Rahul Mehrotra is a prominent name in the realm of architecture in India. With his notable work and remarkable contributions to the fields of urban planning and design, he has established himself as an eminent architect, urbanist, and educator. Mehrotra is widely recognised for his profound knowledge of urban conservation and modern development practices, which has set him apart as a pioneering figure in the field of architecture.
Rahul Mehrotra founded RMA Architects in both Mumbai and Boston, and he is currently the Chair of the Department of Urban Planning and Design at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. He is also the John T. Dunlop Professor of Housing and Urbanization and the Program Director for the Master of Architecture in Urban Design. His childhood experiences of living in different parts of Delhi, Lucknow, and Mumbai due to his family’s work exposed him to diverse, cosmopolitan lifestyles, sparking his passion for architecture and urban design. After completing his studies at CEPT and GSD, Mehrotra worked at Stull and Lee Architects in Boston for nine months before returning to India to apprentice at Charles Correa’s office for two years, gaining valuable insights into designing for minority communities and low-cost housing.
Mehrotra’s versatility as an architect is evident in the wide range of projects he has undertaken, from conservation and planning to urban landscapes. His designs have tackled diverse issues, engaged multiple constituencies, and varied in scale from interior design and architecture to urban design, conservation, and planning. Apart from his work in design, Mehrotra has been actively involved in civic and urban affairs in Mumbai, serving on commissions for historic preservation and environmental issues and working with various neighbourhood groups.
Mehrotra’s architectural designs merge heritage and innovation while considering urban conservation and modern growth. His approach to architecture is contextual, and he strives to understand each site by evaluating its climate, accessible materials, and history. He believes that a structure should blend in with its surroundings while also serving the needs of the people who live in it. He has been outspoken about his opposition to global capital’s dictation of architecture and imagery, and his firm’s Architecture Foundation reflects his commitment to raising architectural awareness in India.
Mehrotra’s design philosophy prioritises sustainability and contextual sensitivity. He argues that architects are responsible for creating energy-efficient, ecological, and socially responsible buildings. He employs sustainable design strategies such as passive solar architecture, green roofs, and rainwater collection to attain this. Mehrotra has also been linked to various manifestos, including “Kinetic City” and “Maximum City.” The former provides a fresh approach to urban planning that considers cities’ dynamic and ever-changing nature, while the latter aims to solve the issues provided by Mumbai’s rapid growth and urbanization. The manifesto highlights the importance of a holistic approach to urban design that includes the perspectives of all stakeholders, especially the poor and marginalized.
Rahul Mehrotra’s impressive portfolio showcases his exceptional skills as an architect and urbanist, with notable works that reflect his versatility and ingenuity in designing culturally relevant and visually stunning architecture.
Hathigaon (Elephant Village) in Jaipur, Rajasthan
Hathigaon, fondly known as Elephant Village, stands as a testament to the brilliant design acumen of Rahul Mehrotra and his team at RMA Architects. This innovative housing project, located in Jaipur, Rajasthan, was crafted with the utmost care for the comfort of the mahouts (caretakers) and their beloved elephants. With a landscape destroyed by sand quarrying, the design strategy ingeniously restructured the terrain to create a network of water bodies for rainwater harvesting, a vital resource in Rajasthan’s arid climate. The project features clusters of housing units for the mahouts, thoughtfully placed on portions of the site not utilised by the elephants. The water body, a crucial component of the design, provides a nurturing space for the elephants and their caretakers, facilitating a special bond through the ritual of bathing.
KMC Corporate Office in Hyderabad
Rahul Mehrotra’s KMC Corporate Office in Hyderabad is an architectural masterpiece that employs a visually dynamic double-skin façade as an energy-saving and regulating mechanism. Featuring an inner skin of reinforced concrete frame with standard aluminum windows and an outer façade of cast aluminum trellis with integrated hydroponics trays, the primary goal of this design is to reduce the building’s thermal load by creating a green cover. The façade humidifies the air, providing evaporative cooling and modulation of light and air, creating a contrast to the typical sealed glass boxes found in corporate architecture while highlighting the relevance of traditional cooling systems used in South Asia’s hot and dry climates.
The School of Arts and Sciences at Ahmedabad University
Designed by Rahul Mehrotra and his team at RMA Architects, the School of Arts and Sciences at Ahmedabad University manifests diversity in philosophy and architecture. Completed in 2020, the building integrates a wide range of disciplines and is designed as a composition of solids and voids that enable chance encounters and shared experiences. The ground floor is planned as a community space, while the louvres, skylights, cut-outs, and connectivity with trees on-site contribute to a climate-friendly built environment. The ventilated and well-lit structure emphasises the importance of porosity in the volumes. It accommodates programs across the humanities, social sciences, and mathematical and physical sciences in its 200,000 square feet of space.
Rahul Mehrotra is also a prolific writer who has contributed immensely to the discourse on architecture and urbanism in India. His books reflect his diverse interests and deep understanding of the built environment in India. One of his notable works, “Architecture in India since 1990”, focuses on the architecture of Mumbai and its evolution over the last three decades.
In “Working in Mumbai: RMA Architects,” Mehrotra shares his experiences and insights gained from his architectural practice, teaching, research, documenting, writing, and exhibiting since the establishment of his practice in 1990.
Additionally, “The Kinetic City & Other Essays” is a curated collection of essays written by Mehrotra over 30 years, reflecting on the urban landscape of India and beyond and providing valuable insights into architecture, urbanism, and cultural anthropology.
Rahul Mehrotra’s works show a distinct approach to architecture and design, focusing on sustainability, diversity, and community engagement. His projects are visually striking and integrate traditional cooling systems and greenery to create climate-friendly environments. When asked what advice he would give to his younger self, Rahul Mehrotra shared a valuable lesson his mentor once told him: ‘When you reach a crossroad, keep going.’ He believes it is important to keep moving forward and hold onto your values while navigating life’s paths. This lesson is relevant to architecture and design and an essential life lesson for anyone trying to find their way in the world. Mehrotra’s contributions to architecture and design have left an everlasting imprint on the industry and continue to inspire the next generation of creators.
Architect Rahul Mehrotra designs this institute in Ahmedabad University (2022) YouTube. YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t-eXMGpshlI (Accessed: May 4, 2023).
Belogolovsky, V. (2022) Rahul Mehrotra: “for us, architecture became the project of resistance”, STIRworld. STIRworld.com. Available at: https://www.stirworld.com/think-columns-rahul-mehrotra-for-us-architecture-became-the-project-of-resistance (Accessed: May 3, 2023).
Belogolovsky, V. (2023) “as architects, we don’t discover our identity, we construct it”: In conversation with Rahul Mehrotra, ArchDaily. ArchDaily. Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/996087/as-architects-we-dont-discover-our-identity-we-construct-it-in-conversation-with-rahul-mehrotra?ad_campaign=normal-tag (Accessed: May 3, 2023).
Books by Rahul Mehrotra (author of architecture in India) (no date) Goodreads. Goodreads. Available at: https://www.goodreads.com/author/list/348316.Rahul_Mehrotra (Accessed: May 4, 2023).
D., B.A. (2022) Rahul Mehrotra on the Kinetic City and urbanism for the Global South, Metropolis. Available at: https://metropolismag.com/profiles/rahul-mehrotra-on-the-kinetic-city-and-urbanism-for-the-global-south/ (Accessed: May 3, 2023).
Modelo (2016) Design manifestos: Rahul Mehrotra of RMA architects, Medium. Design Manifestos. Available at: https://medium.com/design-manifestos/design-manifestos-rahul-mehrotra-of-rma-architects-437d4c777b8f (Accessed: May 3, 2023).
Rahul Mehrotra (2023) Harvard Graduate School of Design. Available at: https://www.gsd.harvard.edu/person/rahul-mehrotra/ (Accessed: May 3, 2023).
Rahul Mehrotra: Working in Mumbai (2019) The Architectural League of New York. Available at: https://archleague.org/article/rahul-mehrotra-current-work/ (Accessed: May 3, 2023).
Studio (no date) RMA Architects. Available at: https://rmaarchitects.com/studio/ (Accessed: May 3, 2023).