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Architecture is a way of life: Ar. Khanna

“Architecture is an ever encompassing feeling which we experience all the time,” says Ar. Sabeena Khanna
Architecture is an art that works hand-in-hand with science to design place where people can live, eat, work and play. In order to design these environments, an architect combines the practical considerations of the site, the clients’ needs and costs with a creative understanding of materials, aesthetics, and the cultural and physical contexts. In an exclusive interview with ACE Update, Ar. Sabeena Khanna shares how an architect uses her creativity and working knowledge of structures and materials to provide living, working and recreational environment.
What drew you to architecture and how do you see your role as an architect?Architectural inspiration came to me at an early age from my architect father, V.N. Shah, who spearheaded Haryana and Himachal Pradesh for almost 20 years as a chief architect. I travelled the length and breadth of these states with him and was fascinated to see new places and cultures, meet people and even visit construction sites. Little did I realize that via participating in daily discussions or travelling with my father, I was subtly being exposed to the design environment long before my formal education was to be in architecture.
Architecture, for me, is a way of life. My architectural lineage includes my illustrious father; my husband, Rajiv, who is my greatest critic; my brother, Ajay, who shares professional motivation as well as my daughter, Sakshi, who brings in a degree of freshness with an emphasis on real estate finance.
I believe that every day is a learning experience and seek inspiration from everything around me. For Studio KIA, it is always about people; hence, all our designs are people centric.
The role of an architect today reaches beyond “building a building”, to offering a kaleidoscope of enrichment in the fields of landscape , interiors, lighting, set and stage design, public art, installation design, design of public space, brand design, community consultation, research, urban design and many more where the scope is limitless.
In the words of Renzo Piano, “Good architecture is intentioned. It touches the people who use it and live in it.”
As architects, we have a social and cultural responsibility to create buildings that uplift the human spirit in addition to the function they serve. We create physical environments and subtly infuse positivity and relevance, which improves quality of life. These collectives make architecture meaningful and fascinating beyond its physical manifestation.
Sensitivity and responsiveness, nevertheless, will continue to govern our architectural practice so that engaging and collaborative environments are created. In architecture, we continue to demand ‘better than before’ of ourselves as an architect which keeps us going to deliver our best with each project.Is there anything you know now that you didn’t know when you started as an architect?Fresh out of school, with theoretical concepts drilled into you, one feels like an ultimate designer — a la Howard Roark, out to change the world. The masters are a direct source of inspiration and you think you know it all!However, the transition from being a student to starting out as an architect till today has been a constant learning curve, and it should continue to be because the day one stops learning, it is over. From education to profession is perceptibility. The profession teaches us to deal with diverse ground realities of client dealing, project management, construction awareness, budgeting, material selection and timelines to construction supervision.
Technological advancements too have revolutionised the profession today. Architectural trends could range from tall, glitzy buildings of Dubai which defy all standard practices of structural design to the green, vernacular architecture imbibing the need for sustainability in today’s times.The current designing scenario is vastly creative and varied. Over the years, I have learnt that every day of my architectural practice is a competition where I have to compete with myself!
What are the biggest challenges the profession of architecture is facing?The architecture profession is in transition. There’s a lot of change happening, and we have always adapted the change.
Globalisation, rapid urbanisation and technological advances are the new world order. Today architecture brings together much that is important for society at large; namely, shelter, social function, technology, art, economics, politics, science and more. Consequently, architecture can be a mirror to society.
New technologies are changing the nature of work by creating new forms of leisure, the hyper-reality of cyberspace, new virtual realities, and new modes of information and design. Dramatic changes in innovation have been part of modernity for centuries as also technological development and expansion. Transitional forms of architecture are traversing national boundaries and becoming part of a new world culture. Technological advancement in electronics, robotics, telecommunications, new materials and biotechnology has given rise to a new paradigm that accentuates the role of the world cities. Globalisation seems to be associated with a loss of place identity.
Indian architecture has been influenced by its long history, extremely varied geographical and environmental conditions across the country and ancient philosophical ideas. The consequent cultural diversity is exemplified in the form of the towns and cities which have evolved over time across the country.
Against this multi-layered backdrop, the realities of today pose challenges for the development of a contemporary architectural ethos. With a quarter of the country’s population living in cities today, the urban structure which together constitutes a contemporary city can be identified as the organically evolved, the planned and the spontaneous with the present challenge of integration, to form a harmonious whole, while respecting the cultural characteristics of each type.
Also, the problem of very large numbers in Indian cities poses the challenge of managing scarce resources effectively. Perhaps the greatest hope lies in the development of a professional ethos which is responsive to these challenges of historical continuity, scarce resources, socio-cultural complexity and technological contradictions.
What are the projects that you’ve done make you proud? Studio KIA has done projects of all types and magnitude within the country and globally for renowned business houses, developers and government organisations. Our professional journey began three and a half decades ago with the Timber Trail Resort, Parwanoo in Himachal Pradesh which soon became the most sought-after uphill getaway for the people of Chandigarh and Punjab and continues to be so.
Our architectural odyssey has taken us through many interesting phases wherein we engaged in thought provoking to highly creative design projects ranging from hospitality and retail interiors for Khazana stores, Taj Group of Hotels and ITDC properties to large townships for Allahabad and Ghaziabad Development Authorities to master planning for mixed-land use developments and recreational environments globally.The flavour of the architectural practice has been vast and varied with our recent key projects being The Umrao, a boutique hotel near the IGI Airport on National Highway-8 in Delhi; district headquarters for South Goa Collectorate, a 4,00,000-sq.-ft. institutional building in Portuguese architectural character; Palm Drive and Palm Terraces Select for Emaar MGF, Gurgaon; The Grand, luxury apartments for SARE Group in Gurgaon; and TDI Tuscan Heights, Kundli.
The international concerns include the Dubai Lifestyle City, Dubailand for ETA Group; concept creation of a mixed land-use development in Sharjah on a land lot admeasuring 9 sq. Km; hospitality project design in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; a 500-acre mixed-land use-cum-residential development in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; and schools at Al Wathba and Mussaffah in Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Is there any project you wish you designed? How can you make the project better?Architecture is an art that works hand-in-hand with science to design place, where people can live, eat, work and play. As a design professional, an architect uses his creativity and working knowledge of structures and materials to provide living, working and recreational environments. To design these environments, an architect combines the practical considerations of the site, the clients’ needs and costs with a creative understanding of materials, aesthetics, and the cultural and physical contexts. Architects have to balance the private needs of their clients with the interest of the community at large.
Architectural design is a therapy or a creative exercise which is unique to each architect.
What makes a great place? What makes one think fondly of a visit to a favourite town or city and want to return there? What makes a place uniquely itself, of a region, characteristic of the land and the people who live on it? How can a new development become one of these favourite places?
I would like to be able to echo these feelings into a creation which immortalises architecture to a level of celebration and pride for its users.What advice you have for younger architects?We’re living in interesting times, and I’ve found myself contemplating what makes us tick. I enter my design studio every morning with renewed confidence and creativity. In a studio full of machines with constant clicking of the key boards, my work desk with its antiquated drawing board and ruffling of tracing sheets, I get my daily measure of inspiration. The stroke of the pencil and the initial concept sketch continue to form the basis of each design created.
The architects are an enthused lot with strong ideologies. Today they excite and are impressive, while the architects of the previous generation influenced and inspired. Creativity flows in abundance nevertheless. We have to learn from our past and build on it.
Nothing succeeds like success, and living is all about winning. Winning isn’t from people around you but from your own self, every day.


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