Vinu Daniel
Joe Maher—Getty Images for the Royal Academy of Arts

Vinu Daniel once told me his best teachers were masons, workers, and locals in Kerala, India. While a student there, he met his hero Laurie Baker—an architect celebrated for energy-efficient, evocative buildings—who shared Gandhi’s advice: the ideal house should be made of materials found within a five-mile radius.

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Hyperlocal materials and techniques make for mighty elegant buildings, it turns out. In the hands of Vinu’s studio, Wallmakers, mud bricks swirl in pirouettes, and debris from previous walls becomes new walls. Pictures from construction sites exude pride and delight in craftsmanship and teamwork.

Vinu teaches us respect for local wisdom and material culture are key for a truly responsible attitude toward the environment and the future, saying, “Whatever project you’re working on, can you reduce something about it? Can you reduce it by one bag of cement? Can you save one tree? Then you are on your own path to sustainability.”

Antonelli is a senior curator of architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art

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