An editorial project by Matter in partnership with Şişecam Flat Glass, PRAXIS investigates the work and positions of diverse contemporary architecture practices in India. In this conversation, Mitul Desai and Priyank Parmar of Surat-based Studio ii reflect on their influences, and reveal the intensive process behind understanding architecture, details and the making of projects that lies at the core of their practice. They provide an insight into the ethos of a collaborative dynamic, and modes of thinking based on values and meaning.
Mitul Desai, Priyank Parmar
Studio ii is a group of individuals that indulges in a constant dialogue and debate with everyone involved in the process of making to ensure that we can produce places and space that bring poise and grace. There is a continuous relay of ethos and information between the partners and the collaborators that ensure that the projects are consistently reviewed internally in all their aspects. Independent research and academia feed into the practice and become valuable in expanding the knowledge base and value system of how projects are conceived and built.
This practice, for us, should make it possible to bridge – Intuition and Rational – Emotion and Logic – Whim and Poise – Lore and Knowledge.
Tell us about inception of the practice, the formative years and the ambitions it was formed by.
ii: Mitul had been working with Studio Mumbai going back and forth between Surat and Alibaug, when he started working on the project House on a House around 2012. Prior to this, Mitul and few of his friends did an urban installation in Surat with the name of Urfun Lab that Priyank saw on internet and got in touch with Mitul and eventually ended up joining Studio Mumbai for a year after finishing his Masters in Milan. House on a house was already designed by then and was going into construction around 2014 when Mitul asked Priyank if he would like to collaborate on the project since Priyank was returning to Surat and was looking for collaboration.
This collaboration of two individuals with different skill sets and temperaments formed the basis of Studio ii. This being the first project together and the process of three years gave us enough time to fine-tune the conversations which would then become the primary value system and ethos of the practice.
What forms the basis of your practice now? What would you identify as the main intention of your work? What are the values of principles that the studio is grounded in?
ii: The practice remains rooted in the idea of conversations between disparate entities working towards a single goal. Instead of running the practice, we remain interested in opening up various dialogues between individuals through the premise of each project. Everyone brings a different dimension of the project to reality; from poeticism to buildability to communication with agencies and across different scales.
This way the original ethos of the practice still remains intact where any two individuals can find alignment to bring value to a common cause. Mitul and Priyank remain the anchoring points and provide structure that can absorb many different possibilities. This way the practice is always evolving and remains free of formulas, patterns or people.
At the outset, how has it evolved, and what is the way forward?
ii: Through the initial projects, we have discovered many typological possibilities that stem from practising in Surat. Cultural, economical and social forces often remain constant but through careful deliberation, we have tried to find the core content of each project and that has allowed us to slowly scale up and work in different scenarios. We take immense efforts in retaining our team that is compact and intimate. This way the ethos of the practice is relayed further and there is enough possibility of growing our sphere of understating and practice. Through years the people that have worked with us have become our extensions be it architects, interns or agencies. This larger ecosystem allows us to have continuous engagements with ideas that require time to develop and mature.
In some of our recent projects, we have started setting up strategies that take into consideration possibilities of this larger ecosystem that is not exclusive to the studio. This allows us to pursue directions which are absolutely different in nature without continually expanding the actual studio.
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?
ii: We have mostly been building private residences, and more recently few institutions. Primarily spaces that allow individual engagement in building it and then as users. The scales have varied from 1500 sqft houses to 1,50,000 sqft institutions.
We often look forward to engaging in projects that often fall outside the interests of standard architectural practices due to scale or economics of the projects. But we truly think that if we can somehow enter the socio-economical space that is frugal, we can really spread ourselves faster making valuable spaces and places. Our interest lies in creating experiences with conscious care and attention that allow them the possibility to evolve in time.
This has allowed us to engage with materials and building techniques that are usually outside the purview of architectural interests but are still available locally. This gives us more freedom to experiment and create an environment of applied research in a way. Truly finding what is possible here, now.
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?
ii: Mitul and Priyank being two nodes of the practice bring in Abstract and Tangible sides to each conversation. Individuals in the studio are identified in terms of their possible engagement and capacity to participate in each conversation. One can make very precise models, while the other can bring clarity into a very abstract conceptual thought and yet the other one can ensure how well its taken to the site.
This way the practice depends upon a very careful relay of ideas and thoughts that are often very fragile at the beginning. To ensure that these ideas remain unscathed is cared for very intimately through stages of construction and external conversations which can often be very hostile.
Are there any outside engagements – research, teaching etc. that influence your process?
ii: Mitul’s interest in photography has often been that of material-spatial research. This has allowed him to bring in architectural possibilities that are unadulterated and sans judgement. This allowed him his long-term association with Studio Mumbai and Bijoy Jain where he truly inculcated humility in making buildings.
Priyank’s long term association with the architecture college in Surat and Mitul’s academic engagements have allowed both to remain connected to the core design values and bring them into the practice. This facilitated a conversation that is often lacking in full-time practices.
What is the aspect of your work that you value the most? What are the critical parameters of a project that make it successful for you?
ii: This is a difficult question to answer. We do not necessarily see ourselves in third person which has become a trending phenomenon in today’s world with social media. With each project and each situation, one or the other thing excites us creatively, we pursue that. Only when the entire project is over is when even we get the full view of it. So, to see our work critically is someone else’s business really. We are too occupied with very immediate issues that can make sure how we get through to the other side with this one whim that we had for the project with all the daily struggles that can easily derail this first thought.
Few things that truly matter to us is to find out how we can operate, in a given situation, to produce work that can bring joy in the lives of people that are involved in making it and people that will eventually occupy it.
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?
ii: India is a largely populated and beautifully diverse country. To try and condense it to a single conversation would be a mistake. We all operate out of completely different set of issues and wishes that are very close and real for us. We do not know or think about how everyone else operates. We hope that we can somehow bring value to spaces and places that we work with and bring slight change that can benefit people and us in our daily lives. ♦
Images and Drawings: Studio ii
Filming: AJ Media Productions
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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