In Conversation with Ar. Gurpreet Shah, Principal Architect

July 06, 2015, 02:00 pm IST

“In the current scenario of rapid urbanization, I believe that ‘less’ truly could be ‘more.’ We aim to be catalysts in the bilateral relationship between Architecture and its user, by creating unrestricted designs.”

Ar. Gurpreet Singh Shah, Principal Architect, M.S in Urban Design and recipient of William Kinne Fellowship award, Columbia University, New York, gained his early experience while associated with International Architects of repute in USA. Here he led the development of future campus planning frameworks for Indiana University, Bloomington and Princeton University, New Jersey and was involved in Master Planning of Washington D.C. Vision 2025 aas well as the urban design proposal for dual cities of Bucharest and Costanta in Romania. He revolutionized the scale and methodology and expanded the boundaries of practice globally. He has more than a decade of local and international architecture and urban design experience. With his vision to deliver a new generation of Global Infrastructure, Mass Transit Facilities like Airports, Metro Stations and Railways, Housing projects, Educational Campuses including the First Smart City School in Kochi, and Health Environments that are sustainable and also give a world class user experience, Ar. Shah has pioneered sustainable infrastructure designs in India.

The Vision

“Today’s architecture has the power to grasp the viewer’s mind in such a way that either it can be termed as a blockbuster or as a disaster. We, as architects, have the responsibility of making this art a force for mobilizing cities and rejuvenating cultures. We focus on the performance of architecture responding firstly and primarily to its ecology and available resources; this criteria will change how the design performs throughout its life cycle. Our endeavour is to create meaningful architecture which is open ended thus giving a chance to the users to make their own small insertions,” asserts Ar. Gurpreet Shah.

As the general public becomes more aware of the benefits of green buildings, the architects will find new ways to create a conducive atmosphere for the sector to grow. Since the beginning of their practice, Creative Group has always believed in “learning from nature.”

“Our impulse is to sensitize our designs towards passive strategies of green architecture. Not only do we try to derive our inspiration from nature, but we let the building breathe with nature,” explains Ar. Shah.  

During their professional journey, the team’s understanding of the nuances of the Indian Diaspora with respect to urbanization and renewal movement across the country enabled them to successfully implement net zero & sustainable models in various green-rated buildings.

With this ambition in mind, they have been able to successfully deliver a range of Projects like a Small Sustainable Residence to a Mega Project like the Airport. Though these Mega Projects are considered Energy Guzzlers, Creative Group has led the project to achieve Green Rating in terms of Water & Energy Conservation, creating global facilities which are preserved as landmarks of the Subcontinent.

Question - Who are the 6 architects whose work you admire?

Ar. Gurpreet Shah:
I am a fond admirer and enthusiast of the great works of various eminent architects that have contributed in indescribable ways to this field. Santiago Calatrava, the Spanish architect, who is famous for his airy, futuristic-looking structures, impacts me by his devotion to form and how he seems to engage the general public into his structures. While working on projects like Chennai Airport and Raipur Airport among others, I involved myself in the synergy he creates between architecture and structural intent. His designs are delicate and powerful, similar to giant sculptures, thus redefining typical architectural forms.

My adoration for Late Ar. Frederic Schwartz is sublime. His passion for design collaborated with an attitude for hard work, had evolved him as more of a public citizen who used architecture to improve lives. Having worked with him over the past ten years, he was instrumental in understanding how to work together in a team of specialists, so that we collectively evolve designs with different specializations coming together in the field.

Prof. Kenneth Frampton, who is an architectural historian and a critic of contemporary and modern architecture, is an alluring personality in the architecture community. I had the opportunity of working with him to formulate his book and during the process I was made aware how the work of an architect is influenced by various different perspectives. His deep research showed comparative critical analysis of great masters, and elaborated how works of different architects in different geographical locations and different eras can be analyzed. This process makes one realize that design and its thought processes are not just ideas but manifestations of the era in which they are being formulated. Different designs can have similar interpretations and at the same time, similar works can have different perceptions. Uniqueness of an idea might not always be in its design, but how convincingly it portrays the client’s vision.

Ar. Joseph Allen Stein, being one of them, has influenced my understanding of this profession profoundly. Stein adopted India and designed some of the finest buildings during his stay here. I marvel at his bold clarity and eye for detail. He was a master of building materials and left the construction materials exposed in almost all of his works. The spatial use of built and unbuilt spaces in most of his projects reminds us that efficient space utilization enhances the vocabulary of a structure.

I also had the opportunity to work with Ar. Ajay Chaudhary and Ar. Jasbir Sachdev, who are devoted followers of Le Corbusier. While working with them, I was able to realize through their work how vernacular and modern architecture can be amalgamated to produce a user friendly and sustainable design. 

The above mentioned personalities have acted as stepping stones in evolving my design thought process. However, during practice, one realizes that working on live projects gives you an actual feel of how design thoughts are culminated. Sometimes one feels while designing public spaces that, completion of the project is the starting point for the project to incarnate. Slowly, but surely, the end users of the buildings are the ones who populate and create their own palette and give life to the buildings that we design. 

Question - Can you name any favourite materials of yours that you love to work with?

Ar. Gurpreet Shah: 
I am intrigued with the usage of different materials while I am involved in the designing process of a structure. I believe that each material provides a characteristic tactile while aesthetically enhancing the building, establishing a connection with the user and maintaining the ecology of an area.

There is something inviting and charming about exposed brick work in a building, which adds character and a rustic charm to any space. Whereas, using insulated glass not only provides transparency and insulation but also establishes a connection of the user with the nature and surroundings. Use of PT Slabs (Pre Tensioning Slabs) offers modularity and a better constructability. 

I am also fond of using Wood, as there is a great deal of innovation in the use of wood in construction, from impressive modern buildings to new construction products that reduce build times and improve building performance. As a renewable resource with proven low embodied energy, wood is both an environmentally responsible and a highly practical choice as a construction material. 

Apart from these, materials like Metal and Limestone also complement any design and help in budgeted construction. 

Question - Finally, why would you say that Architecture is the best profession to be in?

Ar. Gurpreet Shah: 
Architecture is creating a built environment depending upon its functionality. Architecture has been defined as a noble profession, associated with creation of spaces and their definitions with respect to forms and functionswhich are embodied with emotions and sentiments of the user and the natural environment, serving the very purpose of its functionality. Architecture as a profession cannot be forcedupon a professional, rather it is passion driven, developed with the attitude of understanding the various elements of applied architecture. It is an amalgamation of Art, Aesthetics and Engineering Innovation which leads to the fundamental reasoning towards excellence in architecture as a profession. It could be defined as one of the best professions that exist because the ultimate product and its success thus achieved through the creative mind, gives a lot of emotional, sentimental and professional satisfaction to a designer as well as the user. This profession is perhaps a one of the very few professions wherein one can think and visualize beyond imagination and can also surpassarithmetic and engineering calculations.