Architect Raj Rewal talks about the future and sustainabilty of design.
With over 35 years of experience and several accolades in the field of architecture, what do you foresee in your near future?
We have always believed that architecture should remain true to its fundamental values of rational structure and functional space making, without compromising the poetic aspects. We hope to continue working towards these values in future.
If you get the opportunity to collaborate with an architect/interior designer, who would you pick?
We do collaborate with structural engineers and landscape designers, but we prefer to work on our own. However, for interiors, we ensure design continuity by undertaking these works ourselves. In the Library for Indian Parliament and Lisbon Ismaili Centre in Portugal, two of our major projects, all interiors have been done within our office.
What are the elements that one will always find in your design/architecture?
I feel sustainability is one of the most important issues of today. Our work is based on a traditional passive
energy control system. At the same time, we like to incorporate state-of-the-art technologies and innovative ideas — such as photovoltaic cells and smart building technologies — as the new energy-saving systems in our design strategy.
If you had to pick one event that was the turning point in your career trajectory, what would it be?
That’s very difficult to answer… may be there are two. I was asked to be the curator for an exhibition in Paris showcasing traditional Indian architecture. This involved systematically measuring and recording the designs of some of the most important Indian buildings, which made a tremendous difference to my understanding of architecture. The second consideration was and will always be to implement new technologies in Indian design. In other words, the need to fuse building with industrial technology has always been a driving force behind my work.
Can you tell us more about your latest book?
I feel that it’s an exceptionally good record of my work. The articles written by different authors lend a different perspective. Authors such as French curator of Pompidou Museum, leading architectural historians like Kenneth Frampton and Peter Davey from America and England have contributed. There is also a piece by Suha Ozkan, a Turkish architectural critic and historian.
What is lacking in modern Indian architecture?
Some of it is based on reductive values. If the architecture has no emotional impact, then the work has no character or flavour. It would result in dull buildings even if they are functionally and technically correct.
Is contemporary Indian design completely divorced from its ancient roots? Or do you see a way for the two to co-exist?
I always tell students that you cannot marry your grandmother but you can take inspiration from her. For instance, the design concept of the Parliament Library building, with its inward-looking building, reflects a specific preference for serene spatial enclosures, rather than forms of grandeur. The aim was to design a library complex which resonates with its surroundings and evokes the traditional spirit of enlightenment, but is, at the same time, based on modern technology and values of democratic India.
How have you incorporated eco-friendly principles in your design?
Merging of traditional cooling system with photovoltaic panels to augment energy has inspired our work in the 21st century. The Visual Arts Campus at Rohtak, Haryana, is a major urban complex comprising several institutes, which have been built around an auditorium. It symbolizes the synthesis of traditional energy conserving systems with contemporary cutting-edge innovations which augment energy — this forms the principle of our design.
Many people refer to architecture as public art, what is your take on subject?
It most certainly is!
Architecturally illiterate real estate builders seem to dominate the landscape of the country. Do you agree?
Unfortunately this is true. But I am optimistic that the next generation of building promoters would rise to the occasion and authorities would ensure civic values. We have to build new, visionary green cities to accommodate the exploding population and rising aspirations of villagers who want to improve their living standards by moving to urban areas. Chandigarh was a good precedent. Urban design is a civic responsibility and even in America, the land of free enterprise and market economy, civic authorities play an important role.