In this second part of the interview with Debajyoti Samal, Architect Nitin Killawala talks in length about Mumbai Metro Rail construction, building symbolic & iconic structures, conditions of Mumbai roads, sustainable constructions, green ratings and more. Read on.
I met with an international architect, who categorically said why Indians now a day are not building symbolic or iconic structures anymore? What are your views on this?
I don’t agree with that fully, may be whatever little has been done is not visible. There are lots of kiosks in most of the cities. I am not worried about if Indians are building symbolic or iconic structure or not I am worried about structures that are being made, especially in public realm, those should be done sensibly. Look at govt. structures and buildings; despite the fact that the Government is the biggest landlord whatever they build we term it as ‘boring’. Land is a biggest asset in any project, and the government has plenty, that does not cost them anything. So at the end of the day, what matters the most is the political will.
Why Indian architects are reluctant to try their hands in public spaces, which are in shambles in most of the Indian cities as against their foreign counterparts, where the architectural activities at public spaces happens in large amount?
We are not accessible to 90 per cent of the projects. The employment of architects in public projects is almost zero. Be it BMC, CIDCO, MMRDA, MHADA or any other public authority, they seldom go to architects for any public project. They go to structural consultants, project management consultant or may be good contractors. Have you seen vulgarity in aesthetics…the best examples are our stainless steel bus stops…I would say these are horrendous structures. It’s not that architects don’t want their design inputs to be seen in public spaces, but opportunities are less.
You once said that a good design is not just about aesthetics but it is about adding value to a project and in long run it should turn into monetarily profitable. Could you elaborate on this a bit?
It is important to add value to the project irrespective of the amount of money that you spend and the value can be added on various aspects. The money that you spend on construction of a particular property, if it is justified functionally, aesthetically, maintainability etc; then you are enhancing the value of that property. Whether you have a house of 300 sq. ft. or a 30,000 sq. ft. you must enjoy each and every square inch of that property. It is not sheer size; it is how you integrate various aspects with the overall environment.
You have initiated a design cell. Tell us about that.
Yes, that was when I was the president of IIID. One of the projects we did under it was a suburban pedestrian subway near Metro Theatre Junction in Mumbai. We suggested very simple solutions, simple flooring, good workmanship, good signage designs, efficient lighting, something which is easy to maintain etc.
Like you said, you are disappointed with the way Metro Rail is being constructed in Mumbai and also you have been promoting underground Metro system in Mumbai against the authority’s plan for the elevated Metro system. And now, the authorities are paying heed to your suggestions as the Line Three of the Metro from Colaba to Seepz will be underground. Tell us something about it.
Yes, now they have accepted our suggestions. Earlier, theoretically, they were right when they said that underground Metro Rail system will be more expensive than elevated one. They said the cost will be three times, to which we did not agree, as the cost will not be more than one and half or two times. And now they have realized that the sum that they have spent for the elevated Metro system is almost the same as the underground Metro system. Underground does not mean that you will have to excavate very dip, as we are not creating a basement. In fact, tunnel technology makes the construction of underground transportation system easy and when we go for underground transportation system, we generally construct it without touching the already built structures or roads or even trees on the surface. We don’t even tamper with any open space. Above all, when we build any mass-transit projects we have to look ahead, like 100 years ahead. And while working on such projects, we should be careful about the fact that we are answerable to our future generation. So these kinds of projects should not be considered with budget constraints.
What about improvisation or renovation of the local rail transport and stations, which is the lifeline of the city of Mumbai.
As a citizen I must have various options, whether I go by rail, metro, auto, bus or my private vehicle. All these are independent yet they have to be integrated at some point and this is not a point in case in just in India, this is happening all around the world where the population is dense. It’s sad that in Mumbai while our roads are quite wide, they are heavily encroached by shops or all sorts of monstrous structures like stations or Metro, which is not fair. Although when the Metro will come a lot of load on the local trains will be taken care of, but it will definitely worsen the traffic conditions on our roads because of these huge constructions. So we have to look into this problem to smoothen the traffic on roads.
What are your views in regards to green or sustainable constructions?
I personally feel that these are all marketing gimmicks. Habitually we are all green. If we look at the attributes that make one structure green, you will realize that all these are inbuilt be it energy efficiency, recyclability etc. Why green only in construction, there must be green automobiles, green mobile phones, even a green shirt. So these are all typically elitist propaganda of promoting certain materials.
So are you trying to say that the builders or urban planners, who claim their buildings, are green just to get green ratings or certification or they genuinely do green constructions?
They fool public I would say, it is a sheer fooling of our sensibilities. There is nothing to claim. It is our responsibility or common sense to build everything green. We have always been taught that we should have cross ventilation, we should have natural light or we should optimize the space or we should use lighting system that saves energy etc; in our house. It depends on individual to individual, some make best use of it some may not. One should not be tempted to be green with Gold or Platinum rating. Then the race for ratings will eventually create marketing gimmicks as there will be a scope for marketing green products through such race and at the end of the day, everybody will come out and say I am using so and so products so I am green.
Tell us something about your future projects you are working on.
We are working on some really good projects; we are doing a lot of educational institutes. We are also doing one finance research institute, some residences etc. But I would love to do project which has a larger canvas in terms of accessibility to common people.
What would you advice to the future generation of architects?
I would advise them not to limit themselves to private projects but also look at and focus on the public space projects. Also, it is important to think holistically, you may create a Taj Mahal, but if there is debris outside the structure then what is the use of creating it?