The more frugal the project, the simpler are the design solutions: Goonmeet Singh Chauhan, Infra News, ET Infra
In this interview Goonmeet Singh Chauhan, Founder & Partner, Design Forum International tells Megha Manchanda about the thinking behind designing the central government’s newest building Vanijya Bhawan and scope of architecture and design in the current infrastructure landscape:
1. What was the thought behind designing the Vanijya Bhawan?
The strength of departments involved in commerce-related activities started exceeding two thousand people, creating the need to rent out additional space around Udyog Bhawan. Due to the availability of land owned by the Directorate General of Supplies and Goods (DGS&D) near Central Vista, the government decided to bring these departments together under the umbrella of a single space serving all purposes. This led to the conception of Vanijya Bhawan as headquarters for the Ministry of Commerce.
The design vocabulary for this project was derived from notable surrounding buildings such as India Gate, Bikaner House and Hyderabad House, weaving context, culture and meaning together. Moreover, owing to the building’s functionality, it was imperative to represent the project in a contemporary, modern language which was not only derived from its immediate context but also was representative of India at large.
2. How do you ideate while designing buildings?
While initiating my design process, I begin with a two-pronged approach. First, I start by capturing, in words, the fundamental principles that we would be upholding in the design. This establishes a ‘design compass’ which helps us navigate the project from its conception to its completion, in alignment with the central theme. The second prong of this thought process is taking a simultaneous ‘in-to-out’ and ‘out-to-in’ approach concerning all aspects of the project. I believe that the concept of aesthetics is the eye’s intuitive intelligence to discern what is functionally correct.
In the ‘out-to-in’ approach, I prefer sketching the building to come to terms with scale and proportions while recognising the visual opportunities. This form is taken forward by means of technology and models to explore possibilities.
3. Is the financial budget as much a part of designing a building as the theme of the project?
The budget forms a critical component of the design thinking process as it creates a framework for options in terms of materials and the complexities of solutions that can be utilised. Often, the more frugal the project, the simpler are the design solutions. However, in instances like the Vanijya Bhawan, which speaks of monumentality in terms of its representation and function, the architect gets the opportunity to amplify the grandeur and scale that is intended for it, lending it an aspirational quality for the beholder. These projects also pose as patrons to local artisans to demonstrate their craftsmanship in art as well as technology which can be communicated to the masses through such projects.
4. Are your inputs limited to building designing or you also engage with the builders for the safety and construction part of it?
As an architect in India, a person extends their role beyond designing, getting involved in the varied activities of documentation, construction, specifications, etc. The architect also plays the role of an educator, given the vast experience the profession provides, wherein various aspects of construction safety—such as norms on earth retention, scaffolding, and safety of workers and use of safety bollards—are embedded in the contracts as well as the drawings.
5. How do you ensure that your designs convert into safe buildings?
Modern buildings require compliance with various safety norms. Firstly, all designs must adhere to highly stringent structural norms for earthquake-resistant buildings. These designs are peer-reviewed by experienced professionals to ensure necessary compliance. The next critical safety issue is fire safety, for which all buildings must be designed to adhere to the National Building Code that enlists high-quality fire prevention, suppression and mitigation measures.
6. Which other projects are you working on?
At Design Forum International, we enjoy working on diversified projects, ranging from large-scale, public infrastructure projects such as airports and railway stations like (in Amritsar and Trivandrum cities) to redesigning roads for pedestrian safety. DFI is also currently involved in urban renewal projects, wherein entire cities are being mapped for cycling tracks and pedestrian connectivity. We are also working on public institutional buildings like the Jammu and Kashmir High Court, Delhi High Court, the new Ministry for Skill Development building, Kaushal Bhawan and more.
7. Which projects – state government or central government – have a higher potential for better designs?
The potential for better designs is independent of the government that initiates the project. It is more dependent on the available funding for that particular initiative. In our experience so far, the central government projects are always well-funded. The reliability of depending on the funds for state-government-led projects varies largely from state to state.
8. Since you work for both the private and public sector, what are the key differences in their approach and what are the similarities?
Our foray into the public sector projects began a decade ago. After having worked in the private sector for twenty years, I had imagined the public sector to be easy-going. However, we were pleasantly surprised to know that the public sector requires the architect to be thoroughly researched before the commencement of a project. The estimates for the projects are done at three stages, each of which thoroughly detailed and backed by market research to discern the project cost. Also, the parameters established for tendering are extremely stringent and demand extensive technical and commercial knowledge to ensure successful execution.
In the private sector, the focal points are FAR (floor area ratio) and design efficiency. Market forces drive the costs-based approach, which is heavily tilted towards area usage. Projects undergo numerous revisions depending on market conditions.
9. Are you planning to expand your team of designers in the near future?
At DFI, we run a large, democratic studio where design talent finds a voice and self-expression. Therefore, we are always keen to include talented young professionals in our team to power and enhance the intellect of our organisation.
10. How important is urban planning in today’s time to optimally utilize the resources and undo the impact of previous haphazard development?
Urban planning has never been more important than today. Much harm has already been done due to ill-informed urban planning practices, resulting from the pressure of accommodating the increasing population without realising the ill effects of a highly dense built environment.