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‘My design philosophy is to keep it simple for the eye’

Award-winning architect and Apeejay alumnus Alok Kumar Maurya says it is imperative to create building plans responsibly and why time can prove to be the only constraint in design



Apeejay School of Architecture and Planning alumnus Alok Kumar Maurya is the co-founder and Principal Architect of the upcoming architectural firm Saral Methodized Ideas!  He has worked on reputed projects such as redevelopment of Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi and the Royal Norwegian Embassy at New Delhi and also has experience in the domains of healthcare, hospitality, education, and residences. His firm recently won the Food connoisseurs (FC) 2021 best Design award for ‘Alma Café’ at Noida. Alok loves to combine his artistic talents with his technical skills to create beautiful and practical designs for clients. In an interview, he underlines the role of teachers in one’s life, the secrets of being a successful architect and the need to evolve a language for design with built-in sustainability.

Edited excerpts:

Did you always want to be a creative person or an architect when you were young? How did you choose this unconventional career?

Creativity to me is the capability to ideate. Education enhances this capability to competence. Yes, I was always inclined towards creativity. As a school student, I made the most of the painting, music, instrumental, sculpting electives offered.

Hailing from the city of Allahabad (now Prayagraj), I had the opportunity to experience beautiful colonial architectural masterpieces and wondered how they could have been designed and constructed. However, architecture as a profession only came to my notice when I was preparing for national engineering entrance competitive examinations. An unexpected conversation with a fellow traveller in a train reaffirmed my interest. Thereafter, I asked as many people as possible in the limited social and physical capacity I had, and finally decided to pursue a career in architecture. It was a tough decision. People thought of architects as lowly-paid naksha (map) makers. Worse was the perception of architecture as a profession not equal to engineering. Battling all the above perceptions, I am glad I made the decision. I thank my family for believing in me.

How was your experience in architecture school? Are there any memories of your student life you want to share with us?

Those were wonderful days. When I look back, I feel blessed. For me APEEJAY SAP was a home away from home. I think one of the toughest skills to acquire was timely submissions; deadlines and timelines… Almost all submissions are a story! (laughs). I am glad we were made to follow them strictly; the habits inculcated in college have helped me throughout my career. Besides the everyday academic routine, I thoroughly enjoyed co-curricular activities on campus. The most special part of college life was the bonding with seniors and juniors, besides my friends in class. It is a family I cherish the most.

What role did your teachers in schools and colleges play in your life? Is there any favourite educator you would want to remember from your days in Apeejay?

There is a Japanese proverb that says, ‘Better than a thousand days of diligent study, is one day with a great teacher’. I take this opportunity to thank Professor Architect Peu Banerjee Das. She taught me the History of Architecture. I absolutely owe my architectural critiquing skills to her. Professor Sangeeta Agarwal made me know more about myself as a designer. She believed in her students. I remember her saying: “Every individual has potential. Never compete with others, compete with yourself!”

I have used this mantra all along. Late Professor Agnihotri was a bundle of knowledge: A banyan tree. I am grateful we had him as our teacher. I especially acknowledge our librarian’s contribution in my learning process.

How important is it to build sustainability and environment-friendly features into our architecture, particularly in India?

We are in the fourth industrial revolution. Design outputs are evaluated for technological advancements, happiness quotient and enhancement of the natural environment. So, my answer is a yes.  Yet, I have an alternative opinion hereon.

Sustainability is not a discourse that you can separate from the science of building. Be it the ancient mandala planning Vastu Shastra or contemporary cyborg architecture, it is imperative to design responsibly. I believe it is an integral part of every design. So let us not restrict it to features or elements alone. It is a design language, an approach, that budding architects need to create. Like a style of their own! I suggest our discipline to adopt the principles in entirety.

What are the life lessons you picked up in architecture school?

Interesting question. Architecture is a lifestyle. It is not a profession alone. You almost live the buildings you design. It cannot be taught. You are involved in it. You create it. I am reminded of what Benjamin Franklin once said, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” I have been learning since. It is difficult for me to separate what I learnt inside and outside the college! Though, I may sum up a few quick takeaways: Theory and practice may not marry. Also, time is the only constraint in design.

What is the secret to being a successful architect?

Like I said, the secret ingredient is involvement. The golden words are perseverance and self-worth; and most of all: ‘Money should seldom be a motivator!’

Please tell us about your journey as an entrepreneur. What kind of architecture does your firm specialise in?

It has been a tough but very satisfying journey. I always found industry experience a prerequisite to freelance work. I practiced at Abhimanyu Dalal Architect (ADA) for 4 years. Abhimanyu Sir is my mentor! I have learnt from him the most.

Accumulating a total experience of more than six years, we (my wife and I) launched Saral Methodized Ideas (SMI) in 2016. It was a humble beginning, with a team of three, putting in a lot of hard work and having a lot of fun together! Café and retail design were two areas that we began with. Within three years we earned the opportunity to reach out to the globe. We designed cafes in the Middle East and participated in educational tours in Germany and Italy. Alongside F&B retail, we also laid our hands at the hospitality industry. We were active in markets such as McLeod Ganj (in Himachal Pradesh) and Lucknow. Since inception, residences and farmhouses have been our speciality. Lately, we have diversified our portfolio to include the health sector. We are designing health resorts and multi-speciality hospitals across cities in Madhya Pradesh. I am proud of the fact that at a relatively young stage, we have worked in more than 15 cities across India and the globe.

The design philosophy at SMI is simple. Like our name says, we like to keep it simple for the eye. Our signature elements include playing with alternative use of traditional materials. We often use plants as a design element. In our projects we usually involve artists, artisans, professionals from varied walks of life. We believe in cross-multi- trance disciplinary dialogues to enrich the designing process. The mantra is to give respect to earn it from others. We won the Food connoisseurs (FC) 2021 best Design award for our ‘Alma Café’ at Noida.

Apeejay alumnus Alok Kumar Maurya’s architectural firm Saral Methodized Ideas recently won the ‘Food Connoisseurs 2021 Best Design Award’ for Alma Cafe, at Noida

How is India unique in its outlook towards architecture?

India in my opinion still struggles to find its place in contemporary architectural style. We have been aping the west. Especially the residential real estate sector needs to embrace good design. The built environment seems to be divorced from the context. In the modern era, people’s association with architecture was through public buildings. Later, the approach was more personal and individual units grabbed attention. Today, interiors are the focal point.

“Sustainability is not a discourse that you can separate from the science of building. Be it the ancient mandala planning Vastu Shastra or contemporary cyborg architecture, it is imperative to design responsibly. I believe it is an integral part of every design.”

-Alok kumar Maurya

Aasheesh Sharma is a seasoned journalist with an experience of more than 25 years spread over newspapers, news agencies, magazines and television. He has worked in leadership positions in media groups such as Hindustan Times, India Today, Times of India, NDTV, UNI and IANS. He is a published author and his essay on the longest train journey in India was included in an anthology of writings on the railways, brought out by Rupa Publications. As the Editor of Apeejay Newsroom, he is responsible for coverage of the latest news and developments in the Apeejay institutions. He can be reached at [email protected]. He tweets @Aasheesh74