Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Birds are Beautiful

Times of India, Goa Edition, December 11, 2011
At the beginning of this month, I heard them arrive. At 4pm one evening there was suddenly lots of activity in my backyard. There was lots of twittering and flashes of colors as the winter migratory birds had arrived.

My backyard in Goa is basically a jungle, so we are now honoured each day with spectacular shows courtesy of these beautiful creatures. The Bulbuls are the friendliest, they que up at my birdbath and one by one jump in, wiggle their bottoms, fluff up to twice their size and then fly away.... The bigger birds don't bother with many cute antics, they stay perched regally on some high branch and glide off most gracefully to survey the salt pans and hunt their catch. Then there are the birds that chase the squirrels and the squirrels that chase the birds... It is all very amusing and calming..

Here are some more common birds that I see in my backyard:
The most well dressed of them all, the Asian Paradise Flycatcher (Photo Credit)
The playful and friendly, Red Whiskered Bulbul (Photo Credit)

The most noisy, Rufus Treepie (Photo Credit)
The calm one, Black Drongo (Photo Credit)
The undisputed king, Brahminy Kite (Photo Credit)
The most colorful, White Throated Kingfisher (Photo Credit)
The tiny, Sunbird (Photo Credit)
One of the bigger birds, the Greater Coucal (Photo Credit)
The beautiful, Eurasian Golden Oriole (Photo Credit)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Record Houses that bring the indoors outdoors...

The Bahia House, Salvador, Brazil designed by Studio MK27 
Architectural Record, 'the' premier global magazine for architecture and design publishes a selection of homes each year that make the cut. In their selection, the magazine looks for innovation in design along with timelessness in architectural response. While these may sound like seemingly contradictory principles, I guess the ability to be both innovative while being timeless makes an architectural product truly inspiring. Among other factors, the 2011 selection highlighted the responsiveness of the architectural projects to their surrounding landscape. This principle has been the central theme in our design process and thus this year's project selection was of particular interest to us.

Two projects in particular caught our eye. Both are contemporary country homes and share many design principles and concepts that we are using for our house NIVIM in Goa. The interesting aspect is that both houses are built in completely different materials and technology but utilize the same principles of responsiveness to site and relationship to outdoors.

The Bahia House, Salvador, Brazil designed by Studio MK27 
The Montecito Residence, Montecito, California designed by Barton Myers Associates
First is the Bahia House in Salvador, Brazil built in clean modernist geometry using earthy vernacular materials stone, wood and clay tile. This house is set around a courtyard and the living spaces are designed to become a part of the surrounding landscape. The living room is designed with sliding double walls, one with screens and another with glass. When both are opened, the living room becomes a part of the surrounding landscape. The screen walls provide privacy but allows air circulation. (All images courtesy Architectural Record)
Floorplan shows the living room shown as "2" being an unobstructed space between the landscape

The living room space is designed to be a part of the surrounding landscape with double walls that slide our of the way. (Note the Rajasthani puppets on the coffee table !)
The second house that I have picked is very different in its language (materials, technology, look and feel) but its purpose still remains the same. The house is the Montecito Residense in California, designed by Barton Myers Associates. This house is a glass and steel structure that is designed 'to embrace the garden and not shutter it out'.

The beauty of this house once again lies in the design of the indoors with the outdoors. The living room once again is designed to completely open to the outside, this time with 20-foot wide steel and glass doors that open mechanically and fit under the roof when opened. In the floorplan, notice how the architect has designed the outdoor terrace to be bigger than the indoor living room clearly indicating the importance of outdoor living.
The living room completely open to the outdoor through mechanically pivoted doors
The structure is designed completely in glass and steel with the aim to open it to the outdoors
We like the way the structural metal is left exposed. We enjoy the honesty of material and clarity in design

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Week 45: Construction and crazy jet-setting

15,000 miles in 4 weeks
In the last week, I have been to Singapore, attended a wedding in Mumbai, a funeral in Ajmer (Rajasthan) and entertained friends in Goa. If I include three more weeks then I have also been through New York, Germany and Delhi. While I was traveling some 15,000 miles across 3 continents, 4 countries and 10 cities, my team back in Goa were continuing their efforts to move along the design and construction on-site. Thanks to the "flat world" brought to us by information technology, I was able to run my job-site seamlessly amid all the travels. We continued our project meetings through Skype and construction monitoring through bi-weekly digital photography.

What got left behind were my regular construction blog posts and I hope to make up for it in the coming weeks.

I like this photo a lot as it shows how the fully built structure of the house is completely hidden by the exiting foliage on site. The pool pavilion structure on the left is designed as a light structure built completely in wood and steel.

Here is an update@ week 45? There has been good progress and have completed the steel framing for all the openings and the wood rafters for the sloping wood and tile roofs (above LHS guest bedroom and master bedroom). In addition to this we now have a large team of carpenters who are busy preparing lovely teak wood for the fixed louvers and sliding doors.

Pool pavilion as seen from the living room in the main house
The pavilion block is shaping up really well too and the steel frame structure is almost completed. This structure will then be topped by wood rafters and then a sloping roof membrane.

All this while, the electrical points, plumbing and waterproofing is also being carried out. The site in general is buzzing with activity with civil work, woodwork, electrical and plumbing all happening simultaneously.

Fruiting Tamarind tree on-site
The weather in Goa has already turned to it's annual best. Winter weather in Goa can be compared with Spring or early Fall weather in New York. One is treated each morning by a clear blue sky, light filtered sun that makes everything shine and a cool soft breeze. This is a time when we can now conduct our project meetings on-site at the deck area offering a glimpse to the glorious moments the house will present once it is ready for use.

Tamarinds from our tree ! 
In other news, the tamarind trees on site are fruiting and there are countless tamarinds on-site. We have 2 full grown tamarind trees on-site. There is also a tree on-site that gives a fruit called Tehfa. This fruits smell and look like tiny lemons first and then breaks open to produce black peppercorn like seeds. The fruit is used specially to cook a special Goan Mackerel curry. The one tree on-site has enough fruit to feed curry to the entire village!

Read more about us and our team.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Berlin: A Lesson in History and Free Spirit

We recently traveled through Germany thoroughly enjoying the German beer, extensive history, and their love for art and contemporary architecture. Cosmopolitan, quirky and free Berlin stood out as the star in our travels.

What makes Berlin more interesting than other European or north American city is it's relative newness and it's free spirit. After a long and painful history that culminated with the second world war and then continued with the cold war, the City of Berlin as we know today restarted rebuilding it's legacy in 1990. That is what I mean by the newness. As the city decided to move on, it began by accepting its history and then marching forward with a liberated spirit. The present spirit of Berlin seems more free as the freedom was hard to come by.

Berlin is a big city. It takes a while to get your arms around it. It is teaming with life but still feels empty when one is used to New York, Delhi or Mumbai. Berlin is also a city of neighborhoods that are at various stages of gentrification. The more interesting neighborhoods are the nearly gentrified Prenzlauer Berg and still gentrifying Kruezberg and Friedrichshain.

Bali inspired courtyard at Boutique Hotel Ackselhaus housed in a historic building in Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin

We stayed at Ackselhaus and Blue Home, a boutique hotel located in two historic buildings in Prenzlauer Berg. Both buildings have been lovingly restored by the owners. But the real treat is to see how contemporary elements have been woven into the historic character of the buildings. One of the buildings has a notable tropical Balinese resort feel. It was refreshing to see seemingly disparate elements of design (Historic European, Contemporary, Tropical) all put together in a unique style statement.

Sunroom in the courtyard with salvaged iron columns from old train station in Berlin and a Balinese daybed

Now let us talk about my favorite part, the contemporary architecture that dots the city of Berlin. One can name any master architect and they have built in Berlin. The history of the city along with its relative newness has allowed architects to build beyond barriers. The result is a refreshing collection of contemporary architecture that spans museums, residential and commercial buildings.
Eisenman's Holocaust Museum in Berlin with Gehry's DZ Bank building in the background
The old and the new building at the Jewish Museum in Berlin. Later designed by Daniel Lebiskind

The best of them all was without doubt is the Jewish Museum building by Master-Architect Daniel Lebiskiend (DL). DL was also the very deserving winning architect for the Freedom Tower at Ground Zero in New York. His creation at Ground Zero would have been a piece of art, an apt addition to the New York skyline but sadly the present design and resulting stump of a building is a political compromise that does nothing to advance design and architecture.

The exterior of the Jewish Museum building is clad in Zinc that is oxidizing to give it a blueish color

But I diverge, coming back to the Jewish Museum building in Berlin. I will take a pause to say this - according to me the Jewish Museum is the best building in the world today ! This is a big distinction and the reason I say this is two-fold; one is the ability that the built space has to evoke emotional reactions and second is the limitless extent of design thought and detail that has gone into this building. My reaction to this building is contrary to my proponance for minimalism and the idea of keeping design simple and lucid. The Jewish Museum is a severely complex building but the beauty of it is that everywhere you look one is presented with perfect example of design work where complex geometries, materials and play of light are prefectly composed into multi-dimensional multiple frames of architectural space. The typical problem with complexity in design is that buidlings can very easily look over-designed and it is mostly difficult to justify the complexity. Mostly complexity in design makes it difficult for various elements to come together and the core concept or design driver is lost. None of the above are a problem at the Jewish Museum. DL has built a building that is complex yet true to its central design thought, and the building inside and outside leaves a lasting impact on the viewer/ inhabitant. The building has the ability to evoke strong emotional reactions that are linked to the design concepts weaved into the building.

Words cannot do justice to the building, neither can images, but here are some to offer a taste of what the magnificent piece of architecture has to offer.

Exhibition galleries at lower level where three conceptual axis intersect
Exhibition galleries at lower level where three conceptual axis intersect
Windows seen from inside the gallery space
Window detail
Staircase ceiling detail
Core vertical circulation that connects the gallery space at 3 levels

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Buildings that twist, bend and scream perfection

OMG! How does one build like this... 
The pictures above show the twisted, bent and warped facades of the stainless steel clad Frank Gehry's Beekman Towers, Frank Gehry's IAC Headquarters, Jean Nouvel's 100 11th Ave, and Thom Mayne's new Academic Building at Cooper Union, all in New York.

The question I ask is not how one thinks of these buildings, dreams them up at night or during a drunken creative breakthrough. The key question for me is how does one take these magnificent forms from paper to reality. Maybe I am jaded. But the quest to understand design to execution has dictated my professional journey, where I started as an architect who believed that design was supreme and then went on to studying and practicing as a city planner and real estate professional in an attempt to unravel the processes that translate design dreams to reality. I still think that design is supreme but really it can be so much more if implemented correctly on budget and on time. My architect friends may hate me for saying this but in a way I am their biggest proponent. I think that architects are supremely talented, way ahead of the times, and therefore I believe that their creations need to be built so the world can be a better place.

Renderings showing the proposed Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York
So going back to the question of 'How does one build like this?'. The above rendering shows the new Barclays Center under construction in Brooklyn, New York. The project is being built by developer Forest City Ratner as part of the very controversial Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, New York. Interestingly, I had the opportunity to work with their parent company Forest City Enterprises in 2008-09 on mill redevelopment projects as part of the development team. Forest City Ratner is also the developer for the stately Beekman Towers (image on top).
Detail of the facade at Barclays Center made with pre-weathered metal lattice
Last week, I attended a talk by Jonathan Mallie from SHoP Architects and Construction who are the architects on the job and are facilitating the construction.

The building's external form is designed with concentric helical bands that are superimposed on each other. To mask this snaking form, the building will be skinned with a weathering steel latticework system. The lattice system goes over a glass curtain wall. Before installation, the metal lattice panels are pre-weathered to obtain a patina that makes them look older (weathered) in a design attempt to resemble the historic brownstones of Brooklyn.

And here is the kicker in the whole story, the proposed skin is comprised of 12,000 uniquely designed mega panels; each unique in size, shape, and individual pattern of folds and bends. Yes, I know....CRAZY ! Imagine implementing something like this. Imagine manufacturing each panel individually, imagine producing 12,000 individual drawings for each panel and then imagine coordinating the whole process, managing delivery and installation....

Photo of the lattice panels being installed on-site at Barclays Center
How does one go about a challenge like this? In this case, SHoP Architects have a sister company called SHoP Construction who played the key role of coordinating all design and construction efforts. They employed technology and created a Catia based 3-dimensional model that integrated all the building components with a back end database that recorded the details of each component (so size, individual design and special characteristics). As an example of attention to detail, SHoP actually analyzed the optimum size of panels and optimum stacking for road transportation (panels are being manufactured in Indianapolis and the project is in New York, 700 miles away from each other). After this exercise, they actually modified the design of the lattice panels to ensure efficient transportation. This is also an example of how an entity like ShoP Construction was critical to project implementation that allowed for communication between designers, manufacturers and contractors, who in spite of being in the same industry generally speak different languages, meaning have very different roles, scope of work and motivations.

The centralized model and database was also used to generate the 12,000 unique drawings for individual panels. And then they did another cool thing, implemented another idea that has probably never been done before.. Each panel was assigned and identified by a bar code. So each drawing had a bar code that was repeated to tag the panel once manufactured, was scanned when the panel was put on the truck to be transported to site, again scanned when it reached site and then again once it was installed. Taking it all the way, this electronic information was then made available real-time through a project website that kept all team members from the owner, architect, manufacturer, contractor up to date on where each of the 12,000 panels were at any given point in time. All this is so cool, that I just can't type fast enough to tell you all about it... just thinking about it makes me jittery with excitement...Oh and of course, the electronic tracking system was also available to the project team as an IPhone application... 

Learning about these wonderful stimulating innovations in design and implementation left me wanting more...The mantra to successful project implementation is seamless communication between all parties. With technology this communication can improve by leaps and bounds. For our project, we rely on digital photographs, skype calls and in-person meetings with all project leaders. It works well for now, but I will end the post hoping that in the future we will endevour to design and build more complex buildings and embrace cutting edge technology to do the same.

Read more about,

Read New York Times architectural review of,
Jean Nouvel's 100 11th Ave

Thursday, September 15, 2011

New York Spring and Fall Collection

Page from Anthropologie India Spring Catalog
I am back in New York after a four month sojourn in Goa. If you read my last post, then you know that the project in Goa is progressing on-track and it was (somewhat) safe for me to travel across continents and get my seasonal dose of inspiration, motivation and aggression from New York. More than anything New York makes me push myself. New Yorkers are super-beings, who manage high paced jobs, families, friends while looking great all the time and being in the know on everything... it is a lot of pressure to be all that but New Yorkers do it so effortlessly and I love them for it. When I am in New York, I feel that anything is possible.. It empowers me and gives me another tiny push to continue to follow my passion.

For the past year now, I have been spending around 3-4 months in Goa working on a pilot development project and then a month or so back in New York. Lines are beginning to get blurred now about where home is, what I expect to find in my fridge, friends and conversations...

When in New York, my main agenda (apart from continuing to micro-manage the Goa project) is to see, hear and learn so I continue to get inspired, find ways to put new ideas to work and not let the little things bring me down. The idea is to think big picture, learn from innovations from around the world and absorb the energy from my favorite city.

Interestingly, in Spring I was in New York for the Festival of Ideas and this time around my trip coincides with the Urban Design Week and Climate Week but I narrowly miss the Architecture and Design month...

On my last trip in Spring, I was struck by the focus on India in several places where I typically look for inspiration. I found that more people are looking towards India with hope, attempting to unravel its complexities, blend in with India's treasures in culture, design, history and diversity. Here are a few notable encounters:

Poster for 'Jugaad Urbanism', an exhibition at Center for Architecture in New York
1. 'Jugaad Urbanism', an exhibition at the Center for Architecture. As the name suggests the exhibition and related programs highlighted the innovation in urban design, architecture and building material found in unlikely places in India often without assistance from design and construction professionals or public funding. The exhibition was interesting; I particularly remember a study on the Chawls in Mumbai, with an extensive report and a detailed graphic documentation. More here.

But to tell you honestly, I have very little patience for long studies of problems and solutions that are merely theoretical, snazzy difficult to understand design solutions, and solutions with no implementation plans. Not sure why but solutions from design professionals in India often lack thought on implementation. Most people actually do not care about that aspect at all. I am not saying that theoretical exercises are wrong but only that I have little patience for them as I feel that the time to take action is NOW.

2. Anthropologie May fashion catalog on India. Anthropologie which is on of my favourite stores picked India as the location and inspiration for their Spring catalog and I have to tell you, the design, photography and fashion blew me away. It made me so proud of being Indian. After looking at that catalog, I bet everyone in the world wanted to be that girl in India. It was a skewed version of reality. But design is for dreamers and the Anthropologie catalog urged us to dream on. Sadly, I can’t seem to find the catalog anywhere online, but you can see some more pictures here
Cover Page of Wallpaper Magazine June 2011
3. 'Reborn in India', June issue of the Wallpaper magazine. Wallpaper did an entire issue solely looking at design in India. It highlighted fashion, furniture and architectural design. It was great to get the focus on an international platform but for me the compilation left a lot more to be desired. I felt that they took the easy route and covered all the established big names in the industry. I agree that the big names in the industry have earned it. But I would have personally liked to see a bit more from the new, emerging designers who are either innovating new ways of thinking, or resurrecting traditional techniques and design while working with local craftsman and artists. See more here.

Excerpt from book, 'To India with Love: From New York to Mumbai'
4. Finally, came across the book 'To India with Love: From New York to Mumbai' at a cafe in the Village. Another dreamy collection of India experiences and inspirations from global designers, travellers and revellers presented with great kitschy style. I loved reading through it. You can find some excerpts here. 

The agenda for this trip is to: WATCH Spiderman on Broadway; LISTEN to speakers about Leveraging technology in the design process, Governance in Hyderabad and alleviating poverty; VISIT the Brooklyn Flea market and New Dekalb market (built with shipping containers); and SEE Public art by Sol Lewitt.

Hopefully, I will be able to blog about at least a few of these, so stay tuned.


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