Ar. Shashi Prabhu talks about his landmark projects and various challenges he faced while designing them in a candid interview with Nisha Shukla
Shashi Prabhu & Associates(SPA) was founded as a sole-proprietorship firm in1967 and later expanded into a multi-disciplinary private partnership company in 1981 and is today one of the leading multi-Architecture, Engineering and Project Management company & disciplinary design firms in India. The firm has, to date, delivered numerous high-profile projects in the country which have acclaimed local, national and international accolade. Together, with a team of over 100 Architects, engineers and Interior Designers, Master Planners, Town Planners, Construction managers and administrators led by three active planners- Ar. Shashi Prabhu, Atul and Amol Prabhu. SPA provides a comprehensive range of services right from design solutions, concepts all the way through construction management with the use of latest materials and modern technology. The firm is headquartered in Mumbai and has offices in Pune, Hyderabad, Goa, Amravati, Delhi & Dubai. The firm has a wide range of expertise in Sports, Healthcare, Education, Residential, Hospitality and Infrastructure sector. The firm has successfully delivered numerous high- profile projects in the country such as Wankhede Stadium, Lilavati Hospital, Hurkisondas Hospital, SVP Inoor Stadium in Mumbai & Indira Gandhi Stadium in Delhi that housed the Asian games in 1992, the Sports city in Hyderabad that played the Afro-Indian games in 2002. In the following interview, Ar. Shashi Prabhu divulges candid details about his architectural journey, challenges and other interests.
What inspired you to take up architecture as a profession?
Right from my schooling days, I had an aptitude for drawing and especially for 3D rendering. Since I had natural inclination for sketching, I found architecture as an apt career choice to carry forward my passion. Also, I was inspired by my elder brother who ran a successful Civil Engineering firm in the UK. And that’s how both these factors led me into Architecture.
Describe your style of designing. Who has influenced your design styles?
In the beginning of my practice, I happened to meet Member of Parliament & Architect Mr. Piloo Mody through my friend Late Subhash Akshikar. He was working with Modi & Colgan as a Senior Architect and their style of designing usually dealt with bold and straight lines and working on grid lines, which in a way inf1uenced my designs.
Who have been your mentors?
My brother and his company, his achievements and designs, engineering challenges undertaken by him in U.K. were my motivation and during those days I had nobody from my family who knew architecture.
You have a bouquet of projects to your credit – Sports, Hospitality, Healthcare, Residential, Institutional , Education, and Civic & Government. What type of projects do you particularly enjoy the most?
Although I personally enjoy Healthcare and Sports projects due to their technical complexities, each project offers their unique set of challenges. We are now working in areas of hospitality, mass housing, infrastructure , transportation and interior projects where we are able to learn new things every day and apply these learnings to our other projects.
Tell us about the various challenges you faced while working on the historic Wankhade stadium project? Explain in detail your overall experience working on its design?
The clients gave me a brief to design a stadium with a capacity to accommodate 40,000 people, in order to conduct both national and international matches. For designing a stadium, it essential to take into consideration a number of aspects such as players dressing rooms, commentary box, media box, ingress of the spectators (especially in case of any commotion), the sizes and number of exits & di stance between two exits, providing clear vision for every spectator, public address system, flood lighting system etc.
Designing Wankhede Stadium was a major challenge for me as at that time I was very young in the industry and also, I had to complete this mammoth project in less than 12 months. It was a challenge taken by Mr. Wankhede and his team of Bombay Cricket Association who created the facility for cricket test matches which was then scheduled in January 1 975. Also, there was a major dispute going between Cricket Club of India & Bombay Cricket Association on the number of tickets to be shared between them. Back then, Mr. Wankhede had asked
Mr. Vijay Merchant for 1500 tickets in order to distribute them to import ant dignitaries and members of Bombay Cricket Association, which was refused by Mr. Vijay Merchant. Hence, Mr. Wankhade instructed his committee members to construct a new cricket stadium in the then Lloyds Recreation Ground near Churchgate, which was subsequently named after him as Wankhede Stadium.
The area available on Lloyds Recreation Ground was 13 acres and it was not even in a perfect rectangular shape, but was sufficient enough to accommodate a cricket stadium. On the South side, there was Bombay Cricket Association Ground whereas on the West side, there were rows of existing buildings and on the East side, the plot boundary was touching the Western Railway line and on the North was the University Ground. Hence, the East and West sides did not have enough space to construct stands as it was done for the North Stand and therefore 2 tier stands were proposed.
Another challenge was to provide proper vision of entire field for every spectator sitting in the stadium. Therefore, the site condition & the dimension available for accommodating the present Wankhede Stadium was the biggest challenge and not to forget the trauma of negative publicity which may affect one’s confidence. However, Mr. Wankhede’s unw avering support and confidence in me helped me to keep going and as a result the project proved to be a grand success.
When did your firm venture into healthcare segment and how is its designing different from other sectors?
After the successful completion of Wankhede Stadium in 1 974, we started receiving more projects specific to stadiums and sports complexes. While we successfully executed numerous projects in this sector, I was looking forward to expanding my horizon by undertaking challenging projects in other segments as well. Alike sports complexes, I was equally passionate about healthcare. Health care Planning, like sports architecture, is a technically specific field which depends highly on flowcharts and operating procedures. Not only was I lucky at that time to be able to attend numerous international study tours in USA and the USSR to evaluate and understand healthcare practices and planning in developed nations, I was also fortunate to have received my first project in the healthcare sector which dealt with building a 700 bed multi-specialty hospital for Thane Municipal Corporation, which we planned on a Spine & Pavilion architecture.
Though the design appeared to be quite simplistic, the unique configuration of the spines and the pavilions allowed for ease of connectivity between various departments such as consulting & diagnostic OPDs, Radiology & Pathology Lab, Surgical Suites, etc.
The pavilions on either side, comprised of Recovery Wards including wards for patients suffering from burn injuries along with ancillary support faciIities, etc. Subsequently, ended up designing 4 other large multi specialty hospitals at Pimpri, Pune and Mumbai, each accommodating 750 beds.
Do you prefer scribbling your design or are you technology savvy?
While the tools may have changed recently with the advancement in technology, scribbling is an essential part of designing which hasn’t changed much in many years. In my opinion, it is one of the most important parts of the brainstorming process. I still believe in sketching on a tracing paper to make the subject clear and try to view the design in various dimensions. The added dimension is the ability of our offices to now make use of the newer software that enables quicker conversion of these sketches into 3d models. However, the basic idea behind the sketching and the scribbling remains the same.
Tell us something about your recently completed or on-going projects?
I have been lucky to have got projects that have made a significant impact to the surrounding areas. Project s such as Wankhede Stadium, that was utilized as a venue for World Cup Final, The Indoor Stadium at National Sports Club of India, that is currently one of the leading cultural and sports venues in Mumbai City, or the Balewadi Sports City that is the largest integrated sport s city in Maharashtra and which was used as a venue to host the youth Commonwealth Games, have made not only national but international presence.
Today, our office is working on variety of projects in Sport s, Healthcare, Hospitality, Infrastructure, Housing and misc. sectors. We are currently working on modernizing 13 State Transport bus depots for MSRTC, Upgrading and Renovating the designing of 10,000 unit township for Maharashtra Police at Panvel, a Grand Memorial for Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar at Shivaji Park, Five major tertiary care hospitals in Mumbai, Five major hospitals in Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation, and host of other projects around the country.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
The most challenging part of the job is to be able to seaml essly wear different hat s as and when required – once while functioning as an architect for the project while imagining the project from the eyes of client, and at other times while listening to the needs of your office to deliver projects within constantly shrinking time expectations . The continuously changing technology does add a different complexity to the project.
One thing that your clients really appreciate about you?
One of our key strengths has always been our abili ty to be able to complete the project given to us, no matter what, and as far as possible, without any litigations. We have, at times, even invested our personal resourc es to achieve such goals. I am proud to say that our record for project completion after it has been awarded to us has been over 98%.
Any notable change you would like to bring in Indian architecture?
Basically, the change should start from the foundation i.e. from Architecture Schools. Off lately, it has been seen that student s who pursue Architecture as a stream are not well versed with the curriculum and are clueless about their own future. Besides, it is very important to have a qualified faculty in colleges who possess knowledge both practical and theoretical, especially of current trends in architecture and construction detailing. The current trend is all about dealing with architectural engineering where engineering support is continuously required to meet challenges.
Any material you’d like to experiment with …
Many materials are coming for the external facade, wall claddings, fixtures, fittings. However, the word of precaution is that unless the material is tested by practising architects with their certification, architects should apply their own mind in certifying materials.
Any particular artist/architect/innovator whose works you most admire?
I definitely admire Charles Correa.
Any historical monument/building that has impressed and inspired you?
Taj Mahal. The structure’s vastness is realised when anybody visits the Taj Mahal from close proximity.
What, in your opinion, is the future of design in India
The future looks bright, as the new age technology is changing the way the architecture was taught and perceived. Today with the help of advance d technology, it is possible to get data of buildings/ architecture of different countries. Hence, it is easy for them to base their ideas of the building which have been designed by the renowned architects elsewhere in th e world.
If not an architect, then you would have been…
I was destined to be an Architect. Never thought about anything else , but if not an architect then maybe a Cricketer!
What interests you outside work? What are your hobbies?
When I was young, I loved playing Tennis and Cricket. While I am unable to read much these days except for newspapers, I do love to travel and understand various geographic importance of cities and regions. During my visits, I also try to understand the architecture in different countries, the people and their lifestyle, etc.
Share one piece of advice to the upcoming architect or designer?
In my opinion, an Architect is a born architect & not just made by completing a certain curriculum. One has to have a natural inclination towards art, history, humanity and sciences, in order to expressing one’s architectural language. Be passionate about whatever you are doing. If you are really keen on pursuing architecture then only go for it, don’t pursue it as a second career choice and always keep hunger for learning.