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It’s all about simple solutions

Architecture Alok Shetty  

Young leader of Tomorrow – It is this recognition from Time magazine recently that showcased to the world the innovative design formulations of architect Alok Shetty’s affordable flood-proof houses for Bangalore’s LRDE slum dwellers. Sounding modest and down to earth, 28-year-old Alok says he was nurtured into thinking that simple solutions are often the right solutions to every challenge encountered. Time magazine said Mr. Shetty was “building hope in India” as an architect who was “finding simple solutions to complex problems.”

As a 20-year-old architecture student of RV College in Bangalore, Alok Shetty took up a challenge. He entered a competition where a multi-specialty hospital in Jaipur had to be designed. Even as it may sound precocious, Alok’s blue-print of the intensely researched first mega-project, Narayana Health Hospital, attracted the authorities to have him on board for the project. “I brought it across after one year of interactions with doctors and patients and the 4-lakh sq. ft space finally bagged an international accreditation,” says Alok.

Since then, after completing his Master’s in architecture at Columbia University, he delved into starting a firm, Bhumiputra Architecture, in 2012 that took simple ideas and brought them over with innovative building solutions for designing radical social infrastructure for the needy. Why did he choose to come back? “India has a large scope for designing. Young minds have to work for this. Besides, I wanted to add my bit of value,” says Alok, the third-generation member in his family to enter the construction business.

Every summer Alok would be on construction sites interacting with labourers. Every building that he undertook was an added experience not just in absorbing build-technologies, but in knowing more about construction labourers and their living conditions. Meaningful, cost-effective designs to suit specific targets will always be my focus, he says. “I have taken up a pilot of 10 units in the slum project at LRDE, next to Bagmane Tech Park, where re-used material for being design and purse friendly would help the under-privileged have modest good homes,” explains Alok.

Alok’s LRDE slum project has bamboo walls, reused discarded scaffolding material, plastic tarpaulin sheets resting on bamboo for roof and wooden shuttering sheets for the floor that would cost Rs. 35,000 for a 100 sq. ft house. “I have another version with re-used building debris that also costs Rs. 25,000,” he says. It all started with Alok taking up academic adoption programmes for children of construction labourers at each of his projects. Educational fee and books are free for them along with a savings bank account that accrued money for these children for 12 years. Apart from enabling them with education and reasonably good savings for their life post-teens, it is Alok’s simple design effort that is going to help hundreds of houses be made-up at the slum by June 2015. “It was heart-rending to see the dingy make-shift houses of labourers, with no ventilation, and increased carbon-monoxide to make it worse. The make-shift houses were a water pool during rains that became breeding grounds for diseases like malaria,” observes Alok.

Mobile auditoriums

But that’s not all. Alok’s big ideas seem unbelievable at the outset. For, who would have even thought that hundreds of shipping containers going waste every year would be put to use? Explains Alok, “Every year there are nearly 5 lakh shipping containers being sold or discarded. Each is about 40 feet. I wanted to think ‘out of the box’ or out of this black-box and come up with something mobile and useful. Reusing and making them ship out to various destinations, be it in cities or a desert, made sense. So, while I studied at Columbia, we started it as a University project.”

The 40-ft. shipping container gets transformed into a 250-seater auditorium with aisles, staircase, screen and dais. This pre-fabricated auditorium gets unfolded with structural supports that can hold 250 persons seated. With photo-voltaic cells installed for power, proto-types (that can be installed in four hours) have been fabricated for studying the load-bearing capacity and so on, says Alok.

“We already have several enquiries for these portable auditoriums from schools, colleges, state governments and clinics across countries and we are in the process of applying for patents,” he says. There are institutions and schools or plain vast areas where infrastructure for auditoriums is not present. These mobile units can be flown, sent by sea or transported by land routes. “After all, the day is not far off when India too would think of mobile spaces, for adaptive architecture is Gen-next in the design world,” he says.

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Printable version | Oct 27, 2021 10:48:22 PM |

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