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Architecture for common man - alternative architecture

The other face of architecture with Alternative architecture


The other face of architecture with Alternative Architecture
Bait Ur Rouf Mosque, Dhaka, Bangladesh by Marina Tabassum Architects - Alternative Architecture
Above: Bait Ur Rouf Mosque, Dhaka, Bangladesh by Marina Tabassum Architects

Alternative Architecture, the non-conventional practice of architecture that digs deep into mud, tire and various other ‘alternative materials’, experiments with innovation to help the world aim Utopia in the nearest future. Going by the literal meaning of “alternative”, these practices challenge the existing modes and strive to bring the best out of architecture that makes it truly ‘common for all’.

With a key focus on driving sustainability and relaxing the economic demarcations of architecture, modern day modes of ‘alternative architecture’ have made the field come a long way from “architectural design” to “architectural design solutions”.

The intermix of Affordability, Sustainability & Human-friendly aspects
The eco, budget and human friendly space at Lunuganga estate and Country house, Sri Lanka designed by Architect Geoffrey Bawa - alternative architecture for common man
Above: The eco, budget and human friendly space at Lunuganga estate and Country house, Sri Lanka designed by Architect Geoffrey Bawa

When the term “architectural design solutions” comes into the subject, the overall approach to the “human and the surroundings” are often missed. With the sustainable cost-efficient trends dominating the sector, it is important to remember that the impact on the user deserves an equal weightage in design considerations. The key aim of Alternative Architecture as a disciple lies in emphasizing both the space and the user in styles & approaches unseen in Architecture.

The evolution of such practices lies in the detailed analysis of current scenarios and contexts that help in focusing on the right aspect, ideal for the given context.

Across geographic locations, the approach to alternative architecture varies, both culturally and contextually. In recent times, the revival of traditional methods and natural material usage has been welcomed by the architectural fraternity where the focus is on everything from the workmanship till design. Indian architecture in particular, has found a new likeness to embracing the indigenous methods & techniques. This has helped the architectural fraternity re-understand the importance of “welcome from the society”, of which a majority are the common men who are currently unable to entirely reach out to the architecturally designed spaces.

“The reach to the commons decides the future of Architecture.”

Workability Vs. Identity

The 21st century trends that went beyond conventions with new-found boundaries brought by the advent of digital era were carried away with the “international perception” of architecture, where curious architectural minds went a step ahead with experimenting the techniques and technologies that received international attention, partially driving away from the regional contexts. This took the approaches away from the common population of our country and made it specially curated for the higher income groups who could afford the ‘image’ of the newfound niche in architecture. This made the workability for the society comprising of all, see a downfall. Yin Yang Concept of Architecture

But, when there is a Ying, there is a yang.

Indian architects identified the new direction and brought a contrasting approach that brings the revival of the traditional materials and techniques, making designs affordable. Along with the eco-friendly material usage, the architects had a look at the macro scale and utilized the native workmanship that proved highly proficient, both economically and socially. The utilization of manpower was better since the population was familiar with the approach.


Pritzker prize winning Indian architect B.V.Doshi’s Amdavad ni Gufa, the underground cave-like art gallery, utilized the manpower of the neighboring villages along with re-purposed construction waste and was artistically assembled & designed, making it not just hold the artworks, but be an artwork in itself.

The duality of Art and Architecture seen at Amdavad Ni Gufa, Ahmedabad designed by Architect B.V.Doshi
Above: The duality of Art and Architecture seen at Amdavad Ni Gufa, Ahmedabad designed by Architect B.V.Doshi

Such revolutionary approaches from Architects brought back the possibility of efficient designs that also responds to the users of the current times. Slowly, the focus on utilizing the niche for designing for all saw a great reception by not just the users, but also the government bodies such as Housing Boards and more. The rise in typologies such as Conservation Centers and other public places was also prevalent, helping architecture not just give an experience, but also stand as an awareness module in the Indian society. This made the architectural approaches come a long way from visually connecting glass forms or brutalist claustrophobic forms.

This only brought back the focus on the humane preferences, in a way that designs could be reached out by all.

Could Workability and Identity coexist?

When the designs were open to every user, did the identity factor get lost?

Amidst the revisit to the traditions, the design creations were unique works by themselves that took the new user preferences and socio-cultural factors to blend with the indigenous materials & techniques. This only broadened the experimental nature of architecture, giving rise to both forms and functions that were unseen and consistently evolving.

Breathtaking brick forms by Architect Laurie Baker
Above: Breathtaking brick forms by Architect Laurie Baker

A proven experience would be a visit to Laurie Baker’s building that are much more than mere brick walls and roofs. The thermal comfort of the spaces, the unique brick-only forms on the roofs, walls and even the windows, create an identity unique to not just the architect or the user, but to the building blocks – the bricks in itself.

Many modern day architects inspired by (and not replicating) such practices have been a key encouragement factor for anyone striving for a better world- Be it an architect or an engineer or even a mason. When the solutions are to be made for “all”, the designs too include all- the entire network in construction community who are the creators of a better tomorrow.

Thus, a unique relatable face of Architecture has seen the dawn of time for all, by going beyond the materials and spaces, till the lives of people.

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