A LOOK AT INDIA’S BUILT ENVIRONMENT OVER FIVE DECADES

As a newly independent nation, India had to be re-shaped and re-built to fit the modern world. A few enterprising players took the lead to ensure successful results over a fruitful journey. Delhi-based CP Kukreja Architects is one of these. In his new book ‘Five Decades of India’s Built Environment’, Dikshu C. Kukreja, Managing Principal of CP Kukreja Architects has recorded these developments for posterity. He joins Sunday Guardian for an exclusive chat on the occasion. Excerpts from an edited interview:
Q. Please tell us about your book. Who conceptualised it and when?
A. I am a passionate architect, urban planner, environmentalist, and the Managing Principal at CP Kukreja architects (CPKA), headquartered in New Delhi. We also have offices in the US, Vietnam, and Japan. I did my Bachelors in Architecture from the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi, followed by a fellowship from the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture in the US and a Master’s in Architecture and Urban Design from Harvard University. I have worked internationally in the US and France, before coming back to India and joining CPKA in 1997.
At CPKA, we design built environments across scales and typologies, from residential and retail to hospitality and institutional projects. Our work is rooted in contextuality and driven by a sustainable approach reinforced through innovative technologies.
As the title suggests, the book captures the last five decades of India’s built environment. The text navigates the evolution of Indian architecture over the last fifty years through the lens of our fifty-year-old multidisciplinary practice at CPKA. It is a showcase of our landmark architectural projects that have shaped India’s architectural landscape from the post-independence era to the post-liberalised society to the present.
The book is the brainchild of Arunima Kukreja – a passionate writer, interior designer, and philanthropist – and me. Approaching CPKA’s golden anniversary, we went through our archives, looking at our firm’s vast repository of projects that have contributed significantly to our growing nation. We felt that writing this book would be a great way to bring together all that hard work to be known and cherished by all. Our book can be ordered online through Amazon.

Dikshu Kukreja and Arunima Kukreja present their book to the Vice President.

Q. How has it been received so far?
A. We are honoured and humbled to have received excellent reviews for the book.
It has been presented to eminent dignitaries worldwide, who have recommended the edition with enthusiasm, including Shri. M. Venkaiah Naidu, Hon’ble Vice President and V. Muraleedharan, Minister of State from the Ministry of External Affairs, as well as Dr Shashi Tharoor, renowned author and politician. The book has also gathered words of praise from eminent people within the architecture community, including Mr Daniel Hart, President of the American Institute of Architects and Mr Sherif Anis, Executive Director, AIA Middle East Chapter.
Arunima and I were also invited to present the book at the Jaipur Literature Festival, where it was unveiled by His Excellency Ambassador of Norway, Mr Hans Jacob Frydenlund.
Q. What was the process of compiling this book?
A. As CPKA approached 50 years in the industry, we started going through our archives. Put together, it was quite astonishing to see the magnitude of the work carried out by our firm over the last five decades. At the same time, we were also intrigued by the significant transformations that have taken place in India’s architectural vocabulary and building landscape during this period. Thus, we decided to document our firm’s work and share it with the world, portraying the profound changes that have taken place in the urban environment in cities across India through the lens of our fifty-year-old architecture practice. Led by Arunima Kukreja, the book is the result of a rigorous effort over two years in the midst of the pandemic.

Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Q. Please share three of the most striking memories in this 50-year period.
A. My first striking memory is when my father, Mr CP Kukreja, as a young man in his early 30s, went on to win the design competition for the Jawaharlal Nehru University in 1969. The JNU campus was deemed a trendsetter with its comprehensive and contextual master planning and multidisciplinary approach towards architecture.
Another one of my fond memories is when I joined CPKA in 1997. At this stage, there was a confluence of ideas between mine and Mr Kukreja’s. While the two of us had divergent personalities and opinions, we shared a similar philosophy towards work and life. Both of us sought to make people’s lives better and have a profound impact on society’s expectations of what architecture should stand for, by building along with nature rather than at the cost of it.
The third memory is when our firm was chosen among the top 100 architectural practices in the world and I was selected by the Union of International Architects in Paris, amongst the top 100 architects globally in 2021. I was also happy and humbled when our design for the India Pavilion at the Dubai Expo was lauded world-over and was selected among the top three pavilion designs globally. It became a significant game-changer in bringing contemporary Indian architecture onto the global map.
Q. How else are you commemorating this 50-year milestone?
A. We are very thrilled about completing half a century in the industry. We are commemorating this special occasion in many ways, starting with the launch of our book, Five Decades of India’s Built Environment. We have also collaborated with the National Association of Students of Architecture (NASA) and instituted a design competition and scholarship for students of architecture through the CP Kukreja Foundation for Design. Moreover, we are also going around the world exhibiting our work at CPKA over the last five decades. The exhibition was held in Dubai and Seoul in 2021, and it is also going to be a part of the upcoming London Festival of Architecture in June. We also organised in-house celebrations with our beloved team at CPKA.
Q. What are you working on next?
A. We are working on many critical projects that keep the atmosphere in our office positive and charged with excitement. Our team has just completed the master planning of Ayodhya city, and we are looking forward to its implementation. The ongoing East Delhi Hub, which will be India’s first and largest transit-oriented development project, is another one of our endeavours. It will be home to Delhi’s tallest building. A number of other projects are also in the works.
Besides this, we are also working on some exciting international projects in countries such as Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nigeria, and Kenya. Further, to take conversations around urban issues to the mainstream, I am working on an upcoming show, ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ soon to be aired on WION. In the show, I will converse with global leaders from major metros around the world on critical global and local issues in urban design and planning, and potential solutions.

Noor Anand Chawla pens lifestyle articles for various publications and her blog www.nooranandchawla.com. She can be reached on nooranand@gmail.com.

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