Vinu Daniel completed his B. Arch in 2005 from The College of Engineering, Trivandrum, following which he worked with Auroville Earth Institute for the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) Post-Tsunami construction. On returning from Pondicherry in 2007 he started 'Wallmakers' which was christened thus by others, as the first project was just a compound wall. By 2008 he had received an award for a low cost, eco-friendly house from the ‘Save Periyar’ Pollution Control Committee for the house which was constructed for a cancer patient. Many such eye-openers in the course of his practice prompted him to resolve to devote his energies towards the cause of sustainable and cost-effective architecture.
Education and Interests
He was sent to write the entrance examinations for admission to both medical and engineering degree courses by his parents who lived in Abu Dhabi, where he had grown up. They felt that their academically-sound son, who also had a steady hand, would have a bright future as a doctor. “But I had other plans: to become a full-time musician. I enrolled myself as a student of Omanakutty Teacher (K. Omanakutty) and began learning from her,” recalls Vinu for an interview with the Hindu. That was around the time he got admission to the architecture course in CET. Although he did join the course, his heart was in music and he threw himself into participating in as many music events at temple festivals in the district.
It was a chance meeting with Laurie Baker, the father of eco-friendly, low-cost, sustainable architecture in India, that gave him a new perspective and sustainable architecture became his design credo. Architecture became more than just blueprints and brick and mortar: “Here was a master architect right here in the city and we students, in those days, were taken to different places in the country to get acquainted with architects building skyscrapers and concrete blocks,” recalls an indignant Vinu. Baker believed that, as much as possible, one must use materials available within a five-mile radius to build houses. That became the foundation of Vinu’s career.
Mud bricks, recycled materials, eco-friendly methods of construction and apt utilisation of natural resources shaped Vinu’s design philosophy. He went on to do his training in sustainable architecture from Auroville Earth Institute and launched himself as an independent architect soon after.
His next projects became the cynosure of all eyes and Valsala Cottage, a residence he built for his uncle in Mavelikara, where Vinu hails from, went on to win the India Today eco-friendly house of the year (South Zone) in 2009. “It was featured in architect Rahul Mehrotra’s book "Architecture in India". The IHA, a residence in Mannanthala in Kerala, is one of their outstanding projects. Just the exterior of the structure is something not many would expect, and the interior goes even beyond that. The low-lying site was giving way to environmental-imbalance, and so, their primary concern was to find a way to circumvent this issue. The solution? To raise the building from the ground which formed a pond at its lowest point, and build a dangling staircase concealed in a bamboo facade! Using mud blocks, scrap wood, and other eco-friendly materials, the residence remains minimalist, quiet, and ever-so-magnificent. Another awe-worthy construction is a residence in Pathanamthitta, where the debris from the previous building was smartly integrated into the primary focus of this one. In this building, half-cut coconut shells and discarded metre-box cases seamlessly mingle with the rest of the edifice, whilst contributing to functionality. It is the textbook definition of the kind of house you would never want to leave.
Vinu’s sensibly-built, minimal-scrap-generating spaces closely reflect the inspiration he derives from late architect Laurie Baker’s impeccable work. Integrating nature with something that is most likely to be a predator of nature, is not an easy task. However, this is something that Vinu and his team at Wallmakers strive to do in every project of theirs. Again, to allow human establishments to be set up in ways that do not disrupt the ecological balance, in more ways than one may be a heavy task, but is definitely the need of the hour. Reclaiming the mud that has been dug for the structure as a building material, letting the nuances of the surrounding nature enter the building, and finding the beauty in so-called ‘scrap’, are all ‘must-haves’ on the sustainable architecture list, an Vinu’s work checks all the boxes.
Vinu has two patents in his name for Debris Wall and Shuttered Debris Wall, which he shares it with architect Shobhita Jacob. He won the award for low-cost eco-friendly house from ‘Save Periyar’ Pollution Control Committee. It was constructed for Lakshmikuttyamma, a cancer patient, and was sponsored by K J Yesudas. St. George Orthodox Church at Mattancherry won him the NDTV award in 2015 and the IIA National award in 2016. He won several awards in different categories for Biju Mathew’s house in Pathanamthitta, where he experimented with the debris wall for the first time. Won the competition to build the Kochi-Muziris Biennale Pavilion (2014), the largest Conoid built using ferrocrete. He had also built the pavilion for the Kochi-Muziris Biennale at Aspinwall House at Fort Kochi in 2016.
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