What inspires you most as an architect?
Housing is a bellwether of how society is evolving. I love doing housing projects. I am fascinated by people and I love culture.
Private homes are the most challenging to do because you are dealing with the end-user – they are articulate, they are demanding.
How do you handle such projects and get it right?
I understand lifestyles of different people very well, from the rich to the humble. I personalise homes, whether it is for an extroverted or an insular couple.
I ask embarrassing questions – about their relationship with their children or with each other, about privacy. Do they want separate bedrooms?
How will they live ten years from now? I ask about religion and hobbies. It’s like being a doctor with good bedside manners!
What would you call your signature style?
My own personal DNA is my inspiration. My father is Asian, my mother an American from New York, my wife is Tamilian. I live in Malaysia, I studied in the US. My middle name means balance.
I look for cultural norms in whatever I build. Here in Chennai, I see deep traditions, and community and family values. This is matched with a desire for Western functionality and spaces. I try to find a harmony between these things.
Tell us some architectural features that you like using.
I like the modern flat roof. We insulate them well against heat and leakage. Rooftops are very useful – they can be landscaped, there can be a Jacuzzi, there can be a party space. Second, I believe in cross-ventilation. It reduces AC bills. I use high ceilings and sun-shading. I like to use natural stone and engineered timber for flooring. Engineered timber might be more expensive than wood but it is renewable and eco-friendly. Also, there are no problems with knots, warping or water stains.
Have do you match Indian realities with Western aspirations?
In Tropicana, the community project I am doing in Chennai, we have kept an open-plan kitchen but Indian cooking uses heavy spices, the smells and smoke can disturb the household. So we have incorporated a wet kitchen as well.
Second, I have incorporated Vastu elements into the design. I believe that the people here believe in Vastu and I respect that. But I have used it in a way that does not compromise the design.
I have incorporated Puja rooms in all the villas, although overall we have used spaces in a westernised way. And finally, the project is designed like a village – there are no high walls around the villas, there is a sense of community. For me, a gated community is the modern village.