A chat with the award-winning American-Indian architect reveals a life impacted by multiple layers and eclectic influences, much like a work of art.
This is the story of a little boy, who would often skip school to feed his appetite for adventure by cycling around, playing on Florida’s beaches, venturing into jungles, riding out into springs and canoeing in lakes. He was an active participant, along with his sister, in the American civil rights movement in his youth.
Born in Hamilton, Ohio, in 1942, he grew up in Gainesville, Florida, surrounded by books and music and artists and the intellectual community. An MIT and Harvard graduate, he visited India on a Fulbright scholarship in 1968 only to return in 1971 for the pure adventure of it all. Since 1976, he has made Pune his home and is totally imbued in the Indian cultural scene.
All along he has honed his sensibilities in the social, cultural and political fabric of the places he has visited. His travels to Medellin, for example, have given him a tremendous viewpoint that, very often, there is another life apart from one that affluent people enjoy living in the ‘first city’.
The internationally-recognised, award-winning architect likens his perspective of architecture and urban planning to the strategic process of solving a puzzle. As a rightful icon in his field, his repertoire spans, but is not limited to, educational campuses, townships for low-income households and a host of Buddhist centres in India and Bhutan. His body of work is the product of a certain curiosity of the human condition and the desire to create a new culture for learning.
Incidentally, home for the architect is just a few feet away from his practice, where his team of 50 deals with demanding clients and complicated projects. Ar. Benninger’s preference for perfection in drawings, and otherwise, might be equated with an exacting nature. But those in the know speak of him as an easy-going man. When asked, he’ll readily admit to using a touch of sarcasm to express his annoyances rather than being outright angry.
How, then, does this erudite architect spend his leisurely time? His decidedly wry sense of humour kicks in when he explains that unwinding is a necessity for people who are wound up. Instead, he bides his time well, swimming in his lap pool, listening to Indian classical music, and reading about history and occasionally immersing himself in the world of fiction. Most evenings are spent entertaining friends at home with his partner of 25 years, Ramprasad, while weekends are spent with his son, Siddharth, who visits often.
Although he is a well-travelled man —his work has taken him places and he enjoys spending time with friends in Paris and Tuscany — he believes that one can never see everything. Someday, he hopes to explore Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and parts of Africa.
For now, having lived in India for over 40 years, it’s safe to say that the country and its myriad traditions have rubbed off on him. He enjoys eating Indian food and wearing kurtas, and, on the sprawling grounds of India House, one notices that his home is inspired by the traditional Maharashtrian wada with a courtyard. The more time we spend with the architect, the more we begin to believe that his personality and creative bent of mind is a product of the layering of one culture upon another. Benninger is living the truest version of himself or, as he puts it, abiding by ‘Veritas’, the philosophy of his alma mater Harvard University.
Interview & Editor-in-chief: Savitha Hira
Text: Beverly Pereira
Videography: Bhim Sharma & Robi Mehra
Video Editing: Tajammul Khot & Bhim Sharma
Sound Engineer: Neal Shenai
Music Funny Song from Bensound.com.
Social Media: Avinash Yadav
Concept & Creative Direction: Lalit Hira