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Pavitra Sriprakash Director and Chief Designer of Shilpa Architects Believes In Shilpa Shastra As Its Identity

By admin / Published on Thursday, 31 Jan 2019 09:01 AM / No Comments / 818 views

Pavitra Sriprakash Director and Chief Designer of Shilpa Architects Believes In Shilpa Shastra As Its Identity

Pavitra Sriprakash Director and Chief Designer of Shilpa Architects, is a ‪Architect, Urban Designer, ‪Dancer and Artist. Her design philosophy even if inspired by her illustrious mother and renowned Architect Sheila Sri Prakash J, she has successfully established her position as an indo-centric, holistic architect with focus on sustainability. She is the Chief Designer and Director at The Global Design Studio of Shilpa Architects which is an acclaimed design house that draws inspiration from cultural values that are distinctly rooted in the sub-continent, fusing vernacular method with modern design and construction practices. Having practiced urban design and planning in New York and Chicago, Pavitra’s work has been fascinating, enthralling and importantly India centric since 2008.

Pavitra is the Co-Founder and Director of SGBL Studio, an international Architecture and Urban Design firm, with offices in Chicago, New York and Seoul. This company has executed projects in the US, Belgium, Norway, China, Japan and Kuwait. Shilpa’s International Urban Design Studio. She is an expert in sustainability and has completed research in Columbia University on ‘Sustainable Programmatic Landscapes’ and the interface between architecture and landscape design in planning robust urban spaces. An Exclusive Interview with

Pavitra Sriprakash Director and Chief Designer of Shilpa Architects Believes In Shilpa Shastra As Its Identity
Pavitra Sriprakash Director and Chief Designer of Shilpa Architects

What made you choose this profession and opt being an urban designer?

Towards the end of my architectural studies itself, Urban Design fascinated me. The idea of dealing with cities and the larger impact one can have rather than through simply architectural interventions is what nudged me in this direction. The other aspect that drew me to urban design was the social and environmental impact of urban design. The effect of people and nature on any urban design plan is a fundamental part of the solutions possible for any city and being inclusive of these is hugely challenging while balancing development, change and new technology. It is also an interesting time for Indian cities – with the Smart City initiative, there is a lot more focus on the requirement for urban design and other large scale initiatives which can change the way we interact with our cities.

From your fellow or contemporaries whose work inspires you and why?

I am still discovering my contemporaries and their work. I do have some people from my mother’s generation that I grew up being inspired by – but have to admit she was and continues to be the largest inspiration in my life. Therefore, to answer that – Sheila Sri Prakash J, I would not be where I am if not for her.

The cultural values and focus of this firm that makes it unique from the rest?

Shilpa Architects Design Studio

Shilpa’s design philosophy always has and continues to be indo-centric, holistic sustainability. Our attachment to all things Indian comes from our appreciation and love of the performing arts of India. There is almost an inherent proclivity to achieve a highly sustainable, nature responsive design in everything that is on our drawing boards. We also encourage all our clients to include something that resonates with them as being indo-centric as part of the core philosophy behind each project. In our practice – this is the design phase while we strive to impart a soul to our work – another idea that makes us truly believe in the richness of our cultural history and the fact that we should celebrate and live by it. I also love the constant question – who is Shilpa – it is not that we are named by a person- Shilpa Shastra is the Sanskrit word for Architecture – and therefore this is at the root core of our very identity.

Share your experience working on your first project, where and which was it?

My first project was in Oak Park- a suburb of Chicago- most famous for being the home town and birth place of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture. I worked on two of the main traffic corridors with a focus on uplifting the quality of businesses for these main streets. I spent a lot of time on site, working on the ground with the various stakeholders which was a mix of residents and business owners alike in understanding their issues and possible ideas for creating a joint vision for the area. The plan was later adopted by the Village Planning council and formed the blue print for transformation over the next ten years. The amazing thing about Urban Design projects is their time frame for being adopted – anything takes 5 or ten years. This is a valuable lesson for anyone in this field to understand that building these takes time – and patience, perseverance and the ability to constantly evolve and change during implementation is absolutely required.

Mahindra World City Club House

Having a forte of working on Civic, Mixed use, Residential and Hospitality Projects which of them you enjoy working on the most?

This totally depends and there is no one that is more enjoyable than the other. Civic projects are great for Architectural experimentation. There is less focus on FSI and efficiency and there is more creative exploration in terms of volumes and spaces. Hospitality projects are more interior focused -so the play with lighting and materials is the challenge. Residential is all about efficiency and sustainability, so there is a completely different aspect at play here. Mixed use projects tend to be larger and more city-scaled – so it is like a ‘mini urban design’ assignment which is a whole other animal. I think what makes my work interesting is that we are a multi disciplinary practice – so at any given time, there is a little of all of this at play for us. I think it is the fact that I get to work on all of it, that is indeed most enjoyable!

How did your overseas experience help working on projects in India. What did you learn/unlearn?

Corporate Office

Understanding the integrated design approach was one learning from outside the country which was very useful in my transition here. In India, people worked within their areas of expertise with very little collaboration between disciplines- of design, engineering or other social streams. Working on large scale projects meant coordination between disciplines was an absolute requirement for the successful implementation of it.

I also developed a deep sense of appreciation for all things Indian- sometimes being away from home is what helps one understand the goodness of it, things which one may have taken for granted growing up in the environment. I understood the value that Indian culture has and the historic importance which we as a society had placed on our arts and artisans which we were losing. Therefore the sense to preserve and incorporate these elements into our design philosophy was born.

Besides India, you have also executed projects in the US, Belgium, China, Japan, Kuwait, Norway tell us more about the same. How was it working on projects in different geographical locations?

The experience of each of these locations is unique and fantastic. No two projects are ever the same and the diversity with different cultural and environmental concerns in each of the locations where I have been lucky enough to have work has been nothing short of phenomenal. For example the requirements to keep a building cool and safe from sandstorms in Kuwait is the complete opposite to the ‘2hour minimum sun’ rule to keep residences warm in China. Just designing for such divergent requirements in itself has been a very rewarding experience.

Embassy of India Beijing

Which were the projects in the above countries, would like to more on the same.

Most projects in the US were government based urban design projects. From neighborhood revitalization plans, comprehensive plans, Transit Oriented Development Plans for new town developments along extensions to existing train lines. Projects in Belgium were civic – there was a lot of urban redevelopment for previously non-motorised areas of the Grote Markt’s of cities which needed updating with parking and other mechanisms to balance automobile as well as pedestrian areas. Projects in China and Japan were mostly residential master plans.

Tell us about you research ‘Sustainable Programmatic Landscapes’ and the interface between architecture and landscape design in planning robust urban spaces. Which are the projects undertaken, completed on these lines.

My understanding of urban design and the fact that it operates in somewhat a grey zone between architecture and ecologically sensitive landscape design is what compelled me to research the area of sustainable programmatic landscapes. Landscape design has often been treated as a cosmetic layer that gets added in as the very last element of a project. Instead through this research, I wanted to understand how it can form the very canvas for an eco-sensitive, people centric design solution. Through this lens, one of our recent projects for a large scale residential township was completed wherein the landscape design was a ‘working’ layer – just as it would have been in a natural environment. The site was flood prone, and wetlands were created for the natural management of storm-water on site. Instead of the traditional storm water drains on the surface of the site, a series of connected swales helped collect transport and recharge water from surface run off.


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