rest to recover as much of
building costs as possible.
story however, cannot be toldin
such a neat progression. In his
fourth year at the University of
Southern California, he dropped
out, stifled by, "the strait-jacket
of architectural commandments".
One of his early ventures was the
cheekily named Ray Meeker and
Associates, Potsellers. Located
on the beach at Los Angeles, its
entrance bore the legend `Open
to India in 1971 and started
Golden Bridge Pottery at
Pondicherry, along with Deborrah
Smith. An able, enthusiastic
teacher as well, Meeker's has
been a seminal influence on many
young potters. What inspired him
to marry the ceramist's craft
with architecture? "The idea
of firing a house was not mine.
One of my Indian colleagues had
already started firing existing
structures in the late '70s, but
later moved abroad and lost
interest," he says. Then in
1985, along with Jan de Rooden,
a Dutch ceramist, he started off
on his bold experimentation.
Helped along the way by Iranian
architect Nadir Khalili's book,
Racing Alone, a narration of his
own experiences in
bakingstructures of raw earth.
"He used oil for the kiln,
an understandable choice in Iran.
We had to think of cheaper
he mixes coal dust in the mud.
Still the energy, intensiveness
and ecological aspects of the
process compare unfavourably with
say, cement stabilised soil
blocks -- another way of building
in Mumbai, to talk on
architectural ceramics, as part
of the Enduring Image exhibition,
Meeker held the audience in
thrall with his homegrown brand
of dry humour, seasoned by years
spent coping with errant
contractors, wayward cyclones and
a temperamental technology. When
asked what made him fire houses,
he immediately quipped, "The
in mud is not exactly
aspirational for a country, where
an impoverished rural populace
has been doing so for aeons. But
Meeker's houses also need cheap,
plentiful fuel, ditto for the
labour and enough space on site
to excavate the mud. And of
course, the un-stated, but
obvious: a client who will not
beapoplectic when his dream house
develops occasional cracks.
Meeker is witty about this,
labelling his works, "pre-cracked
structures," as they do not
endanger the inhabitants.
yawning holes on site usually
become water tanks or in the case
of Ray's largest project to date,
the ITC shrimp farm at Tuticorin.
Meeker is aware that his
technique was used to whitewash
what was an environmentally-suspect
project. Did that disturb him?
"For me it was an
opportunity to use fire
stabilised mud on a larger scale,
a step up from the rural context
of 800 sqft houses I had designed
so far," says Meeker.
does worry him however is the
typical contractor's pathological
need to cut corners. If
underbaked due to a skimping on
fuel, the houses become unsafe.
Apart from the tangibles, fire
stabilised mud also requires a
good deal of honesty and
commitment to the cause of
developing an experimental
persistent criticism against
Meeker's architecture is related
to the transfer of technology.
Butaccording to him, the public
sector engineers on one of his
projects were immediately able to
grasp the basics of building and
put up three vaults themselves.
Also, can these houses which must
have an outer skin of standard
bricks, in addition to the inner
fire stabilised structure, really
be called cost effective? Meeker
thinks so. "If the economics
of selling the ceramic product
from within the kiln are worked
out right, it can cross subsidise
the building of the house."
This has also motivated him to
carry on regardless for the past
decade, believing that his could
be the answer to certain
questions, under certain
© 1998 Indian Express Newspapers