Vinesh Pomal: Inside Diverse Architecture

Sunetra Senior Thursday 16th June 2022 02:41 EDT

Morally conscious as well as industrious, Vinesh does not simply thrive as a rising architect but further builds contemporary inclusive communities. He has co-founded the Asian Architects Association, sits on the Design Review Panels for Harrow and Sutton local councils, the Young Architects and Developers Alliance Board and is an Associate Design Council Expert as well as being a former councillor representing the London region on National Council for the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). Vinesh has done much to raise the profile of his profession and as much to foster equality within it. In terms of philosophical design, he told us:

 “I draw a lot from my lived experience as a South-Asian intergenerational occupant who has co-cared for the elderly, including where I cared for my grandad alongside my mum, dad and sister. There are many alternative ways of existing e.g., it can be rewarding to live with your grandparents, to enjoy the benefit of close interpersonal support. They raised me whilst my parents were running our family newsagent. Co-habitation starts at home. By extension, why not have nurseries and nursing homes nearer each other too? The elderly could entertain the young ones and vice versa. Furthermore, nursing and care facilities do generally tend to be isolated from communities rather than combined and the same goes for student accommodation. These separate pockets of land with respective social groups generally creates friction instead of cohesion. The elderly and the young are separated from amenities, accessibility and sociability. In the town centres, where high streets are dying, why don’t we then put care homes on top of shops so the vulnerable are at the heart of life? Where I can, I try to incorporate such an ethos into my residential projects to create mixed communities; , integrating housing for the elderly and other communal facilities as part of the scheme. . Such salubrious mixing does happen a lot in Europe. Younger people are encouraged to go and interact with the older generation to boost healthy interactive dynamics. They volunteer to go and spend time with the older generation in exchange for a place to stay. The microcosm of this is designing different types of apartments with unique features that encourage amenable interactions immediately. I have outlined this kind of plan too. From the interior nuances to the external aesthetic and harmonisation with surroundings, architecture encompasses all: it’s a balance of artistic architectural principles and proximate human-centred pragmatism.”

Indeed, it is this unity on which Vinesh advises when collaborating with local authorities who require “a second pair of eyes”: e.g., “open-plan layouts are very popular in buildings, but not everyone is happy with that. Many do want separate kitchens, reflecting their cultural backgrounds, or simply because they prefer that separation. Similarly, you wouldn’t want the sun pouring into just one room, causing it to overheat. It is better to spread the light out among a few places. There are some key fundamentals that should be followed even as one executes an individual grand vision.” Going beyond cultural diversity then, Vinesh looks to integrate into social consciousness the appreciation of modern difference itself. The experienced architect has worked for reputable firms within the industry such as Jestico and Whiles, Tatehindle, Levitt Bernstein and ECD Architects. For the former three, Vinesh worked on a variety of residential projects which grew his inherent aptitude for designing homes of the everyday. “I have worked on a multitude of residential and mixed-use developments from estate regeneration and new-build housing, including specialist housing (extra care, nursing, sheltered) through to urban design where I look at the macro and micro factors that are needed to create places to live and work. My work has ranged in scale from designing anywhere between 3 to 1,500 homes. Memorable schemes have included Stanstead Road in South London where I designed four apartments and a communal lounge for residents with autism, the Alton Estate in Roehampton where I led the design of 230 homes as part of a much wider masterplan for the site, and Darwin Green, the creation of a new neighbourhood of 411 homes in Cambridge. The two latter projects have recently been shortlisted for Housing Design Awards. I have also written a chapter on intergenerational living to raise issues in relation to EDI, not just in terms of design but also the social issue of inclusion at large to evolve the status-quo. Personally, it is very rewarding to work on projects where you can fundamentally make a difference to someone’s life.”

Allocation of space has long since been a staple of strong architecture: Vimesh embraces this to professionally specialise in structural interconnectivity. “How does the space flow from one room into another? Indeed, how does that extend to the outside of the house and the way that it consequently sits within its surroundings? If, the street on which I'm building, for example, is broken down, I try to reinvigorate through the particular area I’m designing. Broadly, I enjoy clean, light architecture: lining features up cleanly and efficiently with pops of colour that can be added e.g., cupboards and various rooms. I will group and arrange spaces so that they’re functional as well as lending themselves to collective living. Caring and sharing is at the core of what I do: you need your own space but also to be able to co-progress.” In short, Vinesh champions the edification of empathy: “Architecture is ultimately the process of creating successful spaces to inhabit, reinforcing stable community”  

The architectural activist also teaches in the first-year design studio at Leicester School of Architecture and has been a guest critic at Ulster, Central St. Martins, Loughborough, Sheffield and Reading Universities: “inspiring younger generations is another passion of mine. I love to welcome people into the industry, making accessible the trade, rather than alienating or normalising condescension. Unfortunately, the industry can be incredibly elitist so I strive to challenge and break that status-quo. I was the first child from my family to attend university, so I want others to have that equal opportunity too.” Finally, Vinesh does not simply advocate for his multifaceted profession, but also an open-minded society that is physically reflected in the world. This creates a vivid mutually affirmative, long-term happiness. “An exterior can look fantastic but that is not enough. You need a warm, practical and uplifting environment that you can truly call your home.”  

Could you elaborate on the need for more diversity socially?    

Within the community, we need to celebrate a plethora of Brit-Asian professions in addition to the traditional lauded path of doctor, lawyer or dentistry. Growing up, my family had a corner shop where I helped out learning important business and social skills. I studied Business Studies, Spanish and Product Design before going on to study architecture; all of which I have used in some shape or form during my career-to-date At that aspiring age, I did not feel any discrimination within the profession. It was only later when I’ve tried to progress up the ladder that I’ve encountered barriers. Here, much more must be done to counteract unconscious bias within the typically white middleclass industry. I have been told, “you’re too enthusiastic,” when being vocal for example as a reason for not being promoted. As a person of colour, it is challenging to speak out, but from a position of white privilege, you tend to be heard anytime with whatever it is you want to say. There is a general lack of people of colour in senior positions. You’d think your skillsets would be identified first, but this is not happening at higher levels. Diversity needs to be palpable e.g. I’m the minority at industry events and there’s a lack of role models from minority backgrounds. There should be more visibility for people of colour and for those from low socio-economic backgrounds where leaving this unaddressed should not be the status-quo.   

Do you have a favourite design or feature from a certain era?   

I have many favourite architects and buildings: one is the Hoover Building on the A40 built in the 1930s. I live around the corner from it and I’m inspired by the elegance of the Art Deco style. I live in Perivale and have grown up surrounded by 1930’s housing which is an interesting typology as it allowed for flexibility and adaptation, from rear, side and loft extensions to creating homes for multiple generations to live under. Television Centre in White City, formerly home of the BBC is another gem for me with its simple clean lines and creative adaptation into a mixed-use development. However, architecture isn’t just about buildings –.  I am a fan of railway station architecture; the way they have regenerated St. Pancras International carries so much grace. The recently opened stations along the Elizabeth Line highlights the high-quality architecture our London infrastructure is capable off. For an architect, there’s so many exciting elements.  

Do you think there is young architecture emerging and what constitutes this in your opinion?  

Sustainability is at the heart. Eco-friendly, fit-for-purpose renovations are popping up across the city as an urgent response to rapid climate change. This means accommodating for several environmentally friendly precautions e.g., preservation of heat. There is a general raised awareness in designing homes that address future stability e.g., soon gas in new-builds will be banned. There’s also increased work on existing homes as opposed to simply demolishing and rebuilding which requires more materials and can be expensive. We are recycling whole buildings! There’s a huge campaign around retrofitting which is the official term for this. Another important concept is insulation: there needs to be smart insulation. The analogy for this is a big jacket – the bulkier the jacket, the warmer you are: if your building does not have enough insulation, you’d have to rely more on heating. There will be increasing changes such as this to regulations for new buildings. The Scandinavian model demonstrates this well: the buildings are arranged to capture sun naturally: down to the mindful minutiae. There’s not lots of glazing everywhere. How can you change your home? Placing shutters in front of your windows, which is common in many European countries, can prevent overheating whilst it on the outside, for example, to prevent it overheating. These devices can also introduce character.   

Finally, what qualities does one need to be a strong, successful architect?  

Professionalism and passion. Engage with your employer and be proactive in the industry in every shape and form.  We want people who sincerely love to enhance another’s life. You should cultivate experiences early on. If you are drawn to a building or space, go and photograph or draw it: share your enthusiasm. You also need to be creative. Architecture combines many disciplines: history, business, geography, philosophy. It’s all-encompassing. Once you’re in, the end goal is the client being happy. This is what fulfils. 


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