Goa's Architectural Prodigy

    Vision, rich cultural heritage and the will to do something extraordinary is what best sums up architect Gerard de Cunha’s life. Gerard, a Goan architect, has always been a name synonymous with usual but breathtaking architecture, inspired by the legacy and traditional style.

    Gerard de Cunha’s inimitable projects are spread across the country that include resorts, townships, institutions and even private residences. Born in Godhra, Gerard traveled across the country since childhood as his father worked with the State Bank of India and had a transferable job. He did most of his schooling at St. Mary’s in Mazgaon and college in Delhi. He first came to Goa when he was 18 years old and fell in love with the place. It is then that he decided that Goa was ‘THE’ place for him. So, finally in the December of 1982, Gerard, then 27, came to Goa for good.

    His Works

    Gerard has been part of several projects which find places all across India. These include Nrityagram of Bangalore, Hampi’s Kannada University’s main building and its library, Bangalore’s Kutiram Tourist Resort, JVSL Township in Torangallu, Tourist village in Kerala and Jimi Gazhdhar’s lavish mansion on the banks of Goan river, to name a few.

    His works are truly inspired by Kerala-based low-cost natural-material architect Lawrie Baker. Gerard’s projects mostly portray the use of natural material. One of the most impressive and unusual works of this architect has been the township which he has built for the JSW Steel Plant, about 30 kms from Hampi called Vidyanagar. The entire project was built at a cost of Rs 150 crore. This township is spread across 300 acres and the project involved creating housing to settle 10,000 people! With not even a single tree on the site, creating an entire housing project seemed to be an arduous task. To begin with, Gerard studied quite a few townships that included HMT in Bangalore and IPCL in Gujarat. So, starting from scratch, Gerard and his team put together everything from sewerage lines, transformers, treatment plants and telephone systems. He used granite for most part of the project and utilized pre-fabricated systems, and Cuddappah stone.

    So, Vidyanagar finally had several sections with 18 houses each, an open space in the centre of the township, and kitchens overlooking areas where children could play. Traffic was mostly on the exteriors of the township, thus making it safe for children. The town operates on a sustainable sewage system, taking the sewage, filtering the water, and putting it back into the system. They have also introduced composting and vermi-culture to minimize their garbage. No plastics have been used inside Vidyanagar for the last eight years. All the houses have a garden or a terrace to make it green and reduce the heat.

    The township also has a movie theatre, school, airstrip, parks, and botanical garden. It also houses a club, temples, shopping centre and restaurants, thus making it a complete city town. This unusual project of creating an entire township got Gerard, the Prime Minister’s Award for Excellence in Urban Planning and Design offered by the Ministry of Urban Development in 1998-99.

    Coming to Gerard’s ‘Houses of Goa’ Museum in Torda in the village of Salvador do Mundo, it is one of the most extraordinary architecture that one can’t miss while on way to Panjim. The museum is a three-storied triangular shape load bearing building that is built with exposed laterite stone and the actual triangular shape is formed only on the second floor, making it resemble a ship. This museum is constructed using cost-saving technology. Gerard’s ‘traffic island’ as this is known, has been designed by cutting the vertexes on the ground floor for the smooth flow of traffic. The museum then rises with its walls corbelling out, like a ship, in a triangular shape. The movement possible inside the ‘traffic island’ is only around 40 sq mts on each floor and within this; one can easily get a glimpse of the rich cultural heritage and history of Goa starting from 1300 BC and has photographs, skillfully drawn maps, models of ancient houses, collection of designed pillars, windows designs, carved furniture, false ceilings, tiles and literature of houses and the people of Goa even before the Portuguese invasion.

    Gerard converted the ground floor café into a semi-museum by displaying photos of kitchens and bathrooms of different Goanese houses. With use of technology, Gerard has created 3D effects for the people to enjoy this virtual journey. The top floor has a 35-seater auditorium which has regular slide shows for people to get a peek into the Goan houses. This entire project was made at a cost of Rs two million and has been his dream come true!

    Gerard’s other Interests

    Gerard has already released his book ‘Houses of Goa’ which showcases about 150 houses in Goa, before the coming of the Portuguese. It also describes how the houses were built in mud and other material, and how this suited local lifestyles. He has also translated Japanese author Takeo Kamiya’s book on Indian architecture, after buying out its rights and publishing it in English. He has also come out with a website, www.goenker.com/goan-houses, which is a photo-exhibition that takes people through the rich, architectural heritage of Goa and the photography is done by Ashok Koshy, covering the myriad styles of buildings in the city state; an effort to make people realize the importance and richness of Goan architecture and help preserve it for generations to witness the extraordinary structures.

    With so much on his hands, Gerard is surely on a difficult but attainable mission of giving back the dues to Goa by creating awareness about its architecture and preserving it as most old buildings are now being felled to create modern structures and his fear of the legacy being lost, might just come true! But, given his determination, this man is surely on a mission to succeed.

    MGS Architecture September October 2008

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