TEAM TALKS

This is a presentation made at the DesignXDesign Expose at the Alliance Francaise de Delhi, New Delhi on 31 May 2012 where the founding partners of TEAM spoke about their projects and their method of design since 1985.

dxd-31-may-2012-019The coming into being of TEAM was a pure accident!! It was a muggy afternoon in August 1984 when I (Ramanathan), with no work or occupation, entered the SPA Canteen to while away time when I was greeted by another founding partner of TEAM, Anurag Gupta who also generously offered a glass of ‘Nimbu Chai’…. Before we could finish the chai, he suggested “Let’s do the Crossword”…. Anurag, though two years my junior was a good friend in college and it was normal for us to attack the daily Crossword that appeared in the Times of India.

So we climbed the two floors to the Library, two steps at a time, and quickly located a copy of the TOI. Anurag folded the paper, as he would normally do, to reveal just the Crossword and a little more… and read out the first clue that he could put set his eyes on…. – “Cash around a thousand for the beast” (6).. Before the clue could sink in, he muttered ANIMAL and wrote it on the side and not in the squares… He knew instinctively it was wrong…. The answer was, of course, MONKEY, Money going around K and when I told him so he filled it in sheepishly but with his customary flourish. Almost in the same motion he said “Hey we should be doing this”….. When asked What?, assuming it was the next clue, he said “look at this” ….. opened the folded newspaper and revealed a 3” x 4” Advertisement from the CPWD which called for registration of Architects to participate in an Architectural Design Competition for the Extension to the National Gallery of Modern Art.

We read through the Ad and it asked for the COA registration and membership of the IIA… “Do you have both?” was his next question. I said yes!! His answer was a decisive “Great, we are doing it”…  and within 24 hours Snehanshu, who was gainfully employed with GRUP India, was duly convinced and roped in to be a part of the team. So began our efforts to produce a design for the Competition. The competition schedule kept getting altered including a change in the composition of the Jury and eventually moved well into 1985.

It was on this fateful day…. YES on the 31st of May 1985! when we submitted the entry at the NGMA, Jaipur House…. I borrowed my father’s old Fiat car and the driver from one of our Professors, Prof. Narayanaswamy …. (whom many of you might know) to transport the model and the roll of sheets from SPA to Jaipur House, India Gate….

The Rest, as the saying goes, is History….

 However, very few people know that in its first 15 years of existence TEAM was pretty close to becoming History several times!!!! It stuttered along with a nearly hand to mouth existence and with just a few projects to work on…. The office was, in fact, more known for the parties it hosted than the projects it handled!!!…. So much so that in one of the New Year Parties, the office ended up greeting complete strangers !!!…. all of whom had ‘heard’ from someone or the other about this nice place where the Party was a hit!!!!!!!…… and who had conveniently gate crashed….

The official announcement of the results came out in the Press on the 13th of October 1985 though we had heard rumours to the effect a few days earlier but we were unsure if it was really true. Having won the competition all of a sudden, we had to think about establishing an office…… a possibility that had not crossed our minds at any time.

 

Why TEAM ?

 We had to call ourselves something…. we debated many names and titles from the staid to the avant garde before settling for TEAM, acronym for Team for Engineering Architecture & Management. The name we, partners, realised encapsulated what we as a Team believed to be the way to practice architecture – to find an optimal balance between architecture, engineering and project management. Optimal and not necessarily equal… the proportions and importance being determined by the specifics of each project and its context.

I would also like to briefly go back to our penchant for solving cryptic Crosswords… It requires a certain analytical approach to solve the cryptic clues…. Analysis and a rational approach to problem solving were integral to how the founding partners tackled Design as well… In fact, the Jury made a special mention of “the well analysed report………..”

I will now request Snehanshu to continue with our Story and also take you through some select works of ours

Well, we won the competition much to our surprise, and then decided to form an office in December 1985, to build the project as well! At this point Anurag asked Madhu to join in and form a quartet.

Today TEAM is left with two of its founding partners – standing here in front of you. Madhu got married to Neeraj Manchanda, and after her family grew, she joined hands with him professionally as well. Anurag went back to graphic designing and publishing and has since moved on to becoming a micro-finance “king” operating out of Mumbai.

NGMA as a design, even at the competition stage, reflected our understanding of architecture as an efficient, logical solution that resolves a complex building programme on a difficult site in the most logical and buildable manner. However, the design was not merely limited to a rational solution. It had some distinctive and unusual design moves that were an outcome of the manner we had interpreted the context of the site within New Delhi’s Central Vista Complex and Jaipur House itself.

We signed our contract with the Government of India to build NGMA on the 10th of December 1986, more than 15 months after the results were announced. At the outset we had understood that the CPWD would control the entire building process on their terms. Therefore, it made sense to have them as our consultants for structures, electrical/mechanical, HVAC and fire detection and protection. We started design development work with great enthusiasm, only to realise in a very short time that it was not going to be a straight and narrow path. Work actually proceeded as if we were on an obstacle course. The sanctioning process took years, as we countered one road block after the other. DUAC alone took three years to clear – then it seemed as an almost insurmountable stalemate – we were also probably the most hated architects by the DUAC those days!

Then there were illegal occupants on site who went to court twice and obtained stays. All of this took several years to resolve. … to be precise 13 years. And then the Client decided to seek a fresh Administrative Approval and we were pushed back by another 5 years before construction could begin at site.

In the meantime we worked on the design, progressing beyond the competition stage. The design was becoming more people friendly, more open to explore and wander around. The appearance of the building too was being constantly refined in an attempt to break down its bulk to a human scale, to merge with the site and its trees.

However, with the project not leading anywhere we were also not getting paid! The prize money had been spent a long time. Some of the money was spent on a world tour to study museums; this was an investment that stood us in good stead while developing a detailed building programme and deciding upon the special services and infrastructure that a museum of this scale required.

Things were pretty bad financially, we also did not have any “contacts” that would get us work – nor did we wish to undercut fees or pander to client’s whims to get new projects. Ramanathan and I were teaching as visiting faculty at SPA. I was probably learning more than my students, since teaching taught me to design better than when I studied design as a student.

Luckily for us some work started trickling in from other sources; Ranesh Ray, a senior from SPA and an old friend invited us to join him in designing the Indira Gandhi Memorial Museum, and later to work on the Japan Man and Life a photo exhibition that was to tour the four metros. The extension to the ISTE Head Quarters in IIT Delhi was referred to us by Ramanthan’s friend Prof Krishnamurti of IIT Delhi – this was the first real architectural project that got constructed. However, the design in its entirety never got built and we had to be satisfied with remodelling the facade and adding a floor to the existing building.  At around the same time in 1990, Mr Stein, whom I had trained under, asked us to design a house for his friend, the barrister Mr Vijay Shankardass, in Gurgaon. This was probably the first building we built in TEAM from the foundation up to the final finishes.

It was in 1993 that the project which was to become our mainstay, while NGMA hibernated, happened to us. In those days I was teaching at the new school of architecture TVB School of Habitat Studies. Ramu Kattakam, who also taught there, had at that time decided to give up architecture and run an art gallery instead. He asked me if we would be interested in designing the Osho Commune in Delhi. He then introduced us to Swami Atul Anand and Swami Om Prakash Saraswati whom we referred to as Swamiji. Ramu’s introduction resulted in one of the most creative and productive periods of work in the history of TEAM so far. Osho Dham as a project continues till today and showcases the other end of the spectrum of our architectural works.

By now our approach to design had matured.  Each of our designs started with a search to first define and then create a context which would guide the design to its logical conclusion. The context would be shaped by the existing site context and resources along with the intended building programme – or the client’s brief and in some cases the Promoter’s Philosophy.

In the case of Osho Dham the brief was to create a place for meditation supported by residential infrastructure for long and short-term stays for the disciples. The place was to be designed such that it would have few or little references to what the swamis experienced in their day to day living in the real world. Above all it should be set within a wondrous garden. The existing site of 20 acres was originally agricultural fields cultivated by the farmers of the nearby villages. There were very few trees on site. A ring of young Alstonia scholaris’s had been newly planted in a ring around a spot, which Swamiji had chosen to be the place for the meditation hall.

Our first idea was to create a dense forest over a small part of the site which would surround the meditation hall, recreating the idea of a tapovan within which the disciples were to meditate – symbolically away from the man-made world. The path to the hall would be a spiral, symbolising the inward journey to the sublime.

The spiral path also had a practical aspect that it created the illusion of a much longer walk through a large forest, without seeing the destination till one came up close. The meditation hall was designed as a large floating roof on a square plan of 80 feet sides, the floor was initially in polished black Cuddapa stone with a jaisalmer yellow spiral ending at its centre. The roof was a domical shell resting on four columns of 8 feet height, the centre of the hall rose to 34 feet. The hall was proportioned such that it sat without intimidating the users; the sides were un-enclosed so that when seen from within the forest, one saw right through the hall as if it were invisible. The structure in “built-up” steel sections was designed by our erstwhile structure’s teacher Prof T S Narayanswamy (who so generously loaned us his driver to deliver the NGMA competition model!!) and analysed by Prof B M Ahuja of IIT Delhi.

The design strategy helped to create an illusion of a large forest without actually occupying a lot of land, as the rest of the site was largely conserved for growing food for the commune. This illustrates our design method of arriving at an appropriate context which is then evolved further to function at many levels – first and foremost of practical usefulness, but equally the creation of a sense of place that is more sensory, and which gives aesthetic pleasure.

The subsequent buildings came up over the years as you can see by the numbering sequence on the site image. The first few were the Kabir Dorms and the Dining Hall and Kitchen with its staff quarters. These buildings were placed at the foot of the Meditation Hall and aligned to the axis of the short-cut that leads to the Hall directly for regular use. Since the buildings were so close to the Hall, we sunk the Dorms into the ground, improving their thermal insulation, while retaining a sense of openness around the Hall. The Dining Hall was conceived as a pavilion – a typology used extensively in traditional architecture – which could be modified according to the climate by the use of temporary side kanats. The kitchen necessarily needed to be enclosed. But we integrated it into the landscape by treating its roof as an extension of the public realm, in a manner which allowed people to climb over its top and come down towards the Hall. Here too sunken into the ground with its own court were the staff-quarters – located practically, close by, but out of sight from the movement path of the disciples. The innovation in the structural systems devised by our old friend Dr Prabir Das, who had then moved from Calcutta to Delhi, was an exploration we especially enjoyed. The system utilised locally available materials and skills. The materials were sandstone slabs, steel sections and wire rope. The structural steel fabricator was Amrit Singh, a bus-body fabricator from Najafgarh – next door, along with the local civil contractor Brahmanand. We did load tests to ensure that these strategies would work after all. However we did get the occasional heart-attack when the fabricator called up early one morning causing Prabir and me to rush to site to discover that they had not followed our instructions fully, causing the trusses to sag! Here you see the full team standing after completing the dining hall.

After a few years, the planted forest took on its role seriously as it had managed to grow up! At this time we were joined by Adit, our very first model maker and paying trainee! Adit had returned with a degree in landscape architecture from U Penn (and no less) became our landscape designer. He shaped the land to complement the various structures that had started to be built. The landscape was designed towards creating a micro-climate of its own, complete with water re-charging. We did not allow even the waste water to escape the site.

Osho Dham was attracting more visitors, so Atul Swami decided to enlarge the capacity of the Hall. This was a difficult design proposition as the hall by itself was a finite shape. Adding an extension to it was tough! We, therefore, added a completely different roof, a low flat brim on three sides to include more people. Underground air cooling ducts were buried in to provide cool air and airflow for the hot months. The new roofs were meant to be also “floating” to preserve the see-through transparency of the hall. The structure this time was designed by Mr Subir Roychowdhury, who was the head of structures at Mr Stein’s office during my two year training period. He devised an RCC roof that was supported on two columns on the inside and a ring of slender almost invisible steel tube columns on the periphery. The black floor and the yellow spiral were replaced by a white Kishangarh marble floor, which we went all the way till Makrana to select. The spiral was now more subtle, it was integrated into the pattern that the stone slabs were laid in – this had another practical advantage of reducing wastage, since several sizes had to be used to achieve this pattern.  Now it seems, even to us, as if the Hall was always designed in this manner. Along with the Hall extension we built the remaining crescent of the Kabir dorms by adding the Nanak rooms on the other side of the central reception space. Before this we had added another small structure, Swamiji’s meeting room, a ferro-cement roofed structure, designed by Prabir, which had a ventilated inner roof and was perfectly aligned climatically which allowed it to remain cool even during the hottest period of the year.

Osho World Galleria at Ansal’s Plaza was the first major Osho related interior design project. This time the brief was to create a space for meditation within a loud commercial mall. Atul Swami had expressed the design brief with the phrase “meditating in the marketplace”. The resulting interior was crafted out of materials such as stone, timber, steel and glass in a “zen” like composition, which transports the visitor away from the typical noise and glitz of a shopping mall.

Atul Swami was also the owner of Triage Overseas, a highly reputed home furnishing export house supplying exclusively to Europe. After a few years of our association with Osho Dham, he requested us to design his warehousing and production facilities in Begumpur, Malviya Nagar and later his corporate office at Gulmohar Park. This time the design brief was to make a building grounded in Delhi, its climate and the immediate context of an urban village. The Begumpur building therefore had a blank facade on its lower floors with verandas that ran around the two sides on the upper floor; the top floor also included an apartment for the manager, with an independent entry at one end.

Our visual reference was this building from Old Delhi. In case of the Corporate Office at Gulmohar Park, we utilised the veranda to become strip gardens, and a space to create a micro climate strip running the external facades at each level, however since the building was within a plot, we were able to develop a small front garden as well. This was a project where the architecture and its interior was designed by us together from the initial stages of design.

The evolution of these designs could happen because of the personal rapport and trust that we enjoyed with Swami Atul Anand and Swamiji. The client here was personally involved in an extremely supportive way with each design and design process. This was also possible because we probably matched in our thought processes. However if this is an ideal situation, it often does not materialise in life, which can lead to disastrous situations. As many of us has found out designing houses. This is one field of architecture which requires special talent at getting to know the client. We were not always successful with designing houses; but a few that we did changed the relationship between us and the clients who have become close friends. Two such houses we present here, both were built at the same time. The first is a non-typical “farm house” for Rajen and Kalpana Parikh’s family, on a rocky naturally undulating part of the ridge near Mandi village. The other is for Arindam Ganguly and Seema Bakshi on another part of the ridge – Greenfields near Suraj Kund. The difference in design or the sense of place reflects the cultural differences between the two families; however the designs were arrived at by the same process that we have stated earlier in this presentation.

The same design process landed us the design of the Oxford Bookstore chain. In 1993, the architectural photographer Ram Rehman had met Priti Paul and she had asked him to suggest an architect who is a Bengali but does not live in Bengal to redesign the 75 year old Oxford Bookstore on Park Street, Calcutta. Ram suggested our office and she commissioned us to design the shop. The design intent was to recreate the “old world” charm in Calcutta, without resorting to a “faking” as a period film. The Bookshop was to also have a new space for art exhibitions, film shows and lectures. To accommodate these functions, we had to add a new mezzanine by sinking the floor down in one section of the shop length. The structure for the mezzanine was in exposed steel painted a typical blue green shade with teak veneer panelling and the classic Calcutta red IPS floor. Oxford has remained, like Osho Dham a perennial project having designed almost all the stores across India and even Dubai. The bookstore went beyond Calcutta into other cities with a Cha Bar added to the brief. The designs have become more fluid, however there still remains a continuity in the “sense of place “that was first created in Calcutta. Here too, the personal rapport with Priti has worked for us to continue to design one store after the other, each different from the other, always creating and innovating anew, by incorporating what we learnt from the previous designs.

Three Buildings Around India Gate

This also happens to be a working title for a book on the works of team.

Institutional buildings in comparison are less personal and often without an individual who would direct the progress of the project. So again in the late 1990s we edged back towards the sleeping NGMA, by designing the Chancery of the Embassy of Spain on Prithviraj Road. Our first house client, Mr Vijay Shankardass, who was a friend of the Ambassador had recommended our name, and we were asked to create a design on a site large enough to build the Chancery, but with strict LBZ controls that allowed us eventually to build exactly the same volume as a derelict existing building that stood next to the Ambassador’s bungalow. The LBZ rules took some three years to be decided before we could get the plans sanctioned. Our main concern was the reverse of NGMA here, how to create a building two stories tall (that too with a low height restriction), to appear gracious enough as the Chancery to Embassy. We attempted to do so by carefully working on the proportions of the facades and the choice of materials and finishes to create an appropriate sense of place. The close proximity of the original Lutyen’s period bungalow too had to be kept in mind so that the buildings would sit comfortably side by side.

By the time we constructed the Embassy another slow moving project near India Gate, the Management Studies Building for Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan (BVB) chose to wake up. This was a project which was referred to us by J M Benjamin, a former Chief Architect with the CPWD. However while BVB had dragged its feet about building it, it also involved getting completion certificates for the existing buildings as well. We were privileged to build next to the existing school building designed by our teacher Prof. H D Chayya. The existing exposed brick building dictated the predominant texture of the facades, however since this building was not to be a senior secondary school, we had to create a distinct identity as a place of higher learning. The serviceability and climatic comfort levels in the common spaces made us borrow the courtyard from Prof Chayya’s building, but we roofed it over to make a more useful atrium. The floor slabs projected out at each level to provide a continuous service ledge for placing equipment as well as regular maintenance work. The elevations were designed to incorporate these practical details to create a separate identity from the older building and yet sit beside it like an old friend.

NGMA Again

 Finally, the construction of the New Wing, NGMA began in May 2003. It got inaugurated and thrown open to public in January 2009. Before the commencement of construction TEAM had yet another relook at the detailing achieved and was able to take advantage of more advanced technological options available then. Electronic Security, for example, had moved to a new plane altogether. So was lighting, however, the CPWD strangely took some unilateral decisions that left out our recommendations and left their implementation incomplete. The Client is still struggling to set right the mistakes. The project had smoothly absorbed all these changes and refinements while solidly retaining its character. What makes us proud is not only the unequivocal approval of the New Wing by many well known international Museum Professionals and Curators as comparable with the very best in the world but getting it completed within the approved estimates.

The Next Level of Design

The building of NGMA New Wing was in many ways prepared us to move to the next level of design. We would like to illustrate this through three brief examples. We had come to realise that our method of designing had yielded a variety of different buildings, all stemming from the same set of concerns that developed the designs in each project. The search for a context, “a sense of place” that would guide the design idea, continuous design audits that would hone the designs to be lean, efficient and cost effective. TEAM is not consciously bound by a style or technology in search for a “good design”.

We were able to achieve a higher level of design thinking when we designed a resort for The Park Hotel at Andaman. The stringent CRZ (Coastal Zone Regulations) made us rethink our design position even more critically, which pushed us to think deeper and come up with the ability to innovate meaningfully. The designs of the entire complex and the cottages were guided by principles of conservation, conservation of resources, energy, interpreting traditional knowledge bases and inventing new ways to meet the requirements of a demanding high end resort in a truly creative manner. The cottages designed with Prabir was a natural outcome of the severe geographical conditions of these tropical islands, as well as dictated by what would be a valid construction process in a sensitive ecological zone.

The project is yet to be built, however we got a chance to test out some of these design approaches in the case of the New Delhi YMCA’s Campsite at Sattal, Uttarakhand. The programme of the campsite established the need for bio-degradable Canvas tents to be used for all the spatial requirements. The way they were organised and detailed on the site along with landscaping, passive waste water treatment systems and energy conservation measures were far more rigorous than what had been achieved even at Osho Dham.

In one of TEAM’s current projects, The Apeejay School at Bhubaneshwar we are attempting to put in place a decentralised design process. In this project the basic cold-shell would be put together by a conventional process. However, the infill walls, and the finishes would be, both thought out, detailed and constructed by local craftsperson, many of them we hope would be traditional master craftsperson as well. This process of design, we believe, will minimise the top down control of the architect and allow space for many more designers/ craftsperson at different hierarchical levels to own and contribute to the making of the school. The mechanism to make this happen, we have yet to formalise, but its framework is based upon Prof. John Habraken’s seminal work on Thematic Design and Transformations.

Conclusion

Even though, as Snehanshu indicated, TEAM is working towards a publication covering its 27 years of Professional journey, I must admit that this evening’s presentation gave us an opportunity to look back at our works over the years… and critically assess them. We were happy to realise that the process adopted by TEAM has remained reasonably consistent irrespective of the project or the context in which it is set or the eventual product. Perhaps, this consistency and an approach that comprehends architectural design, engineering systems and project management together holistically ….combined with the experience gained over the years… has allowed TEAM to take on works, in this phase, which include top end coordination and monitoring of projects for Real Estate Investment Funds, important Government of India Projects, Master Plan for large townships, Design and management of international travelling exhibitions for the Ministry of Culture etc.

TEAM has, however, retained its small size, by choice, limited to the two partners and a set of associates whose numbers vary between three and six at the most… at any given time.

Snehanshu and I are also a part of a fledgling Publishing House that aims to bring out publications on subjects that we believe will add to a knowledge base and these are also subjects which, more often than not, do not get easily accepted by larger commercially successful publishing houses. We have so far published two titles and are in the process of bringing out two more.

In a few years…… perhaps sooner than later……. when both Snehanshu and I lessen our professional pursuits we certainly hope that TEAM and its Design Credo remain alive… May be, Siddharth and Anamika, who have been with us over the last 7 years and who have understood TEAM’s approach will carry it forward infusing it with their personal signatures !

Work in TEAM has always been teamwork and therefore, whatever has been achieved over the years is thanks to the contribution of all our Associates, Employees and steadfast Consultants who have often had to put up with our idiosyncrasies and style of functioning. We apologise if in this little list of acknowledgement someone has been left out… If it has so happened, it should be attributed to a slip and a loss of memory….. and is certainly not deliberate.

About T E A M

TEAM is an interdisciplinary group of professionals from the fields of architecture, planning and design, besides building engineering and management. The primary objective of TEAM is to provide such consultancy services, through an integrated approach to all allied services, as are not available to clients through a single agency.In addition this group is capable of design of graphics, product design and specialised audio visual installations. TEAM, through their designs, has consistently attempted to address the issues of “sustainability” and “conservation”- both before construction andduring the life cycle of a building. This concern has led the designers in TEAM to research and question“conventions” so as to design improved building systems. These would encompass structural systems, construction materials, finishes, climatic response and other building services such as sanitation waste management and energy conservation systems. The designs optimise the use of resources to create spaces and buildings that shape a new context and yet are simultaneously rooted to their immediate context of the site and the larger context of the region.

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