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.


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.

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.


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.



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

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.


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.


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.

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.

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.


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.



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.


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


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.

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


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.


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


‘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.”

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.

‘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



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.

San Francisco – Golden Bridge- ‘Resplendent in the western sun’

The Golden Gate Bridge, which spans between the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean, linking the charming city to Marin County, is a remarkable structure that not only provides a key link to motorists, but attracts thousands of citizens and tourists every day

By N.B. Rao


IT features in the Seven Wonders of the World compiled by the American Society of Civil Engineers. The Golden Gate Bridge of San Francisco in the US is considered to be one of the seven wonders of the modern world.(For those interested in knowing the six other wonders, here goes the list: Channel Tunnel between the UK and France; CN Tower in Toronto; Empire State Building in New York; Itaipu Dam between Brazil and Paraguay; Delta Works in the Netherlands; and Panama Canal).

Joseph P. Strauss, who was not only the chief engineer involved in the construction of the bridge, but also wrote three poems relating to his favourite project, put it beautifully in The Mighty Task is Done:

“At last the mighty task is done; Resplendent in the western sun The Bridge looms mountain high; Its titan piers grip ocean floor, Its great steel arms link shore with shore, Its towers pierce the sky.”

Suicide point
Of course, wonderful though the bridge might be, it has also attracted hundreds of people who took their lives jumping off it. Krista Tippett, the American author, referred to the bridge as “a suicide magnet.”

In fact, according to estimates, it is second most ‘deadly’ bridge used by people to commit suicide. At the top is the Nanjing Yangtze river bridge in China, which has seen more than 2,000 people jumping to their death between 1968 and 2006; in San Francisco, about 1,600 people killed themselves between 1937 (when it was ready) and 2012, hopping off golden Gate.


But the authorities have now taken measures to prevent people from jumping from the bridge. A suicide deterrent system in the form of a fence is being constructed along sections of the bridge sidewalk.

The suicide deterrent system consists of a hard, stainless steel mesh platform spanning the entire length of the bridge on both sides.

It will be located 20 feet below the bridge and extend another 20 ft outside. Fortunately, the deterrent system will not block the view of motorists, pedestrians or bicyclists.

The bridge was built at a cost of $35 million (plus another nearly $40 million by way of interest).

About a dozen workers lost their lives while constructing it in the 1930s.

The proposal to construct the bridge was first mooted way back in 1872, but as in the case of most such ambitious projects, it was vehemently protested by thousands of people.

In the 1920s and 1930s, plans were once again revived, but there was massive opposition. In fact, in 1930, there were more than 2,300 lawsuits opposing the construction of the bridge.

Lawsuits against the bridge
One of the lawsuits was initiated by a railroad company which also operated ferries transporting cars between San Francisco and Marin County and was vehemently opposed to the bridge, which would destroy its services.

Strauss, who had submitted plans for a much cheaper bridge (bringing down the cost from more than $100 million to between $25 million and $35 million) finally won the award in 1933.

The single suspension span was anchored by two towers soaring 750 ft high; the suspended roadway was backed by cables running 7,000 ft in length and containing 80,000 miles of wire stretch over the top of the two towers.

Considering the fact that San Francisco is located in an earthquake prone zone, questions about strengthening the bridge always crop up. The worst quake happened in San Francisco in 1906, when 3,000 people were killed after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake rocked the city.

In 1989, a 6.9-magnitude earthquake struck the city, damaging nearly 30,000 structures. The next big earthquake could rock the city anytime between now and 2038 and there’s a 99.7 per cent chance that it could be worse than the 1989 quake.

Golden Gate Bridge officials are now seismically strengthening the central portion of the bridge, after work on the northern and southern approach was completed recently.

The final phase of strengthening the bridge and preventing major damages from quakes is also an expensive proposition; it is estimated to cost nearly $500 million.

Priya David Clemens, a spokesperson for the Golden Gate Bridge District – who was born in Chennai and later moved to America with her parents – admits the bridge won’t collapse in a big earthquake, but there could be significant damage.

Interestingly, the Bandra-Worli sealink, a nearly 6 km long bridge linking the two Mumbai areas over the Bandra creek, is often compared to the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge.

Of course, the Mumbai bridge also underwent a lot of delays and opposition before it became a reality in 2009.

In San Francisco though, hundreds of pedestrians, including those using bicycles and even wheelchairs, travel on the bridge during daytime.

Green projects will save money

Renowned, Vadodara-based architect Karan Grover is passionate about his profession and sustainable architecture. An interview with the famous, award-winning architect and activist designer

By Komal Rao & Tillana Desai

How is the green architectural segment faring in India? Are Indian architects, builders and developers keen on promoting ‘Green Architecture’?

Let me say that it is quite new comparatively. I was the first architect in the world in 2003 to win the US Green Building Council’s (USGBC) “Platinum” Award for the greenest building in the world and it was one of the reasons of the creation of the India Green Building Council (IGBC).

The council was brought together by businessmen led by Jamshyd Godrej and the movement is picking up, but I think slowly; and the reason for this is lack of awareness and building materials.

To build green, you must have elements in the building process and materials which are green. There is no point me building a simple green building and having door handles and locks and window mechanisms which require enormous amounts of energy to make.

This is called embedded energy and we have to reduce that. India is yet to make a major headway in this area. I have now started promoting Green Architecture. I used to go all around the world talking about the importance of green sustainability and saving resources.


Saves money

Everyone used to listen patiently and it was a very moving argument, but it did not have the effect I wanted it to. Recently, I changed the complete tactic and began focusing on the fact that all this ultimately saves you money.

I was making a presentation for Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar and in my first slide I mentioned that these measures could save Rs48 crore. He looked towards his cabinet colleagues and then told me to go ahead and implement the project. There was no need for me to make the remaining presentations with 192 slides.

I have now concluded that executing green projects will save money and will be a big incentive for builders.

I explain to developers that when you put up a green building you have to tell all that it may be slightly more expensive (by about five per cent), but the cost would be recovered in two years. And over the next 60 years, about 60 per cent of energy costs could be saved.

You have to make your environment as less dependent on energy as possible. The biggest boost for green architecture is not emotional, but about saving money and that is a language which everyone understands.

Could you tell us about the student’s green movement which you launched about four years ago and hoped to reach out to over 10,000 architecture students and convince them to develop green structures?

It seems to be a one-man battle because students appear to have been completely won over.

I speak 15 times a year to 5,000 people in different cities of which 60% are students.

They are thrilled. They come and say they want to only do Green Architecture. But the fact is that they are not supported in college.


It’s not in the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) syllabus, so I am now fighting with the nodal agency which controls architectural courses.

When I was studying in the early 1970s, the textbooks prescribed to us were printed in 1903. And I had to go to Bombay on behalf of my class to get them from an antique shop. We were studying architecture that was more than six decades behind our times.

Passion to fight

Isn’t this ridiculous? The point is our education system has not caught up. Students see logic, the younger you are, the more open to common sense you are. The moment you start getting older, you start conforming. Then the passion to fight is lost. I still have the passion to fight. I am 65 but mentally I am 30.

I feel every student feels passionately about these things. This passion is not respected or appreciated or encouraged in college.

And that is my problem. Unless AICTE makes it mandatory to have this as a course it is never going to happen.

I just got the first ever award for ‘Sustainable Architecture’. Had this kind of an award been introduced earlier, a lot of other people would have wanted to win it. We are 15 years too late.


What are the projects that you are currently working on? Are they based only in Vadodara and Gujarat or do you also plan to take up projects across the country and abroad?

As a policy, I never take up projects abroad. I have been in practice for 45 years and I have always maintained this is my country and this is where I will work. But never only in Vadodara! It’s funny how we started in Vadodara, but never did any work here.

Magical architects

Which is your favourite structure?

It is impossible to say. I have never thought of it. But there are many and inspired differently. Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain; the Frank Lloyd Wright building housing the Guggenheim Museum in New York; and the works of eminent architects including Nari Gandhi and Laurie Baker.

These people had a magic, a philosophy, they worked with different material.

The Titanium that Gehry uses is a difficult material, and the magic which Baker brings in brick, a limited material.

Somebody like Wright did those houses that were connected to nature. I don’t like concrete… it is absolutely wrong for India to use it

Today we are about 75% in the rest of the country and 25% in Vadodara. We are doing new legislature buildings in Raipur, Bangalore, Chennai and Patna and did the one in Goa as well. We concentrate on the architecture of the place. Our architecture reflects that of the region we are building in.

We merge our buildings with the architecture of the place we are working in. You will never say ‘That’s a Karan Grover building.’ You will say ‘That’s a building from Raipur or Patna or Bangalore. Who’s the architect?’ I don’t copy architecture, I reinterpret it.


What is a smart city and where do you see India in 2020?

I think it’s the wrong use of the word ‘smart’. You can be a smart person you can have a smart car or a smart office… you can’t have a smart city. A city is much more than a single entity. There are people, human values, emotions… it is ridiculous to call it smart. You are trying to be smart by calling it smart. A city is emotions, feelings, tradition, customs, history. History is not smart, history is history.

And then there are people who want to bring in heritage in ‘smart’ cities. What is smart about heritage? Everything must now fit into ‘smart’. I feel a city is too big, too complex, too human, too humane to be labelled smart. Smart is an inanimate object.


Champaner-Pavagarh project

You have campaigned for the Champaner–Pavagarh project. What’s the current status?

We have been able to put it on the UNESCO World Heritage map. We are now trying to get funding to individually restore the building. There are about 115 buildings above the ground and foundations of about 4,000 buildings below the ground.

I had decided to give 30 years of my life to this. When I was 23, a professor of archaeology (Arun Mehta), who happened to meet me in Baroda, took me to Champaner. One day he said: ‘I want to give it to you’. I said: ‘It’s not yours to give, nor mine to take… it’s a 2,000-year-old buried city!’

One night he told me to shake his hand and give him 30 years of my life and come the next morning to ‘take Champaner’. When I went to his house next day, he had passed away. There was a huge black trunk with my name on it. It contained all his 3,000 drawings of Champaner and his 30 years of work.

So I promised to give 30 years and worked religiously for it. It is now the only World Heritage Site where an individual has campaigned in UNESCO. The then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee made me the Indian Ambassador to UNESCO for 10 days. I went to China to present the project and we won.

Green Building revolution

You are seen as one of the pioneers of the Green Building revolution in India thanks to many of your achievements, including the development of the Sohrabji Green Business Centre in Hyderabad, the first structure in the world to receive LEED platinum rating from the US Green Building Council. What motivated you to undertake these challenging assignments?

I didn’t see them as challenging assignments. I saw them as my work. I started working based on traditions and my understanding of Champaner. So I saw ‘jaalis’ in Champaner which would keep the building cool. I then introduced ‘jaalis’.


I was really not doing anything challenging, anything great. I was just doing my own thing sitting here in Baroda. And then, President Bill Clinton came to India in 2000 and we had this conference in Hyderabad where I spoke on this interpretation of tradition and showed all my work. He came up to me and asked me why I did not bid for the US Platinum award.

Innocently and without any pressure, we went ahead and we won it. There were 7,000 people when they announced this.

You are so attached to Indian roots, culture and architecture. So do you believe in the ancient science of Vaastu?

Vaastu is common sense. For example, the kitchen cannot be in the south west. That’s a wind direction in India and the whole house will be smelling of food. In the beginning when I did not know Vaastu, clients were very happy with the designs. When they showed it to their Vaastu consultants they could add nothing to them. It was sheer common sense.

If I give you the example of my house; my bedroom is built in the opposite direction of the wind. So it gets super-hot and is heavily dependent on the AC as compared to the children’s bedroom in the wind direction which is cooler.

Many architects feel that technology is the answer. It’s funny because then you have no proximity to natural climate and the environments. What we do in our architecture is that we work with the climate and the environment. You must work with the land, the culture, climate, tradition and you have a great building.

In one of my projects, we had an incredibly tiny plot in Juhu. We made this little garden at the back. Then I built a veranda in front of it and then I built two open kitchens in the veranda with bricks and all. It completely changed their eating habits. They started sitting outside in the garden and having their meal. And I am talking about Mumbai. The way you build the house completely changes your lifestyle. And that is nothing but Vaastu.


First to win USGBC ‘Platinum’ Award


Karan Grover and Associates, established in 1985, has emerged into a multi-disciplinary organization with the best associate consulting teams for all the services, which is seen as an integral part of architectural design activity. After being flooded out of their basement office in 2006, they have moved to the topmost floor of a building in Baroda on the banks of a tiny brown nala – the famous Vishwamitri River set amidst 1000 acres of green; with 100 crocodiles which sun themselves every morning near the office car parking.

Karan Grover has enthused children in conservation and been nominated as a “Social Entrepreneur” Fellow of the Ashoka Foundation, Washington in 2004. He won India’s nominations for UNESCO’s World Heritage Site status for Champaner-Pavagadh in 2004, after a 22-year old campaign. In 2004, Grover became the first architect in the world to win the USGBC “Platinum” Award for the greenest building in the world – The “CII–Sohrabji Godrej Green Business Centre”. He also won his second Platinum Award for the interior of ABN AMRO Bank at Ahmedabad. He has been made the Permanent Honorary Fellow of the National Academy of Environment at the hands of former President Dr Abdul Kalam in Delhi. He spoke at the Clinton Global Initiative, New York at the personal invite of President Clinton in 2006.

He won the US GBC Gold Award for the Keendiam diamond factory at Navsari as the greenest factory in the world in 2008.

Karan has been selected as the winner of the Green Globe Award for Architect, Infrastructure Category from Green Globe Foundation. In August 2009 he was given the Keys of the City of Birmingham by the Mayor of Birmingham at the Inaugural Address of the International Green Congress of the Green Building Focus. The World Economic Forum at Davos has named Karan Grover as their member on the Panel for Sustainability for 2009 and Jury for Emerson Cup 2009, 2010 for Sustainable Design as well as first NDTV Greenies Award.

Karan is a founding member of ADaRSH (GRIHA) and has been nominated as Member of the Confederation of Indian Industry Western Region Sub-Committee on Climate Change & Sustainability for the year 2010-11. He has become the Chairman of IGBC Vadodara Chapter on 28th March, 2011.

He was nominated as one of India’s top 10 architects consecutively for 5th year by the Construction World; and in 2012 he has been recognized as one of the five architects in India to receive the CWAB Platinum Award for Excellence. He has been honoured with Lifetime Achievement Award at the “Aces of Spaces” Architect & Interiors India Awards 2012 on 2nd December, 2012 and INDEX/IFJ Award to Creative Genius on 16th November 2013.

Also Lifetime Achievement Award at Estrade Real Estate Awards on 23rd October 2015.

Synthesis Business Park project at Kolkata has been awarded with LEED CS Gold Certification by IGBC in October 2012. West Block 3 at L & T Knowledge City, Vadodara awarded with ‘LEED INDIA GOLD’ Rating by Indian Green Building Council in July, 2013. KGA have been selected as the “Best Architect of the Year 2013” (Residential Category) by the Era Fame Awards 2013, supported by the Indian Institute of Architects in August, 2013.

For his sense of fashion he has been selected as one of “India’s 50 Most Stylish Men” along with Amitabh Bachchan – India’s leading film icon.

Karan Grover is a frequent speaker at national and international forums having addressed over 20000 professionals and students pro bono annually on Sustainability & Green Architecture – a personal commitment he made to President Clinton at the Clinton Global Initiative, New York in 2006. A few notable among them are his presentations at the World GBC in Pittsburg in November 2003, in Portland in November 2004; & in Atlanta in September 2005.

In June 2009 he spoke in Birmingham, Alabama at the Green Congress and in September 2009 at the India Green Building Congress in Hyderabad. He has been Keynote Speaker at the IGBC for eight consecutive years.