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India Abroad | November 2013

Countrys pride

CR Narayana Rao Architects proves that India has the capability and expertise to handle projects of international standard.

Based in Chennai, CR Narayan Rao Architects, spearheaded by second generation architect CN Raghavendran, has done its bit to create positive branding for the country with its honest and comprehensive approach to architecture. With successful projects in several countries like Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, UAE, Zambia, Bangladesh, Maldives, Nepal, Mauritius and Guyana, the firm proves that there is nothing that Indian architects cannot achieve. In a tete-á-tete with Architect CN Raghvendran, we discuss the differences of working in India and abroad as we explore their international projects.

Tell us a little about your projects abroad? The earliest project that CR Narayana Rao Architects (CRN) did overseas was in Sri Lanka in the early ´70s. We did the master planning for an industrial estate and the design of a composite spinning and weaving textile mill. in collaboration with a specialist Swiss firm. It was a state-of-the-art building that symbolised the country´s fledging initiative towards industrialisation. However, this building was completely burnt down during the country´s internal strife. We did a similar project a few years later in the mid ´70s in Indonesia.

In the ´70s and up to mid ´80s, CRN had a branch office in Dubai, where we established an architectural practice on a stand-alone basis. During this period, we designed several facilities for leading enterprises in Dubai. This included buildings for banks, insurance companies, housing projects, diverse industrial projects and commercial buildings.

In these projects, CRN had to conform to advanced levels of design and construction. This exposure proved to be a great learning experience in the process of designing of integration of the complex, services, landscaping etc, as a composite service from the architects.

CRN also did the concept design and development for the MAZ International School, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia during 1997-98. The total built up area of this project was 440,000 sq ft and the design responded to the traditional architectural character and built form of Malaysia. In 2004, we designed the master plan and the Signature Tower for Ebene Cyber City in Mauritius. CRN was also the designer for the international class cricket stadium at Guyana.

In Turkey, CRN has designed a tractor assembly plant for the TAFE group.

How is working in a foreign country different from working in India?
Invariably, design work abroad proceeds in systematic and well-defined stages. Clients and architects spend a lot of time at the architect´s brief stage and on the formulation of the design programme, spatial programme, cost reviews and budgetary formulations. The definition of the project scope is well thought out, debated and agreed upon, and thereafter is rarely changed. This enables the architects and other consultants to start with a solid programme framework to envision the design and detailing, including co-ordination with the entire team, for which ample time is allocated.

Also, regulations for statutory permissions are well-defined and explaining the changes post-construction is a rarity. These two factors keep the entire design process on a single track, allowing architects to focus on design development on basis of clearly understood parameters. In India, in contrast, the clients take liberty in twisting and tweaking the design brief even at construction documentation stage and sometimes even during the physical construction period. The architects´ professional time is rarely respected.

In the practices abroad, the level of design, detailing, finalising of materials, specifications etc, are well developed and completed. Full information is available to the contractors at the time of bidding. Due to the method of contracting, clients and architects leave very little guess work for the contractor to make while submitting his bids. Whereas in India, the situation is highly ambivalent and at no point of time does one have certainty about the scope, the extent and the project requirements. Here, apart from direct cost and time implications, there are also substantial hidden or secondary cost and time implications. Quality implication also arises due to these random changes.

This discourages architects and consultants from providing complete detailing prior to bidding. In most cases, 100 per cent detailing prior to tendering does not happen because the architects´ process of design development and construction documentation is not given sufficient time. Invariably, the bidding process has a ´forced-start´ even at concept stage or schematic stage when many important design issues are undecided or not fully specified. Hence, execution of contracts becomes vexatious to every member of the team and the final product is adversely impacted.

What about India inspires your work the most?
By tradition and culture, most Indians respect nature, stress frugality and have tolerance to multiple thought processes. The designer looking at the Indian scenario is inspired by the high level of sustainability, local presence, local materials and lifestyles moulded together to bring about the architectural vocabulary which is distinct from region to region.

Do you know of any international architect who has designed structures inspired by India?
I am not aware of any built examples of buildings in this category but I am aware that Christopha Alexander was inspired by Indian lifestyles and processes when he worked in Ahmedabad several decades back. He evolved a theory of design and came out with a landmark publication on design process called ´Notes on Synthesis of Form´.

Tractor Assembly Plant
TAFE group, Turkey

Musing Metal
This is a building with a metal sheet roof and PEB rafter on steel columns and a comb¡nation of RCC columns.

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