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Puri at Auriga restaurant in Mumbai. Photo: Devendra Parab/Mint
Puri at Auriga restaurant in Mumbai. Photo: Devendra Parab/Mint

The shape of things

Architect Sanjay Puri creates geometric structures you haven't seen before; rub your eyes to make sure you aren't dreaming

An arts complex that’s all curves inside and out, a hotel façade that resembles a slab of cheese riddled with holes; a chapel on the edge of a hill with an infinity pool that flows down to become a misty waterfall; and an office building that’s enveloped in jalis designed with origami-inspired folds—just a few of Mumbai-based architect Sanjay Puri’s strikingly original and award-winning designs.

He says the idea is never to be different for the sake of it. Puri explains how the Bombay Arts Society building at Bandra Reclamation, Mumbai—a wonderful break from the boring and homogenous architecture of the area—suffered countless delays because the Brihanmumbai municipal corporation (BMC) simply couldn’t accurately calculate the total area of the curves-only building. The firm didn’t budge because the existing plan was the best way to maximize space.

Puri wanted the building itself to look like a piece of art. “Regular rectangular buildings have four- five sections of blueprint that are submitted, but the Bombay Arts Society building had 140 sections, so you can imagine the level of complexity," he explains.

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The D Hotel in Lucknow

Thoroughly frustrated with Mumbai’s fast-growing vertical landscape, limited open spaces and restrictive rules, Puri also expresses concern about the city’s lackadaisical attitude to planning. “The city is actually heading towards being one of the worst in the world. I mean, look at the Tulsi Pipe Road stretch, nobody thought about widening the roads there and now there are six 80-storey towers coming up and we haven’t even seen the worst of the traffic clogs yet," he says.

At 46, Puri is one of the country’s most sought after architects with 120 ongoing projects in cities across India, Mauritius, Montenegro, UAE and Spain, a staff of 72, and over 30 international architecture awards—including the MIPIM Architectural Review Future Projects Award (Cannes), and Hospitality Design Award, New York. His most recent projects range from a massive 300-acre township called Global City in Virar to the 120-room D Hotel in Lucknow.

The Bombay Arts Society Building in Mumbai
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The Bombay Arts Society Building in Mumbai

Puri’s love of architecture dates back to the first time he read The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand at boarding school in Mayo College, Ajmer. A spontaneous decision to take up an internship under one of the city’s best-known architects, Hafeez Contractor, after completing his class XII exams from St Xavier’s College, Mumbai, led Puri to a full-time position as an associate with Contractor’s firm right after graduation from the Academy of Architecture, Mumbai. “Since I had no experience but only a fascination, it all started with the need for me to find out what architecture is like in the real world," explains Puri, who claims Contractor wasn’t a star architect at the time. “So I landed up at Hafeez Contractor’s office, just nine months after he had set up his own practice, and I ended up working there through all five years (1983-88) of college."

Though he credits Contractor with giving him lessons on confidence, speedy completion of projects and clarity of thought, Puri says that by 1992 he simply needed to set up his own firm, Sanjay Puri Architects, when a builder approached him to take up work on a 54-acre township called Vasant Nagri in Vasai. After this super-sized project, Puri’s practice saw an avalanche of residential projects. “It was a mega project and it was advertised a lot so obviously housing developers came running to us after that," says Puri. “But soon the requirements would read like this: 100 one-bedroom flats, 200 flats of two bedrooms each and 300 flats of three bedrooms each. It was crazy. We must have done over 20-30 million sq.ft. of housing at one point. So of course it became very repetitive."

In 2002, Puri was commissioned to design the interiors of his first hotel, The Mirador in Andheri, and soon the firm was inundated with similar hospitality projects. But this time around, they offered more creative control and the practice began to experiment with unusual geometric structures. “The journey to where we are right now began when we started to create buildings that had not been seen or experienced before," says Puri. “Until we built the Triose food court building in Lonavala in 2009, we were only playing with the juxtaposition of various forms, but after that project, we truly began abstracting spaces."

The Teresa 153 housing project in Montenegro
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The Teresa 153 housing project in Montenegro

He cites the use of jali work at 72 Screens, a corporate office project in Jaipur. The six-storeyed building is wrapped in perforated screens made from glass-reinforced concrete that are placed in abstract geometric angles to filter the blistering heat. “While we couldn’t make use of the more elaborate forms of Rajasthani architecture, we chose to work with jalis because they serve an actual purpose—releasing heat and increasing the flow of ventilation. They are also a direct reference to the prevalent local architecture," adds Puri.

His new township in Virar will feature 100ft-wide roads, though the rules require them to be 40ft-wide. “When you’ve got 300 acres under your control, you get a chance to make sure the people living there never experience a traffic jam, at least on the inside," says Puri. “The future is in creating these self-sufficient townships. There is no other way. Our cities cannot take the load."

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