Tara Pandala & Ajay Abey
Tara Pandala and Ajay Abey were both drawn to architecture for different reasons. Pandala’s interest began as a young girl when she started visiting her father Prof Eugene Pandala’s architectural firm. She says, “I grew up with T-squares and butter sheets, and assisting the junior architects was my favourite pastime.” On the other hand, Abey states that his first experience of urban design was as a student taking part in school-level competitions. He recalls, “I used to also make models of my house and streets of Angadipuram, where I grew up. An interest towards nature and built environment was cultivated in my formative years.”
While the 30-year-old Pandala who graduated from TKM College of Engineering in 2011, subsequently did her Master’s in Urban Design from CEPT, Ahmedabad, 36-year-old Abey did his B.Arch from the National Institute of Technology, Calicut in 2005 – and then his post-graduation in Urban Design from National University of Singapore in 2009.
Important learnings have remained with them both. She says, “CEPT gave me an opportunity to study urban patterns, both in historical and present context, and I developed an urge to learn more about creating spaces and building on a bigger scale in an attractive and sustainable way. I learnt the relevance of the un-built spaces, and how they are shaped by the built environment.” For him, his biggest takeaway from design school was “an understanding of the ‘big picture’ before you attempt the smallest form of design intervention.”
While both of them are inspired by Geoffrey Bawa, Pandala admits to also being impacted by Antoni Gaudi, saying, “His mesmerising forms and how he played with curves has been an inspiration. I remember once how a professor at my undergraduate school compared my father to Gaudi. He quoted the famous words ‘lines are for men and curves are for God’ – and I had an epiphany about how lucky I was to have a great master who has been a source of inspiration right from my childhood.” Abey, too, has been influenced by Prof Pandala’s attention to detail and innovation through meticulous research.
The company was founded by Prof Pandala in 1985 and re-branded as Centre for Sustainable Built and Natural Environment (CSBNE) in 2015. It aims to provide sustainable and energy-efficient solutions in the built environment, specialising in architecture, urban design, heritage conservation, interiors and landscape. Both Pandala and Abey affirm their attempt to create some connect between architecture and nature. They say, “Over the years, we have realised the complexities of the cultural, social and economic layers, which will help to formulate the appropriate response. We are still in the learning process, as it involves a deeper learning of how to respect and represent the local culture in which each of our projects is set.” It is no wonder, then, that Pandala says, “I believe in contextual design and that every building should be like a mushroom that sprouts from the site. I resent built forms that are totally alien to the context.”
Not willing to play favourites, they point out, “We consider all our projects as significant. However, our first residential building with its beauty and its imperfections has encouraged us to always do more research in the field of responsible built forms...”
The duo believes that design is truly design when there is a right balance between utilitarian and aesthetic characteristics, and the response is meaningful to the natural heritage and cultural history of the place and the people. Pandala emphasises, “The built form should be conceived after considering the micro and macro climate of the region.” And Abey points out, in a similar vein, “Designers must understand the social, ecological and cultural significance of each place before attempting to change the built and unbuilt.”