Thematic issues of the magazine My Liveable City
Cross-Cultural ArchitectureText Shyam Khandekar
I have worked as a designer from 1973 (when I first came to the Netherlands on a Dutch Government international fellowship), and from 1988, I led my own company, designing medium and large-scale projects in the Netherlands and India, a number of which won awards and became well known.


I studied architecture at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, and did a post-graduate course in housing and building in Rotterdam. I further went on to acquire master's degrees in urban design from Manchester University, and in urban planning from the Technical University of Delft India and the Netherlands are almost the perfect opposite sides of the global coin.
Each has so much to learn from the other. And I have the privilege to feel at home in both these countries. I was born in India but have spent far more years of my life in the Netherlands than in India. I love the egalitarian Dutch society for its fairness to all and feel very much at home in the Netherlands. Yet I have never got used to its food, and I still remain passionate about Indian food. As I drive to my clients in the Netherlands to talk about the future of Dutch cities, in my car I listen to Indian music. I talk to my mother in Marathi, sing in Hindi while taking my daily shower, write best in English, yet think more and more in Dutch. I love cycling in the Netherlands, and carry my Dutch passport proudly and carefully together with my Indian PIO (Person of Indian Origin) card. Finally, I am an admirer of the historic urban Indian culture, and am passionate about the possibilities of the future of Indian cities, but believe that we have so much to learn from the Dutch cities of today.

The landscaped public spaces of the
Nirlon Knowledge Park, Mumbai


With the passage of time, as my identity has evolved from purely Indian to more Dutch (in addition to Indian), this cross-cultural fertilisation has sub-consciously influenced my thoughts, and consequently, my designs.

From the Netherlands I have learnt the art and science of incorporating landscape design as essential part of urban design, master-planning and architecture. My first major project in India, namely the Nirlon Knowledge Park in Mumbai is a testimony to this. In this project, which has won many design awards, it is the landscape design which holds the complex together, while the water cascade in it forms the central feature. But it was my knowledge of dealing with water in the Netherlands which led to the creation of artificial ground levels at Nirlon in such a way that the excess water discharge of Mumbai’s monsoon is properly taken care of. In India, I have applied the science of landscape in my residential projects and mixed-use outside Mumbai too.

Conference on ‘Technology and the City ‘in Delhi, April 2015


From Netherlands I have also learnt how to organise complex multi-disciplinary design processes and apply these to get better results in India and achieve these results in time. And most importantly I have learnt how the quality of public spaces accessible to all increases the liveability for those at the bottom of the pyramid. A good network of public spaces is vital to make our cities in India more inclusive, and thereby more socially sustainable.


Interestingly, the Indian influences I was born with and
what I learnt in my early years in India, have also sub-consciously affected my work in the Netherlands— sometimes in the details, and at other times in broader underlying principles. For instance, while designing the water cascades in Paleiskwartier (Palace Quarter), a mixed-
use development in the city of 's-Hertogenbosch, I was inspired by the patterns used in Shalimar Gardens, Kashmir, which I had seen during my student days. Another clear reflection of my Indian roots is the pallette of colours I have

used in my projects in the Netherlands, which many Dutch clients have remarked are stronger and brighter than the muted colours more often used by Dutch designers!

Indian professionals at the noteworthy ‘Room for the River’
project in Nijmegen, during the knowledge tour of
Netherlands organised by Khandekar


As I entered the latter part of my professional life, I had the urge to start a new initiative that would go beyond design, and would help disseminate the knowledge about cities I had been fortunate enough to have gained. It would be a forum for the exchange of knowledge between India and the Netherlands, on the art, science and liveability of the cities of both countries. I teamed up with Shashikala Venkatraman, a senior media expert from Mumbai, and our magazine, My Liveable City, was born. Coming at a time when Indian cities are going through a historic period of growth, the magazine too has grown, and has become a truly international publication. It now takes nearly half of my time, as I continue to work as a designer, both in India and the Netherlands. We are now in the process of broadening the scope of the magazine’s subject to other media and advisory activities on the ‘liveable cities’ concept.

The Paleiskwartier’s water cascades are inspired by Khandekar’s memory of Kashmir’s Mughal era gardens