What was the most difficult issue about working within this building type or the most unexpected challenge that may have influenced new thought in your project?
There were a few major challenges with the Mumbai Airport project. One was the complex project phasing, driven by the interim necessity of maintaining the existing terminal functions, utilities, and airside operations during the new-build construction. The new terminal was constructed directly on top of the existing building. Another challenge was maintaining the quality of the design, within the framework of an Engineer, Procure, and Construct (E.P.C.) contract. Finally, we had to balance the client’s need to create a state-of-the-art facility with the client’s desire that our design evoke “Indian Heritage” and be respectful of the “Mumbai Spirit.”
Did this project expand or evolve your role as an architect and designer in any way? In general, do you feel that the role of the architect is changing on current projects?
There were many unique circumstances that altered our working methods and approach to the project. The E.P.C. procurement process was conceived to create a more cost efficient project, by limiting the design team’s scope of services and, correspondingly, by expanding the constructor’s responsibilities. Ironically, though, there proved to be a reliance on many traditional working methods; visual mockups and construction oversight being a few notable examples. I also believe that the contractor relied heavily on the thoroughness of SOM’s documents and on the expertise of our senior staff to ensure a good construction and project result. On the design side, we broadened our team and outlook, and included other collaborators, to help us interpret the complex and rich Indian culture. We had a very successful collaboration on many aspects of the terminal design with Abu & Sandeep. They in turn helped us to interpret notions of “Indian Heritage” and “Mumbai Spirit,” enabling these concepts to influence the design. The collaboration worked so well that we continue to work with Abu & Sandeep on other projects in the region.
How is your building possible today in a way that it may not have been before and how have trends in technology and society inspired new thought and solutions?
We are seeing a trend with some emerging and maturing world markets where clients are insisting that designs embody a degree of cultural resonance, in addition to everything else that is required for this type of project. Our Mumbai airport design allowed us to embrace regional collaborators and influences, and apply them using the latest design and analytical technologies. The design and construction of the terminal’s head house was only made possible by using advanced computer tools and applications. This allowed the team to resolve the formal and functional characteristics of the ceiling and column designs, simulate design possibilities, and then communicate these potentials to the client, contractor, and eventual manufacturer. The resulting solution is advanced, unique, and culturally evocative.
In the context of this project, how is your office and design process being influenced by current trends in academic curricula and incoming young architects? In turn, how are current projects and processes guiding the ongoing reformulation and development of academic curricula?
Academia seems to be very focused on current trends, and the possibilities and applications of advanced technologies, and methodologies. A paradox for academia is that, prior to graduation, there is an ever increasing amount to teach students within a finite amount of time. Firms must therefore invest in additional training, in order to leverage talent. This airport project (and many other functional typologies) required very specialized experiences, and the ability to apply these experiences in the best way possible. To some extent, academia exposes students to various typologies, but firms must additionally and significantly mentor students, so that they can contribute to projects at a high level. A successful professional future requires constantly improving designs and productivity, whilst being efficient. Everyone involved stands to benefit from stronger ties between academia and the profession.
Architype Review thanks Roger Duffy for his interview and for contributing to this collection of Architype Dialogue.