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Architecture (MA)

Seetharam V. Vallabhaneni

Seetharam V. Vallabhaneni b. 1995, is an interdisciplinary maker based in Hyderabad, India. Currently pursuing his Masters degree in Architecture at the Royal College of Art in London, he received his BFA degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) in 2017. He also holds a diploma in Robotic Fabrication from Architectural Association in London, UK and a certificate in Entrepreneurship from ESADE University in Barcelona, Spain. Informed by the dialogue between materials, traditions, rituals, and processes; he looks to design provocatively optimistic experiences that can balm, cajole, perplex, or excite.

His work has been exhibited at ASSAB One in Milan, Italy; Fondazione Pastificio Cerere in Rome, Italy; Chicago Architecture Biennial '17 (PRODUCTORA’s Two Towers); Chicago Public Library - Chinatown; SAIC; and Spudnik Press Cooperative in Chicago, USA. He has also won numerous recognitions such as being awarded the HKS Design Fellowship in 2017, Adobe Design Achievement Award (Semifinalist) in 2017, and being one of the shortlisted applicants for LafargeHolcim Awards in 2017. In addition, his work and interviews have been featured on international digital platforms like KooZA/rch and the Archi/ologist. 

Vallabhaneni has most recently worked with Studio Mumbai, after working with Ania Jaworska and Associates, Borderless Studio, Design Museum of Chicago, and with PRODUCTORA for the Chicago Architecture Biennial 2017. He now offers design-build services along with a close-knit team of carpenters, masons, lime craftsmen, electricians, and plumbers. 

Miniature style collage of a workshop

“Rather than thinking of culture as ‘roots’, as peoples belonging to particular places and traditions, we need to think of culture as ‘routes’, as the movements of peoples, goods, ideas from place to place. ”
- Doreen Massey

Like Words in Snow looks at two geologically similar landscapes (Salt Flats) in Kutch, India and Al Qassab, K.S.A, by mapping the palimpsest of existing hydrological, geological, ecological, social, and political networks. The aim was to study and document the local residents’ way of life and understand how each network affected them and informed certain lifestyle decisions. These sites are parallel worlds, my interest is in the points of convergence and divergence, using them to create new trade routes between these historically connected sites that would allow for cross-pollination of practices, lores, and technologies.

Cultural routes can be traced along the movements of peoples, goods, ideas from place to place. Emerging from these routes, the project is part of a larger body of research, ‘Within the Palms of Our Hands’, inspired by Doreen Massey’s call to think of culture as something mobile, and the the idea that culture is embedded into a person and travels with them, like a marker similar to DNA. The work seeks to uncover, explore, and understand spatial relationships and identities embedded within culture, lore, trade, and migration.

Like Words in Snow is a proposal for a place of dialogue, mediation, and exchange. Conceptualized as a “Lobby” both in its sense as a verb and a noun, it seeks to embrace cross-pollination across physical, cultural, and meta-physical territories and addresses a set of interconnected concerns of affection, care, stewardship, displacement, belonging, and trade. The project’s position is that the plural realities of a landscape have to be accepted and addressed with great care and a multi-disciplinary approach to acknowledge the concerns and relationships in a coupled human and natural system.

Digital Collage
Seasonal Migration of Construction Workers
Digital colage
Postures of Sitting
The Spectre of Craft
The Spectre of CraftA set of 3 miniatures showing craftsmen from different parts of India gathering around everyday furnitures, discussing an architectural project. These are everyday furnitures with no symbolism attached to them inherently. Traced on the paper they becomes a shape, the same done with respect to a certain ratio they becomes a scaled drawing. Rendered in gold leaf they are now elevated into “sacred” surfaces.
Trees of Wool - Diptych
Trees of Wool, 19"x 12", (L: UV Print on gilded mdf; R: Cyanotype on cotton)
Microscopic image of sections of cotton
Sections of Cotton x100, 8.5" x 11", Cyanotype on cotton
Clouds of Muslin
Clouds of Muslin I & II, 8.5" x 11", Cyanotype on cotton
Archival image and quote about cotton
Cyanotype showing concentration of two cultivars of cotton around India and Arabia
The Trade of Two Seeds, 14"x24", Cyanotype on cotton Documentation of the concentration of two cultivars of cotton - Gossyphium Herbaceum (round seeds) and Gossypium Arboreum (oval seeds).

Trade & Migration as Pollinators

Departing from the central theme of Hijra, the project frames trade as a medium of exchange for more than goods or wealth - as a facilitator of movements of skills, technologies, knowledge and knowhow, all contained in lores and expressed through craft.

Particularly focusing on the trade of cotton and indigo from India, an interesting anecdote led to identification of Arabia and Western India as sites of interest. The presence of cotton in arabia always confused historians as the soil composition wouldn’t have allowed for cotton to grow here naturally - it was obviously introduced. For the longest time it was thought to come from Africa but recent forensic studies show it's from Kutch in India instead. As you look through archival images from these regions more parallels appear - materially, socially, and gesturally. Geographically it is interesting that the cotton seed found in Arabia and two most powerful movements in the struggle for Indian independence, both involving very humble ingredients (cotton and salt) originated in Kutch.

Inspired by Charles Dickins’ Tale of Two Cities I wanted to establish trade with a twin site - not identical but similar with its own difference to allow for a counter dialogue and perspective, which, through cross pollination would add value to both sites much like that cotton seeds that got traded in Arabian ports leading to creating of better, hybrid cultivars of cotton. Thus establishing the sabkhas of Arabian landscape as a counterpart to the seasonal salt marsh/flat of Western India in Kutch.

Tale of Two Landscapes : A flipbook of satellite images
Seeds of Exchange
Trans-Epistemic Cosmogram : Kutch and Arabia through lores, myths, data and scientefic studies
Trans-Epistemic Cosmogram : Kutch and Arabia through lores, myths, data and scientefic studies

In the End Everything Comes Back to Water, Where it all Began

“Architecture exists in time as salt exists in water... the only architecture will be our lives..”
Superstudio (Exhibition at Pinksummer, Genova) 

Water is a symbol for the universal sum of virtualities - a reservoir of plural existences according to Eliade in The Sacred and the Profane. Across cultures water always retains its symbolic function - to disintegrate, abolish forms. “Everything that is form manifests itself above the waters, by detaching itself from the waters”. Metaphorically and metaphysically the ancient mythologies refer to water as the container of life, strength and eternity. Almost universally it is perceived as a purifying medium.

In the end everything comes back to water, where it all began

Rann - A Land of Many Realities

Rann of Kutch is the only large flooded grasslands zone in the Indomalayan realm. A land that finds itself existing in continuous duality - geographically shared between India and Pakistan, geologically sandwiched by abundance of water on one side and complete scarcity on the other, ecologically between mangroves, and deserts, socially between being a settlement and abandoned land, cartographically between “protected” and unsurveyed.

Split into Great and Little ranns of kutch, these regions are briefly connected during heavy monsoons. Being a seasonal salt marsh and flat - it is submerged in water for 6 months of the year where it is abandoned only to be occupied once the water recedes. A condition that dictates lives of humans and other than human species living off of this landscape. Seen in isolation the monsoons and the seasonal floods are problematic in the way they displace communities and wash away their homes and fields. However it is this seasonal washing away that allows the communities to inhabit the land by keeping the top soil salinity in check.

The Rann is a land of many realities and is home to nearly 70% of India’s salt production. It is interesting that two similar landscapes offer communities inhabiting them vastly different things - one one hand you have the salt farmers in Kutch harvesting salt from the saline brine where as in Arabia, the saline landscape is home to its desalination plants. One community values the salt left behind as water evaporates into the atmosphere, where as the other treasures the water extracted from the brine and lets the salt go back into the landscape.

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Landscape Plan
Zero Degree Axonometric Tapestry
Detail of the Axonometric Tapestry
Details from the Axonometric Tapestry I
Detail of the Axonometric Tapestry
Details from the Axonometric Tapestry II
Detail of the Axonometric Tapestry
Details from the Axonometric Tapestry III
Site Section

Characters in Architectures, Characters as Architectures & Architectures as Characters

A space created over multiple cycles of floods, an organic and incremental settlement (/lobby/campus/complex/vessel). A container of lores, myths, and lives; a lobby.

The site is framed by villages, invasive prosopis juliflora, and the grasslands of Banni on one side and the saline landscape of the white desert of Kutch on the other; a pivot. Two groups of “farmers” intersect creating a diptych - farmers of the salt & farmers who harvest prosopis to then convert that into charcoal, they are also pastoralists. In fact there is no “site”, there is only a negotiation - with nature - with the tides - with the water and earth. This negotiation is cosmic, tied to the sun, the moon, the movement of this earth and planetary shadows. It is in that sense dictated by the inhabited land - a platform, and the ephemeral shade of the moon creating tides. 

Project sits on what is currently a tourist point, where visitors get dropped off in cars to venture into the desert on camel back - a threshold between formal settlements and the desert - a literal Lobby to the desert. The main entry into the site is through a long and narrow road - parting the safed Rann - traces of people who walked into this saline landscape for the utsav. At the entrance are a set of stairs moulded from the earth framed by a copper arcade. The arcade is a datum and the copper records each interaction with water and salt. As the visitors pass through this arcade they arrive at an elevated platform sitting on top of a tank collecting filtered rainwater and a cistern storing excess water produced by the Desalination Facility. 

On this platform they encounter a series of structures. This set, or plan is a mere suggestion, presenting one of the many possibilities. Over it’s lifecycle all these structures may be built as shown, or none, or maybe few, or more of one kind and less of others may be built - it is all up to the inhabitants of this landscape. The configuration is fluid as these structures are built in tune with the cycle of floods using readily available materials (Salt, Saline Sand, and Concrete made from Salt Brine) - some may dissolve, others may disintegrate through repeated exposure to the saline water, while some may live on, recording everything that is happening around them. The desalination plant becomes the central node around which different structures start to emerge over time, dialogue, and exchange. Each of these structures is a character and has been based off of a particular stakeholder but could cater to other stakeholders as well.

When built with materials that are metabolic, in sense that they can be absorbed back into the land, the architectural space(s) would always be in a flux - constantly adapting and responding to life around, echoing Superstudio’s dream that the only architecture we leave behind would be our life - contained and communicated through lores. These lores are some of the most resilient, fluid, empowering, assimilating and plurality-embracing forms of knowledge present in this world.

Model studies
Collection of maquettes exploring form, materials, and textures(L) Form studies for the proposal in salt and saline sand hardened by CO2; (R) Sand casted brass model documenting a Maaldhari (Pastoralists/Hearders) village cluster, Study of luminous qualities of salt models