Tarun Kumar Potluri always knew that he wanted to become an architect, but as a teenager, there were plenty of barriers getting in the way, not the least of which was pressure from his family and community to choose another career path.
But Potluri remained unphased, and that’s good news for all of us, since he happens to be a highly-skilled architect and urban planner who puts sustainability and innovation at the absolute forefront of his work.
Relocating to the US after establishing his expertise in his home country of India, Potluri has worked on high-profile housing and mixed-use architectural projects, finding ways to create spaces that, as he described during our interview, have a kind of soul to them.
We only got to speak to Potluri for a little while, but we covered a lot of ground in that time, talking about how he first became interested in architecture, the integration of architecture and urban planning, and cutting-edge considerations and methods in contemporary architecture and design.
We think this interview is an excellent introduction to architecture, urban planning, and what goes on in the minds of expert architects.
What was your gateway into architecture and architectural design?
Potluri: To be honest, the most interesting thing for me as a child was walking to my school every day as that gave me a chance to observe the streetscape. I used to take different routes every day to satisfy my curiosity. I was fascinated watching those buildings. In 2006, the Internet opened new opportunities to me to study more about architecture and architects beyond the articles and magazines I found in my school library. And this made me realize that I wanted to pursue a career in architecture.
My town happens to be a place where people don’t really appreciate the role and importance of architects. When I shared my passion for architecture and my plan to become an architect with my friends, they laughed. They never knew that architecture was a career option. My father was also concerned about my choice and said, ‘Architects are only for the rich in the cities, and a rural town like ours doesn’t need one.’
Though these instances demotivated me as a high school kid, I never once rethought my decision to pursue architecture. After facing a lot of struggles and problems, I started my undergraduate degree in architecture, and it was an amazing journey to finally find my real joy in life. It taught me both teamwork and leadership qualities.
Working on housing projects has been my favorite area since college. Being from a developing country like India, I understand that owning or building a house is not just about a structure, but an emotion of finally achieving their life’s dream. So I understand the importance of a house not being just a structure with doors and windows but having a soul in it. It should create a sense of place and relieve your stress. In my view, designing is a science where we need to understand the specific needs and vernacular of the place. Architecture is a mixture of art and science.
More people are becoming aware of urban planning, especially RE infrastructure and public transit. Do you think this is a positive change?
Potluri: Yes, I’d say it’s a positive change. People should understand the concepts of urban planning and how it affects their living environment. Urban planning is both a technical and political process that helps leaders to transform a vision into implementation. Urban planning focuses on improving people’s current and future living conditions and helps a community or a city to grow economically and socially.
People knowing more about infrastructure helps them to understand present scenarios, identify gaps, and gives a good idea of how the city invests in future developments and in filling those gaps.
Public transit plays a key role in urban planning. Increasing public transit options will reduce congestion, pollution, crashes, and increase fuel efficiency. When people understand the concept of public transit in urban planning, it helps the community move forward with sustainable and safe transportation.
Can you tell us about your work on the Arthur Square project?
Potluri: Arthur Square is a mixed-use high-rise building with residential apartments, restaurants, office spaces, shopping spaces, and a public plaza. The proposed project is located on Monticello Avenue in downtown Norfolk city. The project site is around 284 feet by 269 feet.
One of the major problems that came up during the early stages of this project was the issue of privacy: the separation of commercial and office areas from the residential areas. As a solution to this problem, the site is divided into three different sections: private, semi-public, and public. To keep the residential areas private, a semipublic transition space is added. As per the solution, the residents enter from the east side and west side into a private lobby that can be accessed only by them.
The public entrance to the building is on the north side through a public plaza. The building program includes vertical circulation from the ground level. The bottom two floors consist of lobby spaces, commercial areas with retail, a restaurant, and a public plaza. Levels three and four contain the office spaces. The upper levels include residential units, a roof garden, and a public gym.
In the project, the central public plaza provides grandeur to the building. The public plaza starts at the ground-floor level and gradually increases its height and connects to the first floor 15-feet up. The people enter the public plaza, walk through the green spaces of the plaza, and reach the courtyard space with commercial spaces on either side. From the courtyard space, people can walk directly into the shopping mall through a glass bridge which is designed as a connection between Arthur Square and McArthur shopping mall.
The total number of apartment units was 275 and the total square footage of the building is 368,000 square feet. This project is part of my final studies for my architecture Master’s degree.
Can you detail the specific role of architectural design within a larger architectural project? What does the work look like from day to day?
Potluri: Larger architectural projects can be divided into different kinds like skyscrapers, large hospitals, shopping malls, software hubs, etc., which have millions of square feet. The major challenge in dealing with large projects is the functionality and connectivity between different entities of the building.
Working on large projects with square footage in the millions requires a large team. An individual architect can’t work on these huge projects alone, teamwork plays an important role in the success of such projects. The timeline of any huge project depends on the scale of the project.
Some projects might take two to four years, some might take even longer. Architectural marvels like the Burj Khalifa in Dubai took around six years to build. If we consider the initial planning and designing time, it would be around seven years total.
For the success of any architectural project, besides the function of the building, the other important factor is aesthetics. Architectural design can be considered the heart of the entire project. In the initial stage of any large project, architects need to get the clients, budget, and square footage they are looking for.
Then the architect works on schematic designs, concept development, project visualization using rendering software, construction drawings, and so on. Working on large projects is very complex, but it’s a dream of every architect to work on huge architectural wonders.
What are some changes that contribute to sustainable design in architecture?
Potluri: Before we get into that, let’s talk about why sustainability is needed and what it is. Since the Industrial Era, architecture went into a different cycle. Buildings had to be built quicker for the growing economy and had to be more economical, too. These construction methods polluted natural resources like agricultural land, forests, air, and water.
As we started to realize the importance of these resources, we made an effort to switch to what we now call sustainable design. Sustainable architectural design is a type of design that respects natural resources and embraces, human, cultural, and historical distinctions. It reduces the negative impact of buildings on the natural environment through the use of eco-friendly materials and implementing the usage of renewable energy concepts into the building infrastructure.
Sustainable design seeks to reduce the negative impact on the environment and enhance the comfort and health of building occupants by improving building efficiency and performance. The basic objectives of sustainability are to reduce the consumption of non-renewable resources, minimize waste, and create healthy, productive environments.
Sustainability is something I stick to very closely as I believe that this is the future of architecture. Every time I start to design in a new location, I take time to understand the culture, people, traditions, local material sources, etc. to become more aware of their needs and wants.
This enables me to make careful choices in my design and helps me take a step towards protecting and conserving water, enhancing indoor environmental quality, optimizing operational and maintenance practices, and minimizing non-renewable energy consumption.
Does your work affect the way you look at cities or buildings in general?
Potluri: Yes, of course. The moment I started designing back in college, the lens through which I looked at cities and buildings changed. Observing urban design in cities is fascinating. I love seeing design elements like public spaces, parks, and public infrastructure creating a tremendous impact on people’s lives.
As a travel lover, I visit different cities and try to understand the urban infrastructure of the place. I also love visiting iconic buildings in a city and looking at their details. It’s amazing to understand how every city grows in its own style with respect to local conditions, traditions, and materials.
As an architect, I always respect those key aspects when working on any urban design or architecture project. Whenever I design, I try to understand how architecture and urban planning in that location will play an important role in the lives of the people there.
Though urban planning deals with the macro-level of infrastructure and how the planning of cities is done and architecture deals with the micro-level of built infrastructure, better living is possible only when we integrate both of these aspects of design.
What would you say to someone hoping to become an architectural designer?
Potluri: I would say if one has a keen eye for observation and the ability to think outside the box and have an interest in understanding how spaces go together, how people use those spaces, how equipment and furnishings fit into spaces, and so on, architecture is the perfect career choice.
This profession is a perfect combination of technology and creativity that opens you up to a multitude of opportunities. That being said, it’s easy to get lost. I recommend any individual who is aiming to become an architect should also make an effort to understand in which sector his or her interests lie.
To give an idea, architecture is further divided into residential, commercial, urban design, hospitality, etc. To become an architectural designer, an individual should get a degree in architecture. But to become a registered architect in the United States, along with the degree, one should also complete 3,920 work hours in a professional office setting and should clear six exams organized by the Architecture Accreditation board (NCARB).
It’s a long process, but I definitely think it’s worth all the work.