Interview: In Conversation with Ar.Senthil Kumar, Chairman of IIA, Tamil Nadu Chapter

Tete-A-Tete with Experts Dated:  April 18, 2016
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Architect Senthil Kumar

Architect K. Senthil Kumar, currently the Chairman of the Indian Institute of Architects, Tamil Nadu Chapter talks to us about his life, works and stint as the IIA, TN Chairman.

Tell us something about the formative years of your life?

My Father was an IFS( Indian forest service) officer. Since he was straight forward he was transferred frequently, and so I studied in more than Ten schools in all parts of Tamilnadu. This gave me good exposure. I was a rank student and got admission in all schools easily.  My mother had 6 brothers and 4 sisters. Most of our family had doctors, and so I didn’t want to choose Medicine as my career. I was good at Drawings, Sketches paintings and dramatical events and architecture seemed to be the most logical thing to choose.

If you weren't an architect, what would you have been? What inspired you to pick architecture of all professions?

I got both Medicine (MBBS) and Engineering (BE) in merit but didn’t get Architecture in the first list. Those days B.Arch was offered only in two Govt colleges in TN, SAP, Anna university (25 seats) and REC–Trichy (15 seats). Architecture was in great demand. I Joined Architecture in Anna university in the Second list. Till date no one believes me when I tell them that I left MBBS and Joined Architecture. Now I proudly tell them, I left Medicine 30 years back to become today, The Chairman of the Indian Institute of Architects, Tamilnadu. My Uncles daughter Usharaj, a beautiful and talented dancer joined Architecture and she was my inspiration to join B.Arch.

Architect K. Senthil Kumar and TeamArchitect K. Senthil Kumar and Team

Who are the people who inspire you?

Prof. Mohammad Shaheer (Late) who was my professor at M.L.Arch in SPA, New delhi was my greatest inspiration. I was trained by him.  Then Of course Ar. B.V.Doshi for his contextual approach and in the current generation architects, Ar.Sanjay Mohe for his creative concepts, sketches and bold style.

You work on a wide range of projects which must be bringing unique challenges everytime. Which has been your most challenging project to date? Please elaborate a bit on the challenges and how you overcame them.

The IAS, IPS Block that we designed at Tindivanam for the Vanniar educational trust was the most challenging one. The client was the then Union minister for Health and Family welfare, Dr. Anbumani Ramadoss. It was very difficult to satisfy him with our Concepts. Then he took us to NIMHANS, Bangalore, the Indian School of Business (ISB) Hyderabed, and showed the buildings which inspired him. After that exposure, we worked day and night and presented the concept  which he liked a lot and approved with slight modifications. That building won the ACOY (Architectural creation of the Year Award 2007), IIA –TN Chapter.

IAS IPS BlockIAS IPS Block - Vanniar Educational Trust

Your favorite project and why? 

Favorite project is the recently completed Hotel project “Hotel Emerald Dove“ at Yelagiri Hills, TN  with 32 rooms, Restaurant and  Conference halls. It was completed at a shoe string budget with Labour contract and in a record time of 9 months including the interiors. It has become a landmark in Yelagiri now. Customers are giving good feedback about the building and the facilities. That was the first project in which we handled Architecture, Interiors and Landscape.

Hotel Emerald DoveExterior View - Hotel Emerald Dove

As the Chairman of IIA, TamilNadu chapter, what changes do you strive for?

We wanted to publish the select works of Tamilnadu architects and came out with Footprints 1. Lot of Young Architects' works were published. Following the  big success, we are now coming out with Footprints-2.  We worked hard to get rid of selecting Architects by tendering process in the Chennai corporation. Now we have an empaneled list of Architects in the corporation of Chennai and the professional charges are paid as per the Council of Architecture norms. Our aim is, in all Government sectors, Architects shall be selected based on Technical bid and not on Financial bid. Very soon we will see Good Architecture public buildings. We are also moving PWD, Chennai corporation, Approval authorities such as CMDA and DTCP to employ more Architects to expedite the scrutiny and  approval process and to achieve higher design standards in public projects. 

How do you see the road ahead for the next incumbent?

Today there are 85 colleges imparting Architectural education in Tamilnadu. Intake varies from 40 to 120 per college. Assuming an average of 60 students per college, the output will be around 5000 fresh architects per year, whereas there are only 3000 registered Architects in Tamilnadu now. Quality education, Practical Training / Apprenticeship,  Jobs for fresh architects in standard firms, Self employment, and Placement will be a big challenge for the next incumbent.  Architects  vs  Non Architects  practicing Architecture is also a big issue to be handled in the smaller cities.

What would your wish list be for architecture in our country?

Architecture should be separated from the Ministry of Human resource and Development and a separate ministry for Architecture should be formed taking into account the enormous  development in the housing and public  sector in the coming years. Scrutiny, Approvals, Environmental clearances, No objection certificates and Licences should be streamlined making the entire process user friendly, transparent and granted within a time frame. Exclusive universities for Architecture, such as Jawaharlal Nehru Architecture and Fine arts university, Hyderabad, should be created. 

Its not uncommon to see foreign architects working on prestigious projects in India. What would it take to start the reverse trend?

B. Arch degrees offered by around 420 Architecture colleges in India, should be recognized by RIBA. If we can recognize the foreign  degrees and allow them to practice in India, our degrees should also be recognized to practice in foreign countries. Our education system also should be made at par with the foreign universities. Individual practice is slowing down and more Corporate firms are established comprising many young architects, to handle big projects in the stipulated time and I find them very competent to handle projects abroad. 

One final question, what would your dream project be?

My dream project will be Housing for all, exclusively designed by the Architects. Affordable  Indian housing using modern technologies, innovative structural systems, non-conventional energy sources and locally available materials should be the vision. Common man should realise that Architecture is not only for the rich but also for the poor. The optimum utilization of the scarcely available resources should be the priority of every Architect.

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