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Bricks and bobs of Pune design

Pune's leading architects open up about the achievements and challenges of urban architecture and design

A view of Pune city from Vetal Hill. Photo: Alamy
A view of Pune city from Vetal Hill. Photo: Alamy

Patron. That is someone who is required if the design and architecture around us is to be pleasing, functional and harmonious. Tall order? No, argues Pune-based Christopher Benninger, co-founder, chairman and principal architect at CCBA Designs.

“Pune continues to have good design because there are patrons of the arts and architecture. The industrialists, from the Kirloskar, Bajaj, Forbes Marshall and Tanti families, all value good design. Forbes wanted its factory, with 600 people working there, to have good design because it would make employees feel good about the place they worked in. The Tantis wanted a sustainable office campus, so, instead of a skyscraper, they’ve chosen a low-rise. The Kirloskars stressed design for their Kirloskar Institute of Advanced Management Studies and the Bajaj Institute of Technology in Wardha claims their campus wooed students, their parents and the faculty," says Benninger. The US-born architect designed that campus, as well as the Kirloskar Management Academy, factories for the Forbes Marshall group, and the Suzlon campus.

Echoing the need for patrons, Ranjit Wagh, partner, Dar and Wagh, a Pune-based interiors and architecture firm, says architects must engage with these patrons, including the civic bureaucracy, for good design.

Benninger expands his list of patrons to include political parties (“all political parties in Pune approach us for small projects to improve their localities") and builders (“some builders are patrons of good design"). He adds young designers, their teachers and some influential citizens to this group, making practically everyone a stakeholder in the ecosystem for good design.

The architects say there are too many colleges of architecture, with no control over quality, and cut-throat competition for the relatively few jobs available. “It is a national crisis, we have too many schools of architecture and too many students," says Benninger. He recalls that in 1968, when he came to India, there were nine schools of architecture, each taking in 15-20 students. Today, the country has over 450 colleges of architecture, with 80 students each (some take in 120 students). So, every year, some 40,000 students graduate. This is way too many since every student is supposed to intern with a certified architect or studio for six months and there just aren’t enough of those. Benninger adds: “I can take in only 10 students annually. There are 10 times more students!"

Then, there are schools of interior design, some of which offer courses of very short duration, producing designers who may not be technically competent. Raju Mahagaonkar, an award-winning architect who ended his over 20-year old practice to work as an independent consultant, points to the fact that architects have to be affiliated to, and licenced by, the Council of Architecture. There is no similar body of professionals governing the field of interior design, so anyone can become an interior designer.

The gardens of the 18th century capital of the Peshwas, Shaniwar Wada. Photo: Alamy

Among the hazards facing architects is the fairly widespread violation of the council’s mandated fee structure for architects. While the fee for institutional projects is supposed to be 5% of the construction cost, this is circumvented all too often. Architects often work for just 1% of the cost and are expected to make up their fees through commissions from other service providers (such as paint or tiles).

Mahagaonkar, Benninger, Wagh and his partner Amber Dar Wagh are unanimous in their opposition to this practice. Benninger, in fact, goes so far as to allege that some public institutions and others routinely flout this norm and says they should stop their practice of working on the basis of L-1 (lowest bidder).

“Design cannot be selected on a percentage basis. The health of the city is at stake; focus on the design," he says.

All is not lost, though. Architects like Mahagaonkar and Wagh maintain there are still enough developers who care for design. Wagh stresses the need to engage with the developer or the civic bureaucrat; change can happen through dialogue, he says. “There is the larger social responsibility but architects alone cannot carry that burden. Planning rules have a larger impact than architectural design on society. The choice is then to either become a planner, or engage with the planners. We need patrons, so engage with the (new) patrons who may be town planners," he says.

So, is there such a thing as “Pune design"? Perhaps not, but, as Amber Dar Wagh puts it, it is distinct from the “loud, in-your-face Mumbai design. Pune has retained its identity despite being a next-door neighbour of Mumbai".

Mahagaonkar, however, says they haven’t been able to create a symbol of architecture that resonates with the city and its culture. “There is the Shaniwar Wada, built in the 18th century, which stands for Pune. Nothing after that," he says.

Architecture, like its practitioners and end users, is changing and evolving constantly, so it could be called a work-in-progress. The new monuments today are the residential towers which have replaced bungalows or low-rise buildings with their deep verandas, factories which aren’t merely functional, sprawling information technology parks, and malls.

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