Posts by Pallavi:

Institute of Urban Designers, India to launch Mumbai Chapter

December 10th, 2013

The Mumbai Chapter of the Institute of Urban Designers, India (IUDI) has brought together an inclusive group of multi-disciplinary professionals ranging from planners, architects and policy makers and more with a mission to improve the quality of life and the image of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region through good Urban Design by sensitively working with existing urban neighborhoods, new sustainable developments, and the creation of better public places and humane built environment.

The Institute of Urban Designers, India (IUDI) was launched on 15th March 2008, with headquarters in New Delhi and IUDI has five Chapters so far. IUDI Mumbai will be launched as a Chapter in February 2014.

To address Mumbai’s diverse and rapid development challenges, the IUDI Mumbai Chapter sets itself the following goals and objectives as part of a Four-Point Agenda:

  1. Promote and Advocate Good Urban Design for the City and the Region
  2. Engage with, include, educate and learn from all stakeholders in the urban development process
  3. Promote Urban Design Education and Support Fraternity
  4. Be a Resource of Information on Urban Issues

Such an initiative is not only timely but has been one of the most crucial step which Mumbai as a City has completely missed out in the past which has become quite evident in the way Mumbai’s built environment is shaping up. At best, it feels fragmented, dysfunctional and lacking some of the most vital issues like livability, affordable housing, public spaces & amenities and public transportation. And thus keeping in mind the challenges faced by the City, IUDI aims to engage with people at different levels- academia, policy makers, local governance and professionals.

The IUDI Mumbai Charter will help impart an important gap in the development of Mumbai and the region. Several national policies emphasize the need for cities to plan ahead – primarily from the perspective of assessing future infrastructure demands.

Best practices of Urban Design can recuperate the quality of life for Mumbai’s people. The IUDI Mumbai Charter provides the foundation to start achieving that goal through the principles of good urban design.

Eventually it is the public life of the citizens of Mumbai and its region that will better. It will attempt to give the city a make-over as its reality and image develop towards becoming a city that is more responsible, more affordable and more accessible.

The IUDI is having its General Body Meeting on 11 December 2013 at 4pm at Rizvi College of Architecture, Bandra (W), Mumbai.

The Center is gearing up to launch itself as the ‘Mumbai Chapter of IUDI’ during its GBM and for membership enquiries one can write to: iudimumbai@gmail.com

For more information visit: www.udesindia.org

400m Imperial Tower designed by Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill

May 20th, 2013

The Imperial Tower Competition  has been won by Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill of Chicago, the same team that designed the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill have confirmed that ‘the project is on hold and most likely will not get built’ however should it be seen through to completion, the Imperial Tower would be the tallest residential tower in the city, with 116 storeys at 400m tall.  And that sounds splendid in aspiration, however conflicted it appears in the context of extreme conditions. But then cities like Mumbai never poised themselves on humanitarian grounds. It’s a city of aggressive entrepreneurship, capitalistic in spirit with a heady rush not usually found, so far, in any other city in India. It conflates this conflicted human spirit of dualism and that is remarkably evident in its architectural aspirations.

Copyright: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture

The Imperial Tower is poised as softer yet taller – much taller in height – and is said to minimize the negative effects of wind. There are sky gardens with access to natural light, views and a connection to the Arabian Sea like never before. The tower would offer the most spacious and luxurious residences in Mumbai. The 76,272 sq m tower includes 132 residential units of between 195 sq m and 1,115 sq m, along with serviced apartments of between 72 sq m and 252 sq m. It’s a project with superlative adjectives in the built environment.

Copyright: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture

According to the news brief from AS+GG, the Imperial Tower aims at highest form of sustainability standards with rainwater harvesting and high-efficiency mechanical systems and use of green wall podium with native plants in landscaping.

Copyright: Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture

Looking at the juxtaposed impressions of the Imperial Tower to the existing neighborhood buildings, there is something contrarian in their styles. They do not give you a unifying feeling, just like the city they belong to. Buildings don’t talk to each other or to the site. Once, such many varied aspirations take shape in the Mumbai skyline, I wonder if its schism will be of a concern to the City and its people? Or the magic of token rise in building heights will be sufficient for now and in future?

Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill are design architects on this project.

Interview: Jenni Reuter

May 9th, 2013

Jenni Reuter is an architect from Finland and part of Hollmén Reuter Sandman Architects. She has been a strong proponent of working with neglected and marginalized peoples, encouraging these communities to create an architectural expression of their own which is locally rooted, participatory and affordable to the very people it serves. Jenni also teaches at Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture in, Helsinki, Finland. Jenni was in Mumbai for 361 Degrees conference where WAN’s Mumbai correspondent Pallavi Shrivastava had an opportuniy to speak to her. Edited excerpts from the interview:

How and when did you decide to become an architect and growing up as an architectural professional whose work inspired you in forming your own philosophy and creative style in architectural expression?

When I was young and thinking of what to start studying I was interested in many different fields and wasn’t at all sure that architecture was my thing. But when I started studying, having really inspiring teachers such as Juhani Pallasmaa I understood that the field is so broad that you can combine very many interests in the same profession.

Tell us a little bit about your architecture practice (its goals and vision) and any inspiring projects along the journey that led to the formation of Ukumbi NGO?

We, the Finnish architects Saija Hollmén (born 1970), Jenni Reuter (born 1972) and Helena Sandman (born 1972) started our collaboration in 1995 with the Women’s Centre project in Senegal. After the completion of the Women’s Centre in 2001 we understood that the fundraising for these type of projects is possible only through an NGO.

Women's Centre

Ukumbi is a Finnish non-governmental organization established in 2007. The word Ukumbi is Swahili and it means a forum, veranda and a meeting place for dialogue and interaction. Our mission is to offer architectural services to communities in need. Our architectural strategy employs the use of local and traditional building techniques and customs during the planning and the construction process. Ukumbi empowers communities by involving them in the design process. Our projects are ecologically sustainable, using locally manufactured, recycled or grown building materials whenever possible. Today Ukumbi is a larger platform for several teams of architects, organizing seminars and sharing information through articles and lectures.

Our office Hollmén Reuter Sandman Architects’ projects span from interiors to urban planning. We work in Finland as well as with several underprivileged communities around the world. Apart from working as visiting critics and lecturers, we also teach at the Aalto University in Helsinki.

You have chosen a road less travelled to pursue architecture and your goals are not commercial but are more rooted in affordable and sustainable/indigenous practice for communities where such services are not easily available or have been neglected. How did this journey happen and what made you take this path?

I’ve always liked traveling and getting to know new cultures and places. My mother worked with an education project in Namibia in southern Africa for several years. At that time I studied architecture in Helsinki and when visiting my mother I started to study the local building traditions in Namibia and write about them. The following year there was a course organized from the department of Architecture in Helsinki University of Technology that went to Senegal on a field trip. I joined the course and started to work together with Saija Hollmén and Helena Sandman on the Women’s Centre project. We got so involved with the people and the place that we started to look for funding for the project. Six years later the building was ready. It was a hard but rewarding journey.

Women's Centre

You mentioned a project in Senegal and it was truly inspiring to see you go through the entire life-cycle of project from striving for funding through designing to execution. The video you showed us at 361 Degree Conference was a high point, where end-users partake in celebration with a sense of belonging. Has it been difficult to conceive such projects which serve marginalized communities and what have been your lessons building such projects?

To get projects really rooted in a community and a place the process usually takes a lot of time. The fundraising is often slow as well. Unfortunately we have several projects that are not executed yet because of reasons we have little control over. For example, the revolution in Egypt that is taking place in the country. Our Learning Centre in Cairo is already designed, with the Egyptian fundraising made but we have been waiting for the building permit for several years because of the unstable situation in the country for the moment.

This question was raised in conference as well and I have heard several varied opinions on it. Why do you think we do not see more women in architecture and its allied services? Do women themselves choose to opt-out or it is something systematic that women choose not to aspire to for leadership positions. Do you see changes happening in terms of the industry becoming gender neutral in days to come?

I have been teaching architecture in Finland for over ten years and have seen very talented female and male students throughout the years. For the moment approximately half of our students are women. When I was studying we didn’t have any female professors, today we have several of them. I do see a change happening, but very slowly. There is still a very strong male dominance on leadership positions which I think partly is due to the ‘good brother’ system where men, probably unconsciously, help other men to proceed in their careers. Women very often have to convince even more to get the same position.

Snow Show

What would your advice be for young and emerging architects and what is your one big tip that you give to your students as a teacher while teaching at Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture in Finland?

I do think the most important thing you can do as a teacher is to get your students want to know more and get inspired by this broad and interesting profession.

What has been your experience traveling to India and how have the landscape, people and its built environment affected your broader understanding of architecture?

This was my first trip to India. It was a long time dream coming true. Even though the trip was very short I had the time to see many different environments. I was privileged to give a talk at the beautiful CEPT Architecture School in Ahmedabad with some interesting professors and nice students showing me around in the wonderful city. My friend, Indian architect Bijoy Jain, was kind to invite me to his extraordinary home and workshop outside Mumbai, showing some of his extremely haptic and strong buildings.

I really hope that we will be able to work with some projects in this lovely country in the near future.

Image Courtesy: Hollmén Reuter Sandman Architects

Interview: Peter Rich

April 17th, 2013

Peter Rich is one of the most significant architects based in South Africa. He has extensively documented the indigenous African settlements during the Apartheid in the 1970s and this is very much the influence on his work. His work came into international focus when his documentation and analytical sketches were made public, which he deeply feels is an integral part of architectural inquiry.

He has been affiliated as the Professor of Architecture at University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg for 30 years and he was recently a keynote speaker at 361 degrees conference in held in Mumbai. WAN’s Mumbai correspondent Pallavi Shrivastava had an opportunity to speak to him. Excerpts from the interview are presented below:

Do you believe architects can be or should be geography specific with their distinct inquiry, process and solutions?

Yes, I believe geographical physical, climatic and cultural context, provide the clues to, if responded to in an intelligent way, an enriching architecture. The challenge in a globalising world is to not be creating synonymous environments, which could be anywhere.

When did realize you wanted to be an architect? What other architects/ thinkers have greatly inspired you in your journey of architectural inquiry?

I was born an architect – my parents saw me as the successor or re-incarnate of my mother’s brother whose architect life was cut short at 29 years old – there was something mythically heroic and wonderful about being an architect.

Where do you derive inspiration in your architecture work? You mentioned in your talk at the 361 degrees conference about engaging with a local community and listening to them carefully and thus moving towards to solve it architecturally. Can you elaborate a little more on it?

I derive inspiration from observing and through drawing trying to gain deeper understanding, be it from how ordinary people live, or good examples of architecture or from my heroes. There is much to learn, from the ordinary people who we are designing for- from the delight ordinary people experience using our creations.

Globalization is being seen as a one of the disruption just like wars were previously looked at. Disruption can be a great time for re-invention of people and a nation as well. You mentioned that the world is looking at India to come up with unique architectural philosophy to respond to solve some of the challenges. Can you talk a little bit about it?

India is in a unique position in the world. It is benefiting from the infrastructure and institutional structures put in place by the British and a really good educational system at all levels of learning. India some 70 years after Independence NOW has the confidence to discover itself – its Indianness – and be proud of just that. It is the place of the fresh and the new. It has its Masters in Doshi, Correa, Neelkanth Chhaya and the late architect Raje. It has its emerging masters in Bijoy Jain of Studio Mumbai, Rajeev Kathpalia and Rahul Mehrotra, to name a few. In other words it has more depth of good architects who are alive than the USA.

What is your advice to young architects and designers? And which young architects you are looking up to from recent times?

Know who you are. Respect your circumstance culturally and climatically. Learn from your masters; learn from your ancient culture and from what peasant cultures attuned to their circumstance.

Young architects I am looking up to Alberto Kallash of Mexico, M3 of Australia, Bijoy Jain, Sanjay Mohe of India, Palinda Kannangara of Sri Lanka, Li Xianodong of China, Arturo Franco of Spain, Estudio Barozzi Veiga of Italy/Spain.

Hand-drawn sketches from your travels seem to be a large part of your practice. To what extent do you use digital technology (e.g. AutoCAD and BIM) in the design process and do you think that a careful balance between the two is important in the education of the next generation of architects?

Use the computer intelligently as a tool. Draw your way freehand into your ideas as it gives you access to the library of your autobiography, which is not in your computer.

What do you think of 3D printing?

It is a very useful tool.

Any particular project that you would like to talk about in brief and why is it dear to you?

The Amazwi Project – the first Womens Museum in Africa – to be built in the Valley of a thousand hills, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. The project has evolved into a centre, which is representative of both the feminine principle and its logical extension as a centre of the Environment. It is at a stage where the stakeholder dialogue is giving rise to potential built form and a dialogue between the making of the Women’s Center and the Center of the Environment.

Images: Peter Rich, Iwan Baan and 361 Degrees

Interview: Kevin Low, smallprojects

March 26th, 2013

Kevin Mark Low, an architect based in Malaysia whose work has gained global recognition, left his corporate architecture job to reclaim and pursue old dreams and established his practice, smallprojects in 2002, which he runs singlehandedly. He has since lectured internationally and conducted workshops and design critiques at various universities. Recently, Kevin was in India as a speaker for 361 Degrees conference where WAN’s Mumbai correspondent Pallavi Shrivastava had an opportuniy to speak to him. Edited excerpts from the interview:

Q: What inspired you to be an architect? And growing up as a professional architect, whose work you looked up to?

A: Many things really – my mother who taught geography, encouraged my ability to draw, without knowing that some of the worst architects in the world draw beautifully and some of the best, awfully. My father, being more taciturn, didn’t appear to bother much with what I decided, but the important thing was their both supporting the decisions I made – especially my mother and whatever she saw in me at the time, which pushed me just that bit further.

Throughout architecture school and my working years, I found I was less fascinated by architects than the specific buildings they did – over the course of my life, these were Cimitero Brion (carlo scarpa), Zimmerman House and Clooney Playhouse (Frank Lloyd Wright), Barragan House (Luis Barragan), Lunuganga and the Alfred Street house (Geoffrey Bawa), the Louvre Museum intervention (I.M. Pei), Exeter Library (Louis Kahn), the St. Louis Gateway Arch and MIT Chapel (Eero Saarinen), Casa En Valle de Bravo (Alberto Kalach), Chapel of Hope (Sigurd Lewerentz), Chapel at Ronchamp (Le Corbusier), Maison de Verre (Pierre Chareau), Commerzbank headquarters (Norman Foster) and the Cabrer house (Lacroze/Miguens/Prati). I feel that these architects built each work with a profound understanding of their specific context.

Of these, the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, Luis Barragan and Geoffrey Bawa are the only three whose architecture consistently engaged the aesthetics of age in the way of time passing. Perhaps, this as yet undocumented understanding had the deepest impact on my own development.

Q. You mentioned something intriguing in your talk about natural state of ways and materials in architecture and your ongoing query on why buildings can be as imperfect as human beings? Can you elaborate on this?

A: In the way sixty-year-old people look a touch strange when they try to look like sixteen-year-olds, buildings that attempt to defy the passage of time puzzle me. I have a greater affinity for architecture that looks its age, architecture designed with sufficient confidence such that the knocks and scrapes of its making and use add instead of detract from how it is ultimately perceived. There is something about the wrinkles and lines of an old face that is beautiful, that tells its own rich story of scars, tears, joy and pride. In the same way some of us age with dignity and grace, so architecture too can – the question is what one does to encourage the circumstances under which such gracious aging happens. As such, I select materials and engage methods of construction less for how they are able to hide inaccuracy or imperfection, growth and decay, or the ravages of use, than for how all these aspects find their natural place as part of the aesthetic character, the life of the building. Perhaps I can quote from a passage I had written in smallprojects (adaptus 2010) –

“The way in which I interact with my architecture is total; friends are made of contracts and contractors, of detritus, building culture, materials and their manufacture, the act of use, of maintenance and the tectonics of construction. As friends, they are less there for the act of building than for what they intrinsically are, evidenced in the final product; one chooses not hide the nature of one’s friends but to discover them over time. Design thus becomes less the act of showing than of revealing – that of the details of space and its assembly, of production, of weaknesses and strengths of materials, and the character of elemental finish. A construction effort observed to be less skilled through act or appearance is not always rectified, but is instead given integrity through the design of its relationship to its immediate physical context – the materials and processes of construction, each understood for their basic characteristics and specific applications, find expression in the tectonics of what is created. And the simple issue of time passing becomes natural; that familiarity and sense of scale that only comes with age guide my deliberations and decisions, as time has considerably less impact on the quality of light and space (as volume) than it does on the materials that reveal them. Architecture, as a process does not end when the building is done, it barely begins. People age, as do materials and buildings: I am predisposed not merely to make their transition as gracious and dignified as possible, but to reengage them in ways I never realised were possible.”

Global culture has become somewhat of a beast obsessed with the novelty of form. It has certainly grown past its previous romance with the spectacle of it, but the problem still remains that if the form of a work fails to excite or stimulate and present formal experiences in some fresh way, it warrants less attention. And a great part of this zeitgeist is driven by the immediacy, the instantaneous nature of the Internet – nothing is new or fresh if it is posted a day later. As such, we have evolved an architecture of the photoshoot, of work that has to be imaged as soon and as quickly as it is completed, an architecture intended to be experienced in completeness from the first day it is inhabited. For the work I do, it is not possible for me to think of architecture as ever complete with the completion of the contract – with something as dynamic, unpredictable, and human as architecture, as architects I believe we can only ever begin what time alone can complete.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your project Sibu Pavilion? Thought process, context and your suggested solution…

A: For the Malaysian Garden Festival held at the Lake Gardens in Kuala Lumpur in 2006 the Sibu Municipality of Sarawak in East Malaysia requested a local landscape architect for a design that was to be their pavilion. For all their lack of exposure as a somewhat marginalised logging town, the enlightened clients made request for a public toilet facility as a garden pavilion. Through his many years of work acquaintance with smallprojects and affinity for its completed work, the landscape architect took the opportunity to recommission a working concept and design for the project.

The problem first lay in the fact that most, if not all, public toilets simply look like public toilets all over the world – commonly expressed as three blank walls with high level windows for privacy and the last remaining wall with a door for access. Unless one was to get perverse, or hide the facility behind in some manner, it was simply impossible to escape the aesthetic ubiquity of a public toilet. And so they got the original global toilet, a bush.

The site for the Sibu pavilion was in the precinct of the Lake Gardens, a green enclave and city park presided over by a single large water body – the namesake for the park. Located at the foot of an old-growth Tembusu tree, the site was endowed with panoramic views across the lake to heavily verdant surrounds; a gentle slope of well-tended lawn from the access pathway to the revetment wall of the lake’s edge. The north end of the pavilion became a lounge for a sofa and armchairs under the shade of a grand old Tembusu tree, with views of the lake, while the other end became a tearoom. Nestled between the two was the ‘bush,’ a grove of a hundred and twenty apple green Eugenia aromaticum trees sourced from a nursery in southern Malaysia. A narrow maze ran through the tightly packed trees to a squatting pan commode at the heart of the grove, guarded by the trunk of a gnarly, Indian coral tree selected from the same nursery. A compost wall of steel mesh and dead leaves, with basin niches cut into the mesh to facilitate the washing of hands, gave privacy to the entrance. Fashioned after the Archie Bunker chair from a lawn furniture competition years back, the wall was to function as a recycled leaf repository for the local council as they swept the grounds of the Lake Gardens; the dead leaves would be disposed of efficiently, with the added value of replenishing the privacy required of the toilet entrance. The temporary pavilion may have been novel, but its significance went beyond its conceptual overtones of a pun – in built form, it served as a practical template for the screening and dignity of a functional garden and park toilet facility.

Evenly textured and neatly packed to the limit of its confines, the idea of the compost wall was not merely one of privacy for the bush bathroom it concealed and simultaneously announced; it was intended as a dump for park leaves and detritus, reducing the need for botanic waste transfer to a dumping ground elsewhere. The leaves and green garbage, piled on and compacted over time, begin their humid journey to decay and decomposition, to be removed at the end of the natural cycle for use as garden food; a functional and symbolic processing of park ecology. In its working form, the compost wall would have been designed with hinged lower mesh doors, from which the composted layers would be taken as a convenient source of fertilizer within the precinct of the park.

Q: Do you feel there is a larger theme unfolding beyond this east and west divisive discourse that is taking place to understand our field of architecture? What do you think of this distinction as we try to enforce traditional, modern, post-modern labels of architecture?

A: The idea of an East/West divide is a little banal really, being predicated on where someone arbitrarily decided to draw a middle line – if that longitude had been hard-lined just off the Californian coast for example, East would have been Europe, the former Soviet Union and China would have been the West, and the United States of America would be located somewhere right by the Middle East.

In preparation for a talk at the recent International Conference on Tropical Architecture in Singapore, I realised upon shading the tropical belt between the Tropic of Cancer and that of Capricorn, that the world actually found division by latitude rather than longitude – that besides the southern tips of South America and Africa, New Zealand and the nether parts of Australia, nothing was really left over of the southern hemisphere with the tropical belt shaded in – its really either Northern Hemisphere or Tropics. The discovery made me think about the differences of each; the northern hemisphere with its predictable and gradual temperature shifts from moderate to extreme, and the tropics with its consistently even temperature, but with more drastically changing weather patterns. And I began to figure a slightly different way to understand the global divide.

The people of the north had their lines drawn from the very beginning regarding survival – one either prepared for the long winter during the summer and fall, or died trying to keep warm and fed, since both food and fuel were scarce during the deep winter. The rigors of survival simply ensured that certain exacting concepts of order would evolve and be deeply ingrained in northern cultures and societies since life depended on it. The tropics conversely, with its moderate temperature swings and being the land of milk, honey, ukuleles and shish kebabs, has never truly developed formal systems of order of its own – if it flooded, one simply climbed a tree; hunger was merely fed by fruit; and dwelling was accomplished by the most temporary of materials since these were found in such great abundance year long. Humanity in the tropics was not bound by survival to any sense of deeper formal order. Barring exceptional conditions of filtering influences, political/cultural/social upheaval or the natural dictates of land mass in specific regions (China and central Asia, as examples) the tropical belt has resulted in cultures and societies with architectural traditions that basically took longer to develop with the same rigor, exactitude, and systemised industry of fabrication and production as that found in the northern hemisphere.

I believe that a deeper understanding of architecture cannot happen through broad and arbitrarily drawn distinctions of form – it can only be sought through deeper questions we choose to ask about content – the specificity of place, time, culture, and language. The architectural distinctions we currently have, all concern labels as related to the generalisation of formal considerations which create diametrically opposing ideas, whether it is about the east or west, traditional or modern, post-modern or deconstructivist – although some may have begun with deeper philosophical basis, they have all been reduced to, and identified by formal outcomes of expression. As such, I find architectural labels a touch silly as they mystify through formal categorisation rather than clarify through deeper involvement of content. I would rather the foundations of architecture be rooted in content and the specific context thereof, and all those issues that go beyond mere texture, colour, shape, material, space, and size.

Q: What would be your advice to young and emerging architects?

A: The world is broadly made up of two kinds of practitioners, commercial architects and critical architects. It matters less what sort of architect you decide you wish to be, but that you are absolutely honest about the decision you make. Too many architects decide that the business and branding of their architecture is what they are best at, and yet speak about their work as though design is their priority – most especially when whatever talent is available to them has brought them a measure of global success and attention. It is not wrong to compromise in life, but it is wrong to be dishonest about that act of compromise.

Conversely, if critical work is what one has decided for oneself, the understanding that patience is the deepest pursuit of true passion becomes necessary. Not fame, not success, not recognition, since none of these are about passion, nor relate to it. Passion is, not knowing where you will end, since your only care is the journey, not where it will ultimately lead you. An architectural project is like an expedition to the top of the world, Everest. If your goal is to summit for that money shot and the experience of reaching the top, then that is all you will take away with you. The most accomplished and respected climbers in the world never look at a summit as their goal, but merely as a guide for where they have to take their very next step, and strangely enough, every step focused on, creates that patience which feeds the passion. And all the best climbers in the world reflect on exactly the same experience upon their reaching the top – less the jubilation of having succeeded in what they set out to do, than the absolute surprise and excitement at finding themselves at a place they never thought they would arrive at. In the same way, commercial architects look at how far they have come, build on what they have accomplished, and are amazed at what they intend to do next. Critical architects are amazed simply at what they are currently involved in doing. But whatever the case, I believe that it is ultimately less important what one chooses to do; only that one is absolutely honest about that decision.

Q: How has Indian landscape and its cultural conditions affected you in this trip. what learning and unlearning you are taking back as architect?

A: India is very much the centre of the world. I believe the raw dictates of its culture amid the sheer mass of its population provide the perfect combination of empathy to provide a way forward for the rest of humanity, but only if it realises the way forward is not the one prescribed by the developed world – that of free capital markets, advancing the brand, pushing the boundaries of one’s selected market, and sustaining the global culture of acquisition. Specifically, I have learned that on Indian roads, men, women, children, cows, pushcarts, motorcycles, cars, lorries and buses are not different types of things, but part of the amazing life of a street, and there is little difference between being nudged by another human being and a cow, or a bus, because life is simply too rich for such distinctions to matter. It is this delightful ambiguity that I will take away with me.

Q: What is state of women architects in Malaysia. Is it culturally progressive or regressive for female architects to thrive?

I do not believe one’s sex plays much of a part in one’s ability to thrive professionally in Malaysia, though it very well might in another country. Through my years working in Malaysia, I am quite glad to say that I have never experienced an intelligent statement, comment, or question by a female or male architect that was not given deep regard, and with that individual earning the greater respect of others. Perhaps the deeper aggression associated with men enables certain advances and opportunities denied women, but I believe that culture here has little to blame for.

Having taught at the University Malaya in Kuala Lumpur over the past ten years, I have found female students to actually have an edge over male students with respect to a quicker understanding of concepts, ideas and issues of content over those of form. I do believe women have it in them to be greater architects than men. However, I also believe women to be better nurturers than men, and when it comes to raising a family, a woman will make sacrifices few men would ever consider, let alone undertake. The fact is that many of us do grow up, get married, and ultimately produce children – if there exists fewer women than men in architecture performing at the very highest levels of the profession, I believe it is only because the very best women architects are doing their best work caring for their families as a sacrifice they cannot see any other way but make.

Images: Sibu Pavilion, smallprojects

The 2013 Edition of 361 Degrees Conference in Mumbai

March 11th, 2013

Architectural conferences are usually made of great moments and breeding grounds for exchanging ideas. The 2013 edition of the 361 Degrees Conference which is now in its 6th year and concluded on 8 March, was no different. Over the last 5 years, 361 Degrees has aimed to capture the true essence of architecture and creating a forum where young and old mix in a meaningful interrogation. I was particularly elated to see such a huge number of students attending the conference which well organized – kudos to the team at IA&B who took upon this colossal task.

You come back saturated with great examples and inspiration from the world of architecture. Speakers were an eclectic mix of nationalities with even more eclectic with the kind of work and their individual journey they are embarked on in built environment. On one side there were stalwarts like Charles Correa who choked the audience into tears with exemplary work of Champalimaud Centre of the Unknown, Portugal and on the other, the work of the likes of Kevin Low Mark and Manuel Clavel Rojo. The message delivered was singular and a strong one: that architecture is a multi-layered discipline of social enquiry and how it can be meaningful, socially relevant and profound.

Charles Correa, Charles Correa Architects, India

Peter Rich proposed the idea that the world is engulfed in a revolution where much of the erosion has taken place in recent history and is looking at culturally significant countries like India and Mexico to rediscover new deeper ways to solve many problems that we are facing as humanity.

Jenni Reuter, Hollmén Reuter Sandman Architects, Finland

Jenni Rueter works in the domain of enabling communities with the help of architecture which are poor financially. She has initiated several projects in Senegal where she engaged with the community first hand and works with the entire cycle of raising fund and actively involving local community in building their project.

Kevin Mark Low said something extremely profound which is worth noting: “Why can’t buildings be as imperfect as us human beings; why are we so anxious to find perfection in the built environment?” I will be trying to explore and understand this more with an interview with him in a series to follow.

Graham Morrison, Allies and Morrison Architects, UK

Graham Morrison of UK based practice Allies and Morrison talked about several of his projects on buildings as not being treated as  solo achievements but looking at more as public spaces they generate which can be both functional and engaging. He later mentioned something which is of relevance here that roads should not be treated only as means to get to places but as places themselves. This paradigm shift may relieve us from the perils that have emerged of complex web of clinical and detached concrete urban freeways.

Lastly, I will wrap this post with a discovery of work of a Sri-Lankan Architect Palinda Kannangara. He is a man of few words, soft spoken. And his work is speaking the language of almost monkish outcome through his projects, primarily in the residential segment. Serene, calm with a strong sense of geometry and his methodology appeared intuitive and visceral than based on any articulated design principles. Projects had a Zen-kind of impact on mind and you just wanted to be there in those houses, even if it was for a brief time. Perhaps someday when Sri-Lanka beckons.

Lewis & Hickey’s Mumbai Designs YMCA International Centre Ahmedabad

March 5th, 2013

The UK-based Lewis and Hickey (L&H) practice opened their India studio in Mumbai in 2007 and after 5 years in operation, their portfolio now includes some of the most diverse projects completed in the region.  The Mumbai studio works closely with their London base such that the best of resources are used in conceptualizing, detailing and implementation, utilizing best of international design knowledge and complementing that with locally more well-suited delivery expertise.

Recently, Lewis & Hickey’s Mumbai Studio designed and completed their award winning YMCA International ground-up project in Ahmedabad city which is spread over 6.5 acres in site area. The building itself is 200,000 sq ft of built area. The building consists of several functional amenities on four floors coupled with outdoor amenities like pools, jogging tracks, lawn and terrace garden.

The building stands modest, straightforward and unassuming with clean lines which is such a peaceful relief from anxiety driven statement architecture of angles, waves, impatient punctures or boastfulness of height which is becoming a norm in Mumbai nowadays. So much that the burgeoning buildings feel like they are pleading for our ever-diminishing restless attention span.

The plan of the building itself is simple and meshes outdoor and indoor built spaces such that they are made to interact in an invigorating ways in number of places. Once inside, views of outside don’t seem to be lost. The building appears like a composition of studied elegance of voids and solids attempted to give multi-layered spatial experience. The architecture of YMCA International gives an impression of being inspired from I.M. Pei’s Hartford Seminary building in Connecticut, USA. Calm and unpretentious.

Speaking to Lewis & Hickey’s Mumbai director, Architect Brijesh Kanabar, I posed him a question on leading the project in Ahmedabad from Mumbai as this is something I get asked quite often in the fraternity. He explains: “L&H India is fully equipped and experienced in working on projects outside Mumbai. At present 60-70 % of our work in India is outside Mumbai City.

“The major challenges we faced while working on the YMCA project was to achieve high quality finishing on site during execution. For which we tried maintaining balance between design, execution capabilities and budget constraints through regular site visits and good communication with project management team on site.” He further added: “The Lewis and Hickey London and Mumbai team works very closely in both defining and realizing design concepts for most architecture projects in India. So, the final result for YMCA building is remarkably close to the original concept, where careful attention to detail and finishes has been given.”

This information is extremely useful to many global design practices, as more and more international practices are striving to work in the region where emphasis is to bring better yin and yang of international and local best practices made available in India.

Images Courtesy: Lewis & Hickey

Per-forma Studio’s Great Eastern Hotel

February 19th, 2013

Per-forma Studio, a New York based architecture practice run by architect Sarika Bajoria, has recently been garnering attention for all the right reasons. The practice which started in 2010 remains young and I anticipate better amalgamation of ‘East and West’ sensibilities if there is a distinction between the two.

India’s case is new and its challenges unique and thus there has to be greater importance towards contextual architectural aspirations. Not to mention, it’s exhilarating times for India and we will see a great deal of stimulating, disturbing, provocative and promising built spaces. Indian stable sensibilities have never been ruffled to this extent and its not necessarily a bad thing. This great fertile time can be a great period of reinvention in terms of architecture. Thus, practices like Per-forma Studio who have exposure to more than one area are hoped to go beyond the narrow vision of architecture and push the envelope of excellence.

Per-forma Studio has embarked on designing a mixed-use development called The Great Eastern which is spread over 8.6 acres of previously textile mill land located in the heart of the City, Mumbai. The development will include retail, hospitality, lifestyle and entertainment spaces. The conceptual designs of the hotel are out and the design has attempted to bring in ‘spinning and weaving’, the site’s original purpose of textile mill that it was.

This 8.6-acre development is split in two phases and first phase includes 2.2 acres of mixed used of overall area that spans of 600,000 sq ft. In addition to the hotel, the development will also include a clubhouse, high-end retail, restaurants, cafés, and spa, giving it a holistic spin.

The form of the hotel is undulating and fluid. As Sarika says: “The intertwining of the new and old, modern amenities and sanctity of undisturbed nature, relaxation, shopping, entertainment and luxury within the design and vision for the development creates a unique visual and holistic experience.”

She further explains: “A strategy of analyzing solar radiation performance in conjunction with developing building information modelling systems was taken to develop an intelligent and sustainable facade strategy that responded to solar heat gain and visibility. Sun insulation analysis data informed the shift in the WWR (window-wall ratios) of façade.”

This brings me to a point that has constantly troubled me about Mumbai as a built environment professional. Of these attempts, of creating islands of sanitized developments, however serious, where most of the mixed-use are attempted in such a way that sum of all pieces gives a fragmented understanding to a holistic city precincts.

Even moving forward, I haven’t seen a larger public dialogue on this issue amongst urban design fraternity and government authorities. This is worrisome to a large extent because Mumbai is still not serious about creating a relevant big picture of a masterplan of the city. Thus, it would be unfair to put the burden only on architects and designers to reform complex political and economic realms through architecture aspirations alone.

Images courtesy of Per-forma Studio

Biomimicry used as a guiding force to design Lavasa Township

February 5th, 2013

Settled in a picturesque landscape and spread over 12,500 acres is a town of Lavasa which is about 2 hours drive from Mumbai. It is a town that is soon becoming a holistic and planned destination where visitors throng in large numbers. HOK International has worked on the township planning with biomimicry as their guiding principle to design this wide-spread development.

Working closely with biologists from Biomimicry 3.8, HOK International has spearheaded this effort and undertaken an extensive study of the local ecosystem, coming up with strategies that work in harmony with local biome as well as climatology. The team at HOK has developed an overall masterplan for the town and coupled it with landscape plan to minimize deforestation and have a future progressive environmental friendly landscape performance plan in tow.

Image: HOK

The development is expected to complete in the year 2020 and will include five planned urban villages that can accommodate a population of 30,000 to 50,000 people. The planning team has made conscious effort to integrate local traditional principles of planning and tie it with indigenous forms of buildings and sustainable built environment as opposed to replicating the western model of urban settlements. This development relies heavily on sustainability principles of energy conservation, reduction in demand of virgin resources and waste diversion.

The project has already garnered several awards with the likes of Award of Honor in Analysis and Planning (Dasve Village Master Plan) – American Society of Landscape Architects for its fresh and holistic approach, and giving nature its chance to teach sustainable human settlement through biomimicry.

Image: HOK

The importance that sustainability has gained in current times is something all built environment professionals need to take into account. Mindless hauling and manufacturing to suit our ever-increasing needs has already taken its toll. In an ideal sustainable world, there will be no waste and use of only recyclable materials as that is how the nature and ecosystem was designed. It’s time for us to take the cue from it design our man-made ecosystem.

Mumbai Urban Design Competition winners announced

January 29th, 2013

Mumbai Environmental Social Network (MESN) in collaboration with Solomon Guggenheim Foundation launched a design competition in November 2012 seeking a redesign of  Mumbai’s busiest and most choked traffic junction, Kala Nagar near Bandra Kurla Complex. The competition, administered by Lord Cultural Resources Private Limited, overlooked by Trupti Amritwar Vaitla of BMW Lab, and supported by Vivek Phansalkar, Joint Commissioner of Police, Traffic of Mumbai, was open to students and professionals; it challenged applicants to restructure the junction’s traffic flow and explore ways to reimagine its infrastructure with new public spaces and pedestrian flow and function. A jury that included former Bogotá mayor Enrique Peñalosa and Mumbai traffic police commissioner Vivek Phansalkar selected the top five projects from a pool of 43 entries from urban design professionals and students worldwide.

The selection committee awarded three honors in the professional category and two honors in the student category. A ‘people’s choice’ winner, selected from either category, was decided by more than 200 community votes at the skywalk of the Kala Nagar Junction and visitors to the Lab at the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum.

About the winning entries:

In the professional category: Radhika Mathur presented a plan featuring a pedestrian skywalk and dedicated bus lanes; Sweta Parab and Hrishikesh More designed a series of circular pedestrian promenades; and Mayuri Sisodia and Kalpit Ashar proposed weaving together multiple modes of transportation on two floating, angular islands.

Radhika Mathur

In the student category: Andres Perez and his group suggested a wide, tree-shaded pedestrian plaza, while a team from the D. Y. Patil College of Architecture included an elevated pedestrian walk with seating and concessions tucked under a freeway overpass.

Students of D.Y.Patil College of Architecture, Mumbai

And lastly, the competition also presented a people’s choice award to Vedika Tulsiyan, Jaynish Shah, and Karan Sancheti, who proposed an ambitious pedestrian ramp with bleacher seating capped by an elevated, gable-roofed garden.

Now the question to Mumbai: Whose entry they will select and implement to actually solve the problem? Is it going to be one picked by the citizens or the one chosen by esteemed panel of judges?