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It has designs on the world!
Arati Menon Carroll
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July 08, 2006

The office of Stup Consultants is uncharacteristically unfussy for an architectural firm... the first hint that the approach of this firm is unorthodox.

Abhin Alimchandani, director (architecture), STUP Consultants, is himself noticeably democratic in his warmth and extremely generous with his time, not a trait common to too many Indian architects.

Propriety aside, it is revealed that the flyover on Marine Drive, the six-lane Mumbai-Pune expressway, and the upcoming trans-harbour link from Mumbai to Navi Mumbai, the second longest sea link, have all been designed by STUP.

From highways to airports, energy infrastructure to IT parks, the part-French, part-Indian owned STUP Consultants is noted among the largest multi-disciplinary architectural companies in the world with offices in 29 countries.

"We've been involved in infrastructure since the Asian arm of STUP France was established in India in 1963," says Alimchandani. "But we also do buildings," he says, "that's what people don't know."

It was 10 years ago that Alimchandani, an architect, having returned from an education and work stint in Paris, decided to manoeuvre the positioning of the engineering consultancy group towards offering high-end building design solutions. And that's when their unconventional philosophies came in.

"Architecture in India has become too personal. You can recognise the works of master architects like Correa from a mile away, which is not a bad thing, but it becomes the language of one person and not the result of a dialogue between a symbiotic team with shared knowledge," he explains.

So Alimchandani set up the STUP design forum (building design) last year. "We have interior designers, engineers, artists, architects, and we deliver total design solutions."

The other leitmotif of STUP's work has become about creating design with impact to regenerate cityscapes. STUP believes in dynamic, futuristic design that is achieved through participation and rationalisation.

Aligned with that very principle is the recent strategic agreement, with Architecture Studio, a highly decorated, Parisienne firm that employs over 25 nationalities of talent, and is devoted to the philosophy of collective architecture.

"There's a reason why the firm isn't called Fischer Designs or Lehmann Designs after its chief architects," adds Alimchandani. Among its most symbolic works is the European Union Parliament in Strasbourg.

"Architecture Studio will be brought in when the client wants a building that will make people gasp." Gasp in delight, that is.

Architecture Studio's contemporary, cutting edge design has been known to arouse controversy at first, gradually giving way to admiration for enriching the city's heritage.

Like the Arab World Institute in Paris. The curved glass front wall is sculpted from a decorative geometry of 25,000 metallic sculptures. In bright daylight, the metal sculptures work like apertures controlling the amount of sunlight that beams into the inner spaces.

Writes Joseph Fitchett, in Window on the Arab World, "Aesthetically, the Institute's daring architecture is recognised as one of the most imaginative new buildings to rise in Paris... already a contemporary masterpiece, it has influenced the style and orientation of future development of the French capital."

Architecture Studio works a lot in conjunction with government bodies and believes that "to assert ones own culture one must know the other". STUP applied that very principle when it designed the Golden Jubilee Palace, the seat of presidency for Ghana.

Funded by the Indian government to celebrate Ghana's fledgling democracy, the gold-tinted structure (references to Ghana's former name - Gold Coast) borrows imagery from the pyramids of Egypt and traditional tribal emblems. This structure will also be a "green" complex," indicates Alimchandani.

Building "green" buildings is another of STUP's new forays. The recently inaugurated Indian Oil Corporation [Get Quote] headquarters in New Delhi for instance, takes into account all bio-climatic aspects like a north-south orientation for minimum energy consumption, sun breakers on the south face of the building to reduce heat gain and photo-voltaic cells placed between the double glass facade supplements the lighting load.

Next on the anvil is a bio-climatic commercial tower in Hyderabad.

STUP's team is also looking for new ways to contribute to the firm's infrastructure projects. "There is no reason why infrastructure projects shouldn't enjoy the same high-end design solutions that buildings get," says Alimchandani.

"It's only recently that large infrastructure related projects in India operate on a 'build, operate and transfer' basis with private sector who know that the added cost for impactful design is worth it."

In India's first privately owned international airport coming up at Hyderabad, STUP (part of a consortium) will be testing this new venture.

"The architecture will extend past just the terminal, which usually absorbs 20 per cent of an airport's construction costs; even the cargo terminals will be of sophisticated design," he says. "If infrastructure is innovatively designed the entire skyline of the city changes," he adds.

Of course, there's nothing quite like actually recreating a whole city to change its skyline. Like the Doha city master plan that aims to redesign the city of Doha, where 90 per cent of Qatar's citizens reside. STUP is in the running for position of partner architects. "We were briefed that we could raze every standing structure to the ground if we wanted to, but we have chosen not to," he says.

Alimchandani is clearly excited... it's a once in a lifetime opportunity to play god. "The general belief that we operate on, though, is that one doesn't need to re-design a whole city. Just design ten instrumental buildings that will change the way people view the city."

This philosophy of STUP's is reminiscent of Francois Mitterand's "grand projects" in the 1980s, which included the Bastille Opera and the National library, aimed at dragging Parisienne architecture out from the 19th century into the 21st.

His endeavour is sometimes viewed as having resulted in buildings incongruous with their surroundings, and at other times hailed for their architectural merit and regeneration of the French design industry.

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