reducing the use of air-conditioning, unnecessary lighting and introducing water treatment and wastewater recycling.
With the hope of betterment in the architecture world he says, “With increasing urbanisation, and consequent changes in lifestyles and affordability, we are bidding goodbye to the more sensible, healthier habitats of yore. To reverse this trend, architects must demonstrate the beauty and benefits of indigenous architecture in urban, semi-urban and industrial contexts”
Curated by editor at Wienerberger India