For CHANGE (Official Newsletter of “The Indian Institute of Architects” – Chennai Centre)
1. How do you define an Architect?
An Architect is a free-thinking intellectual who adapts to the changing environment.
2. What is your design philosophy and has it changed over the years?
Our philosophy is “Design Matters”; which in effect means that every design solution is unique. We are very independent thinkers. We are never influenced by dogmatic principles.
3. Tell us your association with Charles Correa.
Charles Correa and I were partners when we started at Bombay. We are actually very close friends to start with. When in Chennai, he always calls on me. Charles is a very independent person. He doesn’t borrow ideas from anybody. His design philosophy is completely original. We then separated when I left Mumbai. Here in South India, there are a couple of buildings we designed together like the Kovalam Beach Resort (presently owned by The Leela Group) and the Indian Express building (which didn’t go through till the end). Charles is very strong natured and he doesn’t butter anybody.
4. Any interesting aspect of the design process in your firm?
Our firm approaches design intrinsically. Basically we don’t borrow anything from others. Everything has to be original. So that is our philosophy.It varies from client to client, but once you are handling something completely, there should be absolute individualism. The values do not differ from project to project.
5. How far has your experience been contextual; working in Chennai and Mumbai in comparison?
We are always personally associated with our projects wherever they are. Whether our clients are from Delhi, Mumbai, Paris or America; our philosophy is the same. We don’t just hand over the project to an assistant; we are always actively involved in every aspect of design.Architecture will change from place to place and individual to individual; I have to design to my clients requirements. Mumbai is a very sophisticated place and you always learn something every day but in Chennai you don’t!
6. Has Globalization affected your Architecture as a Practitioner?
It’s easy to assume that we are not as creative as International Architects. But with the restrictions on development rules and financial budgets, each project has a different necessity and it varies in every place you work. Whether you are from Spain, Italy or Singapore, as an architect you need to adapt to the local requirements. We have to design for the client and not for ourselves. As far as I am concerned, generally all of our designs have to be accepted both locally and globally.
7. Your views on the Architectural education in Chennai?
My entire architectural education has been in London, England. On interviewing the people who aspire to work in our firm, we assess their potential in terms of design and communication skills and place them where they most express these traits. No less, no more. If he is as good as Charles Correa, then he will attain that level of sophistication and we will treat him like that. To me personally, I feel architectural education in Chennai is very poor. The Institutions as a whole should improve.
8. With the rise in the Builders and Developers, do you think the scope of Architects is limited or do they still have a holistic approach?
There are many developers who just want the architect’s design. They are not concerned with its correct implementation. We make sure that our firm is involved actively even during the engineering and construction activity irrespective of whether we are asked to do so or not. For us, design is only the first phase of the process. As a professional, it’s important to understand this philosophy.
9. What is the biggest challenge you faced as an architect and what is the biggest change these days?
We had no challenge because our mantrawasvery simple “do your best to achieve the most optimum result”. If the challenges were to go against our moral codes or ethics, then we would leave the job, there are no two ways about it. Because to me, this is a profession which has to be completely independent.
The change is these days we are learning less and sometimes we are learning nothing. That is the change!
10. Who has been your inspiration?
My inspiration from England would be Architects Michael & Rhoda. They are highly qualified MIT graduates hailing from England. They probably still practice and to me, they are the best in England. We were associated not only at work, but also because I used to cook great Indian food! In any case, we became lifelong friends.
11. Generally what is your opinion of the Architectural scene in Chennai?
It is very poor, there is no proper training or background, or educational facilities are lacking. Buildings are very average. Basically our clients are also not inspiring. Design has to be a complete harmony between a client and architect – it must happen together.Today’s Architecture in Chennai has no direction. We must have a direction. This must start basically from both sides – client and the architect. Also, sometimes the Architect does not take much interest to find out the design brief from the client. To educate the client it is not by one generation, it is a continual process.
12. What is the Urban Landscape in Chennai heading towards?
First of all, one has to understand Town planning and Urban design which is far ahead in technique abroad. We have to have direction on each of these areas and only then we can have some discussion on these things.
Most of the young architects don’t even know what Architecture is! Leave aside the direction…. When we have to discuss a subject like architecture first you have to know about it. Only better education can change things.
Good faculty is a must. Training for faculty is a necessity. We should have a positive understanding of the subject and then goabout working on it.
13. Which project of yours is close to your heart and why?
I have done a complete University from beginning to end at Vallabh Vidhyanagar in Gujarat (now known as Sardar Patel University) for Hirubhai Murjibhai Patel. “HM” as he was fondly known, was a dear friend too.We worked on innovative ideas in education reform to create an adaptive learning environment. It was really interesting.
14. How does it feel now looking back in your career?
I have come a long way but I have still not yet given the best that I could.
15. Do you still participate in the office design processes?
Still every inch of design that happens in the office comes to my son even today. Architecture is a subject like that; you must practice it yourself. Otherwise there is no point. Otherwise, anybody could do it…The draftsman can be given a brief and that’s all…. but the originality will be missing.
16. Any one book that has inspired you a lot?
A book that was written by Frank Lloyd Wright called “The Frank Lloyd Wright Companion”. One can understand the reason why Wright was not only a great architect, but definedthe very name of Architecture. This book will tell you exactly what Architecture is, what we are talking about and the way to go about designing masterpieces.
It is very important that one knows the subject and that one indulges in it…only then further development can take place. That concept is not here in India.
Before you take up Architecture as a profession, you must understand the meaning of the word; otherwise it’s of no use. Studying the designs of Wright should be made mandatory in every architectural institute.
17. What is the greatest lesson in Architecture that you would like to pass on to the younger generation of architects?
First of all, all these architects who study Architecture in India must understand the real meaning of the word and why they want to study Architecture. If you don’t know or don’t care, don’t pursue it. There is no point of studying. This is the most vital thing.
Understanding ‘what is Architecture is’ not so easy. Unless they embracethe essence of the subject, they will know nothing. In our office now, which is one of the leading practices in Chennai, none of the fresher’s who join actually understand why they want to be an architect. See it’s not just a job. It’s a vocation. You must know your vocation well to bring about a change in society.
18. How important is it for an architect to be associated with a body like the IIA?
You see for any vocation, a professional institute is required.Similarly, we have ‘The Indian Institute of Architects’ in our country. It is very important for all professionals to be a part of the body to create some governing model code of conduct and professional ethics. But unfortunately, just like other professions in India, ours is also bereft of principles. We have to change that, and the IIA is a perfect forum to do it. The young architects of our country should try hard to preserve this noble profession.