I’ve worked on projects in Jerusalem, New York and Mumbai and I’ve seen firsthand the way our projects are sensitive to different contexts, climates and cultures.
Considering India in itself has a vast syntax of architecture and design, what in your opinion is the right definition for Indian Architecture and Design?
I believe that architecture, in general should be designed to respond to the current needs of the people, economy and culture, to reflect the aspirations of the society and create activated spaces for engaging with the community. India has a vibrant culture which celebrates it’s diversity and inclusiveness. We have a great depth of historic layers which leave an impression, a residue on sites across the country. We have an extremely youthful population which we, in all possibility, must leverage. I believe that Indian architecture today should leverage the regional, historic layers embedded in each site, be respectful of context and planning, respond to climatic conditions, be able to adapt to changing programmatic demands and define spaces that encourage public interaction. Material selection offers great scope in achieving contextual design ambitions while locally sourced materials can help retain the desired monumentality combined with great performance.
As we get globalised day by day, are we in the midst of an identity crisis in the architecture and design sense?
On one hand, globalisation can lead to a standardisation of architecture, which is based on the glass box model of design thinking, with little integration into the nature of design or fabric of the city. However, if we look at the other end of the spectrum, globalisation enables sharing of information, utilising new technologies and borrowing ideas and precedents that have been proven to work well in other parts of the world.
Having said that, it’s important for one to recognise the contextual nuances which are crucial to the success of a project. I practice architecture in the United States and through my work I recognise the importance of understanding how spaces are going to be used by the inhabitants and this can vary dramatically even across different cities! I’ve worked on projects in Jerusalem, New York and Mumbai and seen firsthand the way our projects are sensitive to different contexts, climates and cultures. For instance, for a residential tower we have worked on in Jerusalem, we have incorporated Jerusalem Stone (limestone) into the façade design so that the building retains the material qualities of its surroundings.
Globally, sustainability is an extremely crucial problem that will have unique solutions based on geographical, cultural differences.
When it comes to traditional Indian architecture, which project in your opinion is a landmark project?
The Indian step wells such as the Chand Baori in Abhaneri, a traditional Indian landmark project. The excavation went all the way to the water table to provide water for drinking, washing, bathing and irrigation. The design consists of 3,500 symmetrical narrow steps on three sides, with the fourth side consisting of a three-story pavilion with Jarokhas, galleries and balconies meant for the royal families.
It’s not just the monumentality of the form which makes me consider it a landmark project. But it’s the performative aspect of the project which made it extremely successful in bringing people together and integrating itself into daily life at the time. The structure responded to the climate by acting as a cistern to store water in the monsoon. It was a gathering space for community events. Functionally, it provided water for daily activities. It was built in an era where water was worshipped as a life-giving resource, and the architecture celebrates the ideology of the time.
When it comes to contemporary architecture, which project in your opinion reflects the inherent ‘Indianess’ in the present timeline?
I think the design for Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport Terminal 2 is a good example of how contemporary architecture can recontextualise and reinterpret traditional architectural elements by using modern fabrication techniques and modern aesthetics.
The terminal celebrates a global, high-tech identity for Mumbai while being responsive to the local setting, history and culture. Formally, the roof of the concourse references traditional Indian Pavilions. At all scales, the terminal’s architecture incorporates regional patterns and textures. The monumental spaces created beneath the thirty mushrooming columns reminisce airy pavilions and interior courtyards of traditional regional architecture. Articulated coffered treatment on the headhouse columns and roof surfaces, intricate jali window screens that filter dappled light into the concourses, show how Terminal 2 demonstrates the potential for a modern airport to reference traditional architectural elements. Functionally too, the airport design bears the context in consideration since it provides a gracious curbside drop-off zones designed for large parties of accompanying well-wishers accommodate traditional Indian arrival and departure ceremonies.
How much say will technology have in the future of architecture?
Technology has always been an integral part of the built environment. Legendary Architect Mies van der Rohe had said, “Technology is rooted in the past. It dominates the present and tends into the future.”Technological innovations broaden the spectrum of using alternative, sustainable materials for building construction and design. A lot is also usually lost in the quest of adopting newer advances and technological applications which must be accompanied by a conscious effort in addressing to also promote and push forward existing methodologies. Sophistication in visualisation and precision in design decisions has by far been greatly leveraged through fabrication technologies like 3D printing and robotics, laser cutting, CNCing and shall continue to aid architectural deliberations. Big Data has made its foray into architecture and promises to help architects and designers deliver spaces that are responsive to the context and inhabitant needs. Climate responsive architecture is greatly informed by data and technological integrations in high performance building design. In my opinion, technology is unarguably a tool that enables architects the flexibility to explore the design potential of a certain project while also lending a minimal error decision making capability. Technology, today, is an indivisible part of building science and shall only add more relevance to spatial complexities that we attempt to solve through architectural interventions.
Riya Patel, Architect, Pei Cobb Freed and Partners, New York