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Designer of an unbiased architecture

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Architect G. Shankar Narayan started his professional career, working at various firms in Delhi and Bangalore. In 1988, when his father post-retirement wanted to construct his own house, Shankar returned to Hyderabad. This was also the beginning of his independent practice, Shankar Narayan Architects founded in the same year. Speaking to Sapna Srivastava the prolific architect, in his own words, briefs about his journey, design approach and views on the current architectural scenario in India.

My first project as an independent architect was that for my parents at Hyderabad. Simultaneously, I started working on two-three other small residential projects. In fact, I had got admission in some American universities for post-graduation but I decided to continue working on the projects that my clients had entrusted me with, a decision that I do not regret. Today we handle projects varying from campus designs, institutional, industrial and corporate interiors right down to individual residences. My learning from the initial projects was to be committed to the work that one has taken up as the client has shown a huge trust in you when he handed the project. Especially in case of residential projects which involves owner’s emotional attachment and investment of savings.

The Work Approach

When a client walks into your office, he has already researched about you, your work and maybe he comes with a reference. He comes with a belief that you are the designer who would be able to deliver the building that he desires. Thus, it becomes an architect’s responsibility to advise him properly and to provide value in terms of optimum space planning, innovative design and cost effective construction techniques and materials. Some clients would like to cut corners, compromise on design or would want to copy another project, but the architect has to build that trust and relationship by giving the professional and rational advice and not be swayed by client’s opinion. The owner might one day sell the property and may no longer own it, but for an architect it will always remain his work.

I consciously did not bind myself in any one genre of buildings because as an architect, I feel it is our mandate to deal with human shelter in the largest sense of the term where a person can feel an eternal sense of being. Thus, the firm has worked in various sectors. One of the first large scale projects was a crafts village, Shilparaamam at Hyderabad. Spread over 60 acres of rocky urban terrain this project seeks to recreate ethnic architecture for crafts persons and artistes to practice their art. This place has become very popular with the public because of its open, organic and landscaped architecture. In contrast, the Secunderabad railway station is a modern landmark that handles one-lakh passengers a day.

Another project, the Henry Martyn Institute is compact campus of five acres that caters to institutional, residential and meditation facilities. The layout is in formal axial geometry with built forms grouped compactly around courtyards and a large fruit orchard complementing the built mass. In the Polartech India Pvt. Ltd, a industrial unit, natural ventilation system was introduced, much before the green design became a buzzword. Spread over 3.5 acres, the facility with production, administrative and laboratory buildings is designed keeping space time patterns in mind and project an international image of efficiency and environment friendliness. Likewise, the under design Church at Dharur is being planned as an iconic building with seating capacity of 1500 people. The project uses locally available Tandur stone in innovative ways in its construction.

The Design Attitude

I relish innovation in material use and structures based on the profile and psyche of the user. The design has to be honest and non-gimmicky that relies on the fundamentals of scale, proportion, light and use of materials to create spaces and forms. Proper utilization of essential materials and emphasis on workmanship is the design approach that I follow. Design professionals need to invest in human resources that is, our skilled artisans. Even a low cost material can look special and high-end with right workmanship. Also, I don’t believe in altering the site characteristics or reshaping it too much. One needs to build spaces in conjunction with the contours of the site and existing features, which in my opinion also brings out a more interesting design.

Rational analysis from functional point of view, client requirement, budget, site location, climate and the context of the project are some of the important factors critical in putting together the preliminary design concept. The form emerges from the practical needs. For instance in case of developers projects, the architect needs to realize the real estate potential. In cities, land is at premium and therefore clients are advised to have minimal building footprint to conserve land. Specifically in industrial projects, the built spaces should not be spread out to keep scope for expansion in later years without having to acquire more land that will be expensive.As a matter of fact, it is the elements like, site constraints, budget limitations and space availability etc. that help bring out the creativity of a designer. The challenges make the architect push the envelope to bring out the best of designs that can satisfy all aspects of requirements.

 

Architects cannot be over dependant on technology. Such as, if viable ventilation alternative is available, it should be made use of in high-rise buildings for natural air circulation, but in some buildings where either such an arrangement is not viable or based on its function not preferable, the designer’s aim should be to reduce thermal loads for energy efficient HVAC.


Technology Influencing Design

Technology is essential for large-scale projects, as they need advanced materials and systems to work efficiently. However, they should be used in smart combination with climatology, orientation and local materials. For example, new age glass facades are not bad but how the designer utilizes the glass is important. The building materials need to be employed rationally depending upon the requirement of the project. In the name of modernization, trying to transplant a building design from another part of the world in a city in India without understanding the local conditions and implications will never work. With globalization, the project management in design profession has increased and become an important part of project delivery. This has brought some degree of professionalism in the building industry but has failed to make much change at the ground level. The masons, workers, carpenters are not being able to keep up with the fast changing times and their capabilities are decreasing day by day. One of the reasons is that with spurt in construction activities in the country, there is not enough emphasis on quality assessment. Secondly, there are no training avenues available for the workers to upgrade their skills in sync with the requirements of large-scale projects.

The Contemporary Architecture

Our contemporary architecture is mainly being shaped by the high growth of urbanization. Apart from cities, the rural areas too are getting concretized. Though, the economic growth of the country is driving the designs of our buildings pan India, there is no common design language due to the sheer size and versatility of the nation. The diverse customs, climates, income patterns & life styles vary from region to region and affect the architecture as well. The process of attuning our budding architects to the reality of designing for the varied sensibilities should start right from the educational institutes. There should be more lateral integration of subjects taught and instead of theoretical teaching of age-old concepts, practical insights ought to be given in the design subject.

What’s more, too many specializations in the field of architecture have in many instances led to the dilution of architect’s role as a master builder. Ideally, an architect should combine the expertise of various specialists like lighting, landscaping, structural or utility consultants to add value to the project and not let that be detrimental to the final outcome as desired by the owner. Architect being the captain of the ship has to decide how and where to utilize certain specializations without losing focus of the client functional requirements.

The recent green movement has created a level of awareness among the end users to adopt new eco-friendly alternative materials and systems, which are cost efficient in long run. The process is gradual and an architect plays a major role in promoting the use of innovative materials. Unfortunately, today it is the period of fashionable architecture, many a times client wants the architect to replicate the design that is in vogue without understanding, if it suits his requirement, the building context or not. In addition, as we are a certification crazy nation, getting green endorsement has overtaken the real environment sensitive designing and construction Moreover, the focus of design dialogue today has shifted to so called ‘green’ buildings, neglecting the much more imperative need for equitable and humanistic architecture in India. If millions of people do not find habitable living spaces, ‘green’ architecture will serve a very few.

Lack of planning is evident in our modern metros where confusion seems to be the identity of the architecture. With most Tier-I & Tier-II cities growing in disorderly manner, the efforts need to be channelized towards creating an order in how we plan the city layout and how we design our buildings within that plan. Presently, the city development is driven by the politicians, real estate developers, trade bodies and corporates with little say of the design professionals in policy making. There is an urgent need for design community and associations to voice their opinions in the public sphere. One very recent example of this apathy is the bifurcation of state of Andhra Pradesh. While everyone from political leaders to corporate heads are giving their inputs on the shape, size and location of the new capital to be made, no architects or town planners can be heard who can suggest how not to repeat the mistakes of the past while designing the new capital city.

 

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