Aashish Karode

Tete-A-Tete with Experts Dated:  Dec. 9, 2014
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Architect: Aashish Karode

A man of innumerable talents and varied interests, Aashish Karode, an architect and Masters in Urban Design from the University of Berkeley opens up about life as and beyond an architect & urban planner, in this interview.

Lets start with the person behind the architect. Please tell us a bit about yourself.
I have remained a nomad since my early childhood, and an avid traveller growing up. To be brought up with a good education, I was sent away from home at the age of 4, as my parents lived in remote areas of north-east India. I moved with my surrogate family to Delhi, Calcutta, Mumbai and Pune and changed schools till I was old enough to go to boarding school at Mayo College in Ajmer. I was fortunate to live an experience rich lifestyle-, cherishing an interesting and varied range of experiences in India and abroad as an architect. I have a degree in Architecture from the Institute of Environmental Design, Gujarat, and a Masters in Urban Design from UC Berkeley. After higher studies in the US, I worked with premier planning firm Moore Iacofano Goldsman Inc. on several Campus Master Plans like the California State University at Monterey Bay, Bastyr University at Seattle, and University of California, Davis, and with Prof. Peter Bosselmann on a number of interesting assignments, like the San Francisco Urban Design Plan-Update and Bay Area Rapid Transit Stations.

Together with my daughter Neha and wife Roobina, (a leading Art Curator and teaching art critic who was also in the US a Fellow at the Women’s Leadership Institute on a Fulbright Fellowship in Arts and Culture Management), we have travelled to the Far East, the Middle East, the United Kingdom and many parts of Europe and the US. I have taught Art history, Architectural Design, Urban Design

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the History of Architecture variously in India and the United States. I am a photography enthusiast pursuing wildlife and urban subjects, an amateur artist- I enjoy drawing. And for fun, whenever possible I sail yachts, fly radio controlled planes and play Tennis. I remain a part-time writer and to stay connected productively with the larger creative and plastic arts community, I help my wife write critical essays on contemporary art subjects.

When did you first start your practice? How and what led to Design Atelier Urbis?
We first started Design Atelier (a studio workshop) in partnership with Sushil Louis Karer, a childhood friend and fellow architect. We began as a design and build practice in 1989, when we built temporary structures, pavilions, interiors and displays. As we quickly outgrew our fascination, we became more highly drawn to studio activities and design concerns much more than the construction  management and labour management aspect of Design-Build. After higher studies and working abroad in top consultancies in Europe and USA, we decided to focus, on the creation of a practice based on bringing specialised expertise onto projects. We recreated Design Atelier in the 90’s to respond to challenging professional demands with a

design consultancy model, where artistry, crafts, graphics, lighting, and many forms of engineering collaborations were brought into the practice with much ado about small details and our projects began to develop a unique, bespoke quality and also gain recognition. Given the special professional needs of a nation in the making, through our work we tried to develop design attitudes which presented unique resolutions to the demands of modernising clients. The big challenge was to always make projects environmentally and socially responsible, aesthetically appealing even while we met the severe budgetary constraints always at play in a developing country.

What does Urbis in the name stand for?
Urbis is a form of the Latin noun ‘urbs’ or city- We use Urbis to mean “of the city”. Urbis suffixed to our Firm name is a non-commercial entity where we try to help solve/ think about, write and create studies and documentation about cities. As an Urban Designer/Architect I believe that Cities (and Architecture) are about enabling community formation. That is they must be supportive, functional, economically successful, socially enabling and culturally rich. This today means being development oriented, progressive, but also being ecologically responsible, environmentally sustainable, aesthetically sensitive, and functional. Recently we have done a study to solve the mess around HUDA City Centre in Gurgaon where we are doing a Public realm project to energise the HCC Metro Station Area. We hope to be able to work with and create solutions for Municipalities, City governments and developers wherever possible to participate in City development.

You have been working on a very wide range of projects across architecture, design and urban planning. What kind of projects do you enjoy doing the most?
We enjoy most when the artistry and free thinking spirit is encouraged, without “cookbook” rules. We work within value systems of course, not just for “autonomy” .  Form rules but we work towards social goals and architectural excellence. We enjoy work the most when the corporate interests, cost constraints and municipal rules don’t straight jacket the thinking trends in our design project. We actually look to design within a design process that responds to principles and interesting new ways of thinking, but not to rules built to suit only commercial motivations.

Tell us something about your approach to your projects?
To me, a lead architect does not just assume leadership in his projects - he has a larger disciplinary leadership defined in his approach. For instance, I am concerned with the social aspects of planning and design. Image, form and content can all contribute but cannot detract from my social agenda. A good environment or building must also catalyse social processes. So architecture has to be more than a functional thing- it is also a graceful way of life. The determinants of which are more than mere functioning- it is embedded with pride, change, growth, social and environmental responsibility. It has at once, a local sensibility, an appreciation of nature, climate, natural processes and just as much has an urbanists vision, a global perspective. I believe that design brings Grace to life, and that that matters!

What defines your style?
Personally I am informed and shaped by my studies and beliefs. I studied Urban Design after architecture. To me architecture, and landscape creation and urban design are integral to cities, all a part of the same thing…in the way we conceive places, in the way we live in places and in the way we make things. It is from there that we like to anchor our project design in the immediate reality of site and context- to me style is not a fixed set of formal characteristics- to me it is a way to create a strong and unique identity suited to people and place. In my practice, we work to identify those contextual determinants, which strengthens the projects aura and its place and position at a unique place and for a unique set of end users.

Could you share with us a project that you are most proud of and why?
Many projects we have liked to do are restricted for public display to protect clients privacy. We enjoy combining intimate earthy materials like- stone, wood, plaster, pebbles into intricate elements that support the larger monumental architectural compositions. The recent crop of projects that are most interesting are the ones where we have collaborated intensely with lighting crafts and graphics most intensely while achieving the essence of the ideas we were experimenting with.

Interesting projects include:
Fairway Pub
Sufi IT Park - Green Building- Winner Emerson Cup 2013- Best building in Emerging Cities of India
Chimes - Green Building- Winner Green Project of the Year 2012-13; CW India Award
Plastics Application Development Centre, Indian Oil Refinery

Who/what inspires you and your works?
It is unfair to the many people who do great work to take the names of just a few. I respect the impulses of designers who are sensitive to history, material, and nature. I am turned on by articulate and contextually sensitive design that exhibits the designers passion to find an appropriate expression suited to people and place. That is my most admired form of architecture. I do not like design that is influenced by personal pretentions or opulence to override the importance of natural processes, and the gracefulness of life.

Since you are a person who has several awards and accolations in Sustainability and Green Design to his credit, what do you think India needs to do so as to not make “sustainability” just a buzz word used solely for marketing?
Of course it is a no-brainer that if society consumes and wastes in the way it does there will be no way on earth to support us! Cities are the architects playgrounds. We need smarter buildings and spaces that function 24 hours, with minimum embedded energy and long service lives. We could choose to avoid reliance on cars and polluting motorized transport.

What has been your biggest challenge so far?
Undoubtedly the biggest challenge is to ask clients to take on a more serious role in mitigating energy consumption issues of buildings. As India’s cities trend towards ever more urbanisation and migration, they present her bigger and bigger energy problems. Cities become the biggest consumers of energy, with an added never-ending demand of energy for development, households, amenities, commercialisation and industrialisation. India needs a rapid increase in clean and socially benign energy production on the one hand, and on the other, an approach to overall management of energy consumption. I believe that Architects are an important agency in developing this thrust. In cities, the big heads like pumping, lighting, heating/cooling, sewerage and solid waste disposal can be much less energy intensive by architectural intervention, and solutions for energy management with an integrated outlook to the energy efficiency of cities and meeting their necessary energy supply.

What challenges do you continue to face and what is your strategy to tackle them?
I classify ongoing architecture challenges as problems of  Talent, Integrity, Communication, Leadership, and Technology challenges, somewhat in that order. The Indian environment for architecture has all these problem  types active simultaneously. My dream is to grow our firm into an influential planning and design leader offering comprehensive urban design and architectural services, as a Pan Indian practice that can overcome these problems and perform at the state of the art, but with an Indian palette of sensibilities. We match this vision today with an uncompromising dedication to aesthetics that elevates the experience of places that we design. Long before coming to the United States to better understand urban development and design in the developed world, I was exposed to developing an integrated approach to design and modern technology in the era of deregulation and privatization in India. To deal with all facets of the local challenges effectively, we are focussing on knowledge and service excellence. We are now moving the firm rapidly towards leadership in BIM technologies and understanding the sustainability aspects deeply embedded in our natural way of thinking, with the LEED Gold and LEED Platinum projects that the firm has recently been engaged with.

What drives you?
Design Atelier’s extensive portfolio is a testament to our multi-disciplinary design approach. The breadth of our expertise and experience gives our Clients a platform to significantly extend and improve their capacity, and enhance their visibility. We have worked across 250 projects to deliver architecture and design solutions across diverse sectors. My unequivocal focus is to positively influence the future shape of built environments through design leadership, using expert knowledge and services excellence.

Partnerships and expert inputs is the key to our design approach. We continue to expand our multi-disciplinary teams and technical partners of over 50 professionals to solve Design challenges. Our relationships with creative and technical professionals enable us to work collaboratively on varied projects with the best suited combination of expertise required. We draw on the industry’s best practices to build a Client-Centered Project experience that consistently reinforces our Architectural goals with expert knowledge, design excellence and robust construction.

How do you all like to work in teams?
In the design studio,  like to select each team member myself, and to involve them in social interaction, mental probing, or questioning of assumptions. Together we choose our technology, understand each other’s strengths, and provide support, knowledge sharing. Our teamwork is to also nurture social interaction, and it promotes informality, personal growth, professional acumen and dependability. Each person in the team has opportunity to pursue their personal direction as well as participate in the project delivery process according to their skills. We have had architects in our studio who like to paint, write software, make RC Model planes, design furniture, design products and fashion accessories, lighting design, graphics and really pursuits of all kinds. This adds richness to our teams and practice and an overall sense of well being pervades the studio.

You say you measure your work by the pleasure of the lives lived in your buildings and projects. Please share a bit about your framework and measurement process with us.
There is no absolute measurement for pleasure. Lives of people are improved in so many ways when a space or environment or building is supportive of their aspirations and joy of living. We believe that design provides that joyousness. We always meet our users to receive feedback and also from happy clients. We are most pleased to get repeated work requests from clients after we do one successful project after another. That is a measure we try to live up to. Besides that of course all the IGBC-LEED measurement criteria are applied to Green Buildings, that measure building performance against established local criteria and continuously evolving standards and conventions.

For instance Green rating is achieved when you do specific things, and where building construction uses conservative techniques for soil/water conservation and prevention of light/dust/air pollution, design reduces heat gain and heat plumes; the building improves on a variety of baseline criteria defined by IGBC/LEED against contemporaneous conventional buildings in energy savings etc. by more than 15%; when the design uses passive and active techniques for conservation/mitigation of environmental degradation including heat, surface water runoff/absorption, recycled content. Building materials used in green buildings have low embedded energy consumption/ and transportation management is within the threshold criteria defined by IGBC/LEED and so on.

Any words of wisdom for youngsters starting out today?
My advice to young architects is to continuously express themselves in as many ways as possible,  to learn from context, history, nature, places and people everywhere. Architecture is not just about being cool, having nice socks, hipster glasses and smart talking! I recommend reading the classic texts in and around architecture, in landscape, visual arts, urbanism. Also read up on the latest new knowledge added in the past 5-10 years. Observe- Draw - Connect with the environment.

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