Mr. Siddarth G Sankar is one of the Partners of Sankar & Associates, one of the most dynamic architectural firms in the country based out of Coimbatore. An M. Arch from the State University of New York at Buffalo in the USA, Mr. Siddarth began his career by working for prestigious educational projects abroad.
He has since then moved on to design a wide variety of projects. Sankar & Associates is a close to the 50-year-old architectural firm founded by Mr. Siddarth’s father, Mr. TS Ramani Sankar, who is one of the most renowned architects in India.
On Healthcare Architecture
There are basically three stakeholders in a hospital. First it’s the patients. A hospital primarily has to be patient friendly. It is very important that you have patient friendly spaces which are well lit and well ventilated, patient friendly signage et al. Second, obviously are the doctors who ought to be provided with spaces that are technically perfect so that they are conducive to proper treatment and care.
Take the case of an oncology unit for instance. It’s a space that has got to be absolutely perfect in the way its layout is done, in how its bunkers are done and so on. And the third and the most important stakeholder are the administrators. The administrators’ perspective is becoming more and more important vis-a-vis the concept of corporate hospitals. The administrators want optimization in the usage of space. Because there’s cost, time, energy and so many things involved.
So unlike any other sector, in the case of the healthcare sector, you have to deal with three stakeholders. And as an architect when you work for a hospital, you might work with any one of the stakeholders. It is very important you handle all the stakeholders’ perspectives functionally and aesthetically. An architect should also be sensitive to the economics of a project as much as he is to other things of the project. Otherwise, it fails. Like if we consider the cost of hospitalisation abroad, it is just phenomenal. Just to give you a figure, you have to cough up $4000 per day for a regulation hospitalization without insurance in the US! That’s 2.4 lakh rupees per day.
Here in India with that amount you can get a new heart transplanted into your body. So in order to keep the hospital costs low, the hospital designs also have to be kept smart. So I don’t have an issue with administrators or doctors wanting the design to be more functional, provided if the basic things are not compromised. Important things like cross contamination, eliminating sharp edges etc. are things we must be very particular about. But if somebody tells me that an ICU cubical should be 8×8 instead of 10×10, then I will say let’s do it, because you will get one more bed which will share the cost.
On using ACP as false ceiling
We have used ACP panels as false ceilings for the ophthalmic facilities of Sankara, and they have worked out pretty well. For, the length of a panel of 4-feet-width is almost 16 feet. So the number of joints on the ceiling comes down, which is a big advantage.
On Aesthetics versus Functionality
Even in an extremely functional foundry we can do certain things that make it look aesthetic. I don’t think you can ever separate the two. Take the case of Indigo airlines for example. They do everything in a certain aesthetic way.
They have a specific design identity. That does not make it any less functional. The packing of indigo airlines, the way they design their boxes and cups is very interesting. You can tell the design identity in the uniforms they wear as well. But that does not make it non-functional. Consider the Target store, the departmental store in the US. Target is different from others because everything they do has a certain design aesthetic to it. But that does not make it any less functional.
On Old era versus new era
Our patience has tremendously shortened. We want 20-20 cricket. We want instant noodles. Everything is expected fast. Technology has influenced that tremendously. So that is one big difference between the old and the new era. I have luckily worked in both eras.
Now to design a hospital, we used to take 3 to 3 and a half months to put together drawings in olden days. Nowadays the same hospital will be done in three weeks. But I think the joy of doing it has somewhat come down. There is a kind of disconnect now. You know the emotional connect that used be there when we designed with pencil on paper, that is missing. The minute your hand is off the pen and paper, and you work on a computer, there is some disconnect. That’s one of the problems, but it’s very exciting on the other hand. And the web is a phenomenal resource today. The world is there for you on the web, and you can work wonders today.
Message to student architects
One of the biggest gripes with most of the people we interview is that their fundamentals are very poor. They should get their basic fundamentals right. You can be creative; you can be not very creative. Look most architects would be creative to some extent; otherwise he wouldn’t have selected this profession.
But you need to get your fundamentals right. You need to get your drawing and other skills right. And college is the place where you can really hone your skills. That’s the time where you can really experiment. Once you are out in the professional world, you find things absolutely crazy, you know, you don’t have the scope to experiment. You don’t have to answer during your college days, why the square foot rate has gone up by 50 rupees and stuff. The minute that burden is off the things that you can do are phenomenal.