Rahul Mehrotra studied at the School of Architecture, Ahmedabad, India and soon after graduated with a master’s degree in Urban Design from the Graduate School of Design, Harvard University, USA. Rather than staying in the US, Mehrotra returned home to India in 1988, eager to be a part of the changing social and political world that was engulfing India. Establishing his firm RMA Architects soon after, Mehrotra has designed a number of high profile buildings in India, varying in scale and intent, including; Maskara Gallery (Mumbai), KMC Corporate Office (Hyderabad), Hewlett-Packard Software Campus (Bengaluru) and the Campus for Magic Bus (Panvel). Beyond architectural design, Mehrotra and his firm have been actively involved in civic and urban affairs (specifically in Mumbai), participated in neighbourhood groups to campaign for conservation and environmental issues, written extensively on urban planning in India and was invited to compose the conservation master plan for the Taj Mahal. In fact, “RMA architects see no divisions between the disciplines of urban design, planning, landscape, historic preservation and architecture, research and advocacy…. they are all intrinsic to the process of an architect’s meaningful engagement with cities.”
Rahul Mehrotra’s designs are embedded in the concept that the architecture and urban landscape of India is pluralistic – a multiethnic and multicultural landscape that has changed and blended overtime, from the earliest days of the Maharaja’s to the colonial influence of the British to the modern display of urban skyskrapers and slum cities – every aspect and feature has a place and reflects an identity. Or as Mehrotra himself states: “cities are physical artifacts, and culture and place are what give them expression.” Thus, Mehrotra is concerned with the amount of global capital that is being spent in Indian cities, and subsequently “bullying its way physically to create a presence and a polarization… I don’t think we can go the China way, where everything is made in a singular image.” As a result, RMA Architects have the idea of ‘softening thresholds’ between different sectors of society as one of their guiding principles, to reduce the distinction between rich and poor. For example, Mehrotra campaigns for the decrease of gated communities as they de-centralise civic services such as sewage and clean water, reducing accessibility for those in poorer situations, and when working for wealthier clients, insists on luxurious interiors, as opposed to exteriors, to minimise the flaunting of wealth. From this ideal of equity it is hoped that cities would become far more efficient, sustainable, localised and allow for high-quality basic amenities for all. Having worked in Mumbai for over 20 years, Mehrotra is familiar with the conditions in rapidly growing cities, what he refers to as the “kinetic city”, and the type of planning that a city such as this may entail. The ‘Kinetic City’ consists of informal settlements, shantytowns and improvisational market areas erected in a transitory manner without official planning or permission – a phenomenon that effects many of the largest and moderate sized cities in the developing world. For Mehrotra, sustainability, both social and environmental, lies in understanding how these settlements can be appropriately planned and responded to by city governments; how rapid sanitation, transport and electricity can be deployed for residents; how cultural identity in this space provides familiarity and comfort, and thus so too should the built environment respond to cultural identity – as Mehrotra emphasises, the old adage “thinking globally, acting locally” is the best way to create a positive sustainable impact. On a practical level, mechanisms such as double façade skins to modulate light and air, the implementation of traditional designs such as shading and ‘jalis’ to create energy efficient spaces and incorporating green spaces around buildings are all measures used in Mehrotra’s designs to encourage ecological sustainability and localised development.
In conjunction with all of the above, Rahul Mehrotra is a Professor of Urban Design and Planning and Chair of the Department of Urban Planning and Design at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design; founder of the Indian Institute for Human Settlements in India; exhibited internationally; written and edited multiple publications and lectured extensively on design, architecture and urban planning; and continues to advocate for urban precincts, socially responsive design and equitable, pluralistic development in India.
KMC Corporate Office
Built in Hyderabad, also known as Cyber City, the KMC Corporate Office building – a company that builds roads and bridges - stands as a unique example of Rahul Mehrotra’s work. Utilising the idea of a double skin façade, the building is able to modulate the amount of light and air that enters through the building. The inner skin of the structure is a reinforced concrete frame with aluminium windows, whilst the outer skin comprises of a custom cast aluminium trellis with hydroponic trays, implemented for growing a variety of plants – changeable over the course of the year to create varying aesthetic displays and bring attention to different parts of the building. The trellis incorporates a misting system in order to control and regulate the amount of water released on to the plants, while simultaneously keeping the interior of the building cool – a traditional method adapted for modern use. Unlike many other corporate buildings in India, workers can also open their windows to allow for natural ventilation and take advantage of the cool ‘temporal cloud’ the mist creates around the surface of the building. Air conditioners are still in use however as occupants see the technological mechanism as a status symbol – an attitude Mehrotra is hoping to change with future developments.
Embracing Mehrotra’s concept of ‘softening the threshold’ created by class differences, the KMC Building employs up to 20 gardeners who work throughout the site - a measure taken to remind office workers and gardeners alike of the interconnectedness of society. Furthermore, the building reflects the client at hand with the lobby of each floor featuring decorative rusted steel walls to reflect the type of material used in bridges and the anodized aluminium latticework that holds the plants resembles construction scaffolding. The social and local responsiveness of Mehrotra’s design is a statement against the globalised ‘one-size fits all’ model that has penetrated India’s architectural landscape, a style he believes “symbolizes India’s new economy, cut off from the country’s history and wilfully ignoring the poverty that still exists.” Combining these factors, with the buildings ability to demonstrate the relevance of traditional cooling systems of humidified surfaces, the KMC Corporate Office is a testament to Mehrotra’s commitment to tangible examples of social and environmental sustainability in India.