In Conversation with Dean D’Cruz
Dean D’Cruz belongs to the generation of architects who has helped set up the sustainability movement in India long before there were any rated benefits of doing so. For the first 10 years, he designed mainly low-cost houses in a Laurie Baker approach before moving on to small, low-cost hotels, which were, by their uniqueness, termed ‘boutique’, and then went on to design large luxurious homes and high-end hotels. However, in the last few years, he underwent a major introspection and started the journey back to where it all began. D’Cruz firmly believes that architecture has a larger role of imparting values, which can only be fulfilled while working with the communities. He is the principal architect of Mozaic, an architecture and product design firm based in Goa, and is also involved in the state’s regional plan for 2021. D’Cruz talks to Bhawna Jaimini on the future of residential architecture in India, and how it has helped shape the sustainability movement in the country.
BJ: You started from working on low-cost housing, and then moved on to designing high-end residential homes. What caused such a shift?
DD: It was not a conscious effort to only do low-cost housing or what we call cost-effective housing here. In the days we started, projects with budget constraints were easy to come by, as we were not an established name in this industry then. However, it was challenging to design and execute such projects where we had to meet the needs and aspirations of our clients with limited resources, and yet make a building aesthetically pleasing. Once we were more [well] known, people with bigger budgets started coming to us, and then before we knew it, it was all the work that we were doing.
BJ: Are the challenges of designing for these two diametrically opposite economic groups the same? What is the impact of economics on the design sensibilities?
DD: I would say the challenges are completely different. When working on a small-scale, cost-effective house, our aim is to use fewer resources, minimise labour costs, which are extremely high these days, and build an efficient and functional residence. Sometimes, we also work on incremental designs where the owners have the possibility of expansion, as their family grows. This works for clients who do not have a lot of money at their disposal all at once. On the other hand, the challenges of designing for wealthy clients, who often come with the ‘we will have it because we can afford it’ attitude, are completely different. We struggle to minimise resource consumption because the client often wants to achieve certain budget aspirations. For example, now everyone wants centrally air-conditioned homes, leaving little to no naturally ventilated areas. In a climate like Goa, if one calculates the number of days one needs air-conditioning, the count won’t add up to more than seven. It becomes more like designing for greed, rather than need.
BJ: In the last few years, a lot of work has emerged on low-cost, eco-friendly technologies for lower-income residences. However, residences carry an aspirational value with them, which is often ignored when designing for the poor. Why do we only experiment with the poor?
DD: Being rich comes with its own baggage, which dissuades one from being part of a community. Unfortunately, the more wealth you acquire, the more exclusive you want to be. This is reflected in the recently mushroomed gated communities, where one doesn’t know one’s neighbour. However, I strongly feel that just because we cannot work with the rich, [it doesn’t mean] we should stop working with the poor. It’s more about setting good examples. Earlier, building houses was about creating communities, within and outside the physical constructs of what we call a house. Some of the initial work that happened with the rehabilitation of underserved communities in India has been extremely insensitive, so it is a good thing that it is changing. A model that is gaining popularity in many South Asian countries is the one where you provide only a framework of beams and columns to house owners, and they have the flexibility to make their own plans. This way, everyone doesn’t end up living in the same matchbox houses. We too have recently worked on a similar project with Godrej Homes, using the concept of ‘Magic Walls’.