In July 2022, we were sitting on the floor in the third-floor lobby of Aditi Organics Office, a project we had recently completed in Bangalore, India. In the background, through the glazing of the glass facade, you could see both an elevated flyover and the city metro. Sitting across from us were Muthaiyya and Muniyappa, two people from an indigenous community of Soligas, fluent with the forest and flamboyant with bamboo. They were here to weave a bamboo structure for the space, in the shape of a coracle.
An unlikely group in an unlikely place, but an undeniably precious moment. Mr.Narayana, the Director of Aditi Organics, had invited us to ‘create something unique’ in the lobby of the office. Working with clay to explore forms for an earthen recluse had led us to conceive a clay pod within which to converse, read, or maybe just be. We called it Beeja, or seed, in Kannada.

With an organic shape in raw earth, it was clear we were heading towards a wattle and daub journey. We needed to figure out how we could weave bamboo into a form for the pod. We called cane weavers, basket weavers, and structural bamboo suppliers to see how we could work together. Bamboo suppliers suggested we contact basket weavers. The work of the basket weavers was too fine; it wouldn’t be feasible economically for a 9-foot-tall structure. Somewhere between the urge to just go for it and do it ourselves and a desire to start making more connections and collaborate, one of our colleagues realised there were coracle weavers (circular boats woven in bamboo) in his village. In fact, most of his uncles worked in a fishing camp in the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary and worked closely with an indigenous community of soligas, who are expert coracle weavers. Eight missed calls, the skipped dates, a house call, and a few days later, Muthaiyya and Muniyappa came to Bangalore with one machete, their sole tool, and pulled together the shape of our earth pod in a matter of hours.

That was our first taste of what it felt like to be rooted as a practice. Of course, we have always worked with natural building materials and have explored local crafts, materials, and practices. But this was more. Somehow, between Muthaiyya and Muniyappa’s own brand of humour and new words and stories from the forest, we felt a direct connection between a people, a landscape, and a culture.

We had known Dr. Siddappa Shetty for several years, and had helped in the construction of his earth home in Bangalore. Dr. Siddappa is a researcher and works in Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment. He has extensive knowledge of local tree species, non timber forest products, and forest management. His warmth, his open invitations, be it for a meeting, lunch or collaboration, are characteristic of his personality.

In August 2022, with his help, we set out to the ATREE MM Hills research station, deep into the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary. There was no fixed objective. We had heard that ATREE had set up a Lantana Craft Centre in the midst of a few forest settlements. The Soliga and Bedagampana people of the MM Hills were responsible for the making of lantana elephants commissioned by the Shola Trust. They had created a herd of life-size elephants to speak of elephant conservation and the issues of lantana as an invasive species in the forests of India.

We stayed within the forest for a couple of days, learning how the community extracted lantana responsibly. We understood the similarities and social dynamics between the two communities that worked together in the same space. One is a pious vegetarian community embedded in the religious culture of the region for a few hundred years, and another is a forest-dwelling indigenous community that has been in this land for longer than most. We understood the bureaucracy and administration of forest areas and the rights of the local people over their forests. We walked kilometres with them into the wild to harvest lantana, and along the way, we were astounded by the sheer number of species of plants they could identify. We were moved by their silence. They were as adept at making silence comfortable as they were at crafting lantana into elephants and furniture.

Two of us from our team are from villages that skirt the edges of the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary. We couldn’t help but take a detour on the way back. We were greeted by teary-eyed aunts, who cooked up a lovely meal and ended up with two lessened hens in their brood. In the afternoon, we walked into the village, beyond the familiar streets, into areas that we hadn’t visited in decades. As architects and makers, we began to see differently, things that felt ordinary before. We could see the craft and the making behind various everyday objects, crafted by ordinary people, those who never identified as craftspeople. An aunt pulled out all of her bamboo basketry and showed us the way she uses papier-mâché, a mix of tamarind seed and fenugreek, to protect the bamboo weave. We walked through a small alley into an earthen cow shed to find an old bamboo granary. Bamboo granaries like this were passed down from one generation to another, and they felt the touch and repair of many generations. Now it lay waiting to unravel by itself in the corner of a barn. Too loved to be destroyed or disposed of willfully.

We came back with a keen interest in and an eye for local traditional knowledge systems. This perspective felt like a new magnifying glass in the hands of a child! Wherever we looked, we could see networks of indigenous systems that have evolved over the years.

This was the critical juncture at which we got a call from the Serendipity Arts Foundation in August 2022. They were keen on showcasing our work at the Serendipity Arts Festival in Goa, under “Space Making Crafts of India’. For years, we have been engaged in the research and development of natural finishes. Here too, Anjana Somany, the curator, created space to exhibit along the same lines. We had very different ideas however, and proposed an installation called KANAJA, or granary, which would showcase the interpretation of three granaries; one in lantana from the forest, made by the Bedagampana and the Soligas; another from the village, crafted in bamboo and papier-mâché with our aunts; and another from the farm lands, made of dried loofahs, and crafted by the women from the farm. Each of these installations was still an attempt at making space. You could enter each of these installations to be surrounded by those materials spatially. We cannot thank our curator, Anjana Somany enough for not only hearing us out but for making space for this wild entry.

When Shruthi saw 3000 loofahs about to be composted at Belavala Farm, an ecological farm run by her parents, she requested them to pause. The loofahs were grown for the purpose of seed conservation. Once the seeds were removed, the beautiful, veined skeleton of the sponge gourd was discarded. This was almost two years ago, and the loofahs were waiting for an opportunity to glow. Literally.

The coming together of the three kanajas was the coming together of a vocabulary. With a diverse geographical terrain spread across a small plateau, we sit between a treasure trove of knowledge banks handed down for generations, preserved sometimes only by distinct oral cultures. We were engaged. We were beginning to lose the hesitation to just travel far and wide to share a meal with someone.

Julia Watson’s ‘Lo-TEK; Design by Radical Indigenism’ book gave us the affirmation and the push towards rethinking our approaches to the idea of sustainable strategies. Reading her ideas of being inspired by indigenous knowledge systems to forge a path into how we imagine our futures, filled us with hope. Her works made exceptional sense to us, especially because we have felt that we have been surrounded by hyper-local knowledge systems that are waiting to be tapped into. Slowly, it added to our vocabulary and the way we thought about design interventions.
On Belavala farm, we met Raghuveer Panaghanti, who not only shared a fascination with us on the topic but also had an eye for the beauty in ordinary everyday practices steeped in our landscapes. He was well-travelled and had a knack for finding things he liked. His repertoire of craft clusters and material sources in the region was fascinating. In September 2022, we met Sanjay Gubbi, a renowned conservationist and leopard expert from the region. We had the opportunity to stay on the site of his new house in the midst of Bandipur. Conversations about the current relationships between communities and protected forests and landscapes were always accompanied by real stories of villages we knew of and intricacies we hadn’t thought of. We spoke at length about who pays the actual price for conservation as we see it today within globalised circles. We discussed the sensitivity of open natural ecosystems, which have no legal recognition and very little cultural recognition as well.

Between all of this, one of our team members at the studio, made the choice of shifting back to Coimbatore. Back to her parent’s farm. She wanted to become a full time farmer. She carried some loofah seeds back with her. And now living on her farm, we hear the sponge gourd plants are coming along well.

It might have been a subliminal connection to all the images we soaked up from Charles Fréger’s Aam Aastha. A book that meticulously collects the vastness of Indian imagery of deities, warriors, animals, epic heroes and avatars in the form of traditional costumes. Most costumes speak volumes of the region they come from, often made of natural materials used in a raw, powerful, and evocative way. Sisal caught our imagination. In June 2023, a conversation with Raghuveer sent us packing off on another road trip. In a small obscure hamlet called Tenkanamole, near the village of Kuderu, were a community of sisal rope makers. While most of the village has shifted to making upcycled plastic ropes, Prasad and his brother Venkatesh continue to extract sisal fibres. A makeshift sugarcane juice extractor made sure that they were still able to provide sisal for those who wanted sisal ropes and sisal fibres for ceremonial objects used in villages. “If no other orders come, around March we are still sure to get orders of the ceremonial whips,” Prasad explained, standing in a thicket of old jaali trees below which the whole hamlet works. Our visit to explore sisal, extended into the evening, sitting on the front porch of their houses, where the women told us of other designers who had visited decades ago to teach them how to make mats, bags and more. We sat amongst them as they sang sobane songs, and watched a brood of chickens tripping and toppling behind their mother hen, before the winds came in with all their summer zest, and sent us all indoors.

Through all this, there was the constant presence of Manjula and
Dr. Ramakrishnappa from Belavala Foundation, our parents and our biggest supporters at every level. Countless weekends were spent here. Surrounded by more than 250 species of plants and demonstrative farming for increased crop diversity, restoration of soil, and so much more. Dr. Ramakrishnappa had, in a conversation, suggested that we should look at plant-based materials for our buildings. Especially crops that can be grown in multi cropping systems. “It will add to the income of our farmers, and you can have a connection with agriculture,” he said. This was a profound thought. There was something in his words that would linger and make us think.

His sentences seemed to pull all the threads of the last few months together. Can we really look at a way to build and make, while being harmonious and coexisting with nature? Can there be ecologically inclusive ways of material production?

Our children go to a school called Ohana. A parent-community run school led by Ravi and Nandini. When Ravi, aware of Jeremie’s background in architecture, informed him “we may need four or five additional spaces for the next academic year” and conveyed his thoughts about row classrooms, Jeremie suggested to him that we could really look into how we make spaces for and possibly with children. In August 2023, we built five organic structures using seven thousand extracted lantana wattles from MM Hills, rice husk, straw and jaggery coming from farmers in the Mandya region, and raw earth. We hosted two workshops about building with clay. We put up a play to tell the children where all the materials came from! And they put up a song welcoming the five Aanes (elephants, that is what they call the bulbous classrooms!) into their school.

In August 2023, we received an email from Dubai Design Week inviting us to showcase our work. We were thrilled. It seemed like another opportunity to explore beyond the realms of our everyday work and move a few boundaries in design, and perhaps further stretch beyond our mineral material palette. Once the initial design discussions were had, we now needed a whopping 5000 loofahs that were dried, de-seeded, peeled, washed, and cut. All in a matter of two months. We are not exaggerating when we say that we were concerned about the few loofahs on our farm that were eaten by birds or that we called everyone we had distributed seeds to. This was until Raghuveer, our repository of local resources, introduced us to Shivanna, who had a stock of dried sponge gourds on his farm in Tumkur District.

During all the technical runs of design, practicality of material sourcing, trials of aesthetics, and seemingly intangible qualities of lighting, we named the installation the ‘the future will be sown’. The name pulled the last year together better than any way we could. It pulled together threads both literal and metaphorical to express what we understand to be a vast topic.

We had bumped into Bram’s work back in 2019, and had been curious since. It was a meeting that was waiting to happen for a long time. When Jeremie first met Bram, it felt like they were childhood friends. We are still not sure if it’s a brand of French humour, the nostalgia of a language and culture or the common bond of working in South India, this was a friendship that was meant to blossom. Bram runs Bram Woodcrafting Studio, they create bespoke and finely crafted furniture while also engaging with and training local carpenters.

We met Georg while we were trying to find local sources of coconut wood for a project we are designing in Bangalore. Our team was new to coconut wood. Apart from seeing them used as roof rafters and purlins, we had very little idea of the possibilities in design with it. Georg’s keen understanding of the wood, his tree covered workshop where he put together composite wooden beams spanning thirty feet was mesmerising. By the time he showed us around his neatly piled seasoning sections of coconut wood, and we said our goodbye, we knew we would want to work with him. Then he sealed the deal by getting on his cycle and cycling off, framed in the small road that leads to his green wood workshop.

We would visit Georg soon after. We were swept away by this coconut wood, its texture, its abundance, its firm place in the culture of every house in our region. This is a material waiting to be understood and worked with even more. Perhaps we could tie it into the installation for Dubai.

We were quick to call Bram. We have found good coconut wood, would you like to craft a sculptural piece to present at Dubai? It was a wonderful opportunity to work together. What came out of this collaboration is a piece that will travel to Dubai Design Week, the coco bench.

The last four weeks have been quite intense. We got back on the road to talk to people, get perspectives, and listen to their lived experiences and challenges. We are thankful to so many people who readily hosted us in their spaces, demonstrated what they do, and gave us time to talk and have important conversations. We visited artisans in Natanahalli who are still producing hand woven mats made of bull rush (grass) that is collected near the village. This is a local resource that is collectively managed and regenerated every year near lake beds. They also harvest sisal and extract its fibre to hand-spin twine that is used to weave the carpet together. We visited an industrial arecanut leaf processing centre that not only produces and makes disposable heat-pressed plates out of agricultural waste but also manufactures and sells machines to farmers across the state. We met people on the road—people going about making their bamboo ladders or their broomsticks. We met shepherds weeding someone’s paddy field in exchange for the weed grass itself, which is particularly good to feed the goat kids. We met a retired chemical engineer who now lives on and cultivates a thick banana plantation and simultaneously processes the agricultural byproduct into banana fibre, and the waste from that into a phosphate rich fertiliser.

Through all of this, we were designing and working on several other projects. One of them is the design of the new campus for Sparkling Mindz school in north Bangalore. On one of our visits to their existing school, we met the YODAs (Year Of Discovery and Adventure), a team of four sixteen-year-olds, who had taken a year off to explore the possibilities of further study and research. With a keen interest to understand our work better, they volunteered to intern with us. We thought they could join us on our journeys to explore the idea of ‘the future will be sown’ in their own material exploration. They not only assimilated all the new materials we came across, but also were able to comprehend the vastness of possibilities for the future. Their intuitive grasp on the abstraction of material use was exceptional, and more importantly hopeful. In many ways, they embody the idea of ‘the future will be sown’ in more dimensions than we can put words to.
The idea of regenerative materials and practices is not new. We come from a tradition rooted in agriculture and forestry. A culture steeped in reuse and circular processes. So much so that we do not have a direct translation for the word waste in our local language. We live in close contexts with communities that continue to practise hand skills. We are part of societies where some people still live in raw earth homes, while others are building with lime. Can we begin to respond to this seemingly ordinary yet rich background by tying it all together through design and architecture?

As you are reading this, we are building on this idea. This book does not showcase any project in particular, nor does it mark any particular destination we have reached. It does not draw conclusions, nor does it provide solutions.

This book is a beginning. Read it like you would, a notebook of sketches.

This book is a pause. A few stills captured from the countless moving frames of the last fifteen months.