CW Interiors |
Architects Take | August 2014

Designer with a view

Ravindra Kumar, Head of Pragrup, underscores the need to integrate buildings with their external landscape through his work.

Architect Ravindra Kumar comes with a keen understanding of the complex needs of urbanism, reconstruction, rehabilitation, sustainability and technology. Pragrup is not just an architectural consultancy firm, but it is a platform for designers. Founded in 1194 by a group of architects, Pragrup is recognised as a progressive group offering architectural, structural, utilities engineering, facility and project management services. Apart from residences, the group’s work includes complexes, hospitality and service industries, linear housing and offices.

Kumar is also the Director of Design studio, VA Group, the chair for long distance studies programme of University of Toronto and one of the Principals at TBS foundation, a school for 400 rural children. Here he shares with us his views on architecture and more...

What does architecture mean to you?
Architecture is like a stage for life. We innovate keeping principles of sustainability in mind. We also try to understand the role of innovative aesthetics in our works. Our methodologies allow us to articulate on our graphic sustainability and visual approach, which in terms clarify the complex structure of the social community. That’s the catch. We want to create something new yet want to remain in context.

What do you think of architectural criticism vis-à-vis your work?
Traditional architecture criticism tends to draw connections to each individual building practice. Each criticism reflects on each individual’s practice and his investi­gation techniques and addresses social, poli­tical and cultural issues and responsibilities. A good example is our project Jagriti, a theatre in Bengaluru. Jagruti is not just a theatre but a hub for performance and visual arts where the architecture serves as a possible background. The emergence of relation between things, more than the things themselves, gives rise to new mea­nings. With neither theatre nor architecture existing without an event, the focus is turned on the unexpected occu­rrences. This theatre is not a place solely to watch performances but also a place to be watched, a place to observe and to be observed. As spectators become part of the backdrop for the theatrical event, the city is drawn inside through window openings.

How does your varied experience help in your designs?
We work inclusively, not exclusively. We combine forces from every discipline. The Bapagrama Stone House project is an apt example. Here, there is a rigid discipline exercised in the design of the bridge, in its clean lines and well-proportioned volumes. Its openness to its surrounding makes it a very organic structure. The design adopts a rural pedagogy and escalates into a distinctive form.

The house sits in the subdivided premise of the existing Bapagrama School. The conceptual flow of the design is a tribute to a house in Mysore that was spatially free of any walls. I was fascinated by the multiplicity of the functional space into a kitchenette, study and rooms used by simple demar­cations. Translating this experience into a spatial expression, we derived an open-space concept to define the internal layout.

Which is your dream project?
We have designed an urban reconstruct master plan for NECE, Bengaluru. It is a 118 acre development with an academy and a large stadium, which would have a multi-functional mobile floor plate. The place is ideal for cricket matches, social gatherings, political events or concerts indoors and can house more than 150,000 people.

What is your vision for the future of architecture in India?
Indian cities have appeared on the landscape spontaneously, unlike machines or buildings that are a result of conscious effort. This places the efficacy of urban design in doubt. Our future is to design civic-sensible spaces that encompass hygiene and urban awareness. More than architectural, it has to be a cultural revolution.

What are the challenges in the development of suburban and rural areas?
The disappearance of detail in the spurt of anonymous architecture is a significant issue that traces its roots back to the modern movement in architectural theory. Architect Adolf Loos even argued that decoration on buildings was a crime. As the modernist architect’s claims to authority increased, the role of the user decreased. I believe that aesthetic requirements may simply be a minor irritation. The suburban sprawl and anonymous architecture are just symptoms. The real problem is an inability to communicate and act on our collective dream of a better place.

How can a common aesthetic language be created?
One approach is to begin with a charrette where the community joins the design team to develop design principles, analyse doc­uments and schematic solutions. Designers can conduct a Visual Preference Survey to understand the owners’ perspective. Many municipalities have formed Design Review Committees that analyse design projects and make sugge­stions. Many communities have published guidelines for the design team, which influence the design process and address issues like compatibility, sustain­ability and force protection.

Let us start with asking relevant questions - What is working? Why is it working? Where can it work in the future?
Identifying and respecting the language of design is one of the first steps of including aesthetics in architectural practice. Creating the ‘words’ that comprise this language of design is a challenging task. These ‘words’ (patterns, principles, guidelines, etc.) can be specific (like visible entries) or they address issues of form (i.e. scale, proportion, symmetry, tex­ture etc), order (i.e. axis, hierarchy, etc), and meaning (i.e., symbolism and metaphor).

Architects should view these requirements as aesthetic opportunities rather than treating them as burdens.

Pragrup, 29th Cross Road, Banashankari Stage II, Banashankari, Bengaluru, Karnataka 560070.
Tel: 0802671 3464.

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