THE TRAILBLAZER – Yeshwant Ramamurthy

THE TRAILBLAZER – YESHWANT RAMAMURTHY

If intricacies of life could be taught through design, Yeshwant Ramamurthy would be the architect sitting at the helm of making it come to life. 

With a diverse portfolio covering Architecture, Interior and Landscape design, Design documentation and Heritage studies, his firm, Studio One, undoubtedly is one of the largest and most sought after architectural firms in Hyderabad. Apart from this he has been teaching the young and upcoming architects in three different institutions in the city, Manipal and Vijayawada and is constantly working towards upgrading the academic syllabus for architecture and interior design.

He has been the founder member and chairman of the local chapter of IIID ( Indian Institute of Interior Designers), founder president of the Hyderabad Design Forum and is an executive committee member of the Indian Institute of Architects, Telangana . He was recently declared amongst India’s 100 most influential designers.

His contribution to design is unparalleled! And as accomplished as he is, he is as affable and humble as can be. We are so honored to have him as our first interviewee on The Knights of Nature!

What are you working on right now and what is your work like? 

“At the Hyderabad Design Forum, we are attempting to bring together designers of many disciplines – be it a fashion designer, textile designer or someone working in handicrafts. All of us work with the same basic language of design and we want to explore how we can come together to make a change. One of the things we are doing right now is to document a form of architecture in Telangana that nobody knew existed until we began researching it and that is the step wells. About two and a half years ago, I was touring Medak to look at rural architecture and unexpectedly found one. This was an astounding discovery! We had heard of stepwells in Gujarat, Rajasthan and Northern India but nobody knew that they existed in Telangana. We then began finding out more from the department of archaeology and on location. We are doing a documented study of these. I am soon hoping to publish a book called the Forgotten Step wells of Telangana.”

What have been some of your most prestigious works? 

“Well, each job that we have done over the last 40 year has been challenging in its own way and at the end of it, it gives us a sense of satisfaction at the same level. Whether it is a small restaurant in the old city, like an Irani Cafe or it might even be a five star hotel in Begumpet like the Taj Vivanta! The thrill of creative work is always the same.” 

What is one project you enjoyed doing?

“I would say that one of the most interesting houses we have done is in Medchal that belongs to a young couple who decided to move away from the crowded city and bring up their three children on a farm. We made them a 100% sustainable house, where not a single bag of cement or a rod of steel was used! We made all the bricks on site, the stone was quarried within a kilometre. The house doesn’t use any air conditioning, there is a lot of natural light, ventilation and it is completely in tune with nature. The children grow up with birds and animals, scorpions, snakes and the likes. There is a lot of organic farming that they are doing too! The house was just part of this entire back-to-nature process and has been the most satisfying project we’ve done.”

Tell us about your professional journey. How did you start?

“My professional journey began when I graduated in architecture from the Sir JJ College of Architecture in Bombay. I then worked briefly in Bangalore before moving to the Middle East, where I worked in Iran for a couple of years in town planning and finally came back to Hyderabad and set up my firm here in the year 1979. I have been in my seat for 41 years now! My cousin Architect Rajesh Murthy and I run the firm, where we have on the average about 12 to 14 designers and are training at any given time at least 4 interns who are students of architecture. 

As in every profession, you start small. We started with private bungalows when one thing led to another and we got our first opportunity to design the interior of a hotel about 25 years ago. There onwards we’ve expanded into becoming specialists in hospitality design. We work with restaurants, convention spaces, hotels, clubs, bars and have executed over 160 projects in the hospitality design vertical alone. Soon we began to do educational institution buildings too. We are working with the Hyderabad Public School in three of their campuses, Keys High School and many other small schools within the city and outside. So we have gained the experience and expertise in this line as well.” 

What is the best advice you have received that has impacted your life/work?

“The best advice that I ever got which has impacted me for life was when I began working in Bangalore for a large company called Chandavarkar and Thacker. The lesson with which I learnt there was to be ethical and that has been the hallmark of my professional life, it is what has made all the difference. I will always thank them for teaching me that.”

What would be one advice you want to share with our readers?

This is another lesson I have learnt in life, that nothing is too “small”. I have never turned away a client. Even if he has a very small project on hand, if I find it creatively challenging, we take it on! I believe that when you begin to think that ‘this is too small for me to do’, then you seize to think big. This is the message I would like to give to people who are emerging in the profession that nothing is too small.”

How important is it for you to integrate greenery in your projects? Do you consciously create green spaces in your projects?

“Greenery; it is very very important to have greenery in a project. Of course, the number of individual Bungalows one is designing has dwindled because as cities change more people begin to live in apartments. But even within an apartment we always try to do some landscaping at the podium level. So as soon as you enter or when you are exiting the building, that’s when nature touches you. We also definitely try to create one large balcony where people can have their own potted plants that then can become their own little private green haven. 

In the hospitality industry greenery is very important. Especially if it is a resort or a Hotel then there is always a conscious attempt to be in touch with nature and that also enhances the value of a space. Even in a restaurant we always find one corner or some space where we can have indoor plants growing. This is sometimes a challenge but if you have a bit of greenery, it does make a difference to the dining experience in a restaurant.”

What is your personal take on the impending environmental crisis?

“I think we created it! We are totally responsible for upsetting the equilibrium of nature and unless you sustain nature it will not sustain you. And this recent pandemic has shown us exactly that. Because we are not going out and polluting the atmosphere, the air is cleaner, we can see better, we can breathe better, the animals are coming out. Nature is springing to life all around us. This seems to be the biggest lesson that we have learnt and the awareness has come right across people of any class because the change is tangible.”

Your contribution is so great, do you feel good about being able to contribute and make it a breathable world?

“I have always tried to instill the aesthetics of nature. There is a term in Sanskrit which is Bhumisparsha which means to be in touch with earth, I try to make most of my projects touch the earth in some way and have made a conscious effort to achieve that in every project.”

What initiatives do you think we as a community should take to make a greener world?

“You have to respect nature. Reuse and recycle are terms that are casually used but they are in fact, very true and should be practiced. If all of us consciously do this then the entire community will prosper.

There are communities in Hyderabad such as Sainikpuri and Vayupuri where there are citizen movements – they collect garbage and recycle it. They have plants for recycling garbage and vermiculture. All of these are citizen’s initiatives and they seem to be working! So if it can work in those colonies why can’t it work anywhere else. All it takes is a little commitment.

And water! We have to worship water and not just respect it. We need to worship it.”

How did you know that this was the career for you? 

“Well, I didn’t! I knew what I did not want to be before I knew what I wanted to be. By the end of high school I was sure that I did not want to be a doctor, nor did I want to go to an IIT and be an engineer. I wanted to do something that was creative and how I got into architecture was actually quite by accident. Architecture was always a second preference. 

This was during the time of the first Telangana agitation in the late 1960s and students at the universities in Hyderabad were on strike. People were wasting a year and a half, two years because they couldn’t go to study. My father was in  the army and there was one central government quota seat in the JJ College of Architecture at Bombay. I applied and got in! My parents wanted me out of Hyderabad and to not waste time here. So it wasn’t by design in my opinion, but by default that I joined an architecture college and became an architect.” 

(Well, we for one are thankful that he is an architect! Aren’t you?)

What would you tell an 18 year old?

“What we lacked then was good career counselling and schools have the responsibility to open up the possibilities and the potential of different professions to students who are graduating from school. Of course, things have changed now because of the internet where there is so much information available on hand. But there is nothing like hearing it first hand. If a school can dedicate say every Saturday, one hour a week in the morning by bringing someone from different professions to talk to students at the assembly, it will stimulate interest in different possibilities. Every young person should follow their heart and focus on succeeding in their chosen sphere.”

What are some lessons you have learnt for your personal life from your profession?

“As time advances, the lessons learnt in each walk of life tend to morph into a common experientiality. More than making a mere living out of architecture, I have made my life in it.”

If not a designer/ID/architect/builder what would you do?

“If I wasn’t a designer I might have liked to be a writer or a journalist because I do enjoy writing. I had got admission into Osmania University where they have a College of Communication which even then in the 70s was a good faculty. Had the Telangana agitation not happened I might well have ended up being a journalist. Also, over the years my interest in the hospitality industry has grown so I might have actually enjoyed being a hospitality executive as it is an area that engages me very deeply. There you are interacting with the end user and hospitality is all about making people feel good. Whether it is a restaurant or a hotel the results are immediate, your response has to be immediate. I have enjoyed designing in that area. It has taught me that architecture really is a people art. If you do not address the requirements and the needs of the end user then you are not a successful designer. You should not get yourself labelled as a “style designer”, but rather a people centric professional whose design empathizes and responds to his client’s specific lifestyle needs.”

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