Architecture basics 101

Acclaimed architect Snehal Shah, whose exposition of works was recently published in the book, titled Snehal Shah Architect, shares his design philosophy and style, the importance of sustainability and what ails Indian architecture

Q. What’s the book Snehal Shah Architect about? What can one expect from it?
A. The book has been designed for people to understand how an architect and architecture works. It is divided into four parts, the first part is about learning from the gurus, while the second part is about learning from the history of architecture. The third part is about learning from the climate, whereas the fourth part is about empirical studies. The last one is about learning from mistakes, part of which is an essay on my journey as an architect over the last 25 years.

Designs from the book Snehal Shah Architect

Q. How do you look at the current status of Indian architecture? Do you think we have been able to live up to our architectural heritage?
A. Firstly, I want to say that I am proud of being an Indian and I have the Indian flag flying in my office. No other architecture firm does that. But I have to be critical of present day Indian architecture. We have so much potential but the cities are not planned. Look at Mumbai. It has gone to a disastrous end. There is no fresh air or water. We are not planning our cities well. The bureaucracy is there but rules are being violated. The builders are scoundrels. So my firm took a conscious decision of not working for builders. We work for professionals and companies who give back to the society. A building has to be habitable, but it should also be green and sustainable. We have potential but with builders, most architects cut corners and do horrendous work. Also, our imitation of the West is bad. We take anything foreign as sacrosanct. I believe in our tradition. India is at a unique crossroad. We had a Socialist set-up and connection with the Russians. Our bureaucracy is British. And our food is all-American. Then there is our cultural paradigm. It is a hotchpotch of identities. We can wear trousers but need to think according to our own context.

Q. Who has been the major influences in your style of architecture?
A. I studied in India and Indian history is my passion. I believe Indian architecture is interesting. I then went to Europe to study their architecture. I learnt from their culture and milestones. I feel today, we have to build what is relevant and appropriate. We have to talk about today’s context. One has to learn from one’s culture, civilisation, etc. And there were my mentors like Robin Middleton and Royston Landau.

Designs from the book Snehal Shah Architect

Q. Which is your favourite project that you have worked on? Any projects by other architects?
A. There was one project which I did for a poor farmer for R17, 000. It was a temple wall. Then there was a Ramakrishna Mission project. Another one was for Tata Consultancy Services for R600 crores. The company never takes Indian architects. I love the work by BV Doshi and Charles Correa a lot. Some of their projects are marvellous. I worked for six-seven years with Mario Botta who was brilliant to work with. The Swiss government have released two postage stamps of his, which is very rare for any architect.

Designs from the book Snehal Shah Architect
Snehal Shah Architect, Jackie Cooper and Haig Beck, Mapin Publishing, Rs 2,500. Available at leading bookstores in the city.

Q. Pune has developed in terms of real estate. How do you see the growth, in terms of architecture?
A. It has not been consistent but haphazard. There are some disasters. There are very few good buildings. Most try to imitate the West, but never imitate the climate. For example, the wada system is well-constructed. There is social interaction, good materials used, relevant flooring and so on. It is sensitive to the surroundings. However, the modern buildings are imitating the West. For example, you cannot have glass railings. It attracts too much sun and dust. There is a waste of energy too.

Q. What are your suggestions for more environment-friendly, modern and yet very Indian homes?
A. If one has to be rooted to the context, then it should be as per the surroundings. We call it regionalism. A building suited for Pune is not suited for Kolkata, while a building in Kolkata cannot be built in Chennai. Copy-paste is a wrong system. You have to give 100%.

On learning from the past

There’s so much one can learn from the past. For example, the temples from the past. In the 14th century, masterpiece churches were built 14-storeys high. They built all the architecture by keeping the climate in mind. Buildings were built to last forever. People die but architecture lives forever.

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