Change is the only constant in life

As in life, a change in professional environment brings both fear and excitement. The fear is of the fast-changing nature of projects and the industry, and of a firm’s ability to cope up to meet thesechallenges—especially new ones that they may not have faced earlier. But then, this is precisely the most exciting aspect of Architecture—to dream and achieve what has not been done earlier. So architectural firms, even more so than other professions, must learn to embrace change and rise up with every opportunity that the client demands from them.

In this article, I would like to share a few aspects of the changes that I have seen over the last three decades of work, and some trends of the future ahead for architectural practices in India.

Indian architecture—like Indian food—is full of strong flavors from our heritage and culture. I began my career in the nineties, at a time when Indian architecture was opening up to global influences. It was a trend, driven by the urge to be a part of the developed world. Our projects during the time were conceived as a balance between the place and the time, showing traditional architecture features fused with a contemporary overall form or detail.

As the years progressed, we saw the overall form and function starting to take the driver’s seat, and the traditional architecture was reflected only in the details on the façade or within. Our clients, in especially real estate projects, were more focused on a contemporary and global outlook to cater to their well-travelled clientele.

As we see today, the process of globalisation is getting stronger, but so is the need to stay contextual. So, the challenge in projects today is to find solutions that are as bold and innovative as the best globally, yet as relevant and regional as possible to make the building rooted to its place and people. Amongst my personal favorite works by our office are the Rajiv Gandhi Bhawan and Kolkata Airport. Both of these achieved a unique experience in combining Architecture, Structural Design, Landscape Design and Interiors, to bring together a seamless and memorable boldness to the users.

We strongly believe in Winston Churchill’s dictum: “We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us.” In recent times, our various works have imbibed these aspects and our institutional works have become iconic to their campuses. Our attempt is that the innovativeness that we create for our student spaces will stay with them as they pass through these campuses.

An important change that architects are seeing in their works over the years is the increase in scale and complexity of the projects. As the population and their requirements grow, so does the scale of developments. For the last two decades, India is seeing far bigger developments planned and attempted than the scale that Indian consultants were used to. While this presents great opportunity to Indian firms, they must first take on the responsibility of meeting the multidisciplinary requirements of these projects. The social, environmental, financial and construction impacts of the large projects that are now being taken up require multidisciplinary specialists and teams to address them well. These are the new realities and opportunities for firms that want to grow into these projects.

Since the speed of delivery of work has also hastened, so also the need to quickly group together and rearrange specialists when required, which is paramount to any large modern multidisciplinary firm. Design is increasingly driven by knowledge and performance parameters, and more than ever earlier, the process of design today defines a large part of the likely solution. While we continue to design our projects with experience and inputs on knowledge and performance, the architectural focus remains to dream and create destinations for a new generation.

Since a large number of people have to together work on these mega projects, so the role of the architect is being redefined amongst a team of specialists. While architects will have to learn and balance more aspects of work by a wider team, they will also have to lead
them to reach solutions quickly and effectively. This is particularly challenging, because though the firms’ responsibilities have become multidisciplinary, their consulting fee have become leaner. The only way forward seems to be the use of technologies that bring efficiency, and slowly building strengths across various consulting roles, while retaining the role of being the leader of the team.

There are, however, new project typologies that are emerging for architectural firms to consider, and these may demand upskilling of their teams. Some of these interesting projects that we have been involved with lately include museums, iconic landmarks, street-scapings, and innovative mixed-use projects. These projects are challenging with a lot of learning and give us tremendous satisfaction when we commission them.

Apart from architecture, our firm tremendously enjoys master-planning projects. Lately, we have undertaken several developments where the project is able to benefit a significant part of the city and touch the lives of a large population daily. Works in such projects vary, from Airport Master Plans to Multimodal Redevelopments and even Healthcare Cities.

It is through work and experience across such large projects, that we were shortlisted along with five other national firms for participation in the Central Vista Redevelopment in New Delhi. Besides the building designs, our master-planning proposals included redefining the Rajpath as a paved stretch so as to combine the divided greens, creating a Jansthal at the Janpath junction as a Republic Day parade plaza, adding an underground multimodal interchange with a monorail linking all buildings on Rajpath to the two metro stations, and many more. These developments could create a new public space and a tourism destination for the city and its visitors.

Our recent project designs have also taken on new construction technologies, and we have successfully completed several steel andcomposite buildings, which is likely to be a growing trend ahead. The work on such projects and technologies keep our teams abreast of global trends and technologies. Looking ahead, we see a vast array of new challenges and opportunities.

One clear opportunity will be for Indian design firms to go global and spread their influence in the region. Recently, we participated in a few international design competitions and our success there has inspired us to go ahead strongly. Our firm has also been listed for six years running as amongst the world’s WA TOP 100, by the popular British design magazine, Building Design. Having won the American Institute of Architects (AIA) award for Kolkata Airport, and with our founder’s principles and values remaining within our compass, we are now setting our sails for the journey ahead.

Text by: Raman Sikka