Drawing for a Cross-Cultural Dialogue

Leave a comment
Colour, Students

Drawing for a Cross-Cultural Dialogue

Matthew Crabbe


Indian society has few safety nets for the care of its disabled, many of whom are children. They are often treated as inferior and are as such are increasingly the victims of abuse, an attitude especially prevalent in rural areas. The Sandeep School Project addresses the need for provision of a suitable learning environment for children with special needs in Sulya (20,000 inhabitants), a town in the south-western state of Karnataka. The project was developed as a master thesis project by Matthew Crabbe in collaboration with German charity foundation Hande des Menschen, local project parter and founders of the school the Sadashiv Foundation Sulya, Roswag Architekten Berlin and Prof. Ralf Pasel of the Technical University Berlin.

Local building techniques and typologies in Sulya are being rapidly replaced by standardised concrete frame constructions. A flat-roof in concrete has an approximate life-time of 5 years in Sulya’s extreme tropical climate. Traditional houses in the region are built with large shelter providing pitched roofs in locally sourced timber or bamboo. Walls are constructed in climate-regulating earthern materials. These buildings are suited to the tropical climate and have been developed and perfected since settlers first came to the region. The number of craftsmen in the region who are still able to work with these techniques is constantly shrinking. The project aims to provide a new interpretation of the local tradition which integrates simple measures to improve its lifetime such as proper damp-proof courses and anti-termite treatments.


The Western-Ghats region surrounding Sulya is one of the most bio-diverse regions in the world. The moist-deciduous and mountaine rain-forest ecosystems are constantly under threat from illegal logging and mining. The increasing demand for concrete is also causing sand mining from rivers to become a huge environmental issue. When sites are prepared for construction in Sulya they are always cleared of vegetation and levelled. The impression is of a town struggling to control nature. The design aims to retain maximum vegetation on the site to provide natural shade and biodiversity. Furthermore this strategy allows children to engage with this important eco-system and reduces the costs required for earthworks.


The new typology takes reference from both traditional housing typologies and the standardised colonial era schools in the region. As in vernacular houses the buildings are orientated inwards towards a series of open courtyards emphasising the importance of outdoor space and a strong connection with nature. Depending on the time of year the spaces can be used differently. During the milder post-monsoon season, the shady outdoor spaces can be used for teaching and become a central place of encounter. During the monsoon the porch spaces become crucial to allow navigation around the site without exposure to the rain. The classroom facade screens can be opened for communication and play or closed for more concentrated formal learning.


The graphic style of the project reflects an attempt to better communicate ideas and concepts across different cultures and backgrounds. The diagrams and cartoons provide an effective way to discuss architectural concepts with people from outside the profession. The final presentation was also recorded as a commentated and annotated screen-cast which was shared with the Indian members of the project network. The aim was to enable more people to have their say about the contents of the project.



Who influences you graphically?

While developing this project I was influenced primarily by a number of illustrators. I was aware that working in India presented an opportunity to explore using a vibrant palette of colors. In this regard, I took inspiration from the iPad game Monument Valley and a number of other game designers as well as illustrators like Dieter Braun. I was interested in creating graphics which also created a kind of identity for the proposal itself, one that was to do with fantasy and color. At this point, I came across a series of drawings by Yusti Gomez Herrara on pinterest. His isometries and projections really show the possibilities of that kind of graphic style for architectural drawings. The bright colors and subtle textures really bring the projection to life and give it a kind of life that creates a very different effect to a normal line drawing. So thanks Yusti for the inspiration!

For the perspectives I was also taking reference from the collages by Atelier Fala. I think that their style, and especially different ways of visualising figures, have been a big influence in a lot of the work that people have been posting on this site recently.


How could the notion of story telling be reinforced through the format of an actual book?

Story telling is something that brings a design to life, building a narrative is also something that can apply to the design process itself. Creating an actual book is something I have experimented with in other projects, as well as using comic book style graphics. In this case, the way that I wanted to communicate the proposal was more defined by the challenge of crossing cultural (and geographical) barriers. It was very important to me that the project partners in India could also have their say on the project. Therefore, I chose to focus on creating a screencast, a kind of annotated presentation with commentary, that I then uploaded to youtube. Although very few people in Sulya own a computer, everybody has a smart phone and I thought that this would be the best way to open a discussion on the first stage of the project.


How important is it to adapt the classic architectural drawing so that it can become a tool to communicate to a larger audience of different culture and backgrounds? 

I think that graphic communication is hugely important in architecture. Whether we control it or not, the style of visualisation really defines who our work speaks to. I think that there is too much of a tendency in architecture schools to create work that only speaks to people within the profession. There is also a tendency to be far too serious, we are passionate about our work and (most of the time) enjoy creating it. This should come across in the drawings. I hope that in the end, the style that I developed will appeal to people both outside and inside of the profession. Moreover, I hope that it communicates the fun I had developing them.

What defines the specific views through which the project is revealed?

One of the problems I encountered in Sulya was the lack of any kind of accurate basis for my drawings. None of the online map providers cover Sulya in any great detail. I decided that in the end, it was much more important to communicate my experience of Sulya, than the accurate layout of streets and houses. The mapping drawing shows the places ad dynamics that I experienced in my two weeks in Sulya.

For the school itself I was influenced by the priorities I set in the design. Sulya is in a tropical monsoon climate, in the Summer it is very hot and during the monsoon, it is very wet. This means that the school has to provide open, well ventilated spaces, and provide shelter from the sun and/or rain. In the project, the circulation spaces became very important, they provide shelter and a space for encounter. They bridge the gap between the program and the diverse external spaces. When choosing the perspectives, it was important to give an idea of how the indoor and outdoor spaces interact.


What other similar institutions inspired your design approach? 

I have been working with Roswag Architekten in Berlin for the last 5 years and have been very much inspired by the philosophy behind the METI School Handmade in Bangladesh. The emphasis is always on dialogue and collaboration across different cultures. It is important to build trust and respect between the different project partners. This was my main task during my visit to Sulya.

We also place a high value on the use of local materials and techniques, during the excursion I spent a long time investigating local building techniques and typologies. The current trend in Sulya, as in most parts of the developed world, is towards concrete frame construction. However, the price of a bag of cement in Sulya has more than doubled over the last two years. Earth and bamboo are locally available natural materials that are suited to the monsoon climate, when the construction details are executed properly. The emphasis was on communicating the advantages of these materials and making an informed mutual decision on their use. I hope that a bottom up approach based on mutual respect will form the basis for a fruitful collaboration during the project’s realization next year.


Matthew Crabbe works with ZRS Architekten in Berlin. He completed his masters at the TU-Berlin in 2016 with a focus on building with natural materials.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s