Building Out-Of-Box Dreams : Alok Shetty

Alok Shetty is one of Bengaluru’s most successful 30-year olds. This dynamic architect was named one of the six “International Next Generation Leaders” by TIME Magazine in 2014 and graced the cover of Forbes Asia for their “30 under 30” list of young achievers earlier this year. A keynote speaker at multiple architecture forums happening right from the Philippines to USA, Alok’s is certainly a name to reckon with in the world of design. In a casual chat with RITZ, he lays bare his array of ongoing projects that stretch from an artistes’ village in New York City to a model slum in Belgaum, Karnataka. Quite an intriguing mix indeed!

Getting an audience with him requires a whole dose of patience. His schedule is forever packed. If by chance he is not racing to meet project deadlines, then he is jet-setting to different corners of the globe for talks and business meets or engaging in fruitful discussions with his spirited team at Bhumiputra Architecture. But once you finally meet the man, you know for sure that success has definitely not, as they say “gone to his head”. He is focused towards his goals, while being humble about his achievements. You can make that out from his gestures and body language. Humility outlines the personality of Alok Shetty.

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“My goal is to create a positive impact in the architecture of our cities and to help the underprivileged in our society have a better standard of living”

“My goal is to create a positive impact in the architecture of our cities and to help the underprivileged in our society have a better standard of living,” he says with utmost poise. “I want to do projects that add value to the society,” he adds, while unwrapping one project after another, each more awe-inspiring than the next.

“We are creating India’s first Olympic sports training facility near Hampi, which will be a privately run state-of-the-art facility for kids from eight years and above. This will be a residential facility to train them for Olympic sports such as boxing, wrestling, judo, track and field and aquatics.” As you listen to his voice tinged with confidence and pride, you learn that this man is highly motivated and driven to attain what he has set his mind upon. Which includes an international residential school project in Karjat near Mumbai, a school for slum kids in Belgaum and his most ambitious, the slum housing project in Bengaluru and Belgaum.

Of these, the slum housing project clearly stands out on account of its unique nature. Alok is working to provide affordable, portable, flood-proof shelter to slum dwellers, most of whom are labourers and keep migrating from one city to another. To start off with, about 30 families in Bengaluru and an impressive 600 in Belgaum will be housed in the ‘model slums’, with each portable house costing about Rs. 30,000 to 40,000. “We started this project in 2012 and are now doing different prototypes,” says Alok. The houses use metal scaffolding for the main structure, since it is affordable and can be arranged with ease. Moreover, the structures could use wooden flooring and bamboo wall panels to filter in sunlight. “At a later stage, we could deploy this project across India, wherever there is a requirement,” says Alok. He started the Bhumiputra Foundation a few years ago that receives 40 – 50% of its earnings from Bhumiputra Architecture, which is then invested into research and development of prototypes and designs that can positively impact the standard of living of the underprivileged.

This man entered the world of architecture pretty early in life, when as a 20-year old he designed a multi-specialty hospital while still in architecture school in Bengaluru. But his first brush with what was to be his profession and ‘passion’ started during his childhood, “when I used to accompany my dad to construction sites during school holidays. I got fascinated with buildings and since I was also inclined towards art and paintings, it was first my mother who suggested that I should look at architecture as a vocation,” reveals Alok.

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“We are creating India’s first Olympic sports training facility near Hampi, which will be a privately run state-of-the-art facility for kids from eight years and above”

Today he works 16 to 17 hours a day and travels around 15 to 20 days a month to pursue his passion, from where he seeks inspiration.

One of his most stirring works has been the Black Box Theatre, a design challenge he undertook while pursuing his Master’s at the Columbia University in the US with two of his classmates. This challenge that was posed to his class required the creation of a mobile auditorium, and Alok and his buddies leveraged a 40-foot shipping container to design an architectural marvel which opens out to become a 250-seat auditorium! This fetched him the Lucille Smyser Lowenfish Memorial Award for Design Excellence and he became its youngest recipient. “We are now looking to have this deployed across the US,” says Alok.

He is now super excited about his first international project, an avant-garde ‘artistes’ village’ in New York. “This will be a residential facility for artists, painters, writers, musicians, who can come, live there and hone their talent. The first phase is slated to be done by next year.”

Amidst a whole host of astounding projects, which one has been the most challenging for Alok? “All are challenging,” he retorts, before quickly adding that as a 30-year old, “you have to work doubly hard to be taken seriously!”