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Architecture as a hobby makes a retiree a bonafide eco-friendly builder

It is not easy to leave the corporate world and try something out of the ordinary. Antony Raj worked in the corporate sector for many years. He stumbled upon the indigenous architecture techniques. Soon, he became fascinated with this unique technique and started to build eco-friendly homes in India. Let’s learn more about Antony Raj and his encouraging story.

How it all began

In Chennai 2010, when Anthony’s family wanted to invest in a farmhouse in the countryside. The family’s search led him to Mudaliarkuppam in Edaikazhinadu. It is around 80 km away from Chennai. The village was lined with enormous banyan trees and greenery all around it. They were thrilled to see many cashews, coconut, and Palmyra trees. The beauty of nature motivated them to build a house that was in tandem with its surrounding.

Anthony says his family came up with an idea to build the house with eco-friendly material and using the indigenous architecture techniques.

Anthony had retired from the corporate world a few years ago. His new house motivated him to turn into a founder-director of the Centre for Indigenous Architecture. He promotes wellness and builds organic habitats across India using indigenous architecture and eco-friendly home techniques.

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The Journey Took a New Turn

With the construction of the family farmhouse, called Arulville. Today, it is the model for sustainable architecture. For those who are wondering what indigenous architecture, here’s a quick summary. It involves the use of local needs and availability of construction material. The construction is a reflection of the local traditions and all about enhancing the local beauty and native architecture. Construction of homes using this technique involves less use of cement, steel, paint and other commercial materials. Even use of electricity for cooling purposes in the tropical heat is to a minimum.

This is because the local material used is eco-friendly, cost-effective and energy-efficient.

Inspired by an Expert

Dr. Satyaprakash Varanasi, ex-professor of architecture in Bengaluru helped Anthony take interest in this form of construction. Dr. Varanasi has been promoting cost-effective and eco-friendly architecture since many years. Anthony Raj wrote to him for help and Dr. Varanasi guided him to Dharmeshbhai Jadeja.

Dharmeshbhai is an architect from Auroville and helped Anthony design the farmhouse. He helped give the house a mini-resort like look. Dharmeshbhai gave many deep insights related to indigenous architecture that inspired the 61-year-old Anthony to take up architecture as a hobby. With the little knowledge gathered from Dharmeshbhai, Anthony designed the campus of his farmhouse and built it with the help of artisans and contractors from Auroville.

A Legacy was Born

After the construction of the farmhouse, it became a ‘model house’, eco-tourism destination and an inspiration for those who teach and learn architecture. During the construction of the farmhouse, not a single tree was cut. In fact, they have added more than 40 trees over the years around the house.

A Bug that Soon Became a Passion

Indigenous architecture technique soon became a passion for Anthony. He wanted to spread this unique and sustainable technique as much as possible. Anthony then quit his post as the Executive Director of Shriram Group to build and develop his Center for Indigenous Architecture (CFIA).

Anthony and his team take up one project at a time. This helps them concentrate completely regarding each and every aspect of design and construction of the project.

The second project after his farmhouse was Vedapatashala. It is a centre for Vedic scholars who teach and discuss Vedic practices.

The team has also built an ashram campus in the middle of a granite quarry. They have also constructed a small bungalow that overlooks a sandy beach. Currently they are in the process of building a home for senior citizens in Chennai. The aim is to build the home in such a way that remains free from the dust, heat, and noise of the nearby industrial estate.

The Designers Outlook

Anthony says his buildings are designed to give physical and visual pleasure with help of proper natural ventilation. His projects are built in such a way that the buildings do not depend on heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC).

They use traditional cooling methods such as the Madras terrace, rammed earth walls, etc. These buildings are resistant to radiation and provide the occupants with respite from heat and humidity as well as conduction of heat to provide warmth.

This construction method has been an inward journey for Anthony. He was inspired by the traditional style homes in Nagercoil, Banglore, Bombay as well as Kerala. This is why he calls them ‘grandfather’s house architecture’. Urbanisation and change in lifestyle have led to unsustainable architecture.

To bring back the beauty and benefits of such homes, indigenous architecture is required to make an appearance in the urban, semi-urban and industrial areas, says Anthony.

Not Trained, but Propelled by a Full-time Hobby

Anthony is not a trained architect. But his hobby and passion towards indigenous architecture has helped him invest his money and time in building his family farmhouse. This passion propelled his career as a designer for eco-friendly homes after his voluntary retirement.

He says the joy of designing buildings is only matched by the appreciation and wonder in their eyes of his clients.

Anthony wishes to empower young architects with the help of his Centre for Indigenous Architecture. He wants them to study and collaborate with other professionals on architectural projects as well as study different techniques and materials.

On a parting note, he leaves us with an inspiring motto, “Leave the place better than you found it”.

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