How to build for the future: India's shortlists at the upcoming World Architecture Festival 2022

The upcoming World Architecture Festival 2022’s shortlist demonstrates how the pandemic has shaped homes and work-spaces, prompting more sustainable, human-centric design

Updated - October 15, 2022 05:04 pm IST

Published - October 15, 2022 10:49 am IST

The upcoming Bahai House of Worship

The upcoming Bahai House of Worship | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

When architect Puran Kumar got started on renovating his firm, Studio PKA’s studio space, he realised the need for a critical response to the inherited space, and the “idea of unearthing and discovering, rather than a set mandatory approach”.

Located on the second floor of a 100-year-old Victorian era building in Mumbai, The Loft, is an example of how architecture today is more responsive, and less by-the-book. “An honest reflection of the context and a pragmatic functional design was adopted. This was done not only to respect, retain and celebrate the spirit of the place but also respond to the myriad experiences it could possibly offer,” says Puran, of his project completed earlier this year, which has been shortlisted under the Workplace (Small) Category at the upcoming World Architecture Festival 2022 in Lisbon. The global annual architectural fest launched in 2008, is attended by over 2,000 design experts and is slated to be the only such event where ‘keynote talks from the industry’s most influential figures sit alongside live crit presentations and judging, global networking, a 495-project strong gallery’.

A snapshot of The Loft

A snapshot of The Loft | Photo Credit: Niveditaa Gupta

No doubt, the pandemic has accelerated this design philosophy and put the spotlight on creating human-centric spaces with more outdoor elements and sustainability in mind. Which is why, this year’s theme for WAF 2022, ‘Together’, is an apt setting to discuss the evolution of our spaces post-lockdown.

All set to see over 253 projects compete in the event’s categories including Completed Buildings, Future Projects, and Landscape next month, WAF 2022 will look into how architecture is responding to the renewal of collective life as we combat climate change. Over 50 international speakers will discuss issues including how design is changing because of health considerations, and most importantly, how everyday domestic life, workplace culture and social engagement is changing.

With the list of the finalist projects unveiled in July, a majority of the India projects (Completed and Future) in the race are centered around workspaces. It’s refreshing to see new designs that keep in mind principles of adaptive reuse, and are big on recreational facilities and climate-controlled materials.

The dining space at DevaDhare

The dining space at DevaDhare | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Take for instance another finalist: the greenfield industrial facility in Gujarat – Secure Sanand – designed by Studio Saar that blends in lively elements into an otherwise grey factory. Managing Director Ananya Singhal explains how the brief for the factory buildings also included the provision of a staff canteen and recreation building “that would be architecturally more playful than the utilitarian buildings on the site”.  

Sustainability aside, futuristic designs and Indian craft are also finding space in new-age buildings. Ever since the design of India’s second Baha’I Temple WHERE was announced during the pandemic in 2020, Amritha Ballal, Architect and Founding Partner at SpaceMatters, says the team has been working on the project’s detailed technical drawings.

Shortlisted under the Future Projects - Civic category, she explains how the concept drew from the teachings of the Bahá’u’lláh, and “as we understand it, the teachings call for a space of worship both rooted and transcendent.” Adding how this finds expression in form, materiality and visual motifs for the House of Worship in Bihar Sharif, she says, “The essential form is a dome, and the relief work on it draws from fractals – patterns ubiquitous in nature – and Bihar’s Madhubani folk art.” 

Secure Sanand

Secure Sanand | Photo Credit: Ankit Jain

Now in its 15th year, this particular edition of WAF will be interesting to track, as design experts will present their case studies to a live jury and audience. Below are our top picks of projects in the race:

Studio PKA

Project: The Loft | Redefined

Location: Mumbai

Category: Workplace (Small) Category

This revamped studio space of the firm is located along the heritage mile of South Bombay aka SoBo. Puran Kumar, the project’s Principal Architect explains how project takes the concept of adaptive re-use further by recycling elements and materials of the original studio space, which was originally on the fourth floor of the same building. He adds that the process of re-using elements such as discarded doors and re-purposing the existing components of the design to create the studio space took four months. Puran’s commercial project The Estate has also been shortlisted in the Future Projects category.

A snapshot of The Loft

A snapshot of The Loft | Photo Credit: Niveditaa Gupta

The space, a part of a heritage structure, was acquired with the windows boarded up, wooden columns retrofitted with metal bracings and non-load bearing brick walls enclosing and segregating zones from one another. “The objective of utilising the various vantage points to the fullest were of importance while designing the space,” adds Puran, who has recently crafted a line of rugs — The Elemental Collection, and is now working on a mix of architectural and interior design interventions including a villa project near Mumbai.

Studio Saar

Project: Secure Sanand

Location: Gujarat

Category: Completed Buildings

Cost: ₹1.25 billion

The brief for the firm’s first greenfield industrial facility — Secure Sanand — was simple: to create a sustainable, adaptable and employee-friendly factory for Indian multinational electronics manufacturer Secure Meters. “We brought the engineering of the building to the forefront, so that it could be easily adapted and work efficiently in extreme climatic conditions,” says Managing Director Ananya Singhal. The first phase was completed in December 2017, followed by the entrance building, large semi-automated molding shop and stores in the second phase. The final phase included the earthworks, tree planting and the canteen and recreation zone that were completed in late 2021.

Secure Sanand

Secure Sanand | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Addressing their biggest challenge, Ananya says it was bringing in natural light and “ensuring every area has a constant inflow of treated fresh air and all areas reconnect to the green external environment while ensuring precise climate control at the point of manufacturing”.

In order to get the climate strategy right, the team worked with multiple stakeholders, to counter the region’s harsh summers. One key design aspiration was to create a 36mx125m clear-span structure, explains Ananya. “We worked with the structural engineers [Ami Engineers] from Ahmedabad to evolve the design of the trusses. The design went through many iterations before we arrived at the double set of columns with a large northlight truss. The trusses had to be fabricated with a slight deflection to it in the centre, so it would rest flat,” says the architect who is now designing a new office for Secure Meters in Udaipur, a learning centre for not-for-profit Dharohar, a community-led mixed-use masterplan of a 12-acre brownfield site in the UK.

The interiors at Secure Sanand

The interiors at Secure Sanand | Photo Credit: Ankit Jain

Play Architecture

Project: Dining Space at DevaDhare

Location: Saklespur, Karnataka

Category: Completed Buildings

Cost: Approximately ₹60 lakh (for a 2,500 sq.ft deck area, 1,500 sq.ft roof area inclusive of interiors) 

A snapshot of the dining area

A snapshot of the dining area | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The dining space at the homestay-turned-resort features a square deck with a floating canopy that covers two-thirds of the floor surface. On the west, visitors have open deck views of the lake, while on the north and east, a rear deck connects the structure to the existing facilities.

Senthil Kumar Doss, the project’s Principal Architect, says this project  – winner at the World Architecture Community 40th Cycle Awards  – is a culmination of five years of research “on the idea of catenary based structures, that are based on geometry of a cob web freely suspended from two points. When reversed, it forms a very stable structure in compression. Timbrel vaulting became an extension to this research which eventually happens to be a surface based structure, where the natures forces are transferred gently to the ground through the shape of the structure itself. Major design decisions and execution of the actual work had to be done on site”. Senthil is now looking forward to the successful completion of the highly expected Nadigar Sangam convention Center project in Chennai’s T Nagar.

Oval - The Stepwell’s site plan

Oval - The Stepwell’s site plan | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Spaces Architects@KA

Projects: Oval - The Stepwell; The Urban Nest

Category: Future Project - Culture; Future Project - Residential 

Location: Rajasthan; Noida

Cost: ₹45 crore; ₹30 crore

In an attempt to revitalise India’s lost heritage, the firm’s two shortlisted projects in the Future category comprise The Oval  – a modern reinterpretation of one of the oldest stepwell around the world, the Chand Baori Stepwell, in present-day Abhaneri Village, Rajasthan, and The Urban Nest  – an alternative to the hostel typology. Principal architect Kapil Aggarwal explains how they started the two projects in 2019, and it took the team around two years for conceptualisation and designing.

Oval - The Stepwell

Oval - The Stepwell | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Recently appointed as the authorised firm to further develop Gandhi Smriti and Gandhi Darshan, under the Ministry of Culture, the design studio is known for their restoration projects such as the UNESCO-awarded Haveli Dharampura in Old Delhi (that restored a 135-year-old haveli into a hospitality project), and the Heritage Park at Chandni Chowk. Kapil says studying India’s relationship with its over-population is where the idea for The Urban Nest took shape. “On a macro-scale, overpopulation is an advantage like no other, especially when it comes to things like cheap labour, but the same ‘young workforce’ is often destined to not be able to achieve even the optimum living conditions due to lack of infrastructure. This was the idea behind the hostel project envisioned as a haven for students,” says the architect who is now working on Golden Haveli, yet another restoration of a haveli into a hospitality project; Lahore Gate Museum, the adaptive reuse of an old residence into a museum; renovation of the prestigious Gandhi Smriti; and the Toy Bank project in New Delhi.


Project: Bahai House of Worship

Location: Bihar Sharif, Bihar

Category: Future Projects - Civic

To come up in the historic landscape of Nalanda at Bihar Sharif, Amritha says the contractor engagement process is currently underway. “This project pushes the envelope on both technical and structural design, as well as material exploration and artistic expression,” she says, explaining how this finds expression in form, materiality and visual motifs for the House of Worship in Bihar Sharif.

The upcoming Bahai House of Worship

The upcoming Bahai House of Worship | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Amritha says the toughest design feature to complete was the edifice: a 16-meter high dome of concrete and brick resting on a star-shaped, 5-meter high plinth whose radius is double of the dome’s. “It steps up from nine-sided arched segments, multiplying till each segment appears to merge into a singular geometry – the Oculus. The hybrid structure and large span, including the design, drawing , prototyping and finding the right collaborating technical and artisan teams has been a key challenge of the project.”

The upcoming Bahai House of Worship

The upcoming Bahai House of Worship | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Refining the quality of light and acoustics and integrating it with the architecture is also a key feature, she says. “Small openings for natural light act as cavity resonators, a traditional acoustic design element used in domes through centuries,” adds the urban designer, who says the firm is now working on the district-level upgradation of rural schools in Odisha, CSR hospitals in Chhattisgarh and Odisha, renovating wrestling akharas in Uttar Pradesh, among others.

The World Architecture Festival will be held between November 30 and December 2, 2022 at the FIL, Lisbon.

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