En Route to Excellence

En Route to Excellence

While he is enriching the industry with his design contributions, renowned architect Milind Pai says that a series of flukes got him into the field of architecture and design, in conversation with Preeti Srivastav


Destiny has played a major role in the life Architect Milind Pai, Principal architect, Milind Pai-Architect and Interior Designer, who landed in the career by chance but ended making an illustrious career out of that opportunity.

What served as your stepping stone into the world of design?

There was no particular ‘love-for-design’ emotion that brought me into this field. As a child, I wanted to become an Air Force pilot. Post HSC results, I applied for the admission to architecture only to help a friend. To explain this—one of my friends had got an application form for admission to Sir JJ College of Architecture. Unfortunately, he did not clear the HSC exams and so he requested me to use his JJ College form as it was getting wasted.

I had also narrowly missed my Engineering admission by a few marks and didn’t have many options. Architecture admissions on the other hand, gave me better leverage, as my aggregate marks were good. In the mean time I got admission to the UDCT (ICT, Mumbai) and was on my career path to become a Chemical Tech graduate.

I had just started my course at UDCT and got to know from a friend that the results of the entrance exams at JJ College were out. Though, I was almost certain that I will not make it, I still went to go with my friend for the sake of company. I was surprised to see my name in the list at no 16. But it was also the last date to pay the fees and I had only a couple of hours left to complete the paper work and other formalities. I was really lucky that my Dad could make it from Andheri to JJ at VT in time to pay the fees. And thus I started my Journey in Architecture.

Interestingly, in the following week also qualified for admission at the Catering College and was selected for the admission into the NDA, which was my dream career. But that one week I spent in the JJ College of Architecture was enough for me to realise that this was my true calling and I never regret that decision till date.


What was your parents’ role in shaping your career?

We are talking about 1987 and back then, generally speaking, people were not exposed to many career options. My family too had no exposure to the field of architecture. Our closest connection to architecture was a distant Uncle, who was an architect practicing in Canada and our knowledge was limited to the fact that architecture is all about drawings to construct buildings. Choosing architecture for a career was a difficult but tempting choice and my parents were very supportive.

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What is that one thing that sets you apart from other contemporaries?

Our firm deeply studies the various aspects of the client, like his family, profession, physical and emotional needs, temperament, budgets, aesthetical expectations, design style and exposure, his peers and competitors and even his energy levels and work-life discipline and then we develop the design from their perspective.


 What is your design philosophy? What are you most passionate about?

Our design philosophy is a simple extension of ‘form follows function’. The spaces we design are a result of in-depth analysis of the clients’ needs versus the function of those spaces. The passion comes from converting these spaces into comprehensive design solutions which blend into the cultural, physical and emotional needs of the occupants.

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Where do you draw inspiration from?

Nature is a major source of inspiration for us. In nature, we see a flawless balance of design, eco system and the aesthetical beauty in its purest form. The work on Antonio Gaudi in his unfinished church, La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona has had a huge inspirational impact on me for the sheer originality of the design and the audacity to use revolutionary motifs, features and more. I also admire the capability of this great designer to translate his rebellious ideas into acceptance and revered architecture.

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Any particular architect whose works you most admire?

I admire the flowing forms of Iconic Zaha Hadid’s designs but more than that I admire her creative guts to innovate the flow of forms into practically workable and admirable space solutions and architecture.

Any piece of architecture/ design that has left a lasting impression on your mind.

The church of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, is one of my Favourite Structure. The vast central basilica, with its technically complex system of vaults and semi-domes, culminates in a high central dome with a diameter of over 101 feet (31 meters) and a height of 160 feet (48.5 meters). The interior of Hagia Sophia is paneled with costly colored marbles and ornamental stone inlays. Decorative marble columns were taken from ancient buildings and reused to support the interior arcades. Initially, the upper part of the building was minimally decorated in gold with a huge cross in a medallion at the summit of the dome. After the period of Iconoclasm (726–843), new figural mosaics were added, some of which have survived till the present day.



Among the modern structure, I am quite impressed with Guangzhou Opera House, China. The building was constructed during the period of 2003-2010 for the Guangzhou Municipal Government. The structure sits like pebbles in a stream, smoothened by erosion and is in perfect harmony with its riverside location. Its unique twin-boulder design enhances the city opening into the Pearl River, unifying the adjacent cultural buildings with the towers of international finance in Guangzhou’s Zhujiang new town.

What is the one design mistake you avoid in your practice?

We avoid getting emotionally attached to a singular style of design and not losing our creativity and interest to explore newer and bolder ideas.


What is the influence of international architecture/ design on India?

As Indian architects, we all strive to follow the latest modern trends in our urban environment (with few exceptions). In today’s scenario, the modernism is in sync with the international trends and architects all over the world are edging toward this one universal path. India is no different but we do have our local ethnic flavour and a tilt toward detailing and colours. But as we move towards the concept of a Vasudeva Kutumbkam or Universal Family this trend is inevitable. Knowingly or unknowingly, we end up following a singular international design philosophy.

What, in your opinion, is the future of design in India?

Indian culture is deep rooted in design since many centuries. Local culture has a deep impact on design in every part of the country. Indians have a great role to play in the future trends both national and international design scene. We are genetically engineered to be master craftsmen and designers that can take on the world’s expectation any time.

How do you strike work- life balance?

This is the biggest challenge in our profession, where extended hours of work are a commonly accepted norm. But ‘work-life’ balance does form an important and integral part of a successful professional’s life and where to draw the line is the crucial defining factor for the same. There is no complete success in our professional life unless there is a perfect balance to your work-life equation and you learn to enjoy life as a whole with all those around you and close to you.


How would you design your own dream house?

Simple and minimalistic design will be my choice. Home is the place to relax and feel comfortable with self and hence I would prefer minimal style for my house.

What interests you outside work? What are your hobbies?

Travelling interests me. At times I take up some projects in exotic places more to explore the new areas and territory than for professional or commercial gains. We have done projects in about 26 cities around India by now and I have personally travelled to many exotic destinations in almost all continents. We are working on a project in Andaman Island and I am enjoying every bit of it.

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Apart from designing for business, do you take eco-project or budget-projects?

Yes. My work allows me to go beyond money and business and find satisfaction in creativity. We get to design temple, schools and other community spaces and we take it up with minimal charges. I take up projects that give me opportunity to learn more than I can earn.

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Share one piece of advice to the upcoming architect or designer.

The next generation architects and designers need to get into the profession with a lot more passion and an emphasis on continuous research.

The next generation designs cannot compete without integration of technology and thus the aspiring designers need sound technical knowledge coupled with hands-on experience on high technology projects. Also the next era is all about competition and only the best will have the edge. We are already competing with the best, not only in India but also on the International platform. Indian designers can no longer afford to sit back and allow big International firms to come here and take a share of our pie. We need to take competition back to their turf by producing top class international design at competitive terms.

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