Our urban dilemma is one focused on creating what I call “reactionary waste”

Mumbai-based architect Rajiv Thakkar, who grew up in New York, talks about his profession and shares his views on the evolution on contemporary Indian architecture. Excerpts from an interview:

Could you share your perspective on the current state of Indian architecture in terms of its creativity, opportunities for growth and the entry of new architects?
Although the abilities of many in the fields of architecture and design are not only comparable but exceed expectations in terms of international methods, approaches and practices, we are lagging far behind in the larger context of how we view academia and its relationship to the profession.
The continuing questioning and development of the architect as an active and integral component in the development of society, in terms of its creativity and of course growth is vital and at this point in time unfortunately largely absent.

Are you satisfied with the quality of projects rolling out in Indian cities, both in metros and the smaller urban centers?
Only a very minute percentage of projects seem to achieve something positive in terms of adding value to our physical environment. Most projects cater to components that neglect the larger ability of architecture, urban design, landscape design and other affiliated disciplines to impact and shape our built environments for the better.
We are still young as a nation and our talent even at a more nascent stage, but as we look towards the future I hope that the allied professions of design can learn from what we experience and help educate on the value of good design and its benefits to the environment.

profile-pic-6_bw
art-chemburoffice-highres-001

Do you see Indian architecture evolving over the coming years and gaining strength, especially with a new generation of architects entering the mainstream business?
Of course. Everything evolves or unfortunately devolves so one has to wait and see where we will be in 20 years but with the exponential increase in professionals entering the market one has to wonder are we adequately preparing students to address the challenges of design not only in architecture but other integral areas that immediately affect how we imagine our built environment?
Do subjects of sustainability, infrastructure, transportation, conservation and others fall into the mainstream of architectural education or do they sit on the sidelines of the design hierarchy? Do enough of our professionals continue their engagements with academia and research to actively give back to our professional development and growth? These are all rhetorical questions so I’m sure you understand my position.

What are the major changes that you are witnessing in the field of architecture, especially vis-a-vis the relationship between the profession and developers and with local authorities?
The market has become increasingly competitive and this in a way increases the pressure on designers to fulfill and exceed expectations set by the market in order to uniquely position them and provide novelty and innovation.
The developers and financiers of projects have realized in many instances that there is a value to innovative architectural design to sell their products. Although a great opportunity for the profession the ability of the profession to truly provide groundbreaking design is still limited to the aesthetic or superficial.
Gimmicks and aspirational tools far surpass real innovation and this is where I see the need for immediate change. The change may not be a choice we have if we develop at the current rate as questions of the environments ability or inability to absorb what we produce forces both sides of the spectrum to incorporate real holistic innovations in sustainability of design.

Could you provide a brief overview of the current urban scenario in India and its prospects for the future?
Our urban dilemma is one focused on creating what I call “reactionary waste”.
The examples of the skywalks or the flyovers are indicative of a system implemented to try and solve basic urban conditions (ie: pedestrian and vehicular circulations and movement) but exacerbate the situation by viewing these systems as independent, non-holistic sets of instruments.
As professionals that deal with the creation of our built environment, we are socially, culturally and technically poised to help reinvent our perception of our new urbanism.

meghnahouse-highres-001a_1
rwtc_04_final
royce_175
whitefield_13

The developers and financiers of projects have realized in many instances that there is a value to innovative architectural design to sell their products. Although a great opportunity for the profession the ability of the profession to truly provide groundbreaking design is still limited to the aesthetic or superficial.

Maybe I sound too negative and I’m not stating we should stop city growth, but as professionals we need use our abilities to support the capacity of citizens, city and municipal governments to manage it and to provide quality design and services.
Cities and towns are not only the loci of production, but they are also the loci of the most important impacts of globalisation and, hence, the places of change and expectations for the future. Undervaluing urban areas can unwittingly place the economic and social futures of countries at risk.

Which are the prominent projects that you are handling at present? Could you briefly describe them?
I mostly working on interior projects currently as they take less time to come to fruition and after working on some large scale architectural projects over the past 14 years this has been quite a fulfilling change as I see ideas manifest quicker.
They range from retail boutiques, residences and boutique offices mostly. We are starting work on larger interior/architecture projects this spring which also look promising in terms of their design potential.

The one thing I am trying to maintain is engaging projects that have the ability to experiment and change the way people see our spatial environment.
I love to innovate and to test new concepts but at the same time my work is quite grounded in intuition and my own sensibilities. With each project I try to push the work in a slightly different direction to test my own boundaries.
Last year I participated as an artist in the Kochi Biennale with an installation titled ‘Home’ which explored issues dealing with architectural research on the subject of housing.
What are your dream cities – in India and abroad?
I don’t dream of any one city and place it in a hierarchical list but I find every city I have travelled to amazing and unique its own distinctive way but saying that I grew up in New York so it does have a special importance and understanding for me. I miss walking in the city and Central Park the most.

Do you travel often around the world? Which are your favourite destinations?
Yes and as mentioned earlier I have always found each place I have visited unique but if I have to name a few that still stand out in my thoughts. They would be Beirut, Istanbul, Shenzhen and Hong Kong.