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March 22, 2011
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Event: Invention by Necessity: Construction Practice in India
Location: Center for Architecture, 03.10.11
Speakers: Aaron Schwarz, FAIA — Senior Principal & Executive Director, Perkins Eastman; Brinda Somaya — Architect & Founder, Somaya and Kalappa Consultants; Billie Tsien, AIA, & Tod Williams, FAIA — Partners, Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects; Sanjeev Shankar — Architect, Artist, & Craftsman
Moderator: Kadambari Baxi — Partner, Martin/Baxi Architects; Principal, Imagemachine; Associate Professor of Professional Practice, Department of Architecture at Barnard College, Columbia University
Organizers: AIANY; Center for Architecture Foundation; India China Institute at The New School; Indo-American Arts Council (IAAC); Society of Indo-American Engineers and Architects (SIAEA)
Sponsors: Grants: Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts; National Endowment for the Arts; Underwriter: Duggal Visual Solutions; Lead Sponsors: Hitachi; Robert A.M. Stern Architects; Sponsors: Grapevine Merchants; Society of Indo-American Engineers and Architects; Supporters: Bittersweet NYC; CetraRuddy; Kingfisher Lager; Friends: Arup; Benjamin Moore; IBEX Construction; Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates; Perkins Eastman; Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; Special Thanks: Umberto Dindo, AIA; Lutz Konermann; Catherine Scharf

Jugaad Canopy by Sanjeev Shakar.

Sundeep Bali

In India, the contemporary construction industry, as well as the cultural and political landscape, tests architects’ abilities to employ “jugaad” — a Hindi noun alternately defined as creative improvisation and a frugal use of readily available resources. For U.S. firms working in India, architects must devise innovative approaches to craft, form, and construction to overcome many obstacles encountered during planning phases.

For example, the integration of handcrafted and high-tech construction caused problems on the TCS project, designed by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects. Stone shade screens, which were originally hand-carved, had to be reconfigured to accommodate CNC milling technology. In addition, mock-ups had to be employed so that workers would understand the level of construction quality required.

Perkins Eastman Senior Principal Aaron Schwarz, FAIA, explained how the Indian School of Business faced setbacks during planning by an entirely inaccurate survey furnished to the architects. However, the firm was able to overcome inaccuracies due to the flexibility built into the construction.

Brinda Somaya’s work embraces the adaptive re-use and unconventional construction practices that are more typical in India, so she found fewer conflicts with local practices. In one case, Somaya and her colleagues at Somaya and Kalappa Consultants redesigned the entire village of Bhadli following a devastating earthquake. The villagers provided the sweat equity required to re-build their houses and public buildings. The result was a community-wide re-investment in their home.

Perhaps the most direct application of jugaad to construction practice occurred in the aptly named Jugaad Canopy. This project, by Sanjeev Shankar, employed an entire community in the construction of a shared shade canopy from hundreds of repurposed oilcans.

The panelists agreed that Western designers have much to learn from Indian jugaad. The innovative use of local and re-used materials is an inspiration to those concerned with global resource and energy consumption. There is a positive attitude that embraces the creativity inherent in overcoming obstacles, and allows individuals to survive and work with dignity. As Somaya exclaimed, “The spirit of jugaad is present in every Indian, and we have the power of numbers — 1 billion.”

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