Rahul Kadri, the Partner and Principal Architect at IMK Architects, was exposed to architecture at a very young age since his father is an architect. At first, he never wanted to follow the expected career route but while in boarding school at Sherwood College in Nainital, he spent most of his time walking around the forest, which sparked a love affair with nature. It was this connection to nature that infused within him a deep passion to create buildings and spaces that were in harmony with their natural context. This is the design vision he brings on board his practice at IMK Architects, as he tells Sunday Guardian in a candid chat. Excerpts from an edited interview:
Q. What has your design journey been like so far?
A. When I was around fifteen years old, I remember my father taking my siblings and me for a drive around the city of Mumbai. He wanted to show us some of his buildings. That was when I realised the importance of building structures that can impart a message and leave a legacy.
I went on to study architecture at the Academy of Architecture in Mumbai, and then moved to the University of Michigan, USA, for a Master’s in Urban and Regional Planning. Here I was influenced by the work and writings of British-American architect and design theorist Christopher Alexander and American architect Charles Moore. Reading ‘The Pattern Language’ and ‘The Timeless Way of Building’ were the biggest watershed moments in my life. The books spoke about human behaviour and geometry, how design affects what we do, and how patterns are linked to behaviour.
I was so fascinated by Christopher Alexander’s writing that after graduation from the University of Michigan, I landed up at his door and expressed a desire to work with him. He told me that I was lucky as he needed someone to join him the next day. I worked with him for around six months, and I learnt so much from him.
Q. Please tell us about your interesting Malabar Hill project.
A. The Malabar Forest neighbourhood, woven beautifully into Mumbai’s fabric, remains unobserved and hidden in plain sight. Today, the forest is in a completely neglected state with cracked stairwells, broken guardrails, overgrown weeds and is even used as a latrine by passers-by. Slums have encroached along the bottom of the hill and the area has become a dumping ground for garbage and other waste, which was why it was shut down by the BMC 15 years ago. The forest and its ecological system are under serious threat.
I have been walking in this stretch of land since I was a child. In 2020, around the time of the first lockdown, I reacquainted myself with the area, and that is what led to the idea of creating a trail through the forested portion of the area.
The Malabar Hill Forest Trail creates an elevated, winding, wooden walkway for people to experience the 12-acre Malabar Hill Forest, one of the last remaining natural ecosystems in Mumbai, India. The project presents a novel way to catalyse the preservation and restoration of neglected urban forests that are increasingly prone to the effects of unchecked development.
The project is a collective initiative of the Malabar Hill Citizens’ Forum, the Nepean Sea Road Citizens’ Forum (NRCF) and IMK Architects and is supported by the JSW Foundation. It will be funded by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC).
The project is slated for completion by the end of the year and has been extremely well-received by citizens living in the area, as well as civic and municipal leaders across the city.
Q. What can one expect the final result to be?
A. Traversing roughly the same path as the two older trails on the ground level, the new, elevated walkway will run a total length of 705 metres, taking visitors through the entire length of the forest. The site will be fenced on the ground level and ingress/egress points will be provided at either end of the trail, connecting it to the two existing, prominent points of access for Malabar Hill – a 192-step stairway from the Babulnath temple in the south and a 100-step picturesque stairway carved into the hill from the Hughes Road bus stop area in the south-west, both of which will be restored as part of the project. In addition, a utility block with toilets, ticketing booths, and other public amenities will come up at the start of the trail towards the west along the Siri Road.
The trail, set to be constructed without damaging a single tree in the forest, will stand on a series of cylindrical, epoxy-coated structural steel columns, which can be easily repaired or replaced.
The seemingly simple intervention of elevating the trail will regulate visitor access to the forest on the ground level, as well as minimise the use of concrete on the forest floor. This will ensure that the natural flow of water along the hill slopes, as well as the movement of wildlife in the forest remains undisturbed. Additionally, the trail will stand on low-impact pile foundations to limit interference with existing root systems in the soil.
The project will be constructed without damaging a single tree on site. To minimize the impact of the structure and its foundation, we are carrying out a detailed soil investigation. The design also seeks to address important ecological and hydrological concerns — avoid blocking the flow of natural water, minimize interference with existing root systems in the soil, and prevent disturbance to the movement and habitat of wildlife.
Q. What are you working on next?
A. Along with the Malabar Hill Forest Trail, we are working on quite a few exciting projects. These include expanding and renovating the JSW Sanjeevani Hospital in Bellary, a redevelopment project for the Treeshade Cooperative Housing Society Ltd. in Mumbai, Sona College of Technology in Salem, whose library and administration building we are completing, the upcoming Sona Vistaas residential township in Bengaluru, among others.
Q. What is the USP of your architecture practice?
A. I enjoy projects which are challenging and have scope for innovation – those that have the potential to fulfil modern society’s growing demands and can be made future-proof. We constantly seek to make places where people thrive. We don’t create places or use geometries only for visual effect. It is the relationship between human aspiration, activities, and the geometry of space that interests us. In recent years, we have also been experimenting with design processes that strive to utilize the full creative potential of each member of the team.
I believe that it is imperative for all public projects to truly be representative of the needs and aspirations of the cities and the people that they serve. Participation of citizens is key to creating a shared future. As we shape cities of the future, we need to encourage diversity in thought and value local knowledge.
Noor Anand Chawla pens lifestyle articles for various publications and her blog www.nooranandchawla.com.