A passionate architect

Architecture his passion and with several major projects to his credit in India and abroad, he is also actively involved in development of open spaces in Mumbai.

As a principal architect with his partner I.M.Kadri, Rahul’s formative years began in exploring the forests of Kumaon Hills while studying at Sherwood College, Nainital. Romancing Nature infused a deep passion in him to create buildings and open spaces to offset the fast rising human settlements.

After completing his diploma in architecture from the Academy of Architecture, Mumbai, he did his master’s degree in Urban Planning from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in 1988.

Rahul assumed directorship of Kadri Consultants Pvt Ltd in 1995 and since then designed and executed several architecture and town planning projects. He has designed townships for the Tatas, the Jindals and Reliance, hotels and resorts for Taj and Club Mahindra, college campuses for Symbiosis and a building for the Supreme Court of India.

Over the years he has been passionate in creating public places where people and nature thrive. Kadri is also a trustee of Save the Children India – an organisation committed to the cause of the education of less privileged children.

Komal Rao gets down to brass tacks in an exclusive chat. Excerpts:

WORDS: KOMAL RAO

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What are the issues confronting Urban India?
We are still stuck in the 1960s mindset with planning 20 years in advance. The concept of zoning wherein we have a fixed plan for each block still rules.
The aim was residential areas should not be polluted by industrial ones and residential areas should be healthy enough to live in. But with changing times, many industries follow the non-polluting rule, with the service industry being on top of the charts.
Segregating services is an old idea which has to change. The idea that master plan can be conceived for the next 20 years is just not possible. Such concepts are like worn out clichés.
Each area and neighbourhood should be allowed to evolve on its own. Local area planning is something that really needs to be worked upon. For this to be implemented with success, our basic rules and laws must be changed.
A healthy city is about neighbourhood, the arteries of the city are transportation networks.
Some of the effective and efficient ways of transportation are the railways and the metro which are fast, less time consuming and non-polluting.

Roads are inefficient means of transport because of burgeoning traffic. Even if we were to talk about goods transportation, nothing like railways as a mode of transport.
In Japan after World War II, planners understood that to make rapid progress, the public and goods need to be moved faster and the trains would be the best option. Authorities therefore urged engineers and architects to speed up train services. For the first time, tunnels were drilled under mountains for faster movement of goods and passengers.

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How can India improve public transportation system?
We should re-model the bullet trains and not simply buy them from Japan or China.
Our engineers should focus on redesigning trains and make bullet trains fit our needs and pockets as well.
Currently the metro systems that we are using is not cost-effective being expensive.

The normal method of transportation should be rail and metro and cars be given lesser importance.

I recall my trip to Tokyo in 1980. They had seven layers of flyovers and cars moved everywhere causing traffic jam. But during my recent visit to Tokyo the experience was completely different.
The seven-layered flyovers removed, Tokyo’s road length reduced and footpaths made broader and on many roads there were hardly any cars. The reason was 10 layers of underground metro rails that made commuters move easily from one destination to another without depending on cars.
Each city in Japan is unique with its limited budget.

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There is competition among cities to excel and locals feeling a sense of power and responsibility. Nothing is centrally controlled or forced upon. Local units have the power to function independently.

How do we make India more organised and streamline urbanisation?
India as a nation is still not a democracy in the true sense. Many things need to be change.
Authorities in Mumbai, for instance, are coming out with another 20-year plan, though the previous one was not successful.
Ours is a fast-growing nation and we should understand that 20-year planning is not going to work in such a rapidly evolving country.
A Singapore-based company has been appointed to rework the rules,

There is no need for the government to get into the real estate business. If the government stops making profit from this the prices can fall by 75%

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rejecting the need for local ideas and plans.
What is the housing scenario in India? Can rapid growth of slums in Mumbai tackled?
The government relies on real estate for revenues. About 50% of the cost of our houses go as taxes. Development rights are given away as if they are commodities.
A buyer is not only paying the developer for the land, he is also paying the government for the FSI. So if the government is trying to bring the cost of housing and land down, why are they making a profit from buyers in the form of FSI?
There is no need for the government to get into the real estate business. If the government stops making profit from this the prices can fall by 75%.
About 50-60% people in Mumbai live in slums. Another 22% in dilapidated homes. The government has promised free housing for 82% of the population, but it is the remaining 18% taxpayers who will foot the bill for this “free housing”.
While slums are going in for redevelopment, the condition imposed on the developer strangely is that everyone should be given free housing.
We need to tackle things politically by getting out of the whole concept of free housing. Nor slums can be redeveloped by developers.
There are a number of ways to solve the problems, but politically we are unable to do so. The government has no intention of solving the housing problem as they would not profit and will lose taxes the way they garner it today.
The current government follows the same rules; all they are focusing on is the time limit. They wish to do everything faster, but what about changing the old policies as well? It is like bringing the bad old set of events again. The actual way to solve this issue is for government to look at the root causes setting right what has gone wrong over the years.

What are your views on the Smart City project?
Smart cities are being defined by the IT companies. High end IT companies have got big projects and showed the government the positive side. But has the government really thought about whether there is need for such cities?

Before everything else, we need to know and ask ourselves what exactly does it mean to be ‘smart?’ We should firstly prioritise what exactly do we want.
We need a clean place for living, clean water, schools and hospitals. While we wish for this, why not find a “smarter” way of doing this? There have been no serious thoughts given on how we can really achieve the goal.
The urban management team needs to have the best brains working on such a project. If we have the right team, they can evolve realistic plans.
This is something governments don’t do.
If we were to appoint the right people with apt knowledge, listen to them and go ahead with various policies, then wondrous changes could take place. The government needs to do it properly.

Are we shaping future generation of architects in right manner?
Yes, there are number of young architects who are doing marvellous work. But reforms are needed in architecture education.
At present, the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) governs the syllabus.
There should be decentralisation. Let universities develop their own syllabus patterns for the right growth.
If the government believes in an open and free market then this should be taking place in the education system as well.

We don’t want big open places. Say more than 100 houses people interaction can be easier. Lack of common places leads to people living in isolation.
Colleges need to be properly located so that students of different colleges can meet as they come out of their premises.
It requires deft planning. Indeed architects have the power to make a society durable and prosperous.

What are your favourite cities in India and abroad?
In India, it would be Pondicherry, parts of Pune, Bangalore, Mumbai, Jaipur and Ahmedabad.
I prefer cities with good transportation and greenery. Globally, I prefer London, Tokyo and Amsterdam.

What is your dream project?
It would be an interactive place that helps people live without having to breathe polluted air. It can come from salutary planning from rising living standards. Dream projects educate people and make them environment conscious.
Other than architecture, what do you like?
Running my mother’s NGO is one. Educating pre-school kids, or children who fail to make it to the school or are dropouts.
Every country has its own style of architecture. Why did we lose our heritage architecture?
The old kings didn’t use strong materials to make structures last long. Italian cities have thick walls which have managed to withstand vagaries of nature.
Indian architecture never used strong materials or right design to make structures last long. Maybe we just didn’t have the money to go with such structures that could have cost more money.
We’re still enamoured of foreigners but not their way of making structures durable. We resort to easier methods and builders don’t have the requisite knowledge. Majority of architects are submissive. We are evolving.

What motivated you to become an architect?
Everyone in the family said that I had to become an architect. And the moment I started learning it, I loved architecture.
We need to prioritise and articulate what we really want and remain focused. The debate and discussion about what we want and what is our priority is something our country really needs to understand loud and clear.

We feel that the importance of knowing our neighbours and interacting with them has been slowly declining in modern times and has it impacted architecture?
While executing projects, there are a few aspects to take note of. One is the economic, the other environmental to be in tune with nature, flora and fauna; and the third social.
We need to create a happier and friendly place for people to live; a house that keeps the family happy. Every architect should make sure that buildings are for the people and not people for the buildings.