Interviews: Rahul Kadri
“Architect Rahul Kadri is a partner and principal architect IMK Architects .His work over the years has delivered some of India’s most sophisticated buildings by adopting the wholesome approach of Biophilic Architecture. For more than two decades, Kadri has led several architecture and town planning projects. In an exclusive interview with our magazine, her talks to us about his architectural journey and how he took over the reigns from his father, the legendary I.M. Kadri, which redefined IMK Architects and it’s philosophy.“ - Editor
Partner & Principal Architect,
About the firm: IMK Architects
Founded in 1957, IMK Architects is an Architectural, Urban Planning and Interior Design firm based out of Mumbai and Bengaluru. Over the last 50 years we have stood by our aim to do extraordinary work, and are committed to take this legacy forward in future. Their design philosophy is based on Biophilic Architecture. The focus and commitment is to provide designs, which are site sensitive and emphasize on being in harmony with nature. IMK ensures designs provide vibrant and warm spaces, which are socially responsive where people thrive and activities flourish. The firm's collaboration with the client is much deeper to develop the project brief and carries forward till the execution of the project. It is constantly questioning our belief and strive to make our buildings serve the users beyond their expectations.
Know more about the firm here.
1) The AEC industry has been experiencing a major shift towards digital transformation. This surge has become more apparent during the pandemic. How do you think the sector has embraced digitization in the Indian context? What are the latest trends that you follow within your organization?
IMK Architects has been working from home since the lockdown in March 2020. Initially, we were weary of this concept but, fortunately it has worked in our favor. A couple of years ago, we had introduced a new process of work in which each architect takes ownership of a certain chunk of work to be done from the larger quantum – to be delivered in a fortnight (Sprint). Since the architects are given with the freedom of choice rather than having work delegated to them, the work is done with responsibility and with a sense of ownership. Thus, this helps in actualizing larger tasks efficiently and within a shorter duration of time.
Going forward, as our understanding of health and wellbeing evolves, new construction technologies provide limitless possibilities in this sector. Digitization has reduced the need to travel for work. Work is exchanged through emails and presentations held through virtual meetings. Clients are flexible and prefer virtual online meetings.The transition of physical to virtual has been smooth, although the significance of physical site visits cannot be ruled out.
In the healthcare industry, Building Information Modelling (BIM), for example, which can help determine the optimal geometry of buildings in response to selected parameters, can not only help create healthier built environments but also aid in pre-empting problems and shortening the time of construction to save costs. ‘Temporary and Transformable’ architecture has enabled emergency mitigation like never before. Imbibing such innovations within sustainable design holds the key to streamlining our systems for better performance.
2) When you took over the reins from your father, you had big shoes to fill in. Reflecting on your time then, how eager were you to make your mark? Several years later and numerous accolades to your name, would you say you have been able to achieve what you set out to?
I worked for my father from 1990 till about 2003. During this period, we entered two architectural competitions without his knowledge (because he would not permit us to compete in competitions). After being successful in both competitions, we told him of our achievements, and thereafter, the new clients were served by me and my team. I had many ideas which were similar to his -- some significantly different and some that followed a more holistic approach. I was very influenced by Christopher Alexander (with whom I worked) and Charles Moore. Their ideas of holistic architecture and social architecture particularly influenced me. We constantly seek to make places where people and their activities will thrive, it is relationship of human aspiration to do certain activities related to geometry of space that interest us. We don’t create places or use geometries only for visual affect. In recent years, we are experimenting with design processes that strive to utilize the full creative potential of each member of the team
3) Your work for social cause is less talked about. Could you tell us about your efforts with the ‘Save the Children India’ foundation and ‘Pride India’?
Save The Children India (STCI) works to prevent exploitation and all other forms of discrimination of vulnerable women and children, and seeks to empower them to lead a life of dignity, self-respect, and independence.
I have been the Vice President & Chief Functionary of Save the Children India, since 2007. We firmly believe that education is the core component in any process of empowerment. This has helped STCI steer initiatives and reach thousands of children in the under privileged communities of Mumbai, Thane, Navi Mumbai and Pune. It has been our constant endeavor to try innovative models that bring the joy back into education. We are particularly committed to solutions at scale, and believe strongly in partnerships with the education system and the government.
As an avid marathon runner, I have managed to raise Rs 91.78 lacs for Save the Children India. I have not hesitated to engage with my network to advocate the work of the organization, thus ensuring that the organization has support in terms of fundraising.
As the Vice President of The Pride India (Planning Rural-Urban Integrated Development through Education), an NGO registered in 1982 to promote the holistic development of marginalized rural people – by considering the family as a unit and adopting an integrated approach focusing on health, education and empowerment.
I am also the Trustee of Women's Institute for Social Education. The institute conducts various trainings in beauty and wellness, tailoring, food management etc., for women in shelter homes to help them gain skills that will help them in securing jobs in the future.
Lastly, under the Kadri Foundation, a non-profit trust, we run the Rah-e-Khair Girls High School, a K-12 school for 1800 girls in Ahmedabad. In my role as a Trustee, I support the foundation’s endeavors in giving grants to those in need of medical and educational support.
4) Indian public spaces have a distinct character of their own. You have often talked about the importance and the future of these spaces. In your opinion, how can the design of these spaces contribute to the urban setting? What should be done in order to recognize their importance?
Public spaces are thriving spaces within the built environment to be enjoyed and used by the people of the city. A good public space is one that reflects diversity and encourages people to interact effortlessly. Public spaces are key in defining a city’s attraction points, public life, activities and events. Such street activities work as the ‘eyes of the street’ and encourage social and political participation.
Traditionally, Indian public spaces have held a pivotal role in providing utility and ensuring a good quality of life. These manifested as courtyards, parks, bazaars to cater to social interaction and religious activities and were designed with respect to contextual and bio-climatic concerns. In defining the character of the Indian public space today, we must look to the past and understand the intricacy of how people inhabit spaces and thrive in them.
I believe that it is imperative for all public projects to truly be representative of the needs and aspirations of the cities and the people that they serve. Participation of citizens is key to creating a shared future. Each public project must address the needs of the stakeholders and involve them in the planning process. This is how we can ensure that the city’s land and resources are used effectively and appropriately –– with the needs and concerns of all stakeholders in mind and for their maximum benefit.
5) It’s not often to see a husband-and-wife due running independent practices. Tell us about the differences between the two firms, in terms of approach and structure, and how this decision was formulated?
We have two independent practices as we both have a distinct sense of design and share a strong sense of leadership and responsibility for the work we do. The decision was formulated way back in 1986 when we tried to do a project together with 2 more friends and Shimul and I would argue endlessly about design decisions. We felt it would be wiser to have our independent practices. When we returned to India after our master’s education from the United States, I joined my fathers’ practice and Shimul started her own practice.
6) How do you look at architecture and design? What are the projects you enjoy working on?
Our design philosophy is based on Biophilic Architecture and our focus and commitment is to provide designs, which are site sensitive and emphasize on being in harmony with nature. We ensure designs provide vibrant and warm spaces, which are socially responsive where people thrive and activities flourish.
IMK has worked on various projects from healthcare and education to hospitality residential design. I enjoy projects which are challenging and have scope for innovation – those that have the potential to fulfil modern society’s growing demands and can be made future proof. Healthcare projects are technical and challenging and our expertise I the field of healthcare design gives us a chance to reach to a larger segment of end users and design for them.
We are also experts in institutional and educational design, and have designed several projects for client like the Symbiosis Society and the Sona Group. We seek to create spaces which engage with the youth and staff to shape spaces for learning that are memorable, creative and inspiring. By integrating concepts of biophila, we strive to foster the positive atmosphere that not only encourages learning, but also design campus or school that is sustainable and one with the natural environment.
7) IMK has done some exceptional work in the healthcare sector. In recent years, India’s healthcare infrastructure has shown little signs of improvement with an alarming hospital bed ratio. What measures do you think can be adopted to tackle this problem?
This pandemic is a wake-up call for the Indian healthcare system. While we require 15 doctors and 20 hospital beds per 10,000 people, we currently only have about half of that number. That translates to 64 million people underserved by the system.
The initial course of action should be to reinforce the primary layer of healthcare in urban slums and rural areas and offer preliminary remedial assistance. Smaller, cost-effective primary healthcare centres and medical sub-centres can be set up as an initial shield in every village, branching out to well-equipped speciality hospitals in every district to cater to the rural population from each of the district’s talukas. Such a system would help relieve the strain on healthcare infrastructure in cities and help make it affordable to the masses.
The design of the current stock of healthcare facilities also needs to be looked at through the lens of disease control –– and changes made accordingly. The better design alternative would be to segregate functions into multiple, separate building wings with reduced widths, and to add buffer zones in between. This would aid natural cross ventilation within indoor spaces, reducing the risk of infection by increasing the rate of air exchange, and avoid interference of services and maintenance areas with procedure areas, allowing for greater isolation of diseases. Independent buildings would need to be zoned responsibly too and functions segregated within sections or floors by creating general, semi-sterile and sterile zones (for example, waiting areas to OPDs to ICUs).
Today, healthcare is one of the fastest-growing industries globally and as new medications and technology change methods of diagnosis and treatment, there is a need to rethink our model of healthcare design as well –– to support health and overall wellbeing rather than simply treating illnesses. One solution that shows promise is basing designs on the theory of biophilia, which seeks to connect buildings and occupants more closely to nature. For instance, maximising daylight, natural ventilation, view of the outdoors, and incorporating green courtyards and water bodies can create a more therapeutic built environment for recovery.
A: Rahul Kadri