Talent, curiosity and determination accompanied Munoz on his architectural journey from Madrid to Chennai
Chennai’s Global Face
The ingredients of a truly global personality could be a secure sense of self coupled with a respectful acceptance of the dynamic, which one usually has little control over.
Such a personality is Chennai, the city. Erstwhile Madras has always stood apart for her slow if not inevitable acceptance of global influences. For now, let’s talk architecture, all the way from the Colonial to Post Modern influences.
If one was to identify the representations of the evolving Chennai architecture, as an article in The Hindu did, a selective recalling would read something like this; Fort St. George is a classic icon of Classical architecture, the Senate House and the Victoria Memorial Hall are Colonial icons with influences of Indo-Saracenic (or otherwise called Indo-Gothic or Neo-Mughal) architecture.
The Dare House is embodies the Art Deco style while Valluvar Kottam, which houses a block modelled after the Tiruvarur ‘ther’ (temple car) is a study in the Eclectic style of architecture. The Rani Meyammai and Rajah Muthiah Hall are interesting structures with modern influences. And the high-rise glass behemoths with their unmistakable stamp of globalisation are indicative of the Post Modern.
In such global, a city, where does a world renowned architect like Alfredo Muñoz Herrero fit in? Clear Estate discovers all that the city and the person have in common. For one, both their personalities make the best of international influences. But where did they cross paths and what is making Munoz a rather well known name in Chennai, both amongst developers and individual customers equally.
Why are we talking about Alfredo Muñoz Herrero?
Munoz’s architectural firm, Abiboo has only three offices in the world. Two are located in New York and Madrid, the latter being Munoz’s place of birth. The third, bypassing the typical choices was set up in Chennai, in Nungambakkam.
Up on first interactions, what strikes one about Alfredo Munoz is his surety, his absolute conviction in his vision for the Chennai market. This Spaniard equipped with a team across three countries and projects in many more has a clear idea of how he wants to contribute to Chennai architecture.
He has in mind a futuristic bigger picture where just international experience is not enough. It works only when complemented by an understanding of the local culture and architecture.
Abiboo’s depth of research in to this particular strategy of really getting to know the customer is verified by what Munoz says, “The ways families live, the very different types of societies that exist in say, the South (of India) plays a role in how we (Abiboo) understand the cities, the residential spaces and even how people work and then we try to incorporate these learnings into the work that we do”.
Reiterating this thought in practice, Munoz, before setting up shop in Chennai about four years ago, devoted ten years of his life getting familiar with Indian culture. And according to him, the knowledge of how things were done, “was not only to understand the value (or supply) chain of the industry but to also gather information on the generic lifestyle of Chennai. And with our (international) background, we were able to merge the two into a result that my team and I are very proud of “.
Munoz’s travels takes him to India
While on the topic of how India became a part of Alfredo Munoz’s career graph, he reminisced about visiting the country on many occasions as the Operations Head at SOM (Skidmore, Owings & Merrill) and having worked with big names like Tata and Oberoi. With respect to Chennai in particular, he says, “We were working with Tata Realty and Infrastructure Limited (TRIL) on (Old Mahabalipuram Road) OMR on a project next to Tidel Park.”
Munoz was heading the project in the early stages which was also when he decided to step away and start his own firm, Abiboo. Delving deeper into the relationship between the firm’s inception and India, it seemed that the inherent connection between Munoz and the subcontinent was more personal than just a successful business opportunity. Munoz had been drawn to the spiritual side of the country much earlier. This strong connection caused him to, “stay in touch and be more active in the Indian context. The fascination continued to grow with more exposure to India”.
The Vision for Chennai
The visionary side to Munoz’s personality saw that while most of the projects he was working on were commissioned by clients in Europe and U.S., the kind of designs he was crafting, “would bring immense value to the Indian market”. He observed that none of the international players, at that moment were even thinking along those lines. They were creating boutique-esk architectural solutions with limited or no knowledge of India’s unique culture and were unable to incorporate the latter into their world-wide architectural point of view.
The international players that Munoz is referring to are large firms from the U.S. and Asian companies from Singapore and Hong Kong who did made the jump across the coast but did not make the jump across cultures. They tried to exist on what Munoz calls, “Copy Paste Jobs” with little or no time spent on trying to come up with something new and creative for the Indian customer.
And this grated on the man who prided himself on working on projects with heavy investments in Research and Development. For Munoz, innovation, creativity, new ideas, and breaking the mold are paramount qualities that need to be inherent to every single project. And these observations of the industry in India further strengthened Munoz’s conviction in his vision of Abiboo, India.
Zeroing in on Chennai
Munoz had to work out where in India would he be best poised for growth and success? He was familiar with the West of the country, considering all the work he had done with brands like Godrej and more, in Mumbai. But in 2010, which was when Abiboo’s Indian arm was set up, the construction industry was not in the best of forms in cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore.
Apart from being familiar with Chennai, the market here was also doing extremely well around the same time. With strategic reasoning on Chennai’s side, the decision to open a branch was made.