Builded talks to People’s architect Padma Shri Prof. G. Shankar

Friends, dear colleagues and my respected fraternity,

It was while attending  the Prem Jain Memorial Address organized in New Delhi this 28th of January, by  Prem Jain Memorial Trust, a trust founded in the memory of (Late) Dr. Prem Jain,to foster sustainable development, that I got to hear and meet  in person the keynote speaker, renowned Architect Padmashree G. Shankar. 

Drawing attention towards census figures, he talked about those seventy million families who have no proper shelter but dream of -safe- secure- decent environment.

Seventy million families with no proper dwelling   and considering any Indian family size- it  amounted to unimaginable crazy number, yet cannot be perceived as numbers. They are people with names like us and identities like us. He made us sit up in our seats and think!

His speech reflected his ability to step outside of his own bubble and into the bubbles of those people seeking total solutions for them. Addressing the architects at large he continued,” Seventy million families deprived- out in the open-Those numbers should pain us, those people should find space in the center of our heart. Don’t wish them away-just don’t stare at them and walk away.”

Awakening us to a cause he so believed in, stressing further that  “The dynamics of architecture across the globe and India in particular, needs to address these issues, this poverty with-people centered Architecture- by internalizing – with meaningful intervention in vernacular architecture-That Resilant architecture which responded to climate- was fairly disaster resistant and was always evolving -that architecture needs to be revived.”

So if you are very passionate, very awakened in building a system or structure that caters for people who on their own are limited by lack of opportunities, look no further for inspiration.

Read the responses on five questionnaire put up by Builded to the Founder and Chief Architect of Habitat Technology Group,Thiruvananthapuram, the people’s architect-

Architect Padmashree G. Shankar sir-

1. Builded: What incident/event made/influenced you to set up Habitat technology group?

Shri G Shankar: When I was a school student, I used to go to fishermen colonies to teach the womenfolk how to read and write.(as a volunteer for total literacy mission). They would go out early morning to sell fish in open market and would hit back late in the evening.We would sit together late after sharing the food for our’ literacy’ mission.That was my first interface with the have nots. I internalized the pain of poverty from them.I decided at that time itself that Whatever vocation I would choose later would be used to alleviate  poverty and Architecture came in handy !
All my life , I have been trying to hold hands with them in the pursuit of peace!
Immediately  after my graduation , I took up a govt job but soon was convinced that it was not to my convictions.Thats when I turned to non profit sector.
I still believe that voluntary action is the only way out.
I founded Habitat group in 1987 but then it was a one man army.Rest is history.
Now Habitat is one of the largest Non profit initiatives in
this part of the world !
2. B: What was the most challenging problem you faced in the leadership and management of Habitat technology group?
His own house of mud as an alternative building technology,and increasing the green footprints.
GS: It has been extremely challenging to take a less travelled road of sustainable architecture. Even now , questions are thrown at us about the durability, strength, life etc of the alternate materials and technologies.We have gone thro,’ hell and fire  but we are here to stay in spite of the govt and insensitive bureaucracy!!!!The world at large do not have any option but to go for sustainable solutions.In our own way,we will continue the struggle.

3.       B: What can you say is your best reward for choosing to found Habitat technology group?

GS: look at the magnitude an spectrum of buildings that we have done in the last 30 years! 150,000 individual buildings all done using appropriate interventions. 34 offices, projects across the world, 400 professionals, 40000 habitat workers!!
It has been a long journey! We have learnt from the mistakes and have gone forward.
4.       B: Where would you want to see your Habitat Technology Group in next five years?
GS:Habitat is already expanding its activities.We are already partnering international development agencies and academic institutions in pursuing our laid out agenda. Habitat Bamboo initiatives, habitat employability enhancement mission(HEEM), Habitat school of green architecture are some our new initiatives.
5.      B: Any memory of your professional journey you would like to share?
GS: Velappan was a freelance journalist in Thiruvananthapuram and I used to meet him regularly in some of the cultural spaces that we used to share.He got married to an activist fisherwoman and bought 2 cents of land on the beach. One day he came to my office, almost 30 years back, and asked me whether I could build a house for 10000 Rs. By that time , he had an infant son. He had a special need. He wanted a space where he could keep a large volume of books and a little space to write and read.I  his hamlet within that amount.
A few years later , he died but the family was in touch with me.
A couple of years back, a young man came to me and introduced himself as Manu Velappan.It was a huge surprise for me!
Manu is a software professional now and he wanted to add a room as he was planning to get married. I asked why he wanted to add to that tiny house.He said he grew up there within that limited space and he didn’t want to leave his mother.
I added that one room!
Architecture is primarily about relationships.Its about creating meaningful spaces, lovable and affordable!

The author, Babika Goel, is a graduate from college of Architecture, Lucknow and Associate, Indian Institute of Architects and Member,Indian green building council.

With this at heart, I end the very first of the many interviews that are planned to be conducted  with writers, influencers, and magnates. Keeping up to the promise that together, we’ll cross businesses, speak with professionals around the world, and explore the vastness of this subject.The interview is all  public and a part of this website.

As always I look forward to suggestions in -leave a comment- box.

“Let architecture be the reason someone smiles and believes in the goodness of its creator.”-Babika Goel.