Importance of context in architecture

Importance of context in architecture

Kiran Venkatesh, co-founder, InForm Architects talks about the foundation of his firm’s architecture, interpretations of context and ‘contextuality’

Inform architects

What according to you are the fundamental elements of your practice and its architecture?
The foundation of the practice rests on developing conceptually strong designs with innovative ideas consistent with the firm’s approach that addresses the project brief and ambitions. The focus also manifests on design development that intensifies the conceptual design and at the same time, work with engineering consultants to ensure structure and services design respond closely to architectural intent. We strive to deliver the project on site with material and design integrity with the efficient processes of documentation and guidance

InForm Architects

How do you acquaint yourself with a site before considering a design for the building?
Project context is investigated from different perspectives – physical context of site such as location, orientation, climate, neighbours, topography, region, etc; conceptual context such as culture, client background; and content like program, use, etc. The concept design is then an integration of our specific response to these field conditions. By specific response, I mean a design that aligns itself with our belief systems and design attitudes: on plan – section integration, approach to form and materiality etc.

If you had to talk about one of your most significant projects, which one would that be and why?
Every project’s design is a favourite! Having said that, perhaps there are some projects that are more successful in their realisation than others for various reasons. Many of our projects are significant in different ways – some of them have impacted our subsequent work, some of them have received critical acclaim, some have been successfully completed to original intent even under adversity and some of them have been widely published and praised in the media. The Tillany Fine Arts Museum is significant as we were able to implement a holistic design-construction approach from start to finish, the NAAC Campus is significant in that it brings innovative design and quality execution to a Government project while staying within the parameters of public sector execution, the IIJNM Campus is significant for its organisational and aesthetic spaces completed under a tight budget, the ongoing Suresh Residence is significant in that it’s a singular design form that has been resolved so it can be executed by simple conventional methods and so on. In my opinion, it is important for every project to have a strong focus and its significance can be measured by the extent to which that focus has been realised.

The ongoing Golden Jubilee Building at NIT Rourkela campus has a hybrid program that is leveraged to differentially organise and express the various components – library, classrooms, scientific seminar complex, administrative offices and a commemorative tower with different functions. The New Bhavan Campus comprises of offices for the Forest Department and explores curved plan geometry to organise multiple divisions seamlessly with maximum views to the outside landscape. These two projects are significant in that they are for the Government and are attempts to bring good design and construction into the public sector but within the restrictions they pose [lowest tenderer, open bids, schedule of rates etc.]. On the other hand, projects like KS Residence are important to the Studio as they allow us to explore design and materiality on a very intimate scale – in this case, we have worked with fluted and plain exposed concrete and structural steel to derive an interesting aesthetic.

InForm Architects

You have played several roles – a practitioner, an author, a facilitator and an activist. How have these helped you develop a better understanding of architecture?
Architecture is a lifestyle! Everything you do defines your attitude to design and shapes you as an architect. A practice is challenging and the most demanding as it encompasses multiple aspects – creativity, public relations, financial and business acumen, strategic thinking, people skills and so on. My interests go beyond practice and I have been involved in writing, teaching - research and design evangelism. Obviously, all of these intersect to varying degrees but it is architecture that is the super set for everything I do. I must mention the role of travel in shaping our architectural attitudes – it is one of the most crucial aspects of architectural learning – travelling with one’s eyes and mind wide open.

What according to you is the relationship between architecture, the land and the people?
Architecture’s relationship with landscape can vary – from visual to participative to contrasting to immersive. Depending on each projects interests, the approach to landscape varies.

InForm Architects

In your 22 years of practice, what do you think are the major changes contemporary architectural practice has witnessed?
At the moment, architectural practice is in a state of severe crisis. While the number of practices and projects requiring designers is constantly increasing, the quality of the profession is increasingly under threat. We live in an increasingly impatient and fast-moving world – one of short attention spans and instant imagery. Architecture is not just about that – it’s not about only seductive imagery. Architecture can change impact lives in a positive manner and it should be the collective ambition of the profession to do so but unfortunately that is still missing. On the bright side, increase in numbers of architecture students, advances in digital design and manufacturing software and tools, interest in mechanisation of construction, new and smart materials, etc, are making design an exciting field to be part of. The future has multiple possibilities and the paths we tread in the next 20 years will decide whether it is bright or dark.

It makes perfect ‘business sense’ to build green. Is this aspect perceptible in India? Is it now easier to convince clients to go for solutions that are more responsible?
Energy remains one of the large costs centres for buildings and resources are limited and increasingly scarce – hence it makes common sense to opt for solutions that reduce long-term energy consumption and optimise resource utilisation. However, it’s easy to state one’s green concerns but difficult to plot a strategy that is appropriate. In this increasingly fashionable green approach, we must take care that we are moving towards doing more with less and not more with more! It will be a few years before we see the full impact of thinking Green in our country – we are ahead in some ways [re-cycling is built into our genes!] but lag in most others.

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