Exclusive interview with Mitu Mathur, Director, GPM Architects & Planners

Vinod Shah Posted on: 2023-03-28 07:10:00 Viewer: 1,518 Comments: 0 Country: India City: New Delhi

Exclusive interview with Mitu Mathur, Director, GPM Architects & Planners

Mitu Mathur is an accomplished architect and urban designer with extensive experience in designing public & institutional, master planning and housing projects. As the Director of GPMA, she has been steering the firm’s growth since 2006, exemplifying its collaborative and interdisciplinary approach towards architecture and planning.

Her work is guided by the philosophy — People, Process and Passion. She believes that passion and story are the most important factors behind every design as it carves a unique identity for itself. Her conceptual approach is experience-driven, guided by a vision to create recognisable and engaging architecture and urban spaces. Her passion for creating meaningful solutions relevant to today’s times has led GPMA to explore the current notions of architectural development and deliver innovative solutions for a dynamic urban environment.

Mitu is a graduate of Sushant School of Art & Architecture (SSAA), Gurgaon and completed her Master of Science in Architecture & Urban Design from GSAPP (Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation), Columbia University, New York City. She has also taught as a visiting faculty at the Housing and Urban Design Department at SSAA.

Mitu received the second prize for the Katha Asia Urban Design Slum Upgradation Design Competition and won the prestigious Kinne Fellowship from Columbia University in 2010.

Mitu continuously questions the current notions of architectural development and strongly believes in delivering innovative design solutions for rapidly changing urban environments. With a background in architecture and urban design, she brings the expertise of both disciplines in developing holistic plans for urban centres and capacity building for communities. She also leads the Design Research team at GPMA, focusing on the evolution and sustainable design of Indian cities. With a vision to promote housing for all, she is leading landmark projects like Netaji Nagar and Sarojini Nagar Redevelopment in Delhi. Additionally, she is heading the development and design of more than 20 Railway Stations PAN India, along with the development of several Airports and Integrated Check Posts, contributing to a significant part of GPM’s infrastructure development initiative.

She has received several prestigious awards for her work including HUDCO Design Award, Realty+ 40 under 40 Award, IBC Award, World Architecture Awards, CWAB Awards amongst many others.

Please tell our reader little about your professional journey in Urban Design and Architect domain?

Growing up in a family of architects, the excitement of experiencing a holistic profession grew on me gradually, and choosing architecture was, therefore, a natural instinct. My undergraduate degree in architecture in Delhi and master’s degree in Urban Design in New York further propelled that direction and a creative thought process. The built environment and urban challenges in my professional journey also urged me to question the current norms of the practice and how we approach design for people and cities.

While working in both Government and Private sectors, I have learnt the long-term impact our projects have on society at large. The most delightful aspect of my career is playing a pivotal role in reading and revitalising places in our Indian cities and creating spaces where people engage with the users. This keeps me driven towards practising as an architect.

What is your design ethos and who inspires you to choose this field?

My journey in the architecture and construction industry has been a gradually expanding experience that has taught me new ways of questioning my work. I see myself as an explorer decoding the means and ends of architecture both as a profession and a responsibility towards the greater good. Heading a design-oriented practice, I consider myself fortunate to be exposed to various social and economic challenges that will gradually shape our future.

As a business leader, I have focused on strengthening the 3 Ps – People, Process and Passion. My design process is driven by a sense of shared purpose and ingenuity that each team member brings to work. My conceptual approach is experience-driven, guided by a vision to create recognisable and interesting architecture and urban spaces. Equally important is the teamwork and collaborative effort that makes any successful design story, thereby establishing a systems-driven organisation.

Which was your first project and how did you get your first projects?

My approach towards architecture, a shift from the traditional building box design, was a landmark for our practice. Our firm was initially popularly known for commercial, residential and industrial projects. With my knowledge and experience as an Urban Designer, we forayed into the domains of public and infrastructure projects. A conscious effort towards working with the government sector in enabling better urban infrastructure for the country helped us acquire milestone projects such as – the National Institute of Design, Madhya Pradesh, the Redevelopment of colonies in Delhi & the Redevelopment of major Railway stations, among many others.

Do you think that Delhi is not properly developed as a national capital? Being an urban designer and planning expert, what are your suggestions towards making a city livable?

The expansion of cities entailing the urban population growth cannot be contained merely by the horizontal expansion of cities. Instead, it must make adequate room to accommodate it in more innovative, inclusive and sustainable models. The continuous reimagination of the layout of our cities and built forms to the evolving needs of humans and the environment indicates an adaptable design. The future of our cities depends on such easy modifications according to the current requirements.

A significant shift in the design strategy for our cities is also needed to adapt to multiple functions. Utilising the spaces that already exist in different ways, making spaces more pedestrian-friendly and implementing hygiene protocols are some of the steps that can build resilience against the pandemic. For example, residences need to be designed with better ventilation to offer more light and air circulation. In addition, large-scale commercial and corporate complexes need to be designed as column-free spaces to introduce flexibility into the design. Today, our cities experience significant overexploitation and a dearth of space. Hence, designing modular and standardised structures can create the provision for future alterations. We must bridge the gap between architecture and planning to accomplish the envisioned progressive city.

What are your thoughts on transit-oriented development (TOD) and its importance in developing livable cities?

Transportation hubs are one of the approaches which catalyse the growth of thriving cities, so it’s no wonder that a good deal of infrastructure focus is dedicated to developing railways and rapid mass transit systems. Public transportation is the backbone of cities; hence providing vital services allows us to shape new forms of mobility.

Additionally, it is essential to note that a testament to collaborative work is developing new-age transit networks to create a synergy between the centre and the state. Considering the rapidly growing demography, using the present situation as an opportunity to establish mass transit systems and implementing modern technology and user-driven data to re-energize the city’s infrastructure is the way ahead to achieve efficient urban mobility in developing liveable cities.

You have designed many railway stations under Indian Railways' Station Redevelopment Scheme. What are the major characteristics of a world-class railway station?

The efficiency of public transport depends on the availability of different transport modes and their connectedness. Developing railway stations as multimodal hubs efficiently enhances the overall quality of urban mobility by reducing distances and travel time, offering maximum comfort to its users.

Under the endeavour of the Indian Railways and Rail Land Development Authority (RLDA), we undertook the redevelopment and design of several railway Stations, including Ludhiana, Visakhapatnam, Bhubaneswar, Muzaffarpur, Yesvantpur (Bengaluru) and Jodhpur. Apart from fulfilling functional requirements, these new projects are designed to accommodate all safety protocols to ensure passengers have a seamless and safe transportation experience. In addition, the pedestrian movement of the arriving and departing passengers is designed in a segregated manner to cater to the heavy footfall. Furthermore, the redeveloped stations are envisioned with state-of-the-art passenger facilities, parking needs, retail options and food courts, activating these urban hubs.

Do you feel that more women leadership is required for the Urban Design and Planning Sectors?

Women are going places and are highly regarded in the industry. However, we definitely have a long way to go, and I feel education and awareness are the keys to driving the change. The last decade definitely marked a shift, not only because of the change in mindset but also because of the widespread awareness, thanks to the media for it. A lot of recognition is being given to female design professionals, which has certainly pushed many women who were initially taking a backseat at work fronts.

Moreover, we need more acceptance in achieving a flexible working environment for women professionals. If given freedom, women can do wonders! Generating awareness about the power of design and harnessing it to bring social change involves addressing the concerns of the public domain by using design as a tool to their advantage instead of turning our back towards them and creating boundaries.

Do you have any stories of discrimination that you or someone you know experienced?

Having started at the young age of 27 in a leadership role in the firm, I often found myself giving presentations, pitching for projects, and taking design decisions on-site. With an attitude to never give up, I have faced various project presentations and site meetings, where people initially doubted my capabilities but applauded me in the end. Even on occasions in a room full of men, I have never felt intimidated to raise my opinion and take bold decisions for the vision of the project.

How would you advise women architects to invest in their career?

I would like to advise young professionals to work towards their vision and never stop trusting their inner instincts. Give due time to your family and yourself; nobody can take your talent away if you are good at your work. Think of yourself as an individual and never compare.

Being a woman in architecture, I would like to add that gender should never limit the kind of work you do. There could not be a better time to join the workforce, as the flexibility at the workplace and work culture have proved wonders for many women at our firm and ones I meet regularly. Being digitally available while managing your personal routine has never been so readily acceptable. There has also been a tremendous advancement in the several realms of architecture where professionals can play diverse roles — design conceptualisation, product design, interactive designs, digital presentations, project coordination, and much more.

What are your thoughts/feedback on our website and magazine contents?

As a specialised and global magazine on urban transport infrastructure sectors that targets the urban mobility challenges and solutions in various metropolitan and suburban cities across the world, the contents that are published on the magazine and the website are extremely useful and informative for not just industry professionals but also for the general readers.





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