“ARCHITECTURE IS A COLLABORATION WITH PEOPLE, IDEAS AND ATTITUDES”
Be it industrial and institutional buildings or office interiors and bungalows, architect Shimul Javeri Kadri has been changing the way we view design since 1990, when she set up SJK Architects
The SJK Architects office in Mumbai perfectly resonates with their design policy—contextual, contemporary and crafted. Shimul Javeri Kadri’s work space is minimalistic and contemporary with a dash of colour thrown in through the vibrant table cover and a pink swing-seat. As she sits down for a chat, the 55-year-old rolls up the window blinds to reveal a row of balcony plants, vistas of the old tiled roofs and towering buildings in the Byculla neighbourhood, juxtaposing the new with the old.
Architectural vision for a project
Architecture is a collaboration with people, ideas and attitudes. Every project is about two serious aspirations—how it is speaking for the client’s aspirations and what is it doing for the current milieu and the social context it is sitting in. We first understand the client’s vision and then create a vision that the client can be a partner in. It’s also a highly collaborative team effort. The entire team of consultants must participate and contribute to the vision as will a plethora of contractors, artisans and vendors. It’s like making a film—finding and aligning all the skill sets to pull together and converge successfully is a challenge not only until the building is built, but through its life and with the various occupants , who bring their own stories into the vision.
On how her design attitude has evolved
The biggest change has been clarity. When I started out as a young architect in 1990 like most others, I struggled with my design attitude. I was fascinated by the highly climate and resource-driven indigenous architecture of India which varied from the wadas to the havelis to the forts and gave us structures that are so appropriate. The 90s ushered in liberalisation with newer materials and technologies and the expressions in the built environment were almost scary—with a ‘me too’ syndrome
of overbuilding in glass and Alucobond (an aluminium composite material). Finding my voice and holding it strong while inculcating the beauty of change has been an interesting journey.
Contextual, crafted and contemporary
We have a two-fold client—the immediate client who is commissioning the project and the society. We need to see what the structure will do for society, what will be the symbolism. We are working on an agriculture research and training centre in Latur where we are bringing in sustainable and sensible living practices. It’s an ecologically sensitive and historically important area so we have used fly ash bricks to create a well shaded and solid structure which shields itself from the strong sunlight and at the same time, uses steel arches that lend it a contemporary look and a stature that the project needs because it pays tribute to a public figure. Similarly, in Gujarat, we are doing a museum dedicated to Jainism where we have brought in religious symbolism by designing it along the principles of a Jain mandala and purposefully retained the simplicity and purity of a white structure that brings back memories of Jain temples.
Architecture in India
I wish I could say there has been a dramatic change but there isn’t. I expected we would have amazing public projects but the only area of investment seems to be in residential buildings. Government isn’t playing patron to encourage innovative architecture and therefore, there’s way too little happening in public architecture, a reason India isn’t making a mark internationally. Often the lowest bidder gets the project and you really cannot get innovation through that. Public projects should be up for competition and these should be honoured. Also, architecture needs to be discussed more so people are aware of good architecture and design.
Nurturing people at SJK
I have three partners in the firm who bring in a lot of energy and technical know-how, a strong culture of research and exploration. We emphasise on individual growth so every day at lunch we see videos on any topic from the Commonwealth Games to the Pulitzer to books. Our ‘Fridays at Five’ is a fun session where we invite people to come and speak about their profession; we’ve even had an origami session once. It’s a playful and hardworking set-up where we don’t follow specific work timings but abide by a very strong work ethic.
I enjoy Indian handloom and craft—the joy of colour—and natural metals as jewellery accents (copper, brass and silver); but with architecture, I like sharp contemporary and clean lines.
Dasavatara Hotel, Tirupati (above); and Jain Museum in Koba, Gujarat by SJK Architects