Architectural Talks | Manni Group meets Anupama Kundoo Architects

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Architectural Talks | Manni Group meets Anupama Kundoo Architects

4 Jan, 2022

What mentality should architects have in order to push themselves more and more towards a sustainable and affordable type of architecture?

How can we be sure that social architecture is really focusing on solving inequalities in developing countries and is not simply a marketing exercise? 

These are some of the topics that Daniel Elber and Ambra Gazziero of Manni Group discussed with Anupama Kundoo, an Indian architect known for her commitment to solving humanitarian problems.

The interview is part of Architectural Talks, the Manni Group series that gathers the views of architects and analyses their efforts to build a more sustainable future.

Here is what you will find in this article:

Anupama Kundoo: an architect in the service of sustainability

Anupama Kundoo was born in Pune, India, in 1967 and graduated in architecture from Bombay University in 1989.

From the following year until 2002, she worked in Auroville, an “experimental city” designed by architect Roger Anger as a place of unity in which people live in harmony regardless of political and religious beliefs.

In 2005 she taught at the Technical University of Berlin and, over the years, also worked at the Parsons School of Design in New York, the University of Queensland in Brisbane and the European School of Architecture and Technology at the Universidad Camilo José in Madrid.

As she herself explains in her presentation on her official website, for her, building means above all creating knowledge, the same knowledge that can then be applied in the field: for this reason, her work method focuses on exploiting the innovation and socio-economic wealth generated by research and investment in construction materials and techniques. 

Some of the works designed by Anupama Kundoo include:

In the course of the interview, Anupama Kundoo will explain how architecture must evolve in the future to continue to serve humanity, why no developing country should be left behind and how to prevent this from happening, and what is the philosophical approach behind the success of the company, regardless of the field in which one works.

Manni Group's interview with Anupama Kundoo

Our interview with Anupama Kundoo is provided below.

Daniel Elber: Your work is known for its commitment to social and humanitarian architecture. In your opinion, have dry construction and prefabrication technologies proved useful for humanitarian projects?

Anupama Kundoo: I think there is still a lot of work to be done.
I would like to preface this response by starting from the fact that the world population is still growing and, despite technological progress, humanity is not reducing its per capita energy demand.

Globally, there are many countries that are only now beginning to urbanise: the ratio of human resources per person has decreased but demand has grown exponentially.

This is not to say that demand cannot be met, but current construction habits do not guarantee that the type of architecture that is typically used is affordable for everyone, nor are we thinking in terms of waste and energy optimisation.

I know there are a lot of companies that are doing a lot in this field, but clearly a holistic type of approach has not yet been achieved.

We realised that during the industrial revolution we started to produce everything by raising the standard more than necessary.

However, while a tug of war is in place, we will have to find a solution that keeps building density compact and a lot of research and innovation will have to be done on materials in order to be able to build faster in high density.

All peoples are migrants: no one is attached to their roots, all societies are changing and there is no turning back from globalisation, so we are forced to be more compact in our cities as mobility will also change.

In the past, we expanded and needed automobiles, now we are heading towards a denser future mobility and we will also need compaction on several floors.

Therefore, we must not only do research on a human scale: in my opinion, architects will also have to put a lot of effort into sustainable landscaping.

Hopefully, industries are trying to figure out how to optimise the impact of these technologies.
I always look with great hope to both industry and academia to understand what are the real issues in our society, so that we can work with them to respond quickly and cost-effectively.

It is the need of the hour: I truly think we need new strategies to be able to rethink the materiality of the urban habitat.

Ambra Gazziero: It seems to me that you also spoke about this during your Masterclass today. We are seeing a lot of hype around social architecture, and since we have coined the term “greenwashing” in the past, there was a need to create another one for social washing.
We would like to know, in your opinion, what are the basic criteria and core values that ensure that social architecture is not a marketing operation but really focuses on real community needs.

A.K.: The most important thing is that there is not a very sharp contrast between people living in different conditions: people who do not have the chance to meet these needs.
In my opinion, sometimes technological construction and maintenance habits risk alienating people.

Technologies can be so advanced that only a few foreign companies are able to go on site and provide solutions, and this kind of approach can lead to very high costs and overheads.

What happens in these places is that a small sector becomes an elite because only they can afford that kind of technology and maybe everyone else can't even get personal bathrooms.

This is the reality in many developing states and I believe these are serious issues.
But again, the answer is not to stereotype the social aspect in a paternalistic way, as if we should do them a favour because they are poor.

There is no need to exploit their poverty.
The idea is to try to understand how we, as a society, can create wealth where there is poverty.

To do this, we have to create economic surpluses so that those countries can continue to do their business and at the same time spend the extra money on research, as is done in industry, but we wish for everyone to grow significantly and have the opportunity to do so and not that, with the creation of new technologies, some are left behind: everyone should be able to catch this train.

The definition of progress should be expanded and I believe that it is in material habits that we can really discover how inclusive we are.

I don't think it is socialism or paternalism: I think it is understanding that it is sustainability, education and access to progress in a broader philosophical way that makes us all feel connected, that creates partnerships and allows us to enjoy everyone's progress, leaving no one behind.

It is a very human approach that applies to any profession.
Especially after the pandemic, people have understood what it means to be human and to be connected: it is the basis of our success as a society.

I am certain that any discrimination, gender and otherwise, can only be eliminated through the awareness of everyone.
It does not mean making it a battle, a new polarity or a new religion.

A.G.: Thank you very much, I found it enlightening and relevant with the last question regarding the connection between social architecture and sustainability, so that it is easier to understand what your firm's opinion is on their commonalities. I assume, as you stated in your lecture, that it is important to emphasise the identification of materials, techniques or technologies that can be found in certain areas but I would like you to tell us your opinion regarding this.

A.K.: In my exhibition at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art and more recently in my solo show, I made it clear that we are what we do, and for me that is the most important thing.

Let us imagine that I am crocheting or doing origami: I will understand how to do it by doing it.
If one does not do something, one does not develop: knowledge is incorporated into the growth process of our mind.

Sometimes, I feel that people are left behind and that is the problem.
If we become aware of the psychic context in which we apply what we know, then it is not only people who will benefit but also technology.

Cement, for example: many areas that will be affected by climate change will be able to receive aid from those who produce it.

At the same time, those who find themselves applying cement in an area where it has never been applied before will also understand other social issues and this will help them to invent another way.

In my opinion, everything revolves around interdisciplinarity, interconnection and interrelatedness: if we remain holistic, we produce balance.

Let me close by saying that sustainability means global thinking and a sense of connectivity and this will make everything we do holistically sustainable.

Written by

Raffaele Bulgarelli - Digital Marketing Expert at Manni Group
Raffaele Bulgarelli - Digital Marketing Expert at Manni Group

Raffaele, Digital Marketing Expert of Manni Group, works in synergy with Isopan, gaining insight into the technical world of sandwich panels and keeping pace with the latest trends in the building industry. Thanks to his training in Architecture, he has a keen eye for online topics and activities involving designers and architects.

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