Army personnel, across the globe, do a selfless duty to their nations. They are treated with high regards here in India as well. The Government of India takes proper care when it comes to providing facilities to them and their loved ones. The Director Generals’ Married Accommodation Project (DG MAP) is one of the examples which shows that while they stand tall at their line of duty, the nation takes care of their families in the best possible manner.
DG MAP today has become one of the largest construction projects of the Ministry of Defence. Santosh Sinha, Editor, RealtyMyths got an opportunity to interact with Ms.Mitu Mathur, Director at GPM Architects and Planners, the real brain behind this project. Read the excerpts of the interaction where they discuss the features of this project and other industry-related developments.
Q. Designing housing projects for Army and DGMAP must have been challenging as well as fascinating. How do you approach such projects considering you get an opportunity to serve those who serve the nation?
A. Director Generals’ Married Accommodation Projects (DG MAP) was envisioned to eradicate the lack of married accommodation for Defence service personnel. Today, it is one of the largest construction projects of the Ministry of Defence, which aims at complete alleviation of housing hardships faced by India’s brave soldiers, especially in remote areas. Port Blair DGMAP provided an opportunity to design for the defense forces on an unconventional site, with respect to extreme challenges of accessibility and resource efficacy.
The mammoth scale of the project for 200 dwelling units, spanning over 200 acres, spread across 7 sites, costing over 890 Crores, posed an exciting challenge; to create livelihood that would have a significant social impact on the small island town of Port Blair, Andaman Nicobar Islands, India.
Since 2009, The GPM team consisting of architects, engineers and project execution have been working arduously in close coordination with the DGMAP team, for almost 10 years to get the project phases handed over subsequently to the deserving defense families, who have been eagerly waiting for the much-needed residential community.
Q. Are there any specific protocols or requirements from the Armed Force management? How would you describe the DGMAP project in Port Blair?
A. Today, there is an increasing necessity for a contemporary residential community that integrates sustainable building technologies, aesthetically appealing finishes, child and elderly-friendly environment and a safe atmosphere, which at the same time, is cost-effective for our developing economy. The brief called for housing units of this nature; that are developed as social settlements for the defense personnel in Port Blair encompassing the basic facilities for a moderate and fulfilling life.
The major requirement here was to bridge the gap between available resources and the community and equip the neighbourhood with sustainable practices and technological advancements. Practically, very less building material was locally available and raw material provisioned from the mainland by ship needed 4-5 days and more during the rains. This required meticulous planning of resources, especially when only 5-6 months are considered as working season.
To address the challenges of community, accessibility & dependence on mainland, the locals were trained and employed for various positions. Sand and aggregate were locally procured, with further provision of processing construction material on site, such as Hollow Concrete Blocks. The PMC Team had to integrate itself with the contractor’s team to resolve the issues during execution, in real time. Hence, the project emphasized on developing local skill, resource mobility with participatory micro-planning and incorporate sustainable measures of development & resource management.
Gradually, the neighborhood evolved to support the residential community and surrounding infrastructure.
Furthermore, the terrain has been extremely challenging for the design, owing to extremely varying slopes. Out of the 7 contoured sites on site A2 for Army, spread over 116 acres of land, the challenges of a heavily contoured site and uneven soil conditions were used as an opportunity to design a township that evolved with the optimization of the natural slope.
The site planning adopted a landscape-integrated approach, where the placement of built volumes respects the natural levels and the climatic factors, resulting in optimum solar orientation and a free flow of wind, to create a comfortable ambience. The intermittent greens and adaptation of local character have been integrated to derive a visually aesthetic appeal.
Q. It has been more than 30 years into this business, how does it feel when you look back and analyze the journey?
A. Our Firm brings with it a legacy of 40 years now, a diverse portfolio of commercial, residential, hospitality, institutional, infrastructure, interiors, urban planning, and industrial projects across the country. This gives our clients a glimpse of our all-round capabilities, as well as a glimpse of our core skills, expertise, and team talent.
Throughout this journey, we have treated our buildings as not just plain architecture but an art form that speaks of its history and geography. Our team of experts have believed in excellence throughout the design process, gaining in-depth knowledge of local markets, skills as designers; and client-focused outlook, all contributing to the creation of unique, innovative build fabric, which responds not only to the stakeholders’ needs, but also to the context, culture and climate. A global outlook has successfully enabled us to establish collaborations with international design firms, who we associate with for large scale projects and expert assistance.
In the last 40 years, we have seen a shift in how buildings are designed, constructed, and interact with its users and immediate surroundings.In the recent past, with rapid changes in the environment all around us, it has become vital to imbibe sustainable and biologically balanced architecture. At the same time with changing tastes and lifestyles, architecture must be an enriching experience for the user. Another contemporary change that has occurred over time is the use of digital tools in architecture and its integration with current design trends.
Q.What are your upcoming projects? Is there any systematic process that you follow at your organization before approaching a project?
A. An Architect is like an artist who can visualize and envision an idea and then put it down on paper and build it forward like an engineer. Essentially one’s imagination and thoughts pave the way to create something which is socially acceptable and aesthetically pleasing to the human vision. Our mantra is: “KarmanyeVadhikaraste Ma PhaleshuKadachana”; meaning – focus on your karma and passion, be detached from its outcome, do not be driven by the end product, enjoy the process of getting there. A thought that drives us to put in best efforts in whatever we do, be it at home or at work.
While designing every project, the approach is centred around the 3C’s – Context, Culture & Climate.
The context is usually what drives the statistics of the project, which are reflected in the numbers – areas, FAR, contours, etc. Its proximity to other businesses and its locational dynamics help define the program of the project. The culture aspect is the most interesting, that brings life and scale to the forces at work. Inspired by the people who we are designing for, their values, habits, aspirations, imagination and engagement, the project spaces are shaped. Climate is sacred to every design aspect, with respect to the five elements.
The orientation of built-mass, size of openings, light and wind penetration, utilization of water and plant elements are critical aspects of any design approach. Every project should have a story to tell. Our conceptual approach is experience driven, guided by a vision to create recognizable and interesting architecture and urban spaces. Urban infrastructure integration and sensitivity at local scale plays a key role in the design direction for our projects.
Currently, we are doing various projects with NBCC towards the revitalization of South Delhi and redevelopment of several railway stations across the country. Also, marking our presence internationally, projects like Mahatama Gandhi Convention Centre in Malawi (Africa), National Library and National Archives, Central Forensic Lab, Police Academy in Mauritius are in good progress.
Q. Being an architect how do you rate India’s current town planning mechanism? Do you see a scope of improvement?
A. India, being a developing economy, is facing the problem of acute urbanization. The existing urban cities are not designed to bear this much load. Fortunately, the government is proposing a planned expansion of some of the major cities under the 100 Smart Cities project.
Cities need to constantly evolve and act as channels of generating economy for its people to sustain, grow and be satisfied. One critical aspect is for a city is to create excitement for its people, get them engaged with their context, hence generate interest and a sense of ownership.
We need to learn to celebrate our past, by not restricting our architectural expression imitating it, but by highlighting it with contemporary architecture that glorifies it. Its critical that we move on and establish a new aesthetic language while respecting the icons of the past. There successful examples in cities like Vienna, Bilbao, Beirut whose economies have greatly benefitted by paying attention to its architecture. These cities have redeveloped the historical landmarks with modern details flanked with new architecture and landscape elements, which act as attractive hot-spots for the citizens, especially younger generation. The historical landmarks have become spaces for inspiration for the youth who take pride in their past and enjoy the city’s beauty at the same time.
We as Urban designers and architects can contribute drastically by thinking Global, but acting Local. The architectural and planning fraternity need to work in collaboration with each other and also in close conjunction with the development authorities. The focus should be on bridging the gap between architecture and planning and bring in a wholistic vision for a progressive city. Currently building complexes are treated as isolated pockets of development and do not converge to form a larger picture. The new developments should be looked from a broader perspective on an urban scale that facilitates ease of access for pedestrians, cyclists and gives preference to public transport. At the same time, promoting new architectural style, which portrays the global presence of our cities.
Our future developments need to be derived with a Piecemeal approach that can have a significant impact, if large pockets of development are tied up to a bigger infrastructure network. Town planning can be seen as an opportunity to upgrading and energizing the city’s dying and inadequate infrastructure.
As we are a country driven by numbers, even small efforts towards proper town planning can pave way for a greater impact!