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April 6, 2011
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Event: Contemporary Design Typologies in India: Housing, Airports, and Mixed-Use Developments
Location: Center for Architecture, 03.31.11
Speakers: Fred Schwartz, FAIA — Partner, Frederic Schwartz Architects; Brian McFarland, AIA — Associate Principal, Cetra/Ruddy Incorporated; Jay Berman, AIA — Partner, Pei Cobb Freed & Partners Architects; Meghan McDermott, AIA — Partner, Robert A.M. Stern Architects
Moderator: Vinod Devgan, RA — Assistant Commissioner, NYC Department of Design + Construction
Introduction: Purnima Kapur — Director of the Brooklyn Office, NYC Department of City Planning
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

World One Tower at Lodha Place, Mumbai, by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners Architects (left); Capital City, Noida, India, by Robert A.M. Stern Architects.

Jay L. Berman, Partner, Pei Cobb Freed & Partners Architects (left); Neoscape for Robert A.M. Stern Architects (right)

In her introduction, Purnima Kapur, director of the Brooklyn Office of the NYC Department of City Planning, stated that India has always incorporated foreign influences into its architecture. But, in the 21st century, India’s blossoming economy has resulted in an accelerated dialogue between India and American designers, with novel results. Intriguingly, Indian developers seeking an image of international, iconic Modernism are turning with increasing frequency to New York architects. In return, New York architects are finding their designs to be considered “exotic” to the Indian buyer.

As Brian McFarland, AIA, of Cetra/Ruddy explained, a developer in Cochin wanted to work with the firm because its design of a luxury high-rise apartment tower in New Jersey. The developer appreciated the edifice, and wanted to export a similar experience to India. Luxury, however, takes a dramatically different form in a country where the population cannot count on local utilities to provide consistent power and clean water, McFarland explained.

As a result of this infrastructural deficiency in general, Indian buildings tend to incorporate sustainable design features. Water is a precious commodity, and thus the roof of Frederic Schwartz Architects’ Chennai Airport directs rainwater toward rain gardens, and the design employs green roofs above parking lots. As Meghan McDermott, AIA, of Robert A. M. Stern Architects indicated, their projects in Gurgaon City and Noida use cogeneration plants to supplement the local power grid. And Jay Berman, AIA, of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners Architects, utilized similar strategies in Mumbai for the World One Tower as part of the master plan at Lodha Place.

Surprisingly, according to McFarland, Indian clients often frown upon one of the central sustainable design strategies: use of locally harvested materials. From their perspective, this approach results in more conventional “Indian” buildings not associated with luxury. In addition, developers will sometimes sacrifice timeworn Indian building strategies, such as the use of cross-ventilation (which Berman tried to employ at World One Tower) to satisfy a market that associates luxury with steel-and-glass structures. The panelists agreed that the attitudes of these developers create tension between the contextual response that architects have been trained to employ and the image of international luxury that they are being asked to design.

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