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By Onkareshwar Pandey

  • Modi Govt. should think about ‘Smart Towns’ now
  • There are Flaws in design of Master Plan of Delhi
  • The Indian Architecture before independence was the Golden Era
  • Over the period – “Government Architecture” became a style!!
  • Creativity and engineering must go together
  • Good Quality of teachers and professionals needed to teach
  • My dream would be to give the design vision for affordable housing
  • It should be “The celebration of housing” not “The apology of housing“

“India’s model of Smart Cities have become a classic example of the story of an elephant and four blind men. Nobody has a complete picture and definitely the picture that we missed out was the “urban form”, the public spaces, solutions to de-clogging drains, solar street lighting, rain water and solid waste management, and also hawkers and informal sectors. India needs to follow Barcelona model of smart city, which is far more holistic than ours. Our model of smart city is, ironically, more engineering driven and not an architecture and urban design solution,” says Dikshu C Kukreja, one of India’s top Architects, who is a staunch supporter of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Smart City projects. Dikshu has designed several iconic and some of the largest buildings such as Gautam Buddha University, Greater Noida, which maintains a strong position in the top 10 best designed universities of the world in the list of Harvard, Oxford and Cambridge.

Onkareshwar Pandey talked to Dikshu C Kukreja on various issues related to Architecture, Planning, Designing and Architectural education in India in a freewheeling Interview. Here are the Excerpts:

ABOUT  DIKSHU C KUKREJA

Dikshu C Kukreja is one of India’s top Architects, who has designed several iconic and large buildings such as Gautam Buddha University, Greater Noida, which maintains a strong position in the top 10 best design universities of the world in the list of Harvard, Oxford and Cambridge. Dikshu Kukreja, Principal Architect of CP Kukreja Architects (CPKA) has also designed a 10,000 capacity Exhibition cum Convention Centre, on 225 acres of land in Dwarka, Delhi which is Asia’s 2nd largest state-of- the-art Convention Centre and the 3rd largest in the world with largest LED Façade ever built in India. This 26,000 Crore worth project is being designed for the Prime Minister Narendra Modi to host G20 Summit in India.

You have designed several iconic and largest buildings in India. How do you see the present state of Indian cities, their master plans and how they will take care of the future needs?

Ans –Flaws in design are there because the Master Plan of Delhi and the byelaws have been very shortsighted. Delhi master plan is prepared every 20 years but I don’t think that that document anywhere looks more than a few years ahead. The ironical thing is that by the time everything gets notified, 10 -12 years of those 20 years are already gone. The policy makers surely seek public opinion, but the real authors of the document remain in the hallowed corridors of Vikas Minar, isolated from realities.

Do you think that not giving authority to planner, designer or architect to perform the policy making job is a shortcoming of the law? Do you think it’s necessary to bring new laws and policies?

Ans –We have plenty of laws such as building sanctions and building codes but what needs attention is planning policies. Look at the district centers in Delhi, how they have come up, which district center today is success? Whether, it is Nehru Place or Bhikaji Cama Place or Janakpuri, each of these is in a bad state. Every district center is in a run-down condition and half empty, yet there is so much chaos inside and outside these places. There is no consideration for pedestrians, parking is ad hoc at best, hawkers/informal sector occupy every available space and are totally unorganized and the icing on the cake: no greenery at all. So, the policies themselves have been very shortsighted, which proves that everything is engineering driven. We have not looked at these things in a holistic manner.

What is your opinion about the government’s idea of 100 smart cities all over the country?

Ans- The focus is very different. The government policies that are coming up are definitely something more serious towards problem solving. For example, one side is the Smart City mission and other side is affordable housing, both are important. So, in today’s time smart city is very important. I have been very enthusiastic and a huge supporter, right from inception, of this initiative and feel proud to have been part of the think tank for this. Unfortunately, Smart cities have become the classic example of the story of an elephant and four blind men. Everybody has their own perspective about a smart city. Somebody thinks it has do with recycling, somebody thinks it has to do with roads or telecom or Wi-Fi. Nobody has a complete picture and definitely the picture that we missed out was the “urban form”, the public spaces, solutions to de-clogging drains, solar street lighting, rain water and solid waste management, and also hawkers and informal sectors. How do you rejuvenate public spaces and allow public seating? On the other hand, when Europeans talk about smart cities they look at all these aspects; when they define smart cities they talk about empowerment and facilities that they give to the citizens. A classic example is Barcelona. Their model of smart city is far more holistic than ours. Our model of smart city is ironically, again, more engineering driven and not an architecture and urban design solution.

Your company CP Kukreja Architects (CPKA) is forty years old and one of India’s top company in Architecture, Designing and Planning. How do you summarize this 40 years long journey of CPKA?

Ans – The journey through all these years is hard to summarise as the time span is so large and it is still ongoing. And it has still not concluded, yet I think it’s been an amazing and tremendous journey. I have lived in the USA and seen the architecture and design world very closely. We, in India, started out so far back and when we talk about crafting world-class buildings and world-class infrastructure, we started from somewhere when we were literally couple of centuries behind the West and now, we are talking about the same quality of buildings. It has been a much longer and faster journey than what you would see what US did 100 years ago and what US is accomplishing today. So, of course there is progress everywhere but the kind of difference in progress is very different here in the last 40 years.

Which country you find as a model for all other countries in Architecture and Design?

Ans- I would say there are different aspects in different corners of the world that one can learn from or be inspired with. In terms of sensitivity to design as well as culture, the understanding in Scandinavian countries whether it is Finland, Sweden or Denmark is phenomenal and it includes the value of life, quality of life and approach to design. They lay emphasis on minute aspects while designing, even if it is the pavement or the placement of trash cans. This design sensitivity is missing here. There is lot to learn from them. Their culture is much more refined in that context. They respect people plus their design are very sensitive towards public spaces.

How do you view the architecture and planning in India, post independence?

Ans –The Indian Architecture before independence was the Golden Era for our country because this period was not just about creativity but about the technology too. There are many unique things that we were able to do then, which are still unparalleled. When British came to India, they did things in an organized way and with certain purpose and intentions They introduced their unique architectural style with their train stations, in general, and in particular, buildings like Victoria Terminus in Kolkata, Lutyens Delhi and Rashtrapati Bhawan being the most iconic examples. Their “public architecture” was exemplary. Post-Independence, architecture and public space as a field were overlooked for the needs of the country being perhaps more pressing and the architecture field took a back seat. “Architecture” became subservient to the engineering discipline. The chief engineer became the chief planner/chief designer and the chief architect was somebody three levels below in government hierarchy. This approach which is totally engineering driven lost its complete sensitivity towards design. Same layouts were replicated irrespective of location or climate and all government buildings became identical.

“Government Architecture” became a style!!!

Tell us about your important projects which you have made?

Ans(1) Gautam Buddha University, Greater Noida – This project is very close to my heart. This was very exciting and at the same time challenging because what we were designing was not just the university, it’s actually a city. If about 5500 students, 600 faculties and their families are staying in one campus then you are looking at the population of 25,000 to 30,000 people, equivalent to the population of many European towns. You are getting to build something where you can influence the way one thinks. We created the university on raw piece of land i.e 500 acres and today, transforming it completely. This university maintains a strong position in the top 10 best designed universities of the world in the list of Harvard, Oxford and Cambridge. I have received fantastic responses from faculties, students, vice chancellor and visitors.

(2) Exhibition cum Convention Centre, Dwarka – This project is again very exciting because here we are talking about the third campaign, which is Make In India and here we are very fortunate that we are creating India’s one of the largest building projects till date. It is a 26,000 crore project and Asia’s 2nd largest state-of- the-art Convention Centre being designed for the Prime Minister to host G20 Summit in India. It is the 3rd largest in the world with 10,000 capacity Convention Centre on 225 acres of land with largest LED Façade ever built in India.

How do you see the education, especially in the field of architecture, design and engineering in India?

Ans- Architectural education is a matter of serious concern and the major aspects to be focused on are:

(a) Aspect of difference between the artist and architect – an architect’s creation lives far beyond his lifetime for people to use and an artist can just make a painting or a sculpture for display. So, our training in architecture education, today, lacks the realistic and practical aspects of technology and construction practices.

(b) Creativity and engineering must go together.

(c) Good Quality of teachers – more professionals should come and teach in the colleges so that students can have relevant exposure and have practical approach to the needs of the society.

From where do you get inspiration to do all these highly ambitious things?

Ans – It always varies from project to project but some fundamentals always remain the same in whatever you are trying to create, and that is, that it should invoke the feeling that it is rooted and belongs to the place where it is, instead of getting emotions like it has been picked up or plucked from somewhere else.

What is your dream project in India?

Ans –There are two of the projects which I would like to initiate-

1) Urban Rural Divide is becoming stronger and villages have been neglected so far. So my aim would be to usher in “smart towns” in which villages are transformed into smart towns. This will given much needed boost to infrastructure in villages and bring healthcare, efficient transportation, electricity, sanitation and education to places where it is most required. And, of course, to improve complete design of towns/villages. Rural population does not need to migrate to big cities to have a better life, which in reality becomes just a dream and puts huge demand on the resources of the cities. Hence the “smart towns”.

2) I really respect and hold in high esteem the Prime Minister’s vision for housing for all.

My second dream project would be to give the design vision for affordable housing- The house one is proud of and to present it as “The celebration of housing” and not “The apology of housing“.

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