Architecture

‘Benefits of design should percolate to the masses’

Nitin Killawala, Mumbai-based architect and director, Group Seven Architects and Planners Pvt Ltd, is vigorously campaigning for an integrated transport plan for Mumbai. Recipient of several national awards, including from the Indian Institute of Architects (IIA) and the Institute of Interior Designs (IID), he believes masses and slum-dwellers should benefit from newer infrastructure projects rather than left to fend off speculative real estate operators. Excerpts from interview:

WORDS: KOMAL RAO

As someone who has been associated closely with the Indian architecture sector for four decades, what are your views on its evolution, especially in Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata?
Every city grows progressively and it is the responsibility of both authorities and citizens to strive constantly for better quality of life. Although our cities have grown quantitatively in terms of population, infrastructure, wealth, education and technology, none of these components are qualitative. So the result is chaos, despair and deteriorating human values.

Do you see a gradual change for the better in terms of architectural standards, in our structures and buildings over the coming years, or will profits and finances overshadow such changes?
I do see some change for the better, but that is fragmented and happens not collectively but in isolation.

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That’s why we do not see the positive impact. One of the most important aspects is that of the housing sector which is totally neglected by successive governments.
This is evident in flawed housing policies. The entire housing industry is in the hands of private developers; hence it is speculative and profit-oriented. Gone are the days when MHADA, CIDCO and DDA used to hold even competitions for excellence in housing across all typologies such as HIG, MIG and LIG including large public spaces.

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Mumbai has been one of your focus areas and you have been vociferous in backing some projects and opposing others. Where do you see the metropolis headed for over the coming years in terms of the development of mega projects?
The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) is the richest local body (Rs42,000 crore in FDs alone) and the most corrupt public institution of the world. So Mumbai is a milking cow for any government and so long as it remains that way the city will continue to deteriorate.
All the chief ministers over the last two decades have had no concern for the city. Therefore, even though it is not a city-state (like Delhi, London, Singapore and New York) it should at least have its CEO to govern the city.

The situation now is so pathetic that we do not know who is the mayor of the city – when he’s appointed or removed, or even what he does?
We must realise that 90% of civil construction and building materials are consumed by infrastructure projects promoted by the government. The decision-makers for these projects are corporators and political parties across cities of India.
Many corporators are not even matriculates, lack basic civic sense and ethics. Unfortunately, they control infrastructure projects worth thousands of crores across the country.
The present government keeps on announcing populist projects such as the bullet train from Mumbai to Ahmedabad but the real lifeline of suburban rail work is neglected,

There are plans for coastal roads with huge costs, but they never improve potholed roads.

What are the challenges confronting the Indian architectural segment – too many complex laws, political interference, or financial issues?
I strongly advocate that in our architectural curriculum, we must have elective subjects like law, politics, finance and management because these streams will add tremendous value to the profession as well as society at large.
Look at the bizarre political decision to make a new capital complex of Amaravati on the lines of the sets of Bahubali. Or the ruthless demolition of architect Raj Rewal’s Hall of Nations and Industry at Pragati Maidan.

Due to rapid advancement in information technology and frequent cross–country travels even emerging cities are losing the sense of belonging. Look at Pune, Bengaluru and even Kochi and Guwahati – you do not find the uniqueness that was there about a decade ago, but there is bizarre urbanisation without any goals.

Bye-laws should be fine-tuned to adapt to new challenges, but our political sensibilities are so low that every government works for the next election, and real problems are never resolved.
I do not consider this as political interference but our helplessness because for a common person there are so many other issues on a daily basis that we have become immune to many important issues around us.

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What are the prospects for Indian cities over the coming years? Will authorities pay heed to the warnings of architects and urban planners?
Due to rapid advancement in information technology and frequent cross–country travels even emerging cities are losing the sense of belonging. Look at Pune, Bengaluru and even Kochi and Guwahati – you do not find the uniqueness that was there about a decade ago, but there is bizarre urbanisation without any goals. Today as architects/planners we do not have constitutional appointments in any local planning authorities. This is one more reason that architects must educate themselves beyond architecture to use their strength legally and politically.

You must often be interacting with architecture students learning. How different is this generation as compared to those from yours?
Yes, students are more intuitive than our contemporaries, naturally because of unprecedented access to information, which is very good. However, implementing in practice in today’s social scenario as well as competitive world is becoming tougher for the young generation.

You were part of the design team for the Dadasaheb Phalke Memorial, Nashik. Could you tell us about the design philosophy behind it?

The Dadasaheb Phalke Memorial is a very old project realised through an architectural competition sponsored by Nashik Municipality in 2001.

The main concept and execution was relentlessly carried out by our friend and mentor late Akhil Dadkar.

I am happy to see that such large public space is used by citizens and is one of the attractions in Nashik City, although the campus needs constant maintenance and upgradation.

Could you talk about some of the interesting projects that you – and your firm – executed in recent years in Indian cities?

All our projects are in India and we make an attempt to make it interesting, by implementing Indian ethos in a contemporary manner.
However, there are a few projects which keeps us on our toes like a few school campus in south Gujarat, a training institute for the Reserve Bank of India at Prabhadevi in Mumbai and a couple of R & D centres for the pharma industry.

Your own house is a very interesting design as far as layout and use of materials are concerned. Can you please tell us about its uniqueness?
Our newly built family residence is an outcome of nurturing ancestral

assets and make it work for future generations. We have been staying in this property for over five decades.
The rebuilt structure is totally in steel – MS columns, fabricated ‘I’ beams and galvanised deck sheets. The reason for this option, although not economical than conventional RCC frame, was mainly the time factor – small plot size in developed neighbourhood and exploiting technology in steel structures.
Moreover steel structures provide tremendous flexibility in planning and sleeker yet strengthy aesthetical feel. In short it’s a typical urban house to suit individual needs – not necessarily opulent but adaptable.

The government has taken up the ambitious smart city project. What according to you makes a city smart?
Everyone in government is talking about smart cities and in equal breath we say it is ‘hyped’. The present government is thriving on hope, which is not bad per se. But every time there is renewal of hope, we do not reach anywhere.
This is yet another item for propaganda like Vaastu, green / environmental friendly cities, sustainable living and so on. To me there is nothing like ‘smart’ cities.
Cities should have sense of belonging. They should be simple, interactive and promote democratic spaces for every local citizen and even visitors. Today the rich-poor gap is widening and could lead social unrest in future.

“An architect has to create meaningful spaces. The rest will follow”

CP Kukreja Architects (CPKA), founded in 1969, is today one of the most influential architectural practices in the country. With a highly-qualified and professional team of architects, urban planners, structural engineers, and surveyors, the New Delhi-based CPKA is a multi-disciplinary firm known for some of the most iconic buildings across the globe and for its commitment to design excellence, innovation, and sustainability.
We feature an extensive interview with Dikshu C. Kukreja, the highly-qualified architect, who is a gold medalist in B.Arch from the School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi; has an M.Arch degree in urban design from Harvard University; besides an MCOA from the AIIA. Excerpts:

WORDS: KOMAL RAO AND TILLANA DESAI

You have been conferred with several national and international awards. Could you please tell us about your journey that led to these accolades?

I have always felt that as an architect, all one can hope to do is to create meaningful spaces. The rest will follow. That has been our aim since when CP Kukreja Architects (CPKA) was established in 1969, almost five decades ago.
After winning the national competition for Jawaharlal Nehru University and rising to prominence, we made it our mission to contribute to the architectural field by designing buildings that respond to the complexities of the contextual urban fabric.
The journey has been nothing short of incredible, being given the opportunity to work on a variety of projects over the years, each posing a fresh challenge for us. To us, the fact that we have gained recognition and won awards for our work comes secondary to the way the built form interacts with its surroundings over time.
We try to gauge our success on the basis of a space’s functionality, aesthetic and sustainability.

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In the end, it is important for one to realise that no matter how many accolades a practice gets, it is temporal – here today and gone tomorrow. What remains is the longevity of architecture itself, and therefore architects are called to build with a responsibility towards society and generations to come.

CPKA is known for some of the most Iconic buildings across the globe and the commitment to design excellence, innovation and sustainability. What is your design philosophy?

At CPKA, we believe that design is a process and not the end product. It is a journey of discovery, innovation, evolution and eventually, creation. With each project, we aim to “read” and “respond” to the built and un-built contexts of the urban scape.

The most important exercise in the design process is to read the silent gestures of forms and spaces, to converse with the natural environment and then translate those gestures into architectural ensembles.

We refer to this as ‘Responsive Architecture’ – a philosophy which advocates architecture as a response to the various existing forces and systems like nature, climate, society, technology, economy and culture.

Our primary objective is to create architecture that is a collective of all these blended seamlessly into a physical manifestation with the existing geographical setting and, at the same time containing within itself a strong potential to live up to the future developments and urban standards.

Which of your buildings have been the most challenging to design?

Working on the pilot Transit Oriented Development (TOD) project alongside IDOM, UK in the capital city was by far the most challenging project we have ever undertaken. Delhi has become a victim of half-baked ideas, with no clear vision for the future of the city.
Development is spreading in both horizontal and vertical directions, and satellite towns are emerging alongside re-densification projects in the mother city.
The TOD policy drafted by Delhi Development Authority was a major breakthrough. Not only did TOD interlink the different parts of the expanding city, but it also emphasised the need for high density growth at the centres of such development, thus reconciling the two sides of Delhi’s city-shaping.

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East Delhi Hub in Karkardooma allowed us to interpret the TOD policy as a step towards a “Smart City.” We incorporated an “organic density” that introduces extensive vertical mixed-use development, which includes commercial, residential, medical and recreational facilities.
This ensured 24-hour activity at all points within the site, and thus promote safety by encouraging “eyes on the street.” In addition to this, we were able to maximise the un-built areas devoted to landscape through compact, high density planning, which would in turn serve as a vibrant public space, and include greens, plazas and multipurpose zones for cultural activities.
Vertical gardens, landscaped terraces and green facades were proposed as an attempt at providing “Greens for all.”

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East Delhi Hub’s design is based on a sustainable grid and building configuration which combines a sustainable orientation with the complex geometry of the site.

The result is a highly efficient radial hexagonal system that upholds “Smart Mobility”, “Smart Infrastructure” and “Smart Living”. We perceive this project as a definition of “Living, Organic Architecture” on real ground.

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The Gautam Buddha University at Noida was bestowed with the title of “Best Sustainable Campus” by BUILD 2016 Architecture Awards, London. Could you tell us about the design?

Gautam Buddha University was designed to underline the importance of a harmonious coexistence between man and his natural surroundings. Believing this relationship to be the key to fostering intellect, creativity and the dissemination of ideas, our aim was to create a “Centre of Learning” that embraces Mother Nature.

The very understanding and realisation of “Enlightenment” propagated by Gautam Buddha, the “Enlightened One,” and Buddhist teachings such as the Middle Path stress on the importance of a marriage between binaries like Dhatu (matter/solid) and Shunya (antimatter/void), existence and non-existence, Bhog (consumption) and Tyag (detachment) to maintain a balance that keeps the wheel of life turning.

The ratio and proportions of the image of the “Buddha in meditation” were considered to derive a rhythmically knitted pattern with strong connectivity, network and space organisation for the master plan of the 500-acre university campus.
For the main campus entrance, we created a dense forest to act as a visual and sound buffer. It creates a stark difference in environment, as the tranquility is a stark juxtaposition to the chaotic frenzy outside.
The academic and faculty blocks are arranged radially along the Central Promenade Axis, which culminates at the feet of a magnificent statue of Buddha himself.
A meditation centre, with its somber domed form echoes the architectural symbolism of the stupa. It was designed to visually tie the earth with the sky when viewed in the horizon. Features like water recycling through lakes and water bodies, natural lighting and ventilation, locally sourced materials and traditional elements like jaalis, chajjas and domes allowed us to further establish a strong link with the environment.

You have designed embassies for several nations. What is the thought process that goes behind designing such official buildings?

I think the challenge with designing any embassy or foreign mission is that the architect feels obliged to force an architectural vocabulary onto the structure irrespective of whether it works with the contextual influences or not.
Doubtless, it is important to reflect the cultural richness of the home state when designing foreign missions. Yet, the objective is not to portray this through mere cosmetic additions and alterations, but to achieve a tasteful amalgamation of styles.
Restraint plays an important role here. It is easy to be carried away with creating a beautiful building that blindly apes a foreign character and has no real relationship with its immediate surroundings, especially in terms of climate and geographical responsiveness.
However, the result of such a design exercise is always disastrous, because the built form is nothing more than an empty shell.

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As far as the creative liberty of an architect is concerned, clients are entitled to make their demands, and they must be respected. The wishes of the end user cannot be ignored. However, the architect has the creative liberty to interpret these demands and engage with the client in the envisioning of the final product.
The idea of translating a concept from paper to the ground is a romantic idea, but it is seldom that simple. There is, and should be,

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a constant dialogue and back and forth between the client and the designer. Only then can any design be approached in a holistic manner.

India is a country of disparity. While rural India is totally devoid of technology and development, urban India is rapidly expanding. How do you think this gap can be bridged?

The idea of translating a concept from paper to the ground is a romantic idea, but it is seldom that simple. There is, and should be, a constant dialogue and back and forth between the client and the designer. Only then can any design be approached in a holistic manner.

One of the harshest truths in India is that we have plenty of talented urban designers and urban planners, but the development of rural areas is left solely in the hands of policy makers.

Why should this be? Rural regions have their own complexities, just like an urban fabric would have. Yet, most of what we hear about any progress in these areas comes from government policies to safeguard the livelihood of the people here, be it switching to alternate sources of power, providing loans, etc.

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While this is crucial, we cannot deny that one of the major contributing factors for the mass exodus of people to cities is because they are in search of better lifestyles.
There is no real “designing” of rural spaces to address the needs of those who live here. Everyone has the right to contented living, and it is important for us to understand that while an agrarian society can do without us, we cannot do without an agrarian society.
The disparity between rural and urban India is appalling, and this gap can only be bridged with serious, dedicated research in “rural design”. From the very beginning, we need to work hand-in-hand with experts from a variety of disciplines such as agriculturists, economists, architects, designers and planners to create a well-rounded field that may one day even be taught as part of the curriculum in architectural schools.
Educating and creating awareness among the current and next generation of architects about this issue would be a concrete step towards ensuring action is taken to uplift the lives of rural dwellers.

When we look at architecture in India, it is heavily influenced by foreign styles. Is there any form which we can truly say is our own Indian identity?

It is very difficult to define what “Indian Architecture” really is. We have borrowed from so many influences over the history of the Indian subcontinent that the diverse religions, lifestyles and indeed, architecture of this country are the result of a cultural melting pot.
The very idea of finding our “true” style is therefore complex, because if we had to go back into our origins, we would have to revive the Indus Valley Civilisation, which predates the Colonial Era, Mughal Age and even the Aryan Invasion.

Perhaps it is time for us to abandon the argument of defining what is ‘Indian,’ learn to embrace our past as an integral part of who we are, and look to the future as we continue on this journey of evolution and re-evolution.
To me, the future of Indian architecture is not about imbibing an identity that is only skin deep. It is about architecture that is sensitive to the needs of its context – social, political, economic, and geographic.
It is about creating a meaningful dialogue between the tangible and intangible aspects of the built form, and giving up superfluity for spaces that have a true impact on its surroundings.

When you look at the current generation of architects, what difference do you see (if any) from the time that you were a fresher?

I have to admit that with three dimensional visualisation and photo realistic conceptual imagery, architecture has reached new heights on paper. Young architects have been trained to better convey their ideas to the layman through these tools, and this is definitely a positive step towards progress.
However, this cannot and does not replace the architect’s design intuition, which is something technology cannot provide. As far as talent goes, I believe the next generation possesses the same capabilities and potential that we did when we began in the profession. Yet, it is in the hands of these young, aspiring architects on how they choose to take the reins.

Could you share your views on the term “Smart City”?

The term “Smart Cities” is in vogue, and everyone is using it.

Yet, the very definition of a smart city is still to be comprehended to its fullest, even by experts. People from different educational and professional backgrounds would explain this concept in different ways.
It is therefore important to incorporate a multidisciplinary view to generate a more comprehensive outlook with regard to this.
To me, a smart city is one that is high on efficiency in every way. From sustainability and low carbon footprints, to the incorporation of technology to transit, every facet of the city is geared towards complete productivity.
While this is undoubtedly a daring ambition, and may indeed be merely a utopian concept, we can take smaller steps towards achieving this, and in the process create better city living.

Vaastu is an ancient science of space. How important and relevant do you think it is in today’s times?

Vaastu, as ancient as it may be, was based on the principles of science as we know it. It took into account geographical phenomena such as the movement of the sun and wind patterns.
Even though architecture in the 21st century may not necessarily use the term “vaastu”, it is based on similar principles of climatically responsive design. It is impressive to think that we still use the fundamentals from what was taught centuries ago.
Doubtless, the logic of any design should stem from a strong, scientific, methodical backing. I therefore am convinced that “vaastu” has a place and relevance everywhere, and must be encouraged as an integral part of the curriculum in architectural schools.

These 50 years have been beautiful

India’s leading architect and designer, Prem Nath enters his 50th year of operations in 2017. The fascinating individual recounts his remarkable journey over the past half a century and also talks about the state of architecture in India in an exclusive interview with Urban Vaastu.

WORDS: KOMAL RAO AND TILLANA DESAI

Your firm is celebrating its 50th year in 2017. I am sure it’s a very special journey that you have had. What are your thoughts?
We are very casual about it. We have no idea that ‘humepachaassaalhogayehainabhi’ (…that we have completed 50 years). We never did any special celebrations. We don’t believe in them. We are happy we completed 50 years that’s all. We are busy moving on.
But these 50 years have been beautiful. In the younger days, we could devote more time to designs and thinking. And that’s why we could possibly do quality work and better than other people.
Architecture was not so fast track. We had limited material. Knowledge was also gained by exploring magazines. We didn’t have internet or computers. We had hand drawings. It was a good journey. I’ve been sitting on this same desk for the last 45 years.

And we just don’t know how time has gone. We have done projects starting from homes, celebrity homes to interiors to all kinds of different buildings. We were lucky that we were able to do many things for the first time in the country.
India’s first data centre for Citi group, the first health spa for Golden Palms, the first multiplex and mall, the first gold-rated green township, the first platinum-rated campus architecture – many things first and many challenges.

LEARNING NEW THINGS
We tried to be hungry to always learn new things, new technology, trends and also about economics, market resources, designing and even builder’s business. At the turn of the century we got exposure to foreign companies coming to invest in India. We learnt of their challenges, demands, quality and expectations.

We were the first again to do a fast-track architecture for Morgan Stanley in Mumbai in designing, foundation – everything end to end in about eight months by American standards.
The entry of foreign companies saw expectations rise in India.
Today we are well-equipped, have an experienced team, people who are ready to take any new challenges. We are ahead of others and have taken a lead even in the area of smart cities.
While some architects wondered what smart cities were, we demonstrated what they should actually be.
We are now being consulted by different cities keen on putting up such projects.
We demarcate leadership, constantly try to learn and evolve and be ahead of others.
We are enjoying our 50th year.

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How realistic is the smart cities project?

India was way ahead of the times.
One of the finest examples of an ancient Indian Smart City is Mohenjo-Daro, the most developed city of Indus Valley Civilisation.
Many people today think a smart city is something hi-tech and plush as seen abroad.
But smart must be taken in the Indian context. India cannot afford the typical ‘smart city.’

There are just two smart cities in the world – New York and Tokyo. The idea of 100 ‘smart villages’ or towns is fine in India, but not smart cities. We need to think differently, we need resources, need to rethink our master plan to create jobs.

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SMART THINKING, SMART GOVERNANCE

Who are we developing the smart cities for? Eighty per cent of people still live in villages and only a few are tax-payers. What resources do we have to fund smart cities, each of which will cost about Rs50,000crore?
Before we take up smart city projects, we need smart thinking, smart governance and efficient work. Only if we have good infrastructure in our cities can we make them smart. We need to bring efficiency in our performance, especially in governance.

There are just two smart cities in the world – New York and Tokyo.
The idea of 100 ‘smart villages’ or towns is fine in India, but not smart cities.

We need to think differently, we need resources, need to rethink our master plan to create jobs.

How do you think these smart cities will make a difference Indian society?
My concept of smart is different from those of my contemporaries. As an architect, I feel the definition of smart should be:

• S – Simple: to understand, simple in planning, simple to approach and sustainable development
• M – Manageable: the development should be easy to manage and easy to maintain
• A – Affordable: The development should not be planned for the uber class only; it should allow occupants of all financial strata
• R – Resourceful: to be rich in resources like power, water, employment, wealth, profitability
• T – Technological: development is smart only when it is technologically savvy (yet affordable), wifi-enabled communication and superior transport superior

SIMPLE FOR CITIZENS
A city can only be called smart when it is simple and not complex for citizens. One need not learn to live in a smart city; in fact the city shall make the citizen feel smart, it should surely be a self-sustaining one, not very intricate; the city needs to be planned, dynamic but yet maintainable and should not go out-of-date.

Most importantly if the Smart City doesn’t end-up being a financially viable one, the entire idea behind the development may go for a toss.

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It needs to be affordable in development and to the citizens; it surely needs to be resourceful, if it is to survive through its lifetime, apart from being self-sufficient in terms of water, power and other basic needs.
It should be able to pull the crowd from outside to invest in it, should have its own employment, so that people can walk to work. Last but not the least, the Smart City shall be as smart as its technology – a wifi-enabled city, with ease of communication, transport and transactions. All this, shall ensure maintaining all aspects of the city as SMART.

Do you see the emergence of a younger generation of architects in India? Will they be able to take on the new challenges that will arise in the coming years?
What are the new challenges? Every generation has faced new challenges and has overcome it. Thus, I do not see any point of concern there. But having said that, yes, I see great potential in the new generation. In fact I see young designers as my competition.

And why not? When I was young, I was competition to the then stalwarts of the field.

It’s good to have a sense of healthy competition; it enables one to keep up to the standards.

Sometimes I learn from them and they get an edge over my designs, and sometimes it’s the other way around – so it’s great to keep remaining on the edge and sharpen ourselves.

This assures me that they surely shall be able to not only take up new challenges but overcome them too.

Golden Palms Resort at Bangalore was where I could design India’s first health spa and body rejuvenating resort.

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Do you think the government needs to improve the state of urban infrastructure in India? What measures should they undertake?
I feel there should be a clear vision from the government for the development of not just infrastructure but also architecture. The government, in fact, is the highest spender and by far, I may say, biggest developer in our country.

IMPROVING INFRASTRUCTURE
It needs to surely improve the state of infrastructure. I can happily say that the current administration is doing quite a bit of work on implementation of such projects. A city’s development shall begin with its infrastructure – if the roads are well built, water, power, communication is all available and are of dependable source then development shall take its own positive course.
Today architecture in India is driven by builder’s architecture. Residential, malls, offices – everything is being built by builders. What is the state doing? There are no public buildings or public facilities like libraries, museums, auditoriums, theatres coming up. Even schools and hospitals are built by private builders. The government is not making a contribution to that. The government needs to invest money in these things.

Secondly, the government should encourage architecture. When you look at other countries, they are very proud of their architecture. They say it is the face of the city. Architecture today is in a very bad state.
Norman Foster, the famous British architect said: ‘As an architect you design for the present, with an awareness of the past, for a future which is essentially unknown’. What is your take on this philosophy?

One designs through his knowledge and past experience – one design for the present, which is expected to last the future. My design philosophy is to keep it simple and as functional as possible with a touch of drama. My designs are non-acrobatic, yet smart in all senses. They are detailed to the grassroot level and that’s what makes them successful.

FUNCTIONAL DESIGNS
All designs need to be functional; if one designs something that is not functional, it may be known as art. Be it a home or an office, without functionality, it is useless. We must build keeping in mind that it must last for at least 100 years. Good for today and good for tomorrow.
Indian Hindu architecture, as far as temples are concerned, have some of the finest designs. Do you think we missed out from our own roots to implement those at present?

Our ancient architecture, Hindu architecture, which we call traditional architecture is mostly temples and palaces. Temples are the examples of structures that are over 2,000 years old.
They are not homes, they are monuments. Our ancient monuments like the architecture of the Mughals, including the TajMahal and Humayun’s Tomb were all made to last for generations to come.

They were built for worship. The craftsmen were passionate. That’s why those buildings have that life and feeling. In those times, there were only natural sources of light and ventilation.
The same can be said for European monuments and old churches amongst several others across the globe. New palaces were built during the colonial period by British architects who followed Hindu traditions in after carefully studying our architecture, nature, environment and the likes. We didn’t have Indian architects or artistes.
Apart from these temples, we really do not have any examples of Indian architecture. A few homes and havelis which were built by Maharajas in a few places are exceptions. There is no distinct architecture.
We can say British architecture has taught us Indian architecture.

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They were sensitive to the Indian context. They trained our masons and craftsmen. What is colonial architecture? They came, used local expertise and started building colonies, courtyards, verandas, high-ceiling rooms, thick walls and used stones.

Please tell us about the project that you admire most in India – both yours and of other architects
I admire Lotus Temple at Delhi, designed by architect FariborzSahba, for its beauty, it’s form and structure and it’s monumental value. I love the planning done by architect Edwin Lutyens in and around the Rajpath in Delhi, the India Gate, RashtrapatiBhavan and the landscaped pockets within.

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EXEMPLARY MASTER PLANNING

Similarly, I admire Chandigarh, designed by Le Corbusier, which is an exemplary piece of master planning; The Stock Exchange tower in Mumbai designed by architect Chandra Patel is also highly appreciated by me, for its iconic look and form.
As for my own work, the Green Residential Township for the HP Mittal Energy (HMEL) township at Bathinda is close to my heart for its outstanding performance in sustainability.
Similarly Vasant Valley School is a project that has won best Day School Award and is a uniquely designed educational project; Golden Palms Resort at Bangalore was where I could design India’s first health spa and body rejuvenating resort.

You have won a series of awards from lifetime achievement to many in the field of architecture and design. What inspires you to keep going and to whom do you attribute this success?

I work with passion and pretty hard. Awards are just incidental, they come by as an appreciation of my hard work.
Success is attributed to one’s own best performance.
Once a person puts in his best – be it best as in his passion or as his hard work – success is sure to come.

What message do you have for our readers?
Architecture is nothing but work that you do passionately.
Believe in excellence and love what you do.

POOR BACKGROUND

What inspired you to take up architecture?
I came from a poor background and have stayed at refugee camps.
I used to sell newspapers to support my education.
I have worked hard to become a self-made person. When I passed out of school, I could not find a good job because of social reasons.

I couldn’t become a clerk because my English was bad, nor a typist because my spellings were bad. I found a job as a blueprint employee in an engineer’s office.
During my spare time I would draw.
I was referred to a night school in Delhi but didn’t get admission. Then I went to Mumbai where I started studying architecture.
That’s when I realised it was one of the best professions.

You have done some detailed studies of Vaastu. Should it be a part of the curriculum for architecture students?
As per my research, there is no such thing as VaastuShashtra. Vaastu is not a science it is the knowledge of ancient Indian architecture. Vastu is environment architecture.
An architect is expected to design all projects on the basis of the environment, orientation, the Sun’s path, and social and commercial aspects.
An architect is known as Vaastukar in India, which implies that one who deals with Vaastu is an architect.

BANDRA-WORLI SEALINK A blessing for Mumbai motorists

The Bandra-Worli sealink provides relief to thousands of motorists in India’s financial and commercial capital, cutting down their travel time from the heart of the city to the distant suburbs

WORDS: N B RAO

It was one of the most memorable evenings for this writer, a longtime resident of Mumbai, who found himself atop a pylon tower, soaring 420-ft over the Arabian Sea a few years ago, and watching the city and the suburbs to the north and east.

For years, one had heard of an ambitious 30-km-long Western Freeway, which would link Mumbai’s western suburbs from Kandivali to Marine Drive, enabling quick movement of traffic. Unfortunately, successive governments simply ignored the project – as most infrastructure projects in Mumbai get waylaid by the authorities – until good fortune dawned on India’s financial and commercial capital.

On that summer evening in 2009, a group of journalists were taken to the top of the tower by the developer of the six-km-long, cable-stayed bridge, and were proudly presented with the most important road project taken up in the metropolis in recent decades.
From the top of the tower, one could see the entire Bandra-Worli coastline, including the skyscrapers that were rapidly coming up in central Mumbai. Fishing boats, which usually operated out of Bandra and Mahim, were unfortunately on the decline and fisherfolk who in the past would sail out in the evenings, appeared missing. Since the new bridge would handle thousands of vehicles daily,

security had been beefed up along the six-km-long route and restrictions had been imposed on the movement of fishing boats.

Mahim, located next to Bandra, was one of the seven islands that originally made up Bombay. (The other islands included Worli, Parel, Mazagaon, Isle of Bombay, Little Colaba, or Old Woman’s Island, and Colaba). Mahim was the capital of a king who ruled over the islands in the 13th century.

AMBITIOUS PROJECT
The Bandra-WorliSealink is the first phase of the ambitious Western Freeway, which would hopefully reduce pressure on the city’s roads.

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Last month, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), unveiled the ambitious project (now renamed the Mumbai Coastal road project), which it expects to become operational in a mere four years.
The freeway will link Kandivali to Marine Drive, through the Bandra-WorliSealink. The central government has given the environment clearance for the proposed eight-lane freeway, which will link Mumbai’s Princess Street flyover at Marine Lines to the sealink in the 10-km-long first phase.
The first phase, estimated to cost about Rs70 billion, will include a 3.4-km-long undersea tunnel. The second phase, of 20-km, will link Bandra to Kandivali through another sealink. There will be a dozen interconnections to the city along the 30-km-long route. The total cost of the project is estimated at Rs150 billion.
The Bandra-Worlisealink is today one of the busiest arteries in the metropolis, and more than 35,000 vehicles use it daily. Motorists have to pay a one-way toll of Rs60 (or a two-way toll of Rs90) for every ride.
The Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC), which is in-charge of the sealink, wants to continue collecting toll from motorists for another four decades.

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HIGH TOLL RATES
But motorists in Mumbai do not mind paying the relatively high toll rates, as the sealink cuts down their travel time by more than half. Travelling on the relatively narrow and over-crowded traditional route from Bandra to Worli can take up to an hour during the morning or evening peak rush period, especially on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays, when hundreds of thousands of believers gather outside the Siddhivinayak temple at Worli, the St Michael’s Church at Mahim, or the Mahim mosque respectively.

Of course, considering that Mumbai has limited scope to expand its roadways, even the freeway gets choked with traffic during the peak hours and is unable to provide relief to motorists, especially those heading to the airport from the city.
The Bandra-Worlisealink (and even the Kandivali-Marine Drive link) should have become operational in the 1960s or 1970s. Political and bureaucratic delays have frozen infrastructure development in Mumbai for several years, causing untold problems for motorists and bus commuters in the metropolis.

SYDNEY Harbour Bridge An iconic structure

The Sydney Harbour Bridge has emerged as one of the most popular attractions for tourists to the fascinating city in Australia. The historic bridge draws in thousands of visitors from around the world every day

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‘Jaane kyun log pyaar karte hain?’ sang Aamir Khan as he pursued pretty Preity Zinta on the bridge in the film ‘Dil Chahta Hai.’ ‘Telephone dhun mein hasne waali,’ crooned Kamal Hassan as he danced with Manisha Koirala on the bridge in the film ‘Hindustani.’

For many Indian moviegoers, the Sydney Harbour Bridge has emerged as the symbol of love and passion, as leading actors danced on it over the years in films, wooing their women and passionately beseeching them to be their lifelong partners.

Not surprisingly, virtually all tours to Australia from India feature the Sydney Harbor Bridge as a landmark place to be visited under all circumstances. Tourists can drive in cars or go in buses, travel by train, or even walk across the length of the 1.15 km-long bridge.

Australia’s most famous – and most photographed – landmark soars about 135 m above the harbour and connects the city’s central business district with the North Shore suburb. Dubbed ‘Coathanger’ by locals (because of its arch-based design), the bridge is traversed by more than 200,000 cars every day.

The bridge has eight lanes of traffic and two rail lines.

About 5,000 cyclists pedal on the bridge every day, but they have to carry their bikes up and down 55 stairs. The New South Wales government recently decided to build a new, $35 million ramp and upgrade a second one to ease conditions for cyclists.

Of course, besides travelling in cars, buses, cycles, or walking alongside the bridge, one can also hover over the world’s tallest steel arch bridge in a helicopter or view it from a ferry below. While walking on the world-famous bridge, one can also admire the renowned Sydney Opera House, or just admire the sunset.

The iconic structure can also be climbed by tourists; BridgeClimb Sydney – set up in 1998 – enables more than three million visitors to climb halfway to the bridge summit.

Plans to construct a bridge connecting the northern and southern parts of the harbour, were first mooted in Sydney as early as 1815. But even after a century, the proposal was not accepted and the bridge failed to materialise.

It was only in 1924 that construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge began; eight years later, it was finally inaugurated.

Over the years, enterprising people have tried experiments with the bridge.

In the 1940s, for instance, a few pilots flew their aircraft under the bridge, demonstrating their flying skills.

In the early years, trams ran on the bridge; these were scrapped after authorities decided to scrap the tram system all over the city.

Fascinating Sydney is a place that should figure in your global list of cities that you need to visit at least once in your lifetime.

As actor, film producer and musician, Russel Crowe remarked: “The best things about Sydney are free: the sunshine’s free, and the harbour’s free, and the beach is free.”

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FASCINATING SYDNEY
THE ‘Coathanger’ is one of the most famous structures in the city, but Sydney, Australia’s largest urban conglomerate, is home to multiple options for tourists.
The city has a six-km-long walking track that takes you across scenic beaches including the famous Bondi, Tamarama, Clovelly and Coogee. If you’re in the city in October and November, don’t forget to visit ‘Sculpture by the sea,’ the world’s largest free-to-the-public sculpture exhibition.
The two-km-long coastal walk is a sculpture park featuring over a hundred sculptures by famous artists from Australi and other parts of the world. More than half a million visitors turn up during the festival.
The Taronga zoo has more than 4,000 exotic and native species of animals including gorillas, tigers, leopards, chimpanzees, giraffes, Australian sea lions, kangaroos and koalas. It also features 60, high-rope challenges over four courses, including zip-lines, rope climbs and suspended bridges.
The Sydney Opera House, a masterpiece of 20th-century architecture in Circular Quay hosts more than 40 performances each week.
The Australian city also has many award-winning and innovative restaurants that offer a fascinating range of food and drinks.
The more adventurous can ride the ferry to Manly, renowned for surf breaks, scenic walks and laidback cafés. Tourists can also spend a night on Cockatoo Island, in the middle of Sydney Harbour, and wake up to one of the world’s greatest views.
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‘For the first time all are talking about cities, housing, low-income homes’

He heads one of India’s largest architectural firms, employing more than 550 including architects, urban and town planners, interior designers, landscape artists, civil engineers, CAD operators and 3D and graphic designers.
Architect Hafeez Contractor (AHC), India’s leading architectural design consultancy, and headed by Contractor, has to its credit over 2,500 clients and 7.2 billion sq ft of ongoing projects in 100 cities across five countries.
Contractor completed his architectural studies from the Academy of Architecture in Mumbai and graduated from Columbia University in New York.
Speaking to Urban Vaastu, he opens up on why vaastu after all is so important

By KOMAL RAO AND TILLANA DESAI

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Have we paid any attention to our cities since Independence? Our main focus was to grow food, build dams, roads, and railways, supply water to villages and electricity.

Then came the rush for telephones.

It is just over the last less than a decade that cities have come into focus and especially after the current BJP-led government came to power.

Today everyone has realised that a huge mass of people are heading towards cities from villages.

So now for the first time everybody is talking about cities, housing and low income group housing.

The government also has surplus funds, so it can start investing in housing. In the past, there was shortage of funding and there were so many other priorities.

Just think about what Delhi was 20 years back? There were few buses and taxis, hardly any restaurants. In the last few years everything has changed. What was Hyderabad? Twenty years back it was like road number 1 and road number 2 and the whole story ended. Today there are 180 km of ring roads and the roads are as good as anywhere in the world. It’s completely transformed.

Another thing which one should understand is when our cities were built the government was not increasing FSI.

It was thought that FSI was a tool for people to make money.

And they thought that builders are making a lot of money.

Yes, they are definitely making a lot of money because when things get restricted somebody gets a favour, he earns a lot of money.

And that’s how they kept on curbing FSI. By doing so, they did not think it in a larger frame.

They just thought the builder is making a profit. But when there is a famine, there are so many people wanting houses that they never thought of that.

They just saw one guy making money so let us not increase FSI.

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We haven’t done anything for so many years and suddenly the influx is coming. Now what are our cities going to do? Because what they did not do for so many years they have to do it overnight. And that is not possible.

BIG INFLUX INTO CITIES

Our cities are going to have a big influx of people for which there is no appropriate housing. Every city is going to be full of slums. That is a bigger problem. You are talking about growth, I am talking about what the future is going to be.

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Now where are all these people going to stay? This is one part. Now we are making new laws and suddenly taxes in urban areas are being increased. Civic bodies also want to earn from additional FSI. The result – housing, which is needed at an economical rate will become more expensive.

In the olden days, we never increased the FSI so housing costs went up. It’s like you want to eat two rotis, but are given only half. You will be hungry and will be willing to pay any price to anyone who is giving you more rotis.

For something that costs four annas, you are willing to pay four rupees. This is the way housing prices have risen all over India.

The backlog is already high. Now the municipalities are increasing FSI but they have also become like businessmen because as every civic body wants to make more money.

Housing which was expensive has become even more dearer.

RAISING ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES

Another issue is that suddenly everything is related to the environment. It’s a good word, but how are you using it? Cities have development plans (DPs) and builders have to submit plans to the authorities for environmental approval.

But there are no permanent environmental committees – they are there for just six months. Just imagine the backlog. I do not know why we have created such problems. Why have environmental committees for cites? If I want to develop 100 acres near Panvel by the side of a nice river, then approval from such committees makes sense.

But in Mumbai, where there are plenty of buildings, if I want to replace an old mill, where is the question of getting an environmental clearance.

I feel we are going through difficult times.

Everyone is changing laws in cities. Some say all laws are rubbish and we have to change them. It makes sense to change laws that are not appropriate, but why change all? When laws are scrapped, the new ones would take months to be ready.

So there will be delays and projects get stuck.

This has been happening in Mumbai for the past four years. Just imagine what will be the fate of builders who have bought large plots, gone in for borrowings and are paying hefty interest rates.

HOMES FOR ALL

A person who migrates from a village to a city like Mumbai can afford to pay less than a million rupees for a flat.

But in Mumbai you won’t get anything for that price. It is not that such cheap homes cannot be built in the city.

I have a scheme where homes in Mumbai can be built for between ₹500,000 and ₹1 million, provided the government has the will to implement the plan. But in the present scenario it cannot happen.

Why are only roads and railways considered as infrastructure, why not housing, which is a much bigger infrastructure.

The government acquires land for roads and charges tolls.

Why can’t land be acquired for housing? The government can construct homes and give it to the poor at affordable rates.

Ahmedabad, where the Sabarmati riverfront was developed, has been a different case. It was the pet project of Narendra Modi. If you have somebody like him heading all the states, India will become a different country. Unfortunately, we have just one Mr Modi and now he is in Delhi.
We need a very powerful person to do all these things; then everything is possible in India.

BUILDING HOMES FOR THE POOR

The major problem is that that there are huge slums in Indian cities. A lot of cities do not have rules to ensure construction of small houses for the poor.

Noida, for instance, is an altogether different world. I cannot build 300 sq ft houses; the minimum number of units in an acre does not allow such homes to be built.

I have time and again said that the government should not give free homes to ministers and bureaucrats and many have felt bad because of my statements. But they do not know how difficult it is for an individual to buy a home.

When a bureaucrat is transferred and allotted a home, he pays low rents for the house. And when he retires, he is allotted a house in a society.
Mr Modi has done a very good thing by removing red lights from the vehicles of most top people. Roads will improve now as the ‘VIPs’ will realise how difficult it is to travel from one part of a city to the other.

When I plan to take a flight, I have to plan my journey to the airport hours in advance. A minister will reach the airport in minutes.

Every student must learn Vaastu, which has to be taught the right way. I studied Vaastu in 1976 or 1977. I studied the offices of people who were doing well, and they were designed as per Vaastu rules.

EMPLOYMENT POTENTIAL

It is necessary to provide hype by using words like ‘smart’ or ‘digital.’ People come to cities in search of jobs.

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A smart city without employment potential won’t make any sense. A lot of infrastructure will be developed when a large number of people are employed at smart cities.

There will be an abundant supply of electricity, many roads and railway lines at these smart cities, but the most important thing to be considered is: where is the water?

It is important to identify where water is available in abundance in India.

With the population increasing, it is important to ensure there is abundant availability of water. I would plan smart cities in places with a lot of water.

A few smart cities with a large population will ensure mass transit and jobs. There are a few mega cities where there is abundant availability of water and electricity and fantastic infrastructure can be created. For instance, both in Bhubaneshwar and Patna there is a lot of land and water, but they remain untapped.

Ahmedabad too has water now because Mr Modi brought it from the Narmada river.

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Land is the most precious commodity, but misusing it and constructing a building and calling it green is not correct. As India’s population increases, there is more wastage of land.

RAISE FLOOR SPACE INDEX

When Manohar Joshi was the chief minister of Maharashtra, I told him to raise the FSI to 8 to eradicate slums in Mumbai.

He was shocked. For a family with four kids, you need at least four beds in the house.

The real issue is how cities are going to be developed. The future is in having layered cities.
Our population is young and increasing. We have to think about how we are going to make smart and green cities, how we are going to preserve land so there is enough water and food and to keep the surface of the earth greener and to prevent global warming.

India did not have big cities in the past, but there were many small villages. In the past, all houses had courtyards. Now they say place the kitchen in the south-east or north-west. Why? To stop houses catching fire due to winds from the north-east.

But now bedrooms have air-conditioners. Vaastu rules were formulated when there were no multiple floors, no lifts, etc. But it is now getting commercialised.

STUDENTS MUST LEARN VAASTU

Every student must learn Vaastu, which has to be taught the right way. I studied Vaastu in 1976 or 1977. I studied the offices of people who were doing well, and they were designed as per Vaastu rules.

I feel we are at a crossroad. So many new methods and materials are entering the sector. In the olden days your grandparents might have been rich, but had just one bedroom. Today, we need to have master bedrooms.

When I was young I never had a room to myself. Today, children need their own rooms – bedrooms, computer rooms, music rooms.

You have to think about the mess we are creating, the forests that we are destroying. We need new construction material. How much mess are we creating? How many forests are we destroying? We need new material to construct.

You will need air, water everything that you have to preserve. And look at the Earth’s population – it has increased so much in the last so many years. Where will we be going in the next 50 years? Where are the resources?

Architecture could be the biggest profession to build and make new habitation or there will be no profession and it will be taken over by completely mechanical ways.

You may have water coming to your home through antennas on your roofs and there won’t be anything like piping. Electricity too could become wireless. You could fly into Mumbai from Matheran in your car. Only the rich will be able to stay on land as everyone else will be living in the air.

Somebody will invent or discover a new gas by which heavy things can be uplifted. Imagine the kind of city with great views.