Interview: In Conversation with Ar.Reza Kabul, The Emerging Master in Tall Buildings

Tete-A-Tete with Experts Dated:  Sept. 11, 2015
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Architect Reza Kabul

Even though the whole country is inclined towards sustainable designs and smart cities, one has to blindly accept the fascination for tall buildings. With no second thoughts, our eyes go rolling from top to bottom of any tall building we come across in a city. For the inhabitants of Mumbai, probably it is an exception. But to know more about the masterminds behind such tall buildings would be fairly interesting. 

I feel quite fortunate to have interviewed the 'Encyclopedia' of tall buildings- Architect Reza Kabul of Mumbai, who elaborately explains the A to Z of high-rise structures. His contribution towards designing the skyline of Mumbai and many other places is tremendous and no wonder, he has acquired the tag- 'Emerging Master in Tall Buildings'. His impressive statement- “The motto is to beat the better of my best” says everything about his attitude towards design and life!

The Indian Institute of Architects, Kolhapur has given you the tag ‘Emerging master in Tall buildings’ in 2011. It should have been an incredible journey since 1985 to have mastered this. Could you tell us about it.

After establishing my independent practice, I started contacting acquaintances and family informing them about my venture and merely working on a bedroom or even a bathroom at times. Gradually I began designing stand alone apartments and low rise buildings in the outskirts of Mumbai, such as Kalyan, Badlapur and Thane. My clients noticed my dedication towards their projects and hard work that went with it. I believe that if an opportunity knocks on your door and you are not there to open it, it would not wait but instead knock at some other door. I was, and yet am always eager to try new things every day, as well as learn with each project.

The big break came with Sagar Classic, an 18 storied tower in Byculla, Mumbai.  We made the model and a perspective which itself achieved an overwhelming response, and the client’s satisfaction. It was the first time my name flashed across the newspapers; a great turning point with no looking back. Setting another benchmark towards progress, we are currently working on a mixed-use high-rise development in Colombo called 96 Iconic Tower. Dedicated to the Sri Lankan winners of the 1996 Cricket World Cup, the structure shall stand at 363m tall, and be the tallest in the Sri Lankan skyline.

The very famous 96 iconic tower at Colombo, Sri Lanka has been dedicated to the Sri Lankan cricketers of the 1996 World Cup. Could you explain the conceptualization behind the tower?

In honor of their victory at the 1996 Cricket World Cup, the Sri Lankan government had gifted land in Colombo to the 14 player team. The 96 Iconic Tower is designed in the shape of a trophy, with a ball balanced between four bats, commemorates the achievements of the Sri Lankan cricketers. The mixed-use project is an amalgamation of residential units with retail spaces, commercial offices, public entertainment zones, an indoor cricket academy, a 360 degree observatory, and a specialty restaurant. Despite the various uses and users stacked vertically, each has been provided individual and independent functioning. Designated parking areas, different access elevators and lobbies, and independent services ensure minimal overlap between the different users. The 96 Iconic Tower has a total of 34 elevators, including two double-decker elevators for the observatory. Standing at 363m, 96 Iconic Tower is 211m taller than the current tallest World Trade Center in Sri Lanka.

96 Iconic Tower96 Iconic Tower

Shreepati arcade’ designed by ARK was acclaimed to be the tallest building in India and it found a place in the Limca Book of Records 2003. Our readers would be curious to more about it.

Passion alone doesn’t drive extraordinary achievements; it has to be backed by strong ambition to leave a mark for posterity. Interestingly, when I first saw the site of Shreepati Arcade I wondered if we would even be able to build the planned tower. The plot was tight, with a 10 ft wide access road, and brimming over with hundreds of tenements and chawls. Gradually the tenants were rehabilitated and the space on the site expanded; the FSI increased to 2.5 under the redevelopment scheme and gave us enough room to grow to 45 storey, pushing the height of the structure to 152m. Shreepati Arcade is fitted with the then latest seismic technology of the Australian Piled Raft Foundations for Tall Buildings. The external tiles and glass on the facade are installed to remain unaffected during an earthquake. It was the first time that we were working on a project of this height. There were days of research on various aspects of latest technology and safety norms. We met several international companies and consultants whose knowledge and expertise was of immense assistance to detail the various aspects needed to be considered while working on such a scale. A lot of ‘first in India’ methods and technologies were used in the construction of Shreepati Arcade. The project was challenging; each day was exciting as we would discover new things at the site. As we saw each floor take shape and eventually when the building was unveiled, it gave us tremendous satisfaction to have successful churned out such a landmark structure.

Shreepati Arcade
Shreepati Arcade

Most of your projects relate to the contemporary style of Architecture. On the contrary, how do you consider heritage conservation projects? Tell us about the challenges you faced in restoring the 100 year old Iranian Mosque.

Heritage conservation projects are a huge responsibility. The challenge lies in understanding the original architecture and planning. We undertook the responsibility and challenge of refurbishing the 100 year old Shiraz Mosque in 2003. The wear and tear of nearly a century had run down the structure of the Iranian mosque. A huge fissure ran through the plot, resulting in cracked walls and steps. The drainage of the hauz (a pond meant for mandatory ablutions before going for prayers) was also affected due to the fissure. We repaired the damage and clad the two feet thick walls of the mosque with onyx tiles brought from Iran. The wooden trusses above the walls were also fixed; the roof was stitched with steel plates and covered with Mangalore tiles. A retaining wall was built adjacent to the hauz, and the pond was recast in RCC to cover the cracked areas. The entrance, with four minarets, was clad in baked ceramic tiles. Most materials including the onyx, the baked ceramic tiles, and accessories have been imported from Iran. I consider it a great honor to get a chance to work on such a project.

How would you describe your fascination towards high-rise or tall buildings?

The thought behind growth has always been bigger and higher. The fascination behind high-rises is to grow towards the sky; the motto is to beat the better of your best. 

All the tall structures you have designed, intend to create landmarks in their respective cities. Not everyone gets the opportunity to frame or design the skyline for a place. How do you look at this?

Throughout history, cities have been defined by their great buildings. Right from the Greek and Roman times, whenever a city has achieved something or won a war, a monument has been built in its honor, taller than the previous tallest, to commemorate the victory. Today as cities grow, these landmark high-rises become victories in themselves. For Dubai, it is the Burj Khalifa; the Taipie 101 for Taipie, the Shanghai Tower for Shanghai whereas the Guangzhou International Finance Center for Guangzhou. Our upcoming mixed-use high-rise 96 Iconic Tower follows suite, commemorating the Sri Lanka, the 1996 World Cup Winners. I believe that all tall buildings are icons in themselves, and together they build the identity of a city.

Steel and concrete have high carbon footprints. And there is a new proposal of increasing the use of timber in construction to reduce the carbon footprint in large scale buildings. Our readers would want to know your thoughts on this.

While timber may have a lower carbon footprint as compared to steel and concrete, it is not the appropriate material for high-rise buildings. According to the statutory construction laws in California, a city known for its stick construction, the use of timber is allowed only for a structure that is four storey tall. Beyond that, it is considered unsafe, especially with regard to fire safety. There are however, materials in the market that are sustainable solutions and have lower carbon footprints as compared to steel and concrete.    

High rise buildings and skyscrapers of today are prone to endless curtain wall glazing these days. Please give your opinion on this, from an Architect’s perspective and a user’s perspective.

While several consider glass to be a cosmetic feature of a structure that makes a building look modern and high-tech, the use of glass in architectural façades is a preferred option. Glass reduces the weight on the foundation, making the building lighter as compared to constructing walls. It offers a wider unobstructed view of the surroundings, and increases the availability and use of natural light indoors. There are a variety of variants available which are sustainable and offer high insulation, heat and sound resistance, as well reduce the amount and intensity of glare on the surrounding buildings. 

Other than your projects, what could be your most favorite skyscraper?

The Eiffel Tower. This puddled iron tower built in 1889 stands 324m tall. Considering the technology, building materials, and machinery required for such a structure, that is still one of the tallest in the world, speaks volumes about the engineers and planners. Their expertise and knowledge, including the wind effect and safety precautions that were considered, is absolutely commendable and inspiring.

You have been in Mumbai which is a city with the 12th highest number of skyscrapers in the world. Please tell our readers about the most interesting project you worked on, in Mumbai.

While every project comes as a learning curve with its unique demands and challenges, I think Shreepati Arcade was an interesting project with regard to shaping the skyline for the city of Mumbai. Designed in the early 2000s, the challenge of creating a tower 153m tall with no proper infrastructure and equipment was an interesting challenge. Shreepati Arcade was listed as the Tallest Building in India by The Limca Book of Awards in 2003. Even today, the structure ranks at being the 24th tallest in Mumbai and 26th tallest in India. (Source: 

Your advice for Architects who wish to get into the Skyscraper field.

Architecture is in a constant state of flux, and Indian sensibilities are evolving with results encompassing a myriad of architectural styles and designs. While we started our careers with T squares and drawing boards, the budding generation today has the advantage of technology. In this age of transformation technology assists you right from conceptualization of a design to determining the stability of the structure. The 3D drawings, advanced materials and new technologies evolving day by day, one can assist in creating wonders. To design the high-rise skyline of a metropolis it is good to be a dreamer; but it needs to be bundled with hard-work and dedication to actualize those dreams. The future beckons radical revolution in structural design; where creativity and resolution of intent can build cities.

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