Architects on Architecture : Morphogenesis

In this edition of ‘Architects on Architecture’, we speak with Manit Rastogi of Morphogenesis about his practice, design thinking and pedagogy, and the nature of architectural patronage in India today.


Recorded on August 9, 2017

Q: What prompted you to pursue architecture?

Manit: I did my bachelors from the School of Planning and Architecture in Delhi. I did not school in India. I grew up in Africa, went to boarding school in England and returned to India in 1986. I come from a family of engineers who are mostly from the IIT’s. I think it just sort of happens, like a generational thing. The expectation is that you would be an engineer and mine was definitely not to be one. I cannot really say that I went to architecture school because I am one of those people who always wanted to be an architect but I always wanted to make things. I was contemplating Genetic Engineering at one point- Generics more than anything else. But architecture was something that was very close.

My father is a civil engineer. He has built infrastructure such as roads, bridges, and highways. The choice of architecture came to me more as a choice of exclusion rather than inclusion. I did not want to do commerce, I did not want to do medicine, or engineering and I was not purely in love with studying Physics or Math or Arts. Architecture was sort of that one profession that allowed me the potential to build something and at the same time let me be the generalist across the board. Hence it was architecture. I then gave the entrance and joined SPA.

Q: Tell us about your experience at the School of Planning and Architecture.

Manit: That was an incredible time. I would not say that it was an incredible time when I joined. But what I see with the schools of architecture today and nearly 450 of them, I look back and feel that I was blessed. It was a fantastic five years of education. A lot of our faculty was from the profession. My final years were with Ram Sharma, Nalini Thakur, Ranjana Mittal, Malay Chatterjee, and a whole bunch of teachers from various disciplines through the years. It was an exciting time. This was around 1986-91. And if you remember this was also the time when India was transitioning from a sort of socialist to a more liberal economy. And within that turmoil were all other kind of sociopolitical issues that were being discussed at the school at the time. Safdar Hashmi had been killed on the streets in ‘89, just after the Anti-Sikh Riots of 1984. That hangover was still there, and yet there was a sort of promise of a future with the economy opening up in the early 1990’s. It was a very vibrant time- there was a lot of opinion, from Marxism to Communism to Socialism to Capitalism and consequentially the architecture that we were practicing in our studios at the School was heavily influenced, and ideologies were being formed. I am not saying that the architecture was good or bad. But what I am saying is that there was a sound philosophical base and socioeconomic base to what we were doing at the school at that time. I think those 5 years were quite interesting. They laid the foundations of a period that I do not think we will ever see again.

Q: How was Delhi during your time at SPA?

Manit: Delhi was simple. Delhi was a very simple, very opaque but also a reasonably safe city. Mobility was easy. We used to take the DTC buses which were fine, we used to cycle, motorcycle, and walk. In some sense our engagement with the city of Delhi was far more than it is today. The plane was far more democratic. There was not much segregation of areas as there is today. Delhi today is far more complex- there are many centers to Delhi, there are tremendous traffic issues, mobility has become a problem, safety and security has become a problem, and Delhi itself as a culture has evolved. It has become many more onions than it used to be. Delhi was a singular onion at that point of time- you peeled through that onion and you knew Delhi. Now it is just a far more complex onion.

Q: You studied further at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London. Tell us about your experience and influences.

Manit: When I finished here which was in ’91, there was not much to do. I did join work and in fact I worked with Ram Sharma for a while. But one sort of felt that there was something missing. I did want to study more but I did not want to study the conventional Master’s Programme- Urban Design, Landscape, and Conservation were the available streams. I was very interested in the environment. Nature has always been something that I have been very engaged with. A lot of my readings were Darwinian, Neo-Darwinian. There was a lot of interest in trying to understand this architecture, and passive design. It is ironic that one had to go abroad to study that stream of which we are by and large the masters of. But there was this great opportunity for a Master’s Programme at the AA at the time which was Sustainable Environmental Design. I went there to do my Master’s and there began another journey. That journey was about trying to put metrics of what you would do realistically. You spent 5 years doing realistic design, and you knew your orientations. You had a very strong sense of passive design but here you were able to use computational and analytical tools to begin to validate some of that thinking.

One of my breakthrough programs when I was doing my Master’s, for which I got a distinction, was the ‘Design of a Shading Device’. Because I discovered that quite a few of our projection tools were approximations and in fact for something that is as definitive as the sun, we should be able to design based on solar inclusion and exclusion with a much higher level of accuracy and which is a computational software that I wrote that did that. That gave me a phenomenal understanding into something as simple as how the sun moves, which is still complex in the sense that the earth spins on its axis and then it spins around the sun, so there is dual circular rotation but yet it is very simple. While I was doing my Master’s in Environment, the thought process was that I can create a design, test it, optimize it, and then I would come back to the drawing board and sort of go back again. How much iteration could one possibly do to reach an optimised solution? That was when I started working with John Frazer which was my second degree.

John Frazer at the time was talking about Artificial Intelligence, Artificial Life, Cellular Automata, Neural Networks and Genetic Algorithms- optimisation routines that were being born in the new sciences of chaos, catastrophe, complexity, and I found them very intriguing. Because here was finally a construct that took Nature and deconstructed it using very, very simple scientific tools. A bottom-up approach and I began to understand Nature from that viewpoint. I did a lot of coding and through that coding we started writing algorithms which would evolve architecture in response to environmental criteria. We could breathe architecture.

I did a whole body of work along that line for a few years which eventually culminated in an exhibition called ‘Interactivator’ which got widely published at the time. What that essentially did was an abstract experiment of soliciting feedback or inputs from people from all across the planet using their Internet in evolving a central model that was open ended and based on local roots. We call it biodiversity in design via the Internet. It sort of brought together a very sound, realistic platform. It brought together my environmental understanding of my Master’s Programme and with a bit of artificial intelligence into it, to create an evolutionary model. That was my work with Frazer at the time.

Q: Sonali and you co-founded Morphogenesis in 1991. What were the initial years like, and how did you break ground?

Manit: When Sonali– my partner and wife, and I co-founded Morphogenesis, the first battle was what do you call it- Manit and Sonali Rastogi Associates or? What we were very clear about within our heads was that we did not want to build a practice around a single idea. Hence we did not want to build a practice around a single name. That also sort of goes back to a lot of our thinking about how we viewed the universe at the time. If you look at nature as an example, you cannot pick the name of a single person who designed it. I have always given the example of an anthill. There is a whole colony of ants or termites who go around building this amazingly incredible piece of architecture that keeps the queen’s chamber at +-1 degree and they build this massive 30-40-50 meters high at times and sometimes lesser 3-4-5 meters high termite hills that act as massive air conditioning machines and there is no architect or engineer! We chose the name Morphogenesis which essentially means the origins and development of form in response to nature which includes process, and structure. What we were very clear about was what we wanted- a very bottom-up approach of pursuing process and the product would be an outcome of that process. It was never to be a definitive style, we were never to be identified by work of ours as Manit’s or Sonali’s work but it was a process that we were pursuing. We setup with just the two of us, one laptop, drawing board on the little mezzanine above a garage- like all architects start I guess. We began from there.

Some of our early work was teaching, helping people organise exhibitions. In fact we had an exhibition at that time in Norway at Galleri Rom and then at the RIBA in London. Between teachings and the early days of practice, we got our first project which was a small, 400 square feet interior project. That project sort of did well with a few little things which seemed clever at the time, but probably not and someone saw that. Before we knew it we were participating in our first competition in our first year of practice which was the Apollo Tyres Corporate Office.

There were five very established firms that were shortlisted, from mid to large size firms across India and we were sort of by then  a four- person firm that participated. That was a great, fun exercise and I still do not know how they gave us that project. It was a reasonably large project at that time and a lakh and a half square feet to give to a start-up practice! I think what they saw in our work at the time was what excited them and all credit goes to the Board of Apollo Tyres as they had the faith that someone who has never built anything more than a 400 square feet interior would deliver a 1,00,000 square feet building and achieve all that we had pledged.

We did many firsts with this building at the time. We deconstructed the idea of the office as a singular building, broke it up into multiple parts, built a type of mini city, brought in everything that we knew about a passive design, orientations, courtyards, terrace gardens, 100% day lighting, linked all the building services to human occupancy so the building goes into stand-by mode in the morning, when someone enters it knows who you are, because of proximity card access it knows where you sit, it puts your name into occupancy board, and it knows when you leave. So it was building intelligence but linked to human occupancy and we had to do a lot of coding at that time. Probably it is quite common to do these things, but the various bits of technologies did not talk to each other. So the card access technology did not talk to the chiller plant, which did not talk to the lighting system, which did not talk to the fire alarm! Nothing was talking to each other and we had to write protocols to do this which is generally not an architect’s job and I guess should not be but it was great fun. We started that building in ’97 and finished it in ’99. By ’99 March in 15 months flat, all done- full interiors, everything, won an IA award for it, never looked back.

Q: What is the studio culture like? Two decades on, how have the processes changed?

Manit: As much as our focus is on the process of design, we spend even more time on the process of how we work. There are 4-5 things that determine how our working processes function. And we have got names for these processes. The first process is ‘First Time Right’. It essentially means that no architect in this firm, from the time you have finished your 4th or 5th year and you come in as a trainee or as a first year; should be made to do the same thing twice because the instructions were incorrect. Now that is much simpler to say which means that you have to be able to explain exactly what you are doing before you put pen to paper. It is a very rigorous process of first getting all the information, getting your research right, working out what the metrics are for the success of the project, and then everyone in the team works towards that. The objectives are clear. We don’t come in and a cut a section of the staircase. No one will touch a drawing till they know why and what they are doing. There is two ways to look at a team. One is the typical, pyramidal model- the team leader, and then there is the team for example. Yes there is a hierarchy which we do not deny. But that hierarchy is not in how you work. How you work is more like a football team where even the captain plays and everyone has a function to serve and we are all equal on the field. And the winning team is the one where everyone can sense the way it should be at the right point in time and therefore you pre-empt everything. That is ‘First Time Right’.

The second one that we pursue is ‘Jack of All and Master of One’. Early years in Morphogenesis would mean that you have to work through, and we modelled it this way very carefully; everyone is exposed to all the typologies- starting from a house, to an institution, master planning, residential, commercial, landscape, interiors, and we do all that in-house. That sort of grows you into the first 4 or 5 years as a ‘Jack of All’. You are exposed to everything and then you begin to pick something that you are interested in and you become a ‘Master of One’. Then you are supposed to write research papers on that, you are supposed to publish, and that research is to be spread to everyone else. So that is the sort of growth path. We run it more like a university than a company. And what that does allow architects to cope or better is that what you can learn from a hospitality project and apply to an affordable housing project is an incredible learning or what you learn from affordable housing and can apply to master planning. There are bits and pieces that fit everywhere and it is that ‘connecting the dots’ that sort of leads to a holistic growth. Part of that process is also a peer review process. Everyone here works on their project but they would review someone else’s project. Doing your own work is one thing but then reviewing someone else’s work gives you another level of learning and at the same time it gives you a quality control process. So that is the sort of ‘Jack of All, Master of One’.

Then we follow a third one which is ‘Train to Re-place’. As you move through the years, you only move up the ladder so to speak if you can train the person below you to take your place. And that we found was important so that no one hoards information, and information is not used as means of part. Everyone’s culture here is to make sure that whoever they are working with, they are enabling them to be able to take their place, only then will they be able to take someone else’s. It is a learning cycle which is our ‘Train to Place’ program and then we have the ‘Publish or Perish’. We do internal, inside publishing, we have outside publishing- so the idea really is to constantly remain engaged even if it is a project or if it is an abstract piece of research or whatever, but you have to publish four papers a year whether you do internally or externally. That is the ‘Publish or Perish’ part. We work ourselves around these ideologies and the way we see it at Morphogenesis it is a semantic glue of knowledge which binds together people, who are the neurons in this network. That is our culture.

Q: What do you find valuable in the landscape of contemporary architecture practice in India? What according to you are the issues?

Manit: I do not feel that there is a learning environment out there. I do not want to compare this to any other city but when I was at the AA School, there was also The Bartlett, and few other schools. There was energy in the air and that energy percolated from professors to practitioners to students- within and outside of architecture as well. And one misses that ecosystem. Architectural practices here are islands. And these islands are sitting scattered across the landscape of India and they are not talking to each other. I do not know whether it is the competitive nature of the environment that you are in or is it the survival nature which is in our DNA, which upholds theory of our survival, not Darwinian but more Indian-based.

We miss that ecosystem and the fact that we have to create learning processes within our own organisation; we have our own CPD (Continuing Professional Development) Programme. I do not understand how an architect can get out of architecture school and get a license to practice in perpetuity without completing a certain amount of professional development programmes, learning programmes, attending conferences, etc. every year! The accountants are supposed to do it, the lawyers, I mean every other professional school has to do it so why is architecture insulated? I think that has led to that insularity.

Most of the events that are set-up today celebrate the picture of architecture but there are very few events that we know that we can go to where the learning of architecture, of architectural processes is prevalent. The other big problem I have is that not only does the architectural practice sit on an island, it also sits distinct from all the other allied consultancies that we are supposed to work with- Structure, Façade, Landscape, Vertical Transportation, Security, Hospitality- there is a whole plethora of consultancies and the amount that you can learn by talking to each other is phenomenal. But each one seems to be silent. The façade consultants are silent, the structural consultants are silent- they do not talk to architects, and architects do not talk to them.

The learning ecosystem is very, very weak. In that context I do not think that on a long term basis it is sustainable for architectural practices to become globally competitive. We are doing a lot of that work in-house which is one of the reasons why we scale- we scale organically. The reason of that scaling is the fact that we can mandate now that 10% of the said total man hours spent. We have about I think approximately 250,000 man hours of all the architects put together in a year, 10% is 25,000 man hours, and 25,000 man hours is 12-13-14-15 people full time equivalent dedicated to doing this. You cannot do that in a 20 member practice. It will kill you unless you are an ‘only-research’ practice. Scale enabled us to do this. A few firms will scale to this size not because of any other reason but it is just that difficult to do but probably was easier because we started a bit earlier.

We started in the mid 90’s and we sort of worked along and built a reputation but it is getting harder and harder to do that now. That role has to be filled by someone. I think we need a ‘Control+Alt+Delete’ to architecture practice in India. I think the time is here, we will get disruptive, we are getting disruptive and that is the fear. The opportunity on the other hand is tremendous for architectural practice out of India, not 2-3-4-5 firms but brand India Architecture at a much larger scale. Japanese Architecture has a certain culture to it. It is a school, it is a thought process. The question really is: Is Indian Architecture like that and what will it take for us to do that?

Q: What influences you beyond the studio?

Manit: That is very hard to say. I do not think there is any one out there today that is a consistent name because today great pieces of architecture have been produced by people you may have not even heard of. There is some small firm in Finland doing good work and some great work suddenly pops out of Nashik, and sometimes a big firm produces some really good work, sometimes the usual suspects do not do well or they do really well! I think a lot of it is now being driven up. The nature of architecture has changed so I do not think that it is as much, yes it definitely has to do with the architect but I think a lot also has to do with the fact of what possibilities are presented before the architect. It is probably very, very difficult to do very, very good work in say Mumbai- the controlled regulations, and the way the whole urbanism is setup. A good piece of work will emerge which will be maybe a small interstitial insertion into the urban fabric of Mumbai, but it is hard to see a big building which is a F.A.R. multiplier.

We also do F.A.R. multipliers- 100 metes – 200 meters high- but those are not really great pieces of architecture. They are good pieces of architecture. What you are really looking up to now is a good piece of architecture rather than looking at a practice or a name. And that could come from anywhere. It is no more the domain of the five or seven or ten firms that are the named firms. So I would not even know where to begin taking a name. I have seen stunning work come out of a studio that consists of architects that are three years out of college. I have also seen work coming out of a studio that is thirty years old that is stunning, but they were lucky that the ecosystem added up at that point in time. So that is the positive part.

Q: What is your research interest?

Manit: We have what I call ‘Go-To People’ in our firm. I am the ‘Go-To’ person for Sustainability. There are other ‘Go-To’ people who have other interests and we like that diversity. My personal interest has always been in looking at closed loop systems, bottom-up architecture, nature, energy conservation, sustainability, zero energy buildings, architecture based on carrying capacity of the land- that is my personal field and that is what excites me.

Everything excites me, but if you were to ask me what makes my plan come together is that if I can sort of put together a perfect solution based on the geo-technical context, the micro climate, the macro climate, materials from the region, and put together a great piece of architecture which consumes extremely little energy and is self-sufficient with water and zero waste to landfill and apply it to complex large projects- not the farmhouse but the high density, complex, large scale projects to bring that kind of thinking. That is my level of exciting, and that is where I am really interested.

Q: What is it that informs and complements the intensity of your practice?

Manit: There is no greater profession on the planet than architecture for release. Architecture is therapeutic, it is a hobby! I do not need a release because this is it. I need a release when I am out of it. I mean what better profession could there possibly exist than to know that what you are making and building will stand for the next 70-80-100 years and the responsibility that you carry with it and the creativity that you bring to it will affect the whole community? I mean it is wonderful! I do not see any reason for having any other release.

Q: Who are the patrons to your practice? As a large practice how do you act as patrons?

Manit: We have a very diversified set of clients and the reason for that is that we deliberately and by design choose to vary our work in size, scale, typology and climate. We work in all the five climatic zones of India because that is a great testing bit of seeing how architecture responds to that. We cross over scale- our smallest project is 400 square feet , our largest project is a 3000 acre township or the Surat Diamond Bourse is a 70,00,000 square feet building- it is to be the world’s single largest office building and it is in fact twice the size of the Pentagon. And third we look at typologies- from a house to an office to a master plan to a residential, commercial to institutional, universities, hospitality.

We crossover across all of them and that investigation between this matrix of four: typology, scale, climate, and cost- the fourth and most important frontier is cost. From the highly affordable to the highly luxurious, and to begin to understand how this matrix of four affects each other and how can it inform each other. And it is that inter-connectivity that we really want to keep alive.

The consequences of that have been that our patronage is also very diverse. We have the individual client who is a homemaker, for whom we design a house and so that relationship is very different from say when we are designing the Surat Diamond Bourse which is a cooperative of four thousand diamond merchants as a singular body who are building this and then they are dealing with this family of four thousand people. And on the other side you have this campus we are doing with Infosys which has a very strong ideology of how they have been and how they want to be- all through the last 20-25 or 30 years of their evolution.

Each one brings with itself a unique challenge. We do continue to work with a lot of them as repeat clients and I think the fundamental difference where our relationship continues with them is that we try looking at everything, every project, every visit to the same client for the same principles and I think they like that. From our perspective first principle is we try to come up with something different from what you already know. From their perspective it is like working with a big firm but enjoying the merits of a start up wanting to still understand all the small things that did not matter to them.

So I think patronage is not built out of someone putting a hand on you, patronage is built out of trust and I think trust comes from a consistently ‘following the part, following the process’. In a field of professional services such as architecture, you falter and the patronage is gone because the stakes are so high. If you go to a doctor and the doctor does not deliver, you will switch, you will not continue. In today’s world I think patronage is probably replaced by trust because it tends to imply that no matter what you will be here. I think that sort of extends the other ways. We will continue to work with the whole variety of consultants or the subset of that as long as that pursuit of excellence continues. And when the pursuit of excellence starts faltering, you will too. Patronage is intact up until the point that excellence is being delivered.

Q: Are there seekers of excellence on both the sides?

Manit: I think there are. The art is to seek them out. I think by and large I do not think anyone- whether it is a client, whether it is an architectural firm, or craftsmen- I do not think anyone does not want to achieve excellence. I think our system is so difficult, I think the pursuit of excellence is so hard in our system because every target is a moving target, and just to get something done right is a massive task. We say this in our firm as a piece of advice to anyone who joins it- ‘Doing good work is not about managing your own competency. It is about managing everyone else’s incompetency.’ So you should understand that everyone that is doing work here may not be doing their job and you have to work with that and through that deliver excellence and you will get it right.

I think everyone really wants to adjust, but you know we are stuck in this and it will change, it is already changing and I think over the next few years or 5 years or in a very short horizon, professional services will become what they are, and therefore the expectations of clients from professional services, from architects will get calibrated. Similarly how architects work with the craftsmen, or work with consultants and contractors- that whole ecosystem will get professionalised. We are on the way.

Q: Tell us about your recently published Monograph. What according to you is the critical value of such a publication?

Manit: Let me tell you about how the monograph came about. A few years back the Singapore Institute of Architects gave away an award called the Getz Award. They give it once every two years to a practice in Asia for a body of work. It is not for a project. We got that award a few years back for a whole body of work and as part of that exercise they help put together for you a Monograph. Images Publishing from Australia picked on that and then they worked with us and that is how the Monograph came about. We did not go about making a Monograph because we thought it was a bit too early and we had not really thought too much about it. But when they came in and said, “We do this monograph and we do one a year.”, and so we said, “Great! We will put it together.” Then we began this exercise of putting together the Monograph.

When we were doing this for a publishing house they kept asking for content, we were trying to put the content and then suddenly you begin to realize that you can choose only 25 projects. Then you think- but where is all my documentation? And then you have to start concretising and structuring- it is like putting together a thesaurus to our Practice and beginning to put it in the form that the publishers want it. They want to understand that there are chapters to a book, while we have led our practice in a sort of amorphous way. It was a very interesting time, and when we completed that exercise and the Monograph came out early this year, a- we love books, we love to touch books and as architects it is always a great feeling! We did not think that it was going to go out there and get us more work or it was going to do any of that. I just think that what it really did for us was it sort of put a point in time, where two decades of work- 20 years of our work got documented completely and we could look at it and say, ‘Okay! We started here and now we are here and where do we go from here?’

So I think it gave us a lot of direction, it gave us some guiding principles of how to move ahead. And I think as a Monograph what it really does is and we made a conscious effort to make sure it covers everything right from the beginning till the end. What we tried to do was also document all our thinking. So the book is broken up into three parts- it is called ‘The Indian Perspective, The Global Context’, which is what we thought is really the opportunity for the Indian Architects. I think Indian Architecture has the ability to view the perils and pluses of globalisation in a manner that can bring a high level of sustainability- not only in terms of energy; which is what the book documents- so sustainability viewed from the perspective of energy,  affordability of resource optimisation, and contextual identity.

The notion of identity as sustainability and that is our Indian perspective because our struggle with identity is probably the highest compared to anyone else in the world. This country is more diverse than Europe or even Africa- it is a complex animal and an interesting one. I think that is what the book really did for us- it put the framework around who we are, what we are, what we do and what we intend to do. I do not know about how many other monographs are out there, but I think by and large I would encourage firms to do it. Because after a body of work, putting out a whole philosophy, a method, architecture, buildings,and putting it out in a book is very different from sticking it on a website, or publishing it in magazines because they are referral, they come and they go. Books tend to have a sense of permanence, and I think it is more valuable to students and maybe practitioners. I do not know how valuable it is to clients. I remember as a student the only books we got access to in SPA from among the living architects was Correa, Doshi, Rewal, Bawa – so four. Those books were great influences.

Q: What are your thoughts on pedagogy?

Manit: Architecture is an incredibly difficult profession and it is as difficult as it becomes. It is not getting any easier. More we see the number of schools increase; more the number of students of architecture are graduating. And I know today we are not talking about education but I think that architectural education is something that we will really have to focus on. I think practice will not be able to stand the test of time if we do not get our education right. And from what I can see today, I was also the Director at the Sushant School of Art and Architecture for three years and I was teaching for a while- not anymore though. But there is a crisis of education; I mean you can imagine it is a crisis of numbers. Where are the teachers for 450 schools of architecture? To those who are there, my kudos to them- but it needs a lot more. And I think what the schools will have to begin to realise is the fact that the amount of investment that you now have to make into the new technologies that are emerging, it is no more a program and a building. The performance of buildings is getting measurable not only in terms of electricity and water, but performance in terms of what is it doing to psychology, what is it doing to social environments- there is a lot of analysis that is going on, various kinds of tools are required, modelling is required, and that kind of an investment and to run that kind of a program is expensive and complex. But that is what we need.

We need these students of architecture going through 5 years to come into practice because they are the ones who are going to turn us inside out. And to be able to do that, practice and academia will have to start talking to each other once again. When I was at the School of Planning and Architecture, bulk of my teaching was done by working practitioners. Like I mentioned earlier- there was Vasanth Kamath, Ram Sharma, and Malay Chatterjee. There were a whole bunch of people who were working practitioners and it was great because there was a dual perspective, there was a discussion, there was an argument. As far as I know, most of the practitioners that I know are not teaching and even if they are, it is a few hours a week. They are not running design studios and we have to find a way of getting back to that a bit more or we are going to end up with this gap. There will be discontinuance which will keep growing between practice and academia.

Q: How invested are you in the idea of integrating architecture with academia?

Manit: We have a large enough body here so in that sense yes- we are very, very invested. We could happily run a school but it is just way too complicated. But out of the 150 odd architects, we are a constant, including myself in that- we are a constant learning environment. So you know the last part of the Morphogenesis ethos is that people will come and people will leave and that is but to be expected. But when they leave, whether they leave after a year or after 20 years – this must have been the best learning experience of their life and that is the environment that we constantly work towards. So teaching and practice cannot be separated. You cannot end one and start the other.

Q: Are we witnessing a crisis?

Manit: And it is scary and getting worse- it is actually frightening, absolutely frightening! When we set up Morphogenesis it was very clear that the practice must perpetuate beyond the founders. We found that when we started Morphogenesis, we found it a problem that great practices in India- they start with the founder, they die with the founder, the body of knowledge goes with the founder and then the next kid on the block comes along and starts reinventing the wheel again, rises up and probably disappears. So this very birth and death nature of practice is something that also is detrimental to creating a continuum of practice. We have always wanted Morphogenesis to perpetuate beyond its founders which is what we named it after to begin with. But for that to happen, practices must learn, and architectural practices in particular must learn not only to create buildings but to create environments that bring in talent, nurture talent, and grow talent. Because I cannot see why everyone must go out and setup a practice and then reinvent all the wheels from scratch and deal with all the headaches so to speak- the administrative, the financial, the compliances and all of that.

Q: Is Morphogenesis an incubation center?

Manit: It is. It has to be. It is the ‘Old Bold Ateliers’ that lead the school of architecture like The Apprentice. And the apprentice eventually becomes the Master and that cycle and that process has to continue. ♦

This discussion was curated by Ruturaj Parikh on August 9 , 2017 at studio Morphogenesis in New Delhi.

Team Morphogenesis

New Delhi- based Morphogenesis is a contemporary design practice that strives to reflect an Indian perspective within the global context, incorporating an inspired, forward-thinking vision while respectfully referencing the spirit of the traditional subcontinental architecture.


One thought on “Architects on Architecture : Morphogenesis”

  1. brilliant! very well structured and a real surprise in content and found a connect! thanks matter! sure gives valuable insights and lots to reflect on and on another level gives a sense of hope and commonality! More power to Morphogenesis.

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