The makers of some of the best structures internationally, Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, are here in India with their first project, Godrej One.
Move over Ayn Rand, your Howard Roark is a pale shadow in the distant past now. The world of architecture is witnessing the emergence of some super giants, and Rafael Pelli of Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects appears to be spearheading the pack. Take a look at his firm´s credentials. The Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The World Financial Center Complex, Manhattan. International Finance Center, HongKong. A repertoire of structures that has raised the bar of world architecture. And now Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects is in India, working on their first project, Godrej One. Needless to add, the structure is being awaited with bated breath. SUMISHA GILOTRA catches up with partner and son of the founder Cesar Pelli, Architect Rafael Pelli for an exclusive interview wherein he talks about how India inspires him. And how wonderful clients like Pirojsha Godrej just make his day.
You are a rare breed. While most artists, architects included, clamour to have their signature style so popularised that it can be recognised from great distances, your firm thrives on the fact that you have no signature style. Different countries. Even different continents. Yet each project is majestic, unique and cannot be likened to any other. How do you manage to do this every time?
We give a lot of thought to each project and realise that though all these buildings come out of the same studio and in our offices, we might look at them modelled next to each other in the real world, these buildings will never be seen next to each other. They exist in their own location, in their own climate, with their own users and with their many differences. And the building deserves to represent exactly that. This is our creative inspiration at the beginning of a project. We give a lot of thought to the location, climate of the user or the culture of the people who are going to use that building and these are always interpreted by us before we shape our design.
When you designed the Godrej One project, you must have done a lot of research in India and the climatic conditions. What were your learnings?
Pirojsha Godrej is a wonderful client. While designing the project for Godrej we visited Mumbai many times and did quite an extensive study on traditional Indian architecture. Clearly India´s climate is very different from New York´s. Many of the characteristics of Indian architecture are inspired by its tradition. For instance, traditional architecture in India has dealt with light and shade interestingly. Though technology allows us to do many things that are different from traditional buildings, some of the nicest qualities of traditional architecture in terms of space, light and shadow were things we were drawn to and have used this in the making of Godrej One. We tried to incorporate the sense of internal space that would have a lot of daylight but not direct daylight. We created shading, terraces and gardens that are direct extensions of the interior floors of the building. These are very powerful fundamental conditions of working in India which we have always followed. We have tried to interpret traditional architecture in a more contemporary way, adding richness to the quality of work.
And the design has a green rating?
It´s a completely certified LEED platinum project. We have made provision for water harvesting besides promoting water efficiency and water re-use; we have also laid emphasis on energy efficiency. The performance of the building is improved with proper shading or alternatively with maximum heat coming through the glass doors, whichever is required. In the end, architecture and design is not just about creating beautiful buildings, but also about quality. The goal is to create a well-designed sustainable building. A building whose spirit goes beyond the performance matrix. If we achieve that, then I´m really proud of our work.
Materials like glass are very new to India. What are your thoughts for using glass in a climate like ours?
I think it´s good to look at traditional architecture, but the principals of the architecture must be applied with newer materials to create newer buildings. For example, in Mumbai when we studied the air conditioning needs and requirement, we realised that it was less to do with cooling, and more to do with de-humidifying. So, a big part of our energy efficiency design strategy was to find a way to efficiently dehumidify the air without excessively cooling it, which is what traditional architecture does. Using a new material like glass allowed us to generate a great sense of openness and infuse daylight into the interior of a building. Here we are talking about very large floor plates, amounting to nearly 50,000 sq ft. We have arranged them in a way that you are never very far from the perimetre. They give a lot of natural light to the interiors but as they face the North, they do not get direct sunlight. So, even as it allows us to maintain sun´s openness and daylight, it doesn´t do away with the shade. This is unlike traditional architecture that takes care of the sunlight but does not take into account that indirect sunlight can effectively blunt the harshness.
Have you used any elements in the design that are directly inspired by traditional architecture?
Traditional architecture worked a lot with screening elements which we did not do as much, but we have one very large screen as a graphic at the front entrance. It is behind the reception; it is an image of several trees but the length of the image will cover 4-5 walls. It has the visual quality and graffiti kind of appeal that takes us back to tradition but in a more contemporary way. We did not directly use any element of traditional architecture but we have used Ambaji White, the beautiful Indian stone which was used in ancient temples of India. We have used this stone in the main central space of the entrance, thus bringing upfront the strong association with Indian culture.
You seem to be aware of traditional temple architecture of India. Have you been travelling a lot in the country?
I have been to a few cities like Udaipur but it was an old temple at this small place called Ranakpur that really took my breath away. I am very inspired by Indian architecture but I feel like I am such an amateur where it´s concerned. I just know very basic things about Indian architecture. The temple at Ranakpur is one of the most spectacular experiences that I ever had. Its sense of richness stole my heart.
...And we can´t wait for Godrej One, designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects to steal ours!