Steel hollow sections may not sound like the stuff dreams are made of. Unless, of course, you are one of the 12 imaginative architects competing to build the definitive engineering symbol of contemporary India.
A delicately wrought banyan tree, bright kites lifting into the sun and a swirling spire—the competition organized by Tata Structura and The Indian Architect & Builder (IA&B) journal has thrown up some startling design ideas. On 15 August, one will be judged the winner and turned into a 30ftx30ft structure and parked at a prominent open public space. In the meantime, the dozen scale models chosen from among 61 entries have travelled around the country.
These might seem like installations that a sculptor could have put together but IA&B says the idea was not just to create a piece of art. The creation would have to be conceived like a solid monument representing modern India. The participants are young, upcoming architects, with work experience ranging from two to five years.
Nuru Karim’s abstraction grew from the idea of a charkha. “I worked on the idea of India as a self-sustaining nation. Of course, we are part of a globalized world, but Gandhian ideas of a self-dependent economy still work,” says Karim, a partner at the Mumbai-based Nuru Karim and Ainsley Lewis Architects.
Madhav Raman, Mann Singh and Siddhartha Chatterjee have crafted a tree that almost seems filigreed with sprawling branches and LED spots to represent India’s multiculturalism. “Through the early years of independence, we were fixated on putting up a homogenized front. Now we are confident enough to say we are a nation of different people and ideologies but it all still hangs together. And we don’t need others to define and slot us,” says Raman of his concept.
Raman and Co.’s work is based on what is known as fractal geometric pattern. Fractal theory states that complex and natural structures such as clouds, mountain ranges and lightning bolts can be described mathematically. “The entire structure we have made from the central coiled trunk to the branches and the outbound canopy simply holds together,” says Raman.
Delhi School of Architecture alumni Ananth Sampathkumar and Sanjit Roy have together put up an installation with luminescent kites. The architects, who now live and work out of the US, say the work represents the aspirations of the people. “The flock of kites seem to reach heavenward in a sort of kinetic symphony of spirit and independence. Each kite, with diverse origins and in varying positions, charts a unique course which influences the common direction of the collective,” says Roy.
Kirtisagar Bollar’s fluid shape that mimics the human body stretched upward, Mayank Loonker’s spiral with the tricolour and Himanshu Upadhyay’s open hands reaching outward are other inspired motifs. The charkha, incidentally, has grabbed the imagination of more than one participating architect.
Steel hollow sections are quite a popular construction material among architects across the world—the international airports at Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur are showcases for their effectiveness. In India, however, they have yet to find as much favour. Far from limiting their flights of fancy, participating architects say it made their task much easier to have a parameter laid out for them—they had to primarily use steel hollow sections but could combine other material with it to create their dream designs.
“It was important to have a constraint. We worked on it as we would on a project in which there were some physical parameters to stick to. We were working on the notion of emerging India. So, the structure actually evolved from an origami fan, converging at one point but growing outwards. The steel hollows helped,” says Felix G. Raj of the Chennai-based Space Scape Architects.
The winning entry will be on display at the Architecture Engineering & Construction World Expo in Mumbai from 27 to 30 September. The installation will also be displayed at a prominent site which is yet to be finalized.