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Year … and Now

Design

2009 was a year to remember in more ways than one. Despite being on a rollercoaster ride with many drops, though, architects in India are still firmly strapped to their seats. Architect & Interiors India brings you notes from some of their diaries.

When I look back at 2009, I would say that, to the field of design and architecture, it brought gloom and doom at the beginning and a sense of hope as the year progressed.

I returned from Dubai at the end of 2008 after a short stay, with a sense of renewed vigour to pursue and complete my projects in India. These included the refurbishment of Terminals 2B and 2C of the Mumbai International Airport.

The Mumbai International Airport project is important for me and my team as the renovation of Terminals 2B and 2C was one of the largest and most challenging jobs thus far.

Besides, my firm was selected based on its expertise and the fact that we were innovative in our idea of “Indianizing” the airport with contemporary Indian art – since it is a huge public space. We truly believe that these artworks will make a visual impact.

During the worst of the recession, in order to survive the downturn, I worked as hard as I did 25 years ago. I optimised my existing resources and cut down on wasteful expenditure.

In comparison to the rest of the world, I would say architecture in India was impacted much less. And in comparison to other fields here, architecture was very dull at the beginning of 2009 – but projects have started moving now.

As far as the larger scene goes, I am not aware if there has been a follow-up by the government on the threat to terminate architects’ licenses unless they register.

And I think architects should be allowed to show their work and services in professional magazines and journals. I think the Hafeez Contractor (advertising) incident was quite silly!

Hope, satisfaction and restlessness – that is what 2009 brought to the field of design and architecture. It has been a memorable year for me and my firm. Awards, presentations, publications have peppered the year.

Our award-winning project, Freedom Park, Bengaluru, was inaugurated and got coverage; RRM2, a bungalow in Bengaluru – which I consider my most important project of the year, also got completed and published. (It delves into the concept of the exploration of the contemporary urban Indian dwelling. The bungalow is successful at connecting the world inside to the outdoors.)

Internationally, we could assimilate a lot of fame and success. Our works were displayed at the What makes India Urban exhibition at Aedes am Pfefferberg, Berlin, 2009.

I was also invited to make a presentation on our firm’s works at the Made in India conference held at The Architecture League of New York. We received the commendation award for the Architectural Review Emerging Architecture Award 2009 in London.

For every project of ours, we try to create a design solution that is unique in terms of form and characteristics – so each project is an experiment within itself. This year, the recession couldn’t do much damage. We prayed and were blessed.

Architecture was in the news in the past year for some negative aspects. COA made it mandatory for architects to register lest their license to practise be terminated. I have no idea, though, if there has been a follow up on this by the government.

Registration, I feel, is a mode of controlling the proper use of license based on education/meeting the requisite parameters for practising. Also, there was a major turmoil of architects not being able to advertise. Advertisement and endorsement of products is beyond information and substantially influences people and their choices.

So, the projection of practices through the best journals in the field acts as a sieve and gives a holistic impression of any architectural work or an architect’s profile.

Good architecture is generally the outcome of a good economy. Of course, good architecture in terms of economized construction practices does emerge during recession too.

However, this happens only during the latter half of a long-drawn-out recession. As we have been at the pinnacle of recession during the past year, and also as the recession has not grown through long periods, we did miss good architecture in 2009. However, I believe that the good thing happening is the major initiatives in green architecture.

My major achievement during the past year has been my firm’s decision to go green and the fact that I have been able to implement my objectives to a great extent. This was a major deviation for me, especially with reference to the architecture that my generation has been attempting during the last couple of decades.

I am happy that in almost 80% of my projects during this year, I have succeeded in introducing green building components.

The Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (CDAC), Technopark, Thiruvananthapuram, one of our ongoing projects, which is an IT building having an area of approximately 2 lakh sqft, has been registered as a green building.

Among the major projects completed during the year are the Dream Hotel, Kochi, and Revenue Tower, Kochi. The Dream Hotel, for the Hampshire Group, USA, a five-star luxury hotel with 200 rooms, is the first luxury hotel to open within the heart of Ernakulam city in a decade.

The14-storeyed Revenue Tower for the Kerala State Housing Board (KSHB), in Park Avenue, Ernakulam, has an area of around 2 lakh sqft.

The recession has taken its toll on the entire architectural community. However, our organization used this slowdown mainly to improve our professionalism and to put into place good management systems. We also participated in major competitions, and succeeded in a number of them.

Regarding the issue of the registration of architects, I strongly feel that the compulsory registration is not a bad thing – as such a move will greatly reduce the entry of non-professionals into the field.

With due respect to the Hafeez Contractor incident, I think there are much more serious and threatening concerns that our practice is facing now which need more urgent attention. The moment corporatisation of the architectural profession is permitted, self-advertisement or posing for advertisements will become non-issues, I believe.

An increased awareness of sustainable architecture seems to be the most important development during the past year. It was the major point of discussion in most of the seminars and conferences held at the national and international levels last year.

It is good that architects have at least started thinking (at least some of them) that a major responsibility for the global warming and related climate change lies with architects.

Actually, about 30 percent of contributors for global warming are buildings, especially the building technology that requires a lot of embodied energy. To sustain these buildings on a comfortable scale, much more energy is required. Most of the spaces that we build now are air-conditioned and use materials that require huge quantities of energy, ignoring the natural possibilities of nature, wind and natural energy.

All over the world, people are now trying to use energy-efficient methods for buildings. In India, too, it has started happening – albeit slowly.

In fact, I did not feel much impact of the Recession, as my work is in a different direction. I have a very small infrastructure, and deliberately so. The building technology that I promote is also less likely to be affected by the global financial upheavals.

During the past year, I was involved in two buildings that were totally environmentally sustainable. One project is completed. It is a resort in Wayanad, and it could lay claim to being Asia’s largest resort made with mud.

The clients were convinced of the need to build with sustainable material, especially since the particular location demands that. The tribal people in the locality had traditionally used mud for their earthen houses.

For the roofing, I used bamboo and thatch. The second project that is being completed is located in Madhya Pradesh. That is also a resort near Khajuraho, close to the Panna National Park. There I have used mud and lime, which are both locally available materials.

The registration of architects is a serious issue. All architects are required to register, and you cannot call yourself an architect unless you’re registered under the Architects Act (1972). The Council of Architects (COA) has been formed to take care of the profession and education of architects.

Violating the stipulations of the Act is a punishable offence under the IPC. I am also against architects resorting to advertising. It would only make the profession commercialized, and no single person can be excluded from this.

The awareness of Green architecture was an important development during the year 2009. Although the numbers of Green buildings are not many, the consciousness has seemingly increased and the fruits should be seen soon.

Another major event is the introduction of some futuristic design attempts, some of the international designs done by Indian architects and some by foreign architects.

Recession did have an impact on the real estate sector during the last year. But the cost reduction in construction, which was also another fall-out of the Recession, has in fact led to a spurt of activities, speaking from our experience.

We do a lot of hospitals, hotels, churches and institutional buildings, and we found the construction activity in these sectors higher when compared to the previous year, mainly due to cost reduction.

So, we did a variety of such projects this year. But for me, the restoration of a heritage building in Fort Kochi (a solitary prison house where freedom fighters were confined during the Independence struggle) was the most memorable project.

The Gokulam Convention Centre and Hotel Block at Kaloor, Ernakulam, is another project we completed in 2009. It houses a convention centre with a main hall of capacity 2000, a mini convention hall of capacity 750, a dining hall of capacity 500, a semi-permanent space which can accommodate almost 2,500 people, etc.

The hotel block, which accommodates 39 rooms and facilities like restaurant, reception, etc, is an extension of the present Gokulam Park Inn Hotel at the adjacent property in Kaloor. The Gokulam Park Inn Hotel was also designed by us five years ago.

Another project we commenced last year is the Church and Provincial House for CMI Provinciate, Ernakulam, located at Kakkanadu, along the new road to the Info Park – the IT Park in Ernakulam. The complex houses a residential and office facility, and provides for accommodation for priests who visit the Provincial House for meetings and functions.

The highlight is the specially-designed church (1500 + capacity) and auditorium below.

Regarding registration, my stand is that all architects are required to register with the COA. The Indian Institute of Architects (IIA) has taken steps in this regard; but architects who have registered with the COA, New Delhi, do not have to register separately with any other local body. We have communication from the Union Government and court orders in this regard.

I believe strongly that every year is better than the previous one. This year has been no different.

We have many projects being developed. A number of them are high-rises for private enterprises, and these will be more visible in the years to come. We have remained busy and got work even when the industry showed a downturn of sorts.

I do not have to solicit work, and usually good works fall into our lap. We are not a business house, but a professional architectural group.

It is true that the Recession has impacted India, and in a way architecture too. The immediate shock was to the real estate business. Architecture is an index of what is happening. It is the first barometer of the way the economy is going. Corporate businesses and public sector work continued at its own pace, but clients began to look for good architects to ensure that they did not lose out in the bad phase.

Our most memorable project this year, a work in progress, is the HP Mittal Energy Group Ltd’s green building township in Punjab. It received a recommendation with a Gold grading accreditation from the State Department of Environment & Forests (MoEF), and is seen as a model green town with eco-friendly features.

Like doctors need to register with the medical council, architects have to register with the Council of Architecture (COA) before they can practise. But there is no such thing as a license. You become eligible to practise when you have registered with the Council, and I think all of us respect it too much to flout the parent body’s rules and regulations.

In some countries like Britain and America, architects have no restriction for advertising. In India, our elders have laid down this restraint probably because, like medicine and law, this is a noble profession.

So many lives depend on the quality of the buildings that you construct. You can easily mislead the public into believing things about you if you were allowed to use the ad-media to your advantage.

This restriction is a safeguard for the public. You must maintain decorum and discipline in the conduct of your work. Architect Hafeez Contractor was required to explain his alleged endorsement of a product. I am sure he has good values for the code of conduct. This is a good example of the fact that no one is above the law or the rules.

In the light of the global recession, where there were real concerns about economy and utility, sustainability was the mantra in 2009. Architects and designers the world over were forced to think of materials and methods in design that were eco-friendly, production of which would reduce our carbon footprint.

Apart from that, reduced budgets and concern for costs resulted in a lot of unique innovations in the related disciplines of architecture, interior design, product and graphic design.

Our success was also encouraging. Khosla Associates was recently featured in an important architectural book, ‘Hatch – The New Architectural Generation’ by Keiran Long (Lawrence King Publishers 2008).

The book features young design firms who they believe will define the physical fabric of our cities for the next 30 years, as well as the theoretical and interpretive background of architectural practice worldwide. We have the honour of being the only firm from India featured among 114 international architects.

The Recession hit was quite bad this year, and a lot of architects might have been driven to take drastic measures to survive the downturn to stay afloat. We are, fortunately, a niche firm that takes pride in our small size to create more customized projects.

Since our overheads are not huge, and we work mostly with private individuals and not so much with developers, we were less affected by the Recession. We also do a varied palette of work from hospitality projects, residential and corporate projects to retail projects.

When we realized that hospitality and retail was going slow, we shifted focus to the residential sphere. We also found a lot of people used the extra time on hand to build their dream homes!

The year brought into the limelight the issue of architects not being able to advertise. In my opinion, there should be no issue about an architect advertising a product as long as the advertisements are not issued by the architect and do not directly promote his work.

Prominent architects around the world endorse products related to the field. I personally see no issue in the endorsement of a bathroom fixture or flooring tile, for example.

2009 was a good year professionally. Creativity always remains intact and does not wane even in bad times. Particularly in this region of Asia Pacific, the architectural and design progress is shaping up very well.

New technologies and materials have brought in a revolution in design. Construction might have taken a back seat, but design and architecture progressed immensely during the past year.

For me and my firm, this has been a memorable year indeed. My project KMG InfoTech, an IT building in Mohali, Punjab, was awarded the Outstanding Concrete Structure of the year award by The Indian Concrete Institute and the other project Timex Factory at Baddi, Himachal Pradesh, was awarded a commendation certificate for Excellence in Built Form by the Indian Buildings Congress.

Besides the above, a large number of new projects have broken ground – such as the Mega Boys Hostel for NIT at Jalandhar, Museum and Human Research & Genetic Centre for Jammu University, Netsmartz (an IT building at IT Park) in Chandigarh. All these buildings are based on sustainable design principles.

In addition to hard-core architecture, my fourth book titled ‘Corb’s Capitol’, a book on Chandigarh’s architecture, which not only informs but also entertains, was released by the Swiss Ambassador in Chandigarh. The book is also available in Italian and French.

Architecture is a passion, and its undying spirit will never change because of any Recession. Our creativity kept us alive in small projects, although all the major builders’ projects were stopped. We involved ourselves in research and accumulation of information and knowledge that kept us afloat. Thankfully, the Government is our major client and Recession did not touch this sector majorly.

Architects must register to practice. I don’t think there has been any follow-up to this by the Government.

Internationally, architects are not allowed to advertise. But I feel an indirect advertisement is always in the process – be it through publications, press, or word of mouth. There is no harm if there is a limited, respectable and checked advertisement by the architects.

The competition has increased, and most of the time ethics are shoved under the carpet. Architects are now asked to give earnest money, and are given jobs based on their ‘Financial Quote’. Who is watching and checking this practice?

When a person in any field or profession achieves an iconic stature, it is not he who benefits from the projection but the people around. Hafeez Contractor is one such icon in the field of architecture in India today.

Does he need to advertise himself? I feel it is absolutely justified if he appears in some advertisement, even it is for the cause of selling flats by a builder. He changed the face and skyline of architecture in India. I think all that “pulling up” was humiliating to him and belittling of the profession in general.

Looking back on the year that has just gone by, I would say that in the field of design and architecture, it brought forth more experimental designs worldwide along with an increased focus on sustainable designs.

Many professional achievements during the year make it memorable for us. Two of our most exciting projects got completed, and some that had been in the pipeline for a long time finally started.

We were awarded the MIPIM Architectural Review Future Projects Award commendation in Cannes, France, earlier this year and were finalists in four award categories at the World Architectural Festival (WAF09) held at Barcelona, Spain, later in the year, amidst competition from 171 international firms.

We also won the IIA Best Public Building award and the IIID Accomplished Interior Design Firm award. During the worst of the Recession, we fortunately already had several projects under construction – so the Recession was not felt too strongly.

And India was impacted at a much lower scale in our profession compared to the blow that has been felt worldwide.

In comparison with the rest of the country and other fields, there were many over-ambitious projects being launched at unbelievably high prices in real estate – but they dwindled in 2009, with more realistic projects being designed and launched.

One of my projects, Triose, is a small one consisting of food and retail outlets. It has been created within a ground and one-storeyed building that weaves across the site, moving in and out from one direction to the other along its length to create a series of indoor and outdoor spaces that are seamlessly integrated by a sculptural manifestation of form.

I feel that architects should be registered with the COA. As for the incident where Hafeez Contractor was pulled up for participating in an ad, I do not think there is anything wrong if an architect’s views are used to endorse a product.

Unlike in a booming economy, during the Recession all the stakeholders looked at every aspect of a real estate development through a magnifying glass. This resulted in throwing up a new paradigm of thoughts in funding, design, engineering, marketing and construction.

The design approach has become the most vital aspect of our project by balancing all the demanding requirements, translating them into a product that would make enjoyable built environment and economical sense.

Our creative thoughts of conceptualizing the projects came up as an ace in a market that is in a do or die situation.

The sudden transition from bespoke, high value and exclusive projects to low investment, fast project cycle and value for money developments took most of us by surprise. The abrupt distortion of the market and the demand for innovative ideas has made us probe newer horizons, evolve fresh ideas and new concepts.

Many of the “amazing offers” were shallow and did not get much leverage, as investors and buyers saw through the fine print and moved on to properties that have true value.

Defining this true value is very new, and there has been a huge opportunity for us in identifying and evolving it.

Working out these concepts has been thought-provoking and challenging to all of us architects. Evolving concepts that did not exist earlier has disturbed the conservative school of thought, and there have been animated debates on the pros and cons of these ideas.

The fast pace of these projects has resulted in products that were half baked and could end up as blemish or financial disaster, if not both. Soul searching, backed by proficient engineering, judicious understanding of the needs of the end user and effective marketing were the points we concentrated on to arrive at the true articulation of a successful project.

To cater to the exigent times, it has been important for us to understand the complexity of the situation and allow ideas to evolve. There were no “correct” solutions, but a variety of theories evolved to foster the cause of the investor and the end users.

This year’s achievements vary from prestigious institutional campuses to innovative designs for industrial estate. Among the projects that are close to our heart are the high-end residential projects at prestigious addresses in South Mumbai, where we have proposed designs that set new ideals for the otherwise cuboids skyline that marks the city.

A conscious attempt has been made to provide fluidity and dynamic forms in the cityscape, with our clients’ backing and enthusiasm. Our latest designs stand testimony to our commitment to providing the city the next generation “frozen music”.

From the intertwined horizontal ribbon on Hughes Road to the gentle flame at Prabhadevi (Aquino), we have looked at the notion for these residences as sculptures that are stunning, efficient and practical.

The forms have made us push the limit on technology, material and construction to achieve an otherwise impractical solution. The client’s elation and confidence in us have been our biggest achievement.

Just as juicy as the economy was due to the global village phenomena, the downturn was as abrupt and shocking, targets went out of control, projects stalled and demanding fast-track schemes went silent.

The pitfalls of the interdependency of the world economy could not be brushed under the carpet. Like in other parts of the world, work spaces and residential projects were the first to be affected, followed by a slowdown in all verticals.

As architecture is an integral part of the fabric of the economy and the country, more so in real estate, the impact was nasty and bitter.

The downturn in the industry was felt directly by architects, construction was at a standstill, investments dried up and the services of architects were unceremoniously terminated or put into slow motion mode. Receivable payments were deferred, resources were cut down, spending was minimized and fingers were crossed for the revival of the sector.

There is something more intricate in our economy, however, that did not allow a major disaster; and the industry was able to tide over (slow but positive) while the Western countries, China and the Middle East went bust.

These were reflected by the return of talent to the country for lack of opportunity elsewhere.
 

The recovery of the stock market and government policy backing has brought back the investors’ confidence to revive the market, this time around with a high degree of caution and modest expectations on the returns. The year could have been worse; the correction, to an extent, was necessary. Thankfully, it passed over and the mood is now upbeat.

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