We had the good fortune of connecting with Santosh Kumar Ketham and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Santosh Kumar, how do you think about risk?
Risk is a stepping-stone to overcome fears, failures and adventure, its way to success. It reminds me of the famous Bollywood film Sholay dialogue “jo dar gaya wo margaya” (those who fear are already dead). I consider risk as a challenge, which I applied in my whole life from a very young age and still continuing and it will till the end. I remember I started teaching in universities in 2015, the same year I started my studio Ketham’s Atelier Architects and also Thinking Hand NGO, people around thought crazy, taking up two things that simultaneously wouldn’t yield expected results. Interesting incident to quote: while I visited the registration office to register my Studio and NGO, the officer sought the physical presence of the founder to sign the NGO and studio papers? I said I’m the founder and CEO for both!! Then he was pleasantly surprised and said I have never seen some young person registering both an NGO and studio. Only senior and retired people register NGO. I smiled and then explained why?
The reason to start my own research practice is due to today’s architecture becoming irrelevant everyday and architects are responsible for that. Our studio’s thinking is different from some regular offices not to build just because a client demanded the driving force of the design is money under the pretext of client requirements and preference. Instead we choose projects carefully and give time for research, study, design and build to local context, place, material and culture and to curve out unknown spaces to bring new experience and make memories. Ketham’s Atelier aim was to make a difference with research, innovation, design and share to Thinking Hand NGO.
One of the reason to start NGO is to provide free education and guidance, my experience as a visiting faculty quality of education is very poor, found students struggling to understand basic concepts of design, drawing and construction etc, huge number of students in one college ratio of student and teacher is significantly, time invested by each teacher on students is very minimal, colleges commercial interest ensured quality of education to take back seat, I found students frustrated and confused started self-doubting their potential some students requested me to help them, had to take more time, used to meet students in coffee shops, public gardens to discuss students design projects like an open school, this brought to why shouldn’t I help several other students to empower across city and states and I established an NGO Thinking Hand, name inspired from we not just think but also build and execute joining hands together (a collective approach). NGO mission and motivation is to empower, educate young students and especially urban poor by doing workshops, lectures, and construction and building 1:1.
It’s like air, which is free for everyone! Everyone deserves free, unpolluted education to make this planet a better place to live. Officer was very happy to hear my vision and said it’s an honor and pleasure to meet you and the registration process went fast.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Ketham’s Atelier Architects shared research and innovative designs which build 1:1 projects for neglected communities in collaboration with Thinking Hand NGO and had empowered more than three thousand people by various events (Workshops, Exhibitions, Sessions, Talks, International Competitions and Building 1:1) learning from obstacles/failures and being indifferent to rejections, cynicism, and moving forward, as hope is real and more importantly not comparing with others had set us apart from others, very proud started with a small team growing to forty nine members and building in partnership with international universities and organizations and still continuing a proud moment when we look back. Now people started copying our NGO name, work and method.
Failure is not blocking success rather a building block towards success! All you need to do is start somewhere, have hope and just do it, great things start small with creativity, thinking out of the box ways to solve the problems would make it big and makes this place a better to live, best lesson I learnt from the given experience is we should evaluate the existing problems for solutions again and again so to yield the best result. As they say the world within I say some quotes to myself this world shall know is “Remove E from your ego and just go”.
Being countryside villager, born to lower middle class difficult to make ends meet with big family, my mother had pledged the Jewelry to fulfill my aspiration, my mother with given limited resources and limited knowledge with enormous passion did social service and helped poor and illiterate women around, her deeds give me endless motivation to do the best, an inspiration.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
My favorite places and spots in two countries, India and Austria. Whenever I am in India I generally visit lamakan cafe in banjara hills Hyderabad that conducts a lot of events and you get great tea (chai) and snacks. It’s a regular place to visit for entrepreneurs, writers, designers and creative artists. It’s the best hangout place to visit with friends and for meetings. Sometimes I go to movies at Prasads Imax or GVK mall. Historic and Heritage spots for eating famous Hyderabadi biryani, picnics, sketching and site visits are seven tombs of Golconda, Charminar in Hyderabad.
In Vienna, Austria my favourite places are parks (Türkenschanzpark, Schonbrunn and Stadtpark) for relaxing, sketching, jogging and writing. And for walks I go to Heritages sites Schwedenplatz, Stephansplatz, Donaukanal and also Donau River for amazing landscape and sometimes hiking near Wild park, Ottakring in woods for city view and fresh air.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My success credit goes to many people in four ways: personal, professional, friendly and haters. Personal is from family. There is saying for every successful man there is women and yes it’s true in my case too, its my mother Varalakshmi one who sacrificed many things and fights in life just for making my and family life better and big support from my younger brother Ketham Praveen Kumar who always plays devil’s advocate on my work, decisions and of course rest of my family who believes in me. Professionally my first mentor, Sumithra madam, Deli Babu from diploma in architecture who always said and believed I’m bound to succeed and will belong to a better place because of my creative work, Bachelors in Architecture my mentor Kishor Sir who believed in me. who’s words I still remember “make a key (solution) which can open any locker (problem)” and mentor Madhushan Sir, who made me think beyond the box in architecture, moral support when needed and his great guidance in making my master studies.
Special credit goes to professors Wolf Prix, Greg Lynn, Zaha Hadid, Hani Rashid, Sanford Kwinter for lectures, reviews and my mentor Prof. Hernan Diaz Alonso who’s guidance in masters in IoA Austria made me to international platforms and my current PhD research studies on climate crises, flooding cities, floating architecture support and guidance from my Prof. Marjan Colletti and grant from Dr. Ulrike Tanzer vice rector of research and 1669 University of Innsbruck. Last but not the least big thanks to my best friend Rudroj Ravi who always supports and to all my students and volunteers who made Thinking Hand NGO in empowering thousands of people by various events and my studio team Ketham’s Atelier Architects, Suliaman, Prudvi, Zebunisa, Yoganand, Tejaswini, Ali, Deepak and others. Finally, the biggest credit goes to people who are jealous and backstabbed me, who propagate negativity and been cynical about me and also who didn’t believe in me! My ideas, thoughts and decisions. Which made me think creatively, work more carefully and be stronger. All of the above are part of my life that made me who I am today and tomorrow with more people by commas to my success.
Ketham’s Atelier and Thinking Hand NGO Team.