Romi Khosla

Interviews with Thought Leaders Dated:  April 23, 2014
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Architect: Romi Khosla

Romi Khosla, an alumnus of Cambridge University UK and Architectural Association London is widely known for design of various educational as well as recreational complexes. The Aga Khan Award winner architect opens up with ZingyHomes in a short interview where he talks about his award winning project, reflects on Indian architecture and mentions about his authored and edited books.

What do you think about Environmental Sustainability?

Sustainability is a very important concept.  For Indians, and indeed for all who inhabit the sub-continent, the way of seeing the world around us has always emphasised sustainability, self-sufficiency and minimizing waste.  These concerns are deeply embedded in our cultural values.  Therefore when scientists warn us about the impending disasters that may occur in this century due to environmental crimes being committed, such findings make a lot of sense to Indians who have always regarded the environment as something that is alive as a force around us and needs the respect given to devtas.

Volvo-Eicher Corporate Headquarters

We have been extremely surprised and equally delighted by the NDTV award for this building.  Our surprise is explained by the observation that we architects are aware that the media, the government as well as the universities are generally disinterested in design and architecture.  Therefore for a major T.V. Channel to award prizes for design and architecture gives me great hope.  May be it signals the beginning of a new awakening for the rulers of our country about the aesthetic importance of our cities and how they are built.

Indian Architecture

The phases of modern architecture developing in India have taken our buildings from colonial influences to corporate influences.  The very discipline of architecture is a colonial inheritance in India in which the architect is regarded as something of a superman who knows the needs of people for whose good he designs buildings.  It is for this reason that the patrons of architecture has totally ignored the needs of the poor in India who form a majority of the population of the country.  Now we have reached a situation where the government has outsourced slum rehabilitation to the builders.  So architects still ignored as monetary values over shadow our cultural and human values.  The signature buildings of tomorrows India are going to be the Sustainable Corporate buildings, not the ones that provide rehabilitation to the poor.

Books

I have edited one book and authored some more.  The subjects are very diverse as are my concerns.  The book on ‘The Idea of Delhi’ was edited for Marg in which i had some major contributions about how, when colonial Delhi was conceived, ideas were important for architects.  That was a very different situation from to-day when cost and compliance is expected from architects.  My other book on the Future ‘The Loneliness of the long Distant Future’ was written to share my experiences in the global architectural context and how very few people are interested in the long term future.  People who think about the future and want to do something about improving it are generally lonely people.  Other books I have written are about ‘Natural Cities’ and about Birds in a small area of Dharamsala, but these are highly specialised books for a narrow band of informed readers.

Any words of wisdom for youngsters starting out today?

Invent your own future.  Design your life around it.  If the design of your life is unique you will become a unique architect.

What’s your favourite Project?

My favourite projects are those that inspire wonder inside me when i visit them.  Sometimes they are historical like Humayun’s Tomb which I regard as an early product of globalisation where the Central Asians brought us a building typology that was unbelievable at the time-the scale, the spans, the cladding, the relationship to Landscape.  Another project that inspires wonder inside me is the International Centre by stein.  Its entire system of construction and its detailing fill you win wonder at their innovation.  Inevitably one’s own projects become favourites too such as the Castro Cafe in Jamia and the Volvo-Eicher Corporate Building.  However, if you were to ask me what is my favourite activity then i would have to confess that my favourite activity is designing for competitions which one has no intention to win.  This is because such an activity is about engaging with the purity of architecture, with the dream of architecture, with the future of architecture, with the limits of architecture, with the possibility and potential of architecture.  Engaging in such activity cleanses one as would a dip in the Ganga before returning back to the mediocrity of our times.

What are the Challenges faced by you so far as an architect?

The greatest challenge I face as an architect is to build a building that remains consistent to my design ideas.  Architecture involves team work and heavy inputs from the users and project managers.  So when i design a building, I face the same challenge that a cat faces when you try and catch her in a room.  I leap from argument to argument, from defence to defence, from modification to modification, desperately trying to save my design idea.  The bigger the idea the harder it is to save it.  No matter how much you jump and run, the client, the project manager, the contractor and the budget is eventually going to throw a sack on your idea and carry it off for rehabilitation.

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