Veteran Spain-based architect Ricardo E Bofill, a long-time observer of the Indian architecture, and the principal architect of Ricardo Bofill Taller de Arquitectura (RBTA) discusses with SH the country’s rapidly evolving design landscape: trends, technology, design philosophy, and more.
By Mrinmoy Bhattacharjee
To what extent do you find Indian clients aligned with global trends in architecture and design? What design and construction trends are likely to come to India, if not here already?
Real estate is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the country. Lots of Indian clients have been engaged in discussions about green architecture, sustainability, and rapid urbanisation, to develop the real estate sector in a way that provides international standards to the Indian market. I feel that India, as a hub of real estate and architecture, has grown tremendously in the past couple of years. It is not about development and urbanisation anymore; the global paradigm has paved the way for conversations about future buildings that involve a progressive approach in India, in sync with global trends.
India is one country that has seen a lot of architectural and construction styles due to its rich history of diverse cultures. Since global trends have slowly been picking up pace in the country, it has become evident that India is not a local player anymore. Certain design and construction trends, such as the incorporation of green technology and usage of IoT (Internet of Things), have already begun to influence the construction methodology used. Offsite prefabrication, use of augmented reality, and 3D scanning are set to streamline the process of construction in India as well. Soon, these trends are predefined to change, to not only grow but also suit the Indian market. In general, I hope that the prevailing trend is towards biology, increasing our consciousness about the healthy approach towards our living planet, through our living cities, which means our living buildings, our own homes, and our future.
Does Indian culture and taste compel you to modify your designs? Could you share anecdotes of how you have adjusted your creations to suit local preferences?
I have always been fascinated with the melange of culture and diversity that India has to offer. RBTA has been actively working in India for 10 years. It took us years, and we are still learning, of course, that diversity is the central theme; Kolkata, Chennai, Bengaluru, Delhi, Goa, Jaipur, the variations and nuances seem infinite. Interestingly, this diversity is a microcosm of the planet itself, different cultures creating one. Sometimes we think of India as inscribed in a circular time-space matrix. India is our favourite country because of this diversity, which is fluid and changing yet rooted in 5,000 years of history, allowing us to metabolise knowledge and transform it into buildings, which we hope last for another 100 years. One thousand years if they are genuinely timeless landmarks. India is a growing open market for urban planners and architects. India allows us to adapt our global experience to design and build a myriad of different projects, from luxury residential to office, from affordable housing to infrastructure.
For instance, in Konnagar, we have tried to incorporate the climatic condition as the main design driver. We are set to create a project that is progressive, functional, and has a state-of-the-art wind system, well within the PMAY parameters to develop a residential property that not only suites the local preferences, but also falls under the affordable housing act. I feel PMAY is one of the biggest government tasks at hand, and RBTA is looking forward to giving it the support it requires.
Are the Indian laws regarding sustainability in line with those of developed countries? Do you think more needs to be done in India by design professionals and the government, to make buildings sensitive to the environment?
The Indian real estate sector is growing exponentially and today is one of the biggest industries in the country. However, due to the fast-paced growth of the sector, there has been undue pressure on the environment due to increasing greenhouse gas emissions brought on by rapid population, which poses as one of the significant setbacks of a rapidly developing economy.
When looking at the whole picture, the only problem is that India needs sustainable management in terms of water and sanitation. The main focus is on the economic growth and efficiency that the sector will provide, and not much on the sustainability or the energy consumption facet of it.
When compared to developed countries, it is imperative to understand that their priorities are different; while India continues to grow as a leading real estate economy, developed regions such as the US and Europe have already been through that stage. Their primary focus is on cultivating a culture of sustainability and incorporating green architecture for the generations to come.
The Government of India can further pay attention to elements of construction such as proper usage of raw materials, recycling and safe disposal of waste, consequently studying the impact on the environment and initiating a forum to encourage the people about long-time sustainability.
Are Indian manufacturers able to match your expectations concerning materials and products? Where do you find the industry lacking? What do you have to say to the Indian industry on matters of technology, service, and support?
The job of the architect is to adapt to national and regional materials and products. It is not the same to design affordable housing in London and Kolkata. Architects can propose incremental quality measures that upgrade the current manufacturing products, yet must be flexible and creative to work with what they have.
The Indian construction sector is expanding rapidly into new markets. The sector is expected to grow and become the third-largest one in the world by 2050, according to a joint report by KPMG and NAREDCO. Even though the government has been successful in initiating acts such as RERA and GST, along with PMAY and affordable housing solutions, the industry still has a long way to go. Even though the technology and service sector in construction continues to grow, there is a significant fall-back due to problems in Industry-academia collaboration. While academia continues to be ‘idealistic’, the industry remains ‘realistic’, and in the gap, we can see a fracture that does not help to push for the optimal solutions.