Creative Group: Holistic Design Approach with the Righteous Attitude Results into Excellence

Prof. Charanjit S Shah
Being a promoter of Green Building movement, Prof. Charanjit S Shah, an Architect, City Planner, Educationist, Author and an Academician with a prolific practice of over 4 decades, has had the passion to work ambitiously towards net zero and deliver self sustainable, energy efficient living structures that stay in harmony with the nature. Under his stewardship, the architecture firm, Creative Group was fortunate to have won over eight consecutive national/global architectural design competitions. Moreover, the Group has to its credit designed four globally acclaimed greenest airport projects in India-Chennai, Goa, Raipur and Vadodara. During his recent interaction with S.A. Faridi & Maria R, Prof. Shah says that a holistic design and planning approach along with the righteous attitude results into excellence. "We at Creative Group firmly believe to adapt to the realities and necessities of the day so as to have a pragmatic approach towards design issues." Giving his views on importing global expertise, he states that we should always look upon the western world only with an eye for technological advancement but should not imitate the West blindly. He feels that a global intervention in respect of technology and local knowledge of ethnic principles will lead to a built environment which breathes.

Over the period of time, the parameters of architectural practice have grown in terms of changing lifestyles, urbanization, modes of transportation, deficiency of urban land etc. What is your pragmatic approach towards design?
Evolution of mankind is a continuous changing process. I do agree that during the last century or so, there have been multiple growths in terms of lifestyle, urbanization and transportation which have a direct effect on parameters of planning. The basic elements and principles of design, however, remain unchanged. Our approach towards planning is based on the natural phenomena of solar movement, orientation and envelope of the building. However, the changed situation matters in terms of functionality, usages and the approach towards ironing out respective issues. The visualization of an architect/planner needs to complement the changed parameters, along with the use of latest advancement in technologies.

Raipur Airport
Raipur Airport was awarded The Best Regional Airport by Ministry of Tourism, Govt. of India
Photo Courtesy: M/s Creative Group

Starting your career with mere stall designing to basic architecture, today your expertise at Creative Group has grown and expanded to infrastructure development specializing in airports, Metros, multi modal transportation Hubs, and Railway Stations. How is working at Infrastructure projects more challenging than basic architecture (houses, factories, corporate, interiors etc)?
Though the start of education has always been from Kindergarten standard to the PhD level, the highest so called in academic parameters, but the process remains the same in each class of education. Similarly, the size of each project is immaterial, the process remains the same to me while designing a house or an airport. The various issues of planning and designing remain the same. Agreed that the scale would change and this would call for various technical and particular inputs from specialists which need to be interwoven into the main fabric of an overall development.

Larger projects do demand a better interface between planning, management and administrating, the same in a channelized manner.

Inter ministerial, inter departmental and inter professional connectivity in overall visualization of a project call for command of professional leadership and skill to visualize, conceptualize and implement the project.

We have learned through the process of completing a mega project of Rs.2015 crores for the Government of India, on how to face the bureaucratic, political and professional hurdles and get the project into a practical shape. We have learned the hard way to surpass all these hurdles and could very comfortably pass through such processes and could lead to be focused and practical in achieving success in the implementation of similar mega projects.

Chennai Airport
Creative Group set a benchmark for sustainability with the Chennai Airport
Photo Courtesy: M/s Creative Group

Designing an airport is a complex task as lots of things have to be considered such as aesthetics, functionality, sustainability, safety, security etc besides important responsibility of reflecting city's and country's identity. What is Creative group's approach to design Airport projects?
Creative Group's approach towards Airport designs has always been that "Airports should not only be considered as Energy guzzlers." We wondered, is it possible to have smart and sustainable airports? The architects'/planners' intervention by way of adopting passive strategies of respecting solar movement, orientation, placement of building, envelope of building, insulations, selection of materials etc, can make the built form sustainable and eco friendly and help in reducing heat load and maximize day light in the building.

The principles of basic planning have helped us and the airports designed by Creative Group are no longer energy guzzlers. We have been able to conserve water and electricity to the best of our abilities and hence, we are proud to have been able to reflect our country's identity through these smart airports.

What are the elements which you think are vital to be incorporated in design that not only take care of Indian climate and culture but also at the same time give a global look and standard to the Airports?
We have always believed that with such rich Indian heritage, we should always look upon the western world only with an eye for technological advancement but we should not imitate the West blindly. The rich ethnic tested principle of Vastu Shastra based on solar movement, climatology and other such natural fundamentals should be adopted along with the high-tech advancements to be able to create world class global facilities.

I am confident that a global intervention in respect of technology and local knowledge of ethnic principles will lead to a built environment which breathes and is embedded with nature, as it should be.

Would you please share your experiences of working on internationally acclaimed Raipur, Chennai, Goa and Vadodara Airports? Which project, out of these, you feel, is more appealing, challenging and also close to your heart?
Though all four of our creations have their respective merits, I always look upon Raipur Airport as one of the most exciting and challenging projects of my life.

It is one of the Greenest Airports globally and also awarded the Best Airport of India, by Government of India as well. It is a unique steel structure with Avian roofing which is a double curved, highly complex roof, designed and executed, for the first time, by our Indian team.

It has the best of Indian ethnic art work in the central court – "Bastar Art" providing a local flavor to this global facility. It also consists of a hard green car park, a lake to store rain water, solar voltaic panels, and other Intelligent Building Management Systems, in place to optimize the use of energy and water.

What is the status of Vadodara Airport?
Vadodara Airport is currently under construction. It is a Four Star Griha accredited airport. It is one of the most sustainable high profile global facilities with use of highly insulating materials in the envelope of the building.

We are confident that Vadodara Airport Terminal Building, when completed, would be one of the most exciting facilities, globally.

With over 40 years of vast experience, do you think, Indian infrastructure industry has evolved to international standard or still it has to go a long way?
I think that we are still at an infant stage of infrastructure. We have yet to learn to work in a holistic manner. All our departments are working in isolation, resulting in shifting of issues.

We lack a holistic design and planning approach. The overall road map of planning is not visible. The infrastructure does not sustain, it gets sustainable before it is yet to be executed. Either the issues are not properly addressed or there is a lack of practical and actual feasibility studies. Perhaps, we believe more in global experts and import professional expertise than complementing Indian experts and working out our Indian Infrastructure. We try to imitate the West and follow the same blindly. Even though we have created the best of Metro and Road infrastructure, our cities are still choking and our roads are cramped. We probably have the maximum road accidents in the world along with the slowest running traffic. We need to go a long way to reach global standards. It is perhaps the beginning towards learning to create global facilities but all this can only be achieved with cooperation from our Government by being sensitive towards overall visualized progress and making an attempt to segment the same with periodical developments.

Is India well-equipped in terms of engineering and technology for constructing projects of high profile and global standard or still somewhat it is dependent on multinational expertise, technology and construction equipment?
We have very few companies in India, who are fully equipped with such global facilities and standards. Infrastructure building is a herculean task. Insufficient and inadequate Indian agencies for execution of work are a cause of great concern. There are many mid sector infrastructure agencies who are trying to upgrade their standards globally but have miserably failed in the past in many of the National Highway projects. This is an alarming cause of concern. The real global management of such mega infrastructure needs a global intervention in terms of expert professional advice and input. Today, we are looking for a single window approach and therefore need to look globally for expertise.
NBM&CW June 2015
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