Indian cities are facing pressing challenges that need to be addressed urgently: Dikshu C. Kukreja, Managing Principal, CPKA

Dikshu C. Kukreja, a master architect and his firm CPKA represented India in the LFA. In this interview, he gives insight about the importance of India being invited at the London Festival of Architecture for the first time, as well as gives us a peek into his future projects. Excerpts: 

east delhi hub, east delhi hub architecture
East Delhi Hub in Karkardooma is an ambitious project that has been designed in association with IDOM, Spain, as India’s first transit-oriented development.

London is celebrating Europe’s biggest architecture festival, India has been invited for the first time at the London Festival of Architecture (LFA). LFA is the biggest architecture festival of Europe where all the best minds of the architect diaspora congregate to share knowledge and celebrate best architectural endeavours all across the world. This year the festival is being held at various locations across London from 1st June to 30th June.

Dikshu C. Kukreja, a master architect and his firm CPKA represented India in the LFA. In this interview, he gives insight about the importance of India being invited at the London Festival of Architecture for the first time, as well as gives us a peek into his future projects. Excerpts: 

CPKA is the first and only Indian architecture and design firm to be selected to exhibit at the London Festival of Architecture. How important is this milestone for you – and India?

The London Festival of Architecture (LFA) is one of the world’s foremost architecture and design festivals. It is a month-long celebration of architecture and city-making that takes place every year in June across the city of London. We are grateful to be the first and only Indian architecture and design practice to be invited to exhibit at LFA – a truly wonderful occasion and opportunity to bring Indian design to the global stage. The exhibition will go a long way in showcasing the scales and urban development opportunities that are coming up in India to a global audience, providing a promising vision for the world to consider India as a favourable investment destination.

What is the overarching theme and intent behind CPKA’s exhibition?

The theme of our exhibition at the London Festival of Architecture is ‘Five Decades of India’s Built Environment’. It will take visitors through five decades of transformations in India’s built fabric through a curated selection of our works, from our landmark buildings in the 1970s to the present-day buildings focused on sustainability and cutting-edge innovation. By showcasing a wide array of projects across timelines, we will deconstruct histories and present insights and highlight progressive architecture that impacts the past, present and future of India. Moreover, by presenting innovative projects, from cutting-edge contemporary designs to post-independence India’s modernist buildings, we want to break the western notion of Indian architecture being limited to the idea of temples, forts and palaces. At the opening of the exhibition, I will also have a conversation with Rosa Rogina–Director, London Festival of Architecture, and Amish Tripathi–Author and Director of Nehru Centre, London. We will talk about India’s transformations across culture, politics and literature over the last five decades and their impact on the evolution of our nation’s built environment.

How have you chosen the projects that will be exhibited at the LFA?

The selected projects demonstrate the transformations that have taken place in India’s built environment over the last five decades. The exhibition will present varying typologies of projects with sustainability and innovation as their underlying theme. These will range from higher learning institutions such as the Jawaharlal Nehru University (New Delhi) and Karmapa International Buddhist Institute (New Delhi) in New Delhi to government offices such as Vallabh Bhawan (Bhopal) to large-scale retail and commercial projects like the ongoing Indian International Convention Centre (New Delhi).

Traditional vernacular architecture was designed keeping in mind the local climatic conditions. How can modern architecture borrow from vernacular practices both materially and design-wise?

A climate-sensitive built environment is the way forward to decelerate the ongoing climate crisis. Vernacular building systems often present the most efficient strategies to harness sunlight, wind and water to create suitable indoor climates. Therefore, we employ many vernacular design strategies in our projects to create climate-sensitive, sustainable buildings.

For example, in our design of the Gautam Buddha University in Greater Noida, the buildings on the campus are oriented along the prominent direction of wind flow to allow ample wind circulation and minimise wind traps. The academic buildings are designed with central courtyards that act as light wells, facilitate passive ventilation and increase vegetation cover. Additionally, the academic blocks are screened by traditional design elements like chhajjas and stone jaalis that are suspended from the ceiling. These features diffuse the natural light entering the buildings, while acting as thermal barriers. Another prominent feature of vernacular architecture is the use of local materials. Therefore, we have used local-sourced materials such as sandstone in building facades, thus reducing emissions due to transportation.

Many of your upcoming projects are imbibing innovation in design. Tell us more.

We are working on the prestigious India International Convention Centre (IICC), under construction in Dwarka, New Delhi, and designed in collaboration with IDOM, Spain. The convention centre will host the G20 Summit in 2023 and other international events, conferences, exhibitions and trade shows. Once complete, the project will also house the world’s largest LED video wall, which will be installed at the crown of the multi-facility convention centre. The project will also house a 20,000-seater grand arena with India’s first retractable roof system. With the retractable roof, the stadium can be used for various functions, from open-air sports matches and concerts to food festivals and indoor conferences.

We also created the India pavilion at Dubai Expo 2020. The building was designed with a kinetic facade that includes 600 mobile panels which can change directions based on the sun’s movement. This way, daylight in the building can be optimised and thus, the building’s dependence on artificial systems is reduced. Moreover, the rotation of these panels forms interesting visual compositions throughout the day. In the evenings, the façade serves as a digital canvas for a vibrant light and sound show.

You are designing the East Delhi Hub, India’s first transit-oriented development in New Delhi. Tell us more about the project and how does it address the city’s urban issues?

East Delhi Hub in Karkardooma is an ambitious project that has been designed in association with IDOM, Spain, as India’s first transit-oriented development. This development will play an important role in redefining the idea of modern neighbourhoods by creating pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use communities connected to the other parts of the city via high-speed transit networks. This will create vertical neighbourhoods, freeing up a considerable area of open, green spaces horizontally to foster vibrant public spaces for different leisure and recreation. The national capital’s tallest skyscraper is also coming up within this development.

As one of the country’s foremost urban planners and environmentalists, what do you think our cities need today to address critical issues such as climate change?

Indian cities are facing several pressing challenges that need to be addressed urgently — from urban migration resulting in urban sprawl, to increased travel distances and rising GHG emissions, to housing shortages and stressed urban infrastructure. The current model of urban planning and growth can be compared to firefighting, as everyone is working in silos.

In reality, urban issues such as transportation, housing, and environmental impact cannot be addressed in isolation. An integrated plan of action is needed to address these issues holistically and sustainably. We need city-makers, including architects, urban planners, environmentalists, and development authorities, to work in tandem with the citizens to strategically address issues and create more liveable cities.

What is your vision and hope for India’s built environment over the next 50 years?

India’s growth as a nation is truly unprecedented. This is a crucial time to imbibe sustainability into all aspects of city infrastructure. Therefore, new interventions in India’s built environment must address the underlying concerns of sustainability and climate change. To achieve India’s goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2070, it is imperative that our cities are created in harmony with nature rather than at the cost of it. Additionally, in order for the nation to develop more holistically going forward, infrastructure development should move from cities, into towns and villages. In the coming years, India must adopt a balanced approach in terms of sustainable development of cities, towns and villages.

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