Building blokes

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Attitude and a little bit of latitude. And something that’s intelligent and inspirational. That about sums up the work of architects we have picked for this story.

Open-to-sky courtyards, free-standing stone monoliths ensuring cross ventilation and security, tiled walkways, semi-circular verandahs, stepped dividers between the living and dining areas, frosted glass canopies, LCD screens embedded in doors and hanging F lights with built-in LCD screens, conical steel light shades over workstations, beam-free space with no false ceilings… these architects have dared to be different and yet invested their buildings with functionality few can match.

And if you thought to be different is to invest more, these architects will tell you that innovative use of building blocks will not only make the project cost-effective, but also make them look ‘wow’.

ANIL BHASKARAN, 38 years
Master of architecture (urban design), University of Minnesota

12 years in the business; built over 6 lakh square feet of 3-D space, including Infosys Mangala in Mangalore and Jal Bhavan on Bannerghatta Road

He designs a software house to resemble a hillock in Mangalore. He builds an office for the Bangalore water supply board that resembles inspired by the rainbow and the sunrise. He creates a house to resemble an unidentified flying object.

That’s Anil Bhaskaran hard at work. Says he: “In nature, there are no straight lines, so why should man-made buildings be straight? The answer is, they needn’t be. And I proved it with my work.”

He was an artist before he became an architect. “Architecture gives me an opportunity to do something creative,” says Anil Bhaskaran. “And I am still experimenting. I consider myself a student.”

His first big break was when he was second in the national design competition for a naval academy project in Kerala. With a first rank with distinction at the University of Kerala, he won himself a graduate fellowship that took him to the US to do his master’s in 1986. His next stop was Skidmore Owings and Merrill, an architectural firm in Chicago.

Two years later, he ganged up with two other architects he had met at school, to form Architecture Inc. and ran operations in Bangalore, Trivandrum and Chennai as partner and chief architect. Early this year, his firm became a private limited company and is now called IDEA Centre. And IDEA stands for ‘initiative for design excellence in architecture’. “Today, I have become a developer where the idea is more important than the building,” he says. “We have now become facilitators of inspiration and marketing strategy. Take the Jal Bhavan we did for the government. It has rented out a large part of the building to a call centre. So the cost of building will be recovered in 12 years.”

Bhaskaran created a record along the way. “We laid 1700 cubic metres of concrete in four days and four nights to ensure seamless concrete so water doesn’t seep in,” he says.

The next project that’s keeping him in good spirits is the Ramana Maharishi Centre for Spirituality, that is five kilometres from Electronic City. “It’s based on the panchabhutas (water, fire, earth, ether and air) symbolified by an open courtyard, amphitheatre, airy reception area, fountains and a flame torch,” he says. “It will be ready by September.”

But his best is yet to come. Building small villas costing anywhere between Rs 5 and Rs 6 lakh and spread over 500 to 1000 square feet in Jigani, about 30 kilometres from MG Road. “We will build 3000 world-class villas as in the US over an area of 180 acres,” says Bhaskaran. “Each villa will be different in its detailing. Landscaping, fountains, power backup and even LPG coming to you only through a pipe.”

And he says, all his projects are cost-effective. “I don’t do anything extravagant. Detailing means care and that brings down the cost automatically. Instead of cement, I would go for a brick wall or I would use wooden chips that are more warm and healthy than marble and granite.”

A book on buildings and architecture is next on his menu. “It might be out in two years’ time,” he says. But what he loves is carnatic vocals. “I have been learning it for the past three years but have discontinued of late. Must re-join soon.”

But it’s no parties and no movies for him. “My greatest vice is my profession and I get a kick out of doing bigger projects. By one year, my villas will happen. Of late, I have become more a thinker than a talker.”

He’s helped by his wife Jyothi, a software engineer with Motorola. “She’s very practical, who can make something out of nothing. You are the limit. Nobody else is limiting your imagination.”

SANDEEP KHOSLA, 34 years
Studied architecture at Pratt Institute, New York

11 years in the business; his firm Khosla Associates has done over 70 projects, including F Bar & Lounge, Spinn, 180 Proof, Hypnos, Bangalore Bistro, Nike office, Barista (St Mark’s Road), Café Coffee Day (Walton Road and Brigade Road)

He went to the US to study fine arts and realised he was made for architecture after a few architectural history courses. “I found architecture all encompassing… structure, interior space planning, lighting, fixtures, furniture. So I transferred myself to the architecture school at Pratt institute,” says Sandeep Khosla. “I believe in collaborative work with product, lighting and graphic designers who can add value to my projects because I can’t be a jack of all trades. No one does it anywhere else in the world.”

The principal architect of his boutique firm, Khosla Associates, Sandeep Khosla is dyed-in-the-designer wool; he’s worked with an architectural firm in NY for a year before working as an associate for master architect Charles Correa for a year. His firm may not churn out huge volumes of work and yet he’s managed to do over 70 projects, big and small.

Right now, he’s investing attitude into one floor of the upcoming ING Vysya Life Insurance building on MG Road spread over 20,000 square feet space. He’s also working on Azzurro, an Italian and Mediterranean restaurant coming up in Delhi, and a restaurant in Hyderabad for actor Nagarjuna. And that’s besides working with Arvind Brands to give a new look to their Wrangler showrooms across the country. Not to mention, he’s designed Bush Betta in Coorg and Biocon chief Kiran Mazumdar Shaw’s house in Hebbagoddi. “I want to make a few bold moves rather than many to avoid clutter,” says Khosla. “And it’s all team work with associates Anshul Choda and Amaresh Anand, and collaborative work on certain projects with my graphic designer wife Tania.”

Architecture and interior design feed off each other. “In most of our projects, there is as much attention to the detail of ashtrays, dustbins and bathrooms, as there is to the overall structure. Interior design refines architecture and both compliment each other.”

Trained as an architect, Khosla stumbled into interior design. “Most of our hospitality projects are trend-based, so I often travel abroad and update myself on international design trends. Different rules apply for different projects,” he says. “For example, the Manwarings residence in Hebbal has a very contemporary design sensibility though traditional concepts like a courtyard with a reflecting pool, verandahs and Mangalore tiled roof walkways are used in large expanses.”

Khosla’s design vocabulary is ever evolving. And it works for him, whether it’s different ways of opening a door or newer ways of suspending a roof. At Spinn on Residency Road, he’s given a retro-industrial look (see photo on Page 1) with holes and mirrors in walls as you enter the pub.

At F Bar, there’s an absence of space. It’s just a black slate with vertical shafts of light passing through frosted glass panels. “We are all the time trying to innovate but at the same time reflect the attitude of the brand or person we are working for,” says Khosla, whose house on Richmond Road is ever evolving. “It’s very contemporary, uncluttered and full of quirky elements Tania and I found on our travels. I enjoy juxtaposition, it creates interest. And my house goes through a lot of changes. It’s an amalgam of things we love.”

Khosla’s other loves include travelling (‘I have been to Turkey and Greece, this year, it’s Prague’) and exploring new cultures and contemporary designs (‘I enjoy the outlandish architecture of Frank Gehry; the interiors and products of Phillipe Stark and the tropical architecture of Geoffrey Bawa’). Adventure sports is not his trip, movie watching is. And the one thing he’s fighting against all the time? “I want to gym atleast three times a week, but it’s difficult to keep that commitment.”

SAGAR SHETTY, 43 years
Diploma in architecture, Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology, Ahmedabad

9 years in the business; 4.5 lakh square feet of space of built-up space including the Bangalore International School and the Oyzterbay showroom on Commercial Street

Industrial complexes, school buildings, residences, automobile service stations, showrooms and interior design. Sagar Shetty has straddled all of these and more. His firm JASS (named after him and his wife Jaspreet Kaur who teaches architecture at R V College) is the architectural and interior design consultant for TVS Design in Dubai.

Shetty began his design journey spending four years with Building Design Partnership and Peter Tigg Partnership in London. His job involved refurbishments, conversions and new built projects like light industrial units and a community centre. Back in India, he was ‘unlearning to learn’. Says he: “Architectural practice is like a lab. You should constantly explore materials and spaces. Only then, will architecture become a creative, responsible and revelatory art.”

Economy of expression is something Shetty roots for. “It’s minimalism in a more humane way,” he says.

Shetty is won over by the juxtaposition of natural materials with steel and glass (‘there’s a lot of room for detailing here and steel has a sense of lightness to it’). “Today, architecture is in transition because of changing lifestyles, requirements and needs. There’s nothing original. An architect is only reconfiguring design elements in his own way.”

The library building at the Raman Institute (‘architecture is about the way materials are used and this building is very timeless; it’s just brick and exposed concrete’) and the works of Sanjay Mohe and BV Doshi (who designed IIM, Bangalore and under whom Shetty trained) are his favourites.

Shetty’s apartment house echoes minimalism. His kid’s bathroom has a fibreglass washbasin and mirror that are on an adjustable stainless steel frame (‘when he grows taller, he only has to raise it’). “In our free time, we experiment with materials like cement and fibre glass… we get fossilised impressions of leaves and objects on these surfaces in the form of tiles.”

But his present-day experimentation was inspired by events in the past. “When I was doing my architecture course, I was inspired by the designs and ideas of Rem Koolhas who wrote a book called SMLXL, which means, small, medium, large, extra large,” he says. “Architecture is about place and people or events.”

And Shetty loves meeting people. “Especially the younger lot,” he says. “They are much more discerning and forthcoming. Even in pubs, I see many people from various professions exchanging ideas. I find that very exciting.”

And what he finds most challenging right now is the inter-state bus terminus he’s building on Mysore Road. Spread over 2.75 lakh square feet of space, it’s a design consultancy project for Span Consultants. “Since it’s a public building, the design has to be simple and must require minimal maintenance. It’s like building a mini city because we are dealing with so many agencies and people… a commercial complex, a Yatri Nivas, a BMTC bus station, a KSRTC Interstate concourse, a bus repair depot, basement parking, and the complex network of vehicular/pedestrian linkages.”

And in today’s ideas-based world anything’s possible. “Architecture has a direct physical and psychological impact on people, positive or negative,” he says. “We have to make friends with nature and work with it. For example, instead of a wall, let a creeper grow as a screen to allow for natural ventilation and cooling systems.”

Yoga relaxes him greatly. “I do it for atleast 20 minutes a day in the morning followed by ‘surya namaskar’ and crunches,” he says. “I used to play football and cricket, but now I don’t have any time.”

Neither a movie buff and nor a book aficionado, Shetty trips on fusion, jazz and orbit rock. And any weaknesses? “I am short-tempered and stubborn. I don’t let go of design policing.”

GEORGE JOHN (35) and VIJAY D’SOUZA (35)
Bachelor in architecture, Malnad College of Engineering, Mysore University
10 years in the business; built over 1.2 million square feet of 3-D space including John F Welch Technology Centre and L’Atitude

A church on top of a hill in Rajamundry, Tamil Nadu; luxury toilets and vandalism-free street furniture for the Bangalore Agenda Task Force; a kitsch design for L’Atitude and a rustic resort in Puttaparthi for an Italy-based promoter, complete with mud roads, fruit trees, rain-water harvesting and thatched roofs.

That’s George John and Vijay D’Souza at work. Both embody architecture as an agent of change through a multiplicity of projects: commercial buildings, townships, IT parks, corporate offices, entertainment joints, food courts, religious centres and public spaces. While in college, the twosome worked on Indian Architecture, a national magazine for architecture students.

The collaboration went a step further a few years later when John decided to join D’Souza’s company, and Rapid Corporation was born. “Our first break was designing of JWT’s office on residency road and from then on we have never looked back with over 1 million sq. ft. of built-up space to our credit,” says John. Chimes in D’Souza: “George looks after the creative side and I the business side.”

George’s inclination towards art became a natural gateway to taking up architecture as a profession (he’s done over 150 paintings and plans to hold an exhibition for the first time soon; he also indulges in life photography). Says he: “I have sent some of my paintings for an art fair in New York.” And about his profession? “The true test of architecture lies in it being able to withstand the changing trends and remain habitable and contemporary with passage of time.”

The two are yet to build a house of their own. And while Vijay is the father of two, George is yet to become one (his wife Shamitha Rao is a copywriter with Lowe Lintas). Says Vijay about his children: “Life’s a palette. I will just hold the palette for them and let them choose it for themselves.”

Right now, the twosome is tripping on humour in architecture. Like a white outside and bursting colours inside L’Atitude or shattered glass interiors in the pub’s loo. Their taste in music is eclectic. John goes for progressive carnatic and electronica; D’Souza lends his ear to progressive rock and house. And sometimes, anything goes for him.

When it’s work, they take up just about anything, budget no bar. But when do they get designer ideas? Says John: Usually on my morning walks and rarely in the office.”

DEEPAK RAO, 29 years
Bachelor of architecture, RV College of Engineering, Bangalore University
6 years in the business; built over 2.5 lakh square feet of 3-D space including Sapna Book House, Euro Kids playschool and the Band Box factory

He has a fetish for glass block skylights. But then, he believes in ‘bringing the outside inside’. Deepak Rao builds homes and offices to suit every owner’s temperament. And no two buildings of his are the same. But the one thing constant in his work is the element of surprise; whether it’s high ceilings, slanted metal railings, wooden columns, S-shaped staircases or wall hangings.

Rao is an artist at work. Inspired by Piet Mondrian’s 2-D art, he built an office partition using blue glass (frosted in parts) and mirrors with space for a noticeboard. “I grasp ideas from anywhere, but it’s never conscious,” he says. “I try out new things every time.”

Whether it’s the house he’s building at Jade Garden in Club Cabana or the Logica office on Sarjapur Road, Rao is reinventing many things. At the SystemTech office, he’s given his best in keeping the employees cheerful with colourful interiors, curved tabletop and keyboards and workstations in steel and wood. Not to mention, wall hangings. “We brought two tableaus from The Bombay Store and framed it with silvery grey raw silk background and made a biscuit brown rubberwood frame for the office,” he says. “It’s a very Indian pattern in blue, silver, gold and red. They are two huge ones at the office lobby.”

Rao’s inspirations include Mexican architect Ricardo Legoretta. “I like the way he uses light and colour, though it might look harsh to a few, but it’s awesome,” he says. “I also like Bangalore architect Jaisim’s works and especially his approach. He says, nothing’s impossible in architecture.”

Not that he’s not doing anything civic. Rao has built public toilets in Belur/Halebid, Mangalore and the Andamans. “We have done it in accordance with the public restrooms guidelines of the US, like a place for mothers to change their children’s nappies.”

The Band Box factory was an exercise in functionality. “There’s very high moisture content in a dry cleaning factory, so we used two feet ventilators right through the building. Can’t keep the windows open due to pilferage.”

His smallest project, a one-room dental clinic in Mahalakshmi Layout gave him as much bother. “Instead of just one stark white wall, I had aqua green panelling on it, including the dentist’s chair and the door was in aqua green and light brown,” he says. “Till the day of the inauguration, the owner kept insisting that it was aweful. But once inaugurated, she took back her words when people started praising the clinic for being different from the rest.”

Rao, however, is smitten by the draught beer at Dublin (‘it’s the freshest’) and cricket (‘I try and play on most Sundays’). “Cricket is my only outlet,” he says. “Otherwise, I love travelling. I went to Europe for six weeks in March. I saw the things I had only studied in architecture.”

Though his father wanted him to be a doctor, he said it’s either architecture or journalism. Says he: “My friends suggested law, but I didn’t get the hang of it, so architecture it was.”

(Published in City Reporter, 2003)