An editorial project by Matter in partnership with Şişecam Flat Glass, PRAXIS investigates the work and positions of diverse contemporary architecture practices in India. Mayuri Sisodia and Kalpit Ashar of Mad(e) in Mumbai talk about the significance of working in the public realm and the many small projects that contribute to the everyday experience of the city. The discussion focuses on their processes as an architect-citizen in the making of the city encouraging our ability to engage relentlessly with systems that influence our urban environments.
MAD(E) IN MUMBAI
Mayuri Sisodia, Kalpit Ashar
In between the comfort of our homes & Spectacle of large Infrastructural projects, lies this liminal & vulnerable space of our city that we inhabit every day. These spaces are never drawn or documented. Traditionally, they do not form domain of Design. Our administrative bodies continue to shape them without Architects & Urban Designers. But these Mundane spaces hold within themselves unbound possibilities & Multiplicity of Experiences. They not only hold power of liberating us from our quotidian but can also strengthen our sense of collective. Here we can fall in love, converse with strangers and endlessly gaze at the city move by. Here we can set trajectories that move away from Spectacles of our times & create urban Situations where Beauty, Joy & Compassion are found.
Through the medium of our Studio, we have been asking this one question: ‘What can Architecture & Urban Design do for these Mundane moments of Everyday?’ All our projects explore the role of Design as a cipher that can set a stage for these everyday urban performances & transform them into experiences of Beauty & Fulfilment. The quest is also towards city building process through its small fragments & how making of Architecture can shape Public Realm of our cities. In order to participate into this city making process we needed to reach out to Civic bodies that actually build our cities. Hence we began framing Manifestos & travelling exhibitions that took us to various parts of the country. All the projects are our ongoing journeys & inquiries that we are taking up with Civic Authorities of various cities.
Tell us about the inception of your practice, the formative years, and the ambitions it was informed by.
MS: The initial inspirations were a set of random things during schooling that caught my attention. It started with drawings of human anatomy, sections of plants & microorganisms, never-ending love for Maths & drawings that my father used to make his furniture. So primarily, the love for drawings brought me to KRVIA.
Kalpit hated studying in all forms but was curious about his father’s work in the field of Set Design. He used to visit the Theatre & observe him put together these large sets. His father also has a large collection of design books that inspired Kalpit to pursue Architecture.
One important part of training at KRVIA was that you learn to develop your own distinct position with respect to the world that you inhabit. And our studio’s interest in participating in the city making process too got shaped during our initial years at KRVIA. As soon as both of us graduated, we began to teach at KRVIA. It was a natural extension to our interests & inquiries towards shaping of the Public Realm.
Other than participating in public competitions & framing manifestos, engagement with academics over last 15 years has been an important part of our practice. The second chapter of our initial days that continue to shape our ideas till today was working with Charles Correa. His belief in simple & fundamental ideas and design rigour with which he pursued them continue to inspire us always.
Then both of us left for our Masters’ education. Kalpit went to Barcelona & I left for London. Both cities & colleges offered variety of exposure in diverse disciplines. After completing our course, we came back to Mumbai immediately and started our practice in this Warehouse. For the love of this absurd city that continues to shape our thoughts, we named our studio ‘MAD(E) IN MUMBAI’.
What forms the basis of your practice now? What would you identify as the main intention of your work? What are the values or principles that the studio is grounded in?
MS, KA: As a studio we are interested in the most mundane programmes of our everyday cities. Programmes that traditionally have not been part of domain of Architects & Urban Designers. Through the medium of Architecture & Urban Design, we want reimagine these mundane fragments of our cities.
At the outset, how has it evolved, and what is the way forward?
MS, KA: Since our interest was to engage with the public realm, we focused on two mediums to enter this domain. The first was participating in the Public Competitions & second was framing Manifestos. Following competitions & manifestos have been very crucial in shaping the trajectory the studio has undertaken in the last decade:
Revitalisation of Banganga Crematorium, Mumbai:
This competition was organised by Rotary Club & was one of the first competition that we participated with our friends. It was a beautiful piece of land sloping towards the ocean & surrounded by informal settlement on one side. It was an unusual crematorium as it offered a peaceful community space to the neighbourhood deprived of basic amenities. Generally, there is always a stigma attached to the crematoriums & hence historically they used to be located outside the city limits. The intent of this project was to change this perception of Death from a disease to an important metabolic activity of life. In this project landscape was an important tool, that allowed us to weave Cremation & Community programmes together. It was surprising & inspiring both to win this competition as students when professional practices from across the country were participating.
Flood Resilient Housing Competition, Gorakhpur:
Another competition that materialised our interest in public housing was ‘Flood Resilient Housing Competition’ for the city of Gorakhpur. Rapti & Rohini river flood every year & urban poor who live in low-lying areas of Gorakhpur are severely affected. This project imagines low cost dwellings that can accommodate rhythms of water and make them part of everyday life of its inhabitants. These Aqueous Communes revolve around a water body that soaks, stores & celebrates water. These clusters could multiply along the landscape to contribute to its overall resilience and develop into an intimately stitched neighbourhood. The role of design is not to fight with water but make peace with it.
For this project we were awarded first prize in the competition & also received ‘Social Innovator’s Award’ from Ministry of External Affairs. It was also displayed at London Design Biennale, 2021.
‘Rethinking Kala Nagar Traffic Junction’ Competition, Mumbai:
Another competition that began our journey into Street Design was ‘Rethinking Kala Nagar Traffic Junction’ Competition organised by BMW Guggenheim Lab. At the site of Kalanagar Traffic Junction, 17 vehicular & pedestrian movements collide to form a very harsh experience for commuters passing by. This project weaves a braid of different modes of commutes with public spaces and smoothens the transition in-between them.
Slum Sanitation Scheme Competition, Mumbai:
This competition was organised by Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai & was looking for alternatives for Community Toilets for informal settlements of Mumbai under Slum Sanitation Scheme. Generally, the toilets are designed as utilitarian spaces where human waste is disposed, hence they are always in the state of neglect and poor hygiene. This project proposes a hybrid typology of the Community toilet, where on one hand, it is an everyday mundane infrastructure, and on the other hand, it is a space for children to play, for women to gather and a space for festivals and celebrations. The typology of Community toilet is a hybrid Section with amphitheatre above and toilet block underneath. We did not win this competition but it laid foundation for our future manifestos.
The Toilet Manifesto, Typological Investigations in Public Sanitation:
This was the time when Swachh Bharat Mission had just launched & we were doing few public toilets. But we realised that designing public Toilets in a fragmented manner was not a solution because our cities & villages need a holistic framework through which public sanitation has to be addressed. This led to formulation of ‘The Toilet Manifesto’. The intent of the manifesto was to evoke new imaginations of public toilets that are not only engineering system but sensitive public buildings that shape everyday life of people & the city.
In the first phase, the Manifesto set out a holistic framework of all parameters necessary for a functioning of public toilet such as sanitation technology, recycling systems, construction method, affordability, maintenance model, operational & maintenance cost, delivery model etc. To demonstrate the framework further, we developed futuristic imaginations of 10 types of public toilets for the cities and villages of India. The Design was used as a medium to transform these mundane programs of everyday into holistic experiences that offer a good quality of life to all the citizens. This Manifesto took us to different parts of the country. We travelled to different States & presented the manifesto to Chief Ministers, Mayors, Collectors, Commissioners & Municipal Commissioners of various regions.
What are the typologies and scales that you are currently engaged with? What are your interests and what kind of work appeals to you? What work does your studio actively seek?
MS, KA: Currently, we are working with variety of scales ranging from small amenities projects to large scaled urban projects. Across the varying scales we aspire to explore new ideas, imaginations & new methods of mapping, drawing & designing. Following are few of the key projects:
The Toilet Manifesto, Rajasthan & Hyderabad
In the first phase of Toilet Manifesto, we got appointed to design 34 multipurpose public toilets for 7 cities of Rajasthan. We travelled all 7 cities, shortlisted sites and framed programmes for all sites. The sites ranged from Bus Stops, Commissionerate, Gardens, Playgrounds, Lakes, Temples, important Road Junctions etc. In the second phase, we got appointed by GHMC (Greater Hyderabad Municipal corporation) to design 51 Public Toilets for city of Hyderabad. These are multipurpose pavilions and house more functions other than toilets as well. While Rajasthan project got completed last year, Hyderabad Project is still ongoing.
Crematorium, Jaipur & Hyderabad
We were also invited to design a state of the art Crematorium for city of Jaipur. After visiting multiple sites, we shortlisted one of the large site along main Tonk Road. The crematorium was designed to behave as an interphase between the city & its spaces of death. The building consists of a large circle representing cyclic phenomenon of life & death. The circular wall holds a quiet garden within that provides a soothing atmosphere for the families that have lost their loved ones. The circle houses all the support programmes & rituals that take place before & after cremation. The center of the circle is a white marble square that holds the cremation pyres, seating for relatives & a water body. Currently, we are also working on model crematoriums for 6 zones of Hyderabad city.
Flood Shelter & Citizen Facilitation Centre, Kolhapur:
These are two projects that we worked on for Kolhapur Zilla Parishad. The first project is an extension to Zilla Parishad Schools that can transform into a Flood Rescue Shelter during heavy monsoon. The second project is an as an extension to Kolhapur Zilla Parishad building that can act as Citizen Facilitation Centre & house information centre, bachat ghat offices, a meeting amphitheatre & public toilets.
Pilgrimage Infrastructure, Kutch:
Narayan Sarovar is one the five holy sarovar mentioned in Hindu Mythology. Communities from various parts of Kutch visit the sarovar for after death rituals of their family members. We are working on 3 projects currently in this region:
1) Lake Edge Planning for Narayan Sarovar:
The sarovar is surrounded by multiple temples that open up towards the lake. We have developed holistic Master Plan to strengthen the relationship of the village & various temples to the sarovar in the form of Ghats.
2) Conservation & Pilgrimage Infrastructure Planning for Trivikramrai Temple Complex
Trivikramrai Temple is an important pilgrimage destination located on the Kori Creek of Kutch. This project looks at the temple complex through two lenses. The first lens addresses the Conservation of Fort complex along with the main temples. The second lens looks at sensitively integrating required pilgrimage infrastructure within the Fort Precinct.
3) Shri Vallabhacharya Baithak
This shrine is one of the 84 baithaks spread across various geographies of India. Shri Vallabhacharya travelled across India & revived some of the important shrines dedicated to Krishna. This project rejuvenates the shrine complex by designing various layers of pilgrimage programs from most intimate worship spaces to everyday community spaces.
Maulana Shaukat Ali Road Street Design, Mumbai
We worked on this project last year for Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai. Maulana Shaukat Ali Road is located in the Old City and is inhabited by everyday lives of diverse people. Street markets, old theatres, government hospital, old timber & steel market, loading/ unloading activities of markets, eateries, floating vendors, bus commuters, animals & birds, worker’s Naka, people resting after work; all these events form a large canvass. But currently all of these events are conflicting with each other on site creating an unsafe & stressful environment for everyone. Our design strategy was to give space to each activity & weave them harmoniously with each other through the medium of design.
What is the nature of the design and thought processes pertinent to your practice? What are the tools of your practice? How have the processes evolved over this decade? How does your studio participate in the process? What is the studio culture like?
MS, KA: Each Projects calls for its own method of thinking & drawing. Hence no process or tools are sacred. Different places & projects come with their own uniqueness, and to map these uniqueness, you need different ideas, different tools & different method of studying & drawing.
With each journey we are pursuing new typologies, new experiences & new forms of beauty that are fundamentally embedded in the place. What remains consistent is the desire to dwell in uniqueness of each project and find appropriate method to understand & express it.
Hence, the drawings of each project take diverse forms. As an example, for Maulana Shaukat Ali Road project, we drew the complete Road, with all buildings, shops, vendors, market spill outs, hathgadis, tempos, restaurants, kabutarkhana everything. Generally, the streets in our city are designed with typical cross sections & this method doesn’t acknowledge the complexities of our old city streets that change at every step. Hence this 30ft scroll tries to map the complexity of all the domains that collide on this street. On the other hand, the drawings of The Toilet Manifesto & Kutch projects are very different. Toilet Manifesto drawings are more abstract and show various conditions within our cities & typologies appropriate for it. Kutch drawings try to capture the atmosphere & quality of the old Temple complex.
One thing we do consistently is make models every day. Models are inseparable parts of the Studio & it is impossible to think without them.
They are important part of our communication process also. The Studio has more than 50 models now & this miniature city continues to grow. For each project we make one drawing & one model for ourselves, whether the project happens or not, that one drawing & model remain with us.
Is there a consistent approach or enquiry at the core of the practice that drives the design and informs the decision-making process? What are the factors and challenges that affect it?
MS, KA: The consistent desire through all the project is to experiment with new forms of thinking & making. We make sure we do not repeat ideas. Also, one inquiry that runs throughout all projects is the desire to reimagine each space /typology we build & meaning associated with these spaces. Also, one idea that is always at the back of our mind is how does built form contribute towards shaping of the Urban Form & Experience.
What is the aspect of work that you value the most?
MS, KA: What we value most about our work is our inquiries. These inquiries are independent self-initiated process & do not depend on projects. This is something we learnt from Charles that projects & clients are transient. They are there today & might not be there tomorrow.
What remains with you is your own inquiries. So we develop our own inquiries & Manifestos and approach the City administration to implement them. In this case, building process becomes a tool to demonstrate ideas developed through the process of Inquiry.
What are the critical parameters of a project that make it successful for you?
MS, KA: Each project is a new journey that opens up new lenses from which it could be evaluated. Although there are few constant things that we are seeking in each project. Firstly, the project should be meaningful for the context it inhabits. It needs to make meaningful relationships with all of its surrounding & stakeholders. Secondly, these relationships need to be effortlessly transform into spatial form. Thirdly, it needs to offer beauty, joy, & pleasure in everyday lives of its inhabitants.
Does your involvement with teaching and research influence your practice in any way?
MS, KA: Generally, we always make these divisions between Research/ Teaching & Practice, where one is concerned with Knowledge Production & other with an act of Building. The Studio has always imagined teaching, research & knowledge production as an important process to arrive at meaningful ways of building within our cities. Hence, Teaching & Research are integral part of our practice. Our interest in Public realm is also an extension of studios that we were part of as students & faculty later.
What is your reading of contemporary architecture in India? How do you seek to position your work and your practice within the larger conversation on architecture in India?
MS, KA: If you look at all different landscapes of India, we have a rich heritage of some of the most vibrant & historic cities. Each city offers a unique opportunity for the discipline of Architecture & Urban Design. Sometimes most imaginative & radical projects that have never been thought yet are possible here. Currently making of all these cities are administered by our Municipal Corporations, Development Authorities, Zilla Parishads & other such organisation. Most of the times, these projects are implemented without engaging Architects & Urban Designers and are cosmetic in nature. The complexity of these diverse contexts, needs and aspirations of communities, everyday life experiences & possibilities of beauty never find space in their imaginations. Hence we get the cities that we have today.
If we are to imagine sensitive form of Urbanisation, as Architects we need to claim our role as an agency in shaping of the Urban form. In order to engage more architects into the public realm, organisations such as COA needs to establish more relevant & appropriate frameworks so that more Architects engage with our cities. This could diversify the range of possibilities for Contemporary Architectural & Urban Design practices to engage with and more sensitive imagination of our cities & urban lives could emerge.
Images & Drawings: courtesy Mad(e) in Mumbai
Filming: Accord Equips | Editing: Gasper D’souza, White Brick Wall Studio
Praxis is editorially positioned as a survey of contemporary practices in India, with a particular emphasis on the principles of practice, the structure of its processes, and the challenges it is rooted in. The focus is on firms whose span of work has committed to advancing specific alignments and has matured, over the course of the last decade. Through discussions on the different trajectories that the featured practices have adopted, the intent is to foreground a larger conversation on how the model of a studio is evolving in the context of India. It aims to unpack the contents, systems that organise the thinking in a practice. Praxis is an editorial project by Matter in partnership with Şişecam Flat Glass.
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