Inside the Mind of Rahul Kadri

“I was exposed to architecture at a very young age. However, growing up, I never wanted to be an architect – I was fond of horses and wanted a stud farm”, says Rahul Kadri, son of pioneering Indian architect, I.M. Kadri. Senior Kadri was heavily influenced by Mughal architecture; jallis and furling gardens made for a distinctive mark of his work. Today – at 94 years of age and 65 years after opening the revered IMK Architects – I.M. Kadri steers the firm as a partner with his son, Rahul Kadri. Junior Kadri, a post-graduate in urban planning, has been a director at the firm since 1995; in these years, he has not only managed to do justice to his father’s legacy but has also carved his own niche. If one calls I.M. Kadri’s style visionary and defining post-independent India, Rahul’s work can be called simple, rooted and a reverberation of modern India.

At first instance, this seems like a typical story of a son following in a father’s footsteps. Yet Rahul’s obsession with architecture and design seems to run deeper than his father’s. All his hobbies revolve in and around design. In his free time, he can be found reading about philosophy and spirituality, seeking inspiration in the most unexpected places.

If an architect father was not enough, Rahul even got married to one! Rahul is spouse to Shimul Javeri Kadri, the founder and principal architect of the eclectic firm SJK Architects. But even before crossing paths with Shimul at undergraduate architecture school, there was another. A man never forgets his first love, and even today Rahul’s passion for his first refuses to die down.

From left to right: I.M. Kadri; Rahul Kadri

“In boarding school at the Sherwood College, Nainital, I spent most of my time walking around in the forest and that’s where my love affair with nature started. This early relationship with nature infused within me a deep passion for creating buildings and spaces in harmony with their natural context. At around the age of fifteen, I remember my father taking me and my siblings for a drive around the city of Mumbai. He wanted to show us some of his buildings. He took us on three drives, and it was really those drives that made me realise what a difference it makes when you start looking at buildings in a different way, and my love for buildings began from there.”

Rahul Kadri has an approach to architecture that runs in parallel with his commitment to sustainability. Sustainability is a core tenet of Rahul’s work and stays the protagonist at both the macro and micro stages of his designs. His message is simple and powerful – “Sustainability is not just a buzzword but a way of life.” 

His love for design extends far beyond the realm of buildings. To him, the natural world is not something to be conquered or tamed, but rather an essential partner in the design process. With his unbridled creativity and deep reverence for nature, his design philosophy is rooted in four key principles: Timeless Design, Social Responsiveness, Environmental Holism, and Economical Robustness. 

The Kadri Connection – A Father and Son’s Shared Love for Architecture

Growing up as the son of renowned architect I.M. Kadri, Rahul was always surrounded by blueprints, building plans, and towering structures. He was deeply influenced by his father’s architectural designs, which incorporated principles of biophilic architecture long before it became a popular trend. He reminisces, “One of my inspirations was Fort Aguada Beach Resort, Goa. I love how the design dramatically introduces itself to the sea. In fact, all of his projects – from CEAT Mahal, Rama International, Aurangabad, and The Oberoi, Bangalore incorporate nature in a magical way.” Every building tells a story, and for I.M. Kadri, the story was one of form and function in perfect harmony. “The structures designed by him exhibit a form that is closely aligned with their functions. For instance, in the case of the Shiv Sagar Estate in Mumbai, the five identical hexagonal towers serve as distinctive landmarks that signal the start of commercial hubs within the city,” says Rahul.

Sustainability at Macro Level – The Case of JSW Hillside Township, Bellary

At the macro level of design, sustainability is not just a box to be ticked, but a conscious effort to create a lasting impact on the environment and society. Rahul explains, “The first step to sustainability is to identify the goals of the master plan. This could be preserving the rich biodiversity of the cities, rainwater water harvesting, reducing carbon emissions, enhancing health and safety, and the quality of life. Based on these long-term goals of sustainable cities, strategies like promoting renewable energy, increasing public transportation, creating green spaces, and improving water management can be implemented.”

JSW Hillside Township, Bellary, is a shining example of how sustainable development can be achieved at the macro level. The township spans 115 acres of land, featuring a mix of 1 & 2-bedroom apartment buildings. Instead of relying on high-density development, the buildings are arranged into small, self-sustaining clusters that foster a sense of community and minimize their environmental impact. This approach has reduced the need for building infrastructure and resources, ensuring that the development maintains the delicate balance of ecosystem services like clean air and water, while also creating a healthy habitat for local wildlife.

”Oftentimes, we don’t pay attention to how they are photographed. Our buildings are sometimes too difficult to photograph because they are nestled in nature. They are very experiential.”

To promote walkability and reduce dependence on private vehicles, public amenities like schools, clubs, town centers, and pavilions are all conveniently located within a 450-meter radius of the residential buildings. This not only helped to improve community health by encouraging physical activity but also significantly reduced the carbon footprint. Dense trees and pockets of greenery provide natural barriers and freshen the streetscape, creating better community interactions. Elaborating further, Rahul continues, “These trees and pockets are also planned inside the habitat to create better community interactions. The buildings within each cluster have been carefully staggered to break the monotony and create a visually appealing streetscape.”

A Spotlight on Rahul’s Most Cherished Projects and Their Key Features

Phase 3 of TATA Chemicals – This housing project prioritizes pedestrians and social interaction by designing welcoming outdoor spaces facing the streets. With careful landscape planning, the architect’s goal was to foster a strong sense of community and encourage residents to form lasting social connections.

The Happy Home School for The Blind – The Happy Home School for the Blind was designed with the goal of creating a cheerful and supportive environment for children. To achieve this, the design incorporates six courtyards that not only add to the aesthetics but are also responsive to the local climate. The result is a space that is not only visually appealing but also comfortable and conducive to learning.

Club Mahindra Resort, Madikeri, Coorg – The Club Mahindra Resort in Madikeri, Coorg, situated on a sprawling coffee plantation, is a project that harmoniously blends with its surrounding landscape. Its unobtrusive design is such that it seamlessly integrates with the natural elements without any impact on the existing flora and fauna. Rahul explains, “The project is located on a slope and minimized the need for cutting and filling. We also understood the local architecture and used its elements to give the guests a sense that it’s always been there – a chance to experience Coorgi architecture.”

“LEED certifications are set up by industries for products, since it’s industry-led and not architect-led, it assumed certain products need to be used. There is no advantage of passively air-conditioned design systems, limiting the orientation of the building. I feel a LEED certification is more suited for conventional buildings that use industrial products. I believe we can do better. LEED does cover a broad range of sustainability criteria, but it does not go far enough in promoting sustainability. It places too much emphasis on achieving a high level of certification rather than being truly sustainable.”

Courtyards and Social Pockets in Indian Architecture: Why They Matter

“In India’s varied climatic zones, courtyards can work across any climate,” asserts Rahul. Courtyards, for example, can be used to provide a space for outdoor gatherings while also allowing for privacy and security. They can also be used to maximize daylight and natural ventilation, while also reducing the need for artificial lighting and air conditioning. Incorporating social pockets such as plazas and gardens within buildings can also help foster a sense of community and provide spaces for relaxation and interaction.

These features have been incorporated into a number of notable projects by IMK Architects, such as Symbiosis International University, Lavale and the Sona College of Technology, Salem, Tamil Nadu.  Rahul maintains, “These courtyards act as pause points or spaces for students to collaborate and work or relax and enjoy. These spaces allow students to export their learning out of the classroom and into more relaxed and beautiful surroundings that encourage creativity and out-of-the-box thinking.”

Sustainability in Summary – Rahul’s Key Parameters

Rahul presents us with a roadmap to sustainable building practices and breaks down the key pillars of sustainability under the following heads. He highlights a checklist as under –

A) Passive design: It is crucial to plan your structure to harness natural resources without the need for mechanical systems. Passive design strategies can help reduce energy consumption, increase comfort, and improve indoor air quality. 

B) Adaptive Reuse: One can always consider repurposing an existing structure rather than building from scratch while preserving its historical, architectural, cultural significance, and environmental impact.

C) Energy Efficiency: Using energy-efficient HVAC systems, such as geothermal heat pumps, solar panels, STP, air-source heat pumps, or variable refrigerant flow systems, can significantly reduce energy consumption in a structure.

D) Material Selection: Choose sustainable and eco-friendly materials with a lower carbon footprint that can be recycled or reused at the site. This will further help with reducing maintenance costs.

E) Life Cycle Assessment: Considering the long-term impacts of the structure and conducting a life cycle assessment can help evaluate the environmental impact of the building.

F) Indigenous Craftsmanship: When designing and constructing a sustainable building, consider learning from and employing local craftsmen and artisans. This supports the local economy and ensures the structure is well-suited to the environment.

The Indian Architect’s Duty to Create Ethical, Sustainable, and Equitable Spaces

The responsibility of Indian architects is increasingly important in today’s world. They must prioritise sustainability, ethical design, and equitable spaces, taking into account the needs of the community and the environment. This requires a deep understanding of the local culture and environment, and the use of appropriate materials and techniques.

Furthermore, to ensure a sustainable approach, architects should prioritise climate-responsive design. Rahul expresses, “Local materials also are more climate-specific and thus aid passive design techniques. Passive design techniques are location specific and aim to cater to the specific climatic requirements of the place. Using such techniques and design elements usually reduces the cost of the project as well as the future operations and lifecycle cost of the project.” With Rahul’s vision for a more sustainable and efficient future, his words resonate as a call to action for us all.

“Buildings are designed to move in and be felt to enhance their usage. I feel the buildings could be simpler with fewer materials and giving enough justice to the ones we use. “

The Way Forward for Urban Development in India

Navigating the complex terrain of urbanisation demands a thoughtful approach. As urbanisation advances, it can sometimes exceed the capacity of governments to adequately plan for and accommodate growth. Rahul recommends –

A) Setting up a centralised government and a highly professional database for planning and research in urban development. This will help the city reach its goals and visions by conducting interdisciplinary surveys and research, incorporating analytical and participatory approaches to challenges, and engaging public and local authorities in generating and using the data.

B) Increasing the role of the Council of Architecture (COA) or the Indian Institute of Architects (IIA) that can house effective design competitions can also prove fruitful leading to the most innovative and efficient designs.

C) With the change in times, we all have embraced technology as our first choice to resolve our everyday issues, so in the same breath, we need to have our DP (Development Plan) and GIS mapping of our city digitised and made available to urban designers for making better design decisions for the city in future. It is of utmost need and is in tune with the changing needs and urgency of a well-planned world-class city.

D) Most public and urban projects have the potential to transform the city. Unfortunately, most of these projects are planned without considering the most important stakeholders – people. We must decentralise budget-making and planning to the neighbourhood level as a step towards inclusive city-making. The participation of citizens in the planning and budgeting process is key to creating a shared future.

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Date added:

10 May, 2023

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