Vivek Sabherwal: Practice founded on an Indian architectural ethos…

Pragati Maidan Redevelopment, New Delhi (Ongoing)

Text by: Vivek Sabherwal

CPKA is an iconic architectural firm not only in India but has also made a significant mark globally. A firm with a legacy of fifty years of successful and purposeful practice is only possible when its core members adhere to certain values, and its leader sets standards for others to follow. The founder architect of the firm, Late C.P. Kukreja, started a modest firm with a two men team, which is today India’s largest architectural firm with 200 people. This is through Mr. CP Kukreja and his son Dikshu Kukreja’s strong belief in the Indian architectural ethos, sheer design brilliance and an ability to stitch together like-minded para-professionals to form a large multi-disciplinary firm that has made this stupendous achievement and carved a unique place in modern Indian architecture.

Mr. CP Kukreja’s association with architecture was not limited to setting up structures and institutions, but he worked well beyond the boundaries of a plain, practicing profession by sharing his knowledge and insights through his popular and much referred book on Tropical Architecture. This goes on to prove the responsible brand of architecture he believed in. He
took the lead in launching the much needed Indian architectural magazine– Architecture + Design (A+D) in 1984. Another significant magazine on interior design–Indian Architect and Builder, was also spearheaded by him.

I have personally followed the phenomenal growth of CPKA over the years. I have also learnt from the stories of how C.P Kukreja brought about a difference in the way architecture was being practiced, and how he introduced the concept of a multi-disciplinary firm.

Mr. Kukreja’s son Dikshu, the Managing Principal Architect of CPKA and I were together briefly, attending the Taliesin Fellowship at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, USA, in 1993. I got to know of Dikshu’s personal traits and his strong desire to learn architecture in the international arena. His international exposure while doing a stint at the Taliesin Foundation followed by his post-graduation from Harvard, and his subsequent internship in Paris followed by an internship at Kevin Roche, a leading architectural firm in USA shaped his conviction. He widely travelled across Europe and USA and his extensive travels across as a young student, enriched and nourished his learning and understanding, never limited to the mundane but always seeking profundity and on his return to India understood the pulse of architecture in the Indian architectural context. Today, he demonstrates the temperament needed for architects to practice. Together with his strong-rooted Indian values and exposure to international architecture, he set forward gradually to expand the CPKA legacy from strength to strength.

However, his induction into the office in CPKA in1997 was very modest, an unannounced introduction, and he initially handled two projects, the renovation of the prestigious Delhi Gymkhana Club and the restoration as well as addition to the iconic Oberoi Hotel property in Srinagar which was taken over by the Lalit Hotel Group; both the projects with different learning experiences. He gradually started playing a greater role in the firm which allowed him to grow at each level, and to earn respect from his seniors in the office. There is a lot to learn from this example, for any big business house. His USA stint taught him to be daring, and innovative. This allowed the practice to have a culture of innovation. Even at an entry level, a fresher is encouraged to give innovative ideas, in the firm.

Dikshu deals with architecture as a reflection of the inner state of mind, and that for him, must essentially project meaningful communication and rejoice in the exchange of essential elements, such as space, air, light. He has a pragmatic approach in design and believes that a responsible architect will produce a viable design rather than a far-fetched one. Which is why he is impressed with Frank Lloyd Wright’s philosophy of ‘Learning By Doing’. Dikshu aspires to imbibe the holistic approach of his father in his practice, and qualities such as devotedness to work, empathy, modesty and a giving nature, are those that are dear to him.

CPKA has a positive outlook that sees vast, unexplored opportunities for architects within the country, and believes that it cannot transform the ever- changing architecture demands from the society, alone. It therefore believes in a collaborative approach, an understanding of the clients’ brief, and responding to them without being subservient. It diagnoses the problems with responsibility, convincing and educating the clients and enlightening them at the same time. Giving back to the society, making responsible and sustainable architecture remains the focus.

While the architecture in India is being largely influenced by global trends and also architects feel they are marginalised in today’s society and to a large extent, we have allowed it to happen according to Dikshu Kukreja. He believes that we as architects have not come together, and have allowed ourselves to be marginalised. He also believes that today the Architect’s role needs to be redefined. He calls it “Responsive Architecture” – where architecture responds to the elements and matter in the environment, and is in harmony with the natural, climatic, cultural, societal, economic and technical components of the cosmos.

If architecture can manifest itself as a unified product combining all of the above, and adapt equally to change, it is to be considered responsible.CPKA acts in response to the environment, and combines the timelessness of the old with the freshness of the new, to make architecture significant. The list of myriad architectural works recently completed or under construction are long, each one responding to specific needs of the client and environment and the firm continues to exceed everyone’s expectations. Dikshu C.Kukreja believes that the way India is poised today, there are ample opportunities in the coming years and there are exciting times in architecture, but there is no room for complacency.

Architect Vivek Sabherwal is the Director at Apeejay School of Architecture & Planning, Greater Noida