PRAXIS: A Panorama on Contemporary Architecture in India

PRAXIS is a curatorial project to chronicle contemporary architecture practice in India, with a particular emphasis on the principles, the structure, the challenges and the ideology. This film – a panorama of the first phase of the PRAXIS initiative – documents eleven studios from across India.  


PRAXIS

A Panorama on Contemporary Architecture in India


OUT-TAKES FROM THE FILM

Chapter One | THE CULTURE OF ARCHITECTURE

<08:20> Samuel Barclay, Case Design

“Agility is one thing that we have always aspired towards. We have got a workshop team downstairs. We have got a team of technicians, carpenters, people who work on the metal lathe. We do final assembly and quality check before any of our goods get shipped out – so that is an important part. The rest is a collection of architects from all over India but also from all over the world. I am originally from the U.S. We have got architects from Japan, Switzerland, France, at the moment. You take that, you put it on the table, you discuss it out, and then at the end of the day it is about curating the best ideas that are out there and going forward with that.”


<09:03> Mitul Desai, Studio ii

“For us, the workshop in the studio, becomes fragmented in the city. We do not want to have a full-time workshop here. What is Priyank’s preoccupation is with making – he can engage with these different workshops that already exist in the city and bring something together in the studio that can then benefit the project.”


<09:30> Vidhya Mohankumar, Urban Design Collective

“We are actually a very lean office. At any given time, we have always had about three to six people working full-time. But we have a larger network of collaborators and we are very fortunate to have this network where we can tap into every time we have a project that fits the bill for everybody. I think it is sustainable as a practice. Economically, it is sustainable to work that way and it is also enriching because we get to deal with a diverse set of professionals who bring different things to the table.”


<10:38> Anand Sonecha, SEALAB

“After working at Sangath, when we started on our own, we felt very isolated because at Sangath, we had many friends. People used to come and show the work. There was a very different kind of environment. When we started on our own, we were completely cut off. We felt that it is very important to have dialogues. We invited students, professionals to come to the studio and share the work. The reason was very selfish in a way that we wanted to learn.”


<11:05> Prasad Shetty, BARD Studio

“We figured out much earlier that one person or two persons cannot understand cities. So, it was always that you required a group – a larger group; and then the idea of collectives came. Whether it is the design cell of KRVIA or whether it is CRIT which is itself a Collective Research Initiatives Trust, or whether it is Co-Lab which is a collaborative, co-laboratory practice, whether it is SEA. They were all collectives. They are all made of people coming from different places, coming together and trying to understand cities and places of inhabitation.”


Chapter Two | WORK IN PROGRESS

<12:48> Harsh Patel, Playgroup Studio

“For us, design consists of probably three different sections. If I were to put it simply – the first one is finding a system, the second one is the manifestation of the system, and the third would be playing with the system to derive a certain appropriate expression. The system consists of an abstract group of components and elements which are put together with a certain relationship between them. It is sort of like designing the game mechanics for that particular project. It is very abstract in that sense. The second phase, deals with giving form to those elements and to those components based on the availability of materials, the climate, the site constraints, client’s aspirations, and the third – playing, is engaging yourself with this system. Once the system is designed, it is almost like a eureka moment for us. It does not come linearly, it just comes, it is very intuitive after understanding the entire design task at hand.”


<14:07> Rohan Chavan, RC Architects

“There are a couple of things that are informing a lot of things that we are doing. So, one is the theme that we work with, and the second is the situation that we design for. Just to give you an example, if you see The Light Box, it is a restroom for women. So, the theme is The Light Box, but the situation is the restroom for women. There is a subject and a theme. Even if you see what we have done for the Truck Drivers’ Village, we have tried to create a home for them on the highway and together it forms a village where they can occupy. So, the theme is the home and the subject is the facility.”


<15:16> Nicola La Noce, Kumar La Noce

“Sometimes I do not get involved at all in meeting the clients. I do not like to get forced into one particular direction at the beginning. That is where Bhavana comes in and she talks to the client, she understands the brief. She proposes modifications, additions to the brief in terms of ideas and in parallel, I start sketching and working and researching. We always explore multiple options very quickly so it all starts like almost like a workshop approach. Everything needs to be quick, it needs to be energetic and we need to get multiple directions as well in terms of design. That is where the most interesting ideas start coming in at the surface of your mind. We want to keep those ideas continuously engaged till the very end of the design stage. We love to maximise natural light in our projects. It is one of the basic requirements of human beings.“


<16:43> Pramod Jaiswal, BetweenSpaces

“I sketch a lot. In fact, a lot of my sketches will look very similar. But I look for that one line, that one cue – which means ‘yes, that is the line that really makes sense over there’. Whether it is in plan, elevation or section. I think this also helps in stepping back and look at our ideas and then go back again. I tend to even push it to stages where it is like the work is happening on site and I am still making changes you know. I think we both are deeply intrigued by deep shadows and light qualities in traditional Indian architecture and the layering of that mysticism, cultural beliefs and practices in the entire planning of Indian temple complexes or the built form of the temple itself. These are the buildings which really if you study carefully you will notice that they are in some way designed to engage with sunlight and that is one aspect which I really love to work with in our projects.”


<19:00> Mitul Desai, Studio ii

“When a building is getting demolished, it is almost like you are cutting into a model. So, while you are looking into a real scale building, you could actually imagine, what if you cut this slab out and make it into a double height space or what if you break this wall and expand this space? In studying those buildings through photography or through documentation, I almost started treating the sites as work in progress. We only think of site as a plane ground. But at every moment of the building, it is a fresh site. If a building is half constructed, it could go either this way or that way. You have to start engaging yourself at every site visit, at everything because, I do not think there is a lot of value in just breaking the walls unnecessarily so we usually do not do that, but you can treat the site from that point onwards, what are you building further. We joke around that our model is a building and a building is a model. Because you have to treat the model as a real building, only then you will make a valuable model and you can see the spaces. You have to treat it as a serious piece of architecture. But at the same time, you can treat the architecture, as if you are working with a model. So that you are not stuck, it is not to not value the reality of it, but to value the possibilities that still exist in this framework which has come this far.“


<20:25> Samuel Barclay, Case Design

“We have been going through a design process for a farmhouse in Kamshet and one of the things we knew early on, we would have the opportunity to build a timber structure. Out of that we made a decision very early on to have the carpenters that would be physically constructing that building on site to engage with them to make the physical models for us to be able to explore the design. Part of that is exploring the design for ourselves and understanding and resolving junctions and issues and calibrating things but also to be able to communicate that to the client. But by having the people who would be making it later involved so early in the design process, it means that later on we do not need to make such detailed drawings about how the joist meets the beam, because one, they have understood it intrinsically because of their expertise, but also, they have made a model of it and they understand at a small scale how that works and that model has been made with the understanding of how it would be made later on. So, it is no longer a requirement for the architect to convey that to the craftsperson, we have engaged with them in this dialogue months ago to be able to get to that point as an integral point of the design, rather than something that the architect thinks up and then dictates to the person who has to make it in a particular way.”


<21:52> Vidhya Mohankumar, Urban Design Collective

“The rigour in early stage research is very important to us. It is really intriguing for us to find ways to do that really quickly – the base research that we need to make ourselves knowledgeable enough to address the problem that is put in front of us. Once we have come to a stage where we are comfortable, that is when we move out, we go to the community or the stakeholders or the collaborators for a second round where we enrich or even vet that learning that we got for ourselves.”


<23:12> Aishwarya Tipnis, Aishwarya Tipnis Architects

“We start with a very collaborative design process where the users are important. Because when you are dealing with somebody’s heritage, how do you deal with their intangible values? I came from the point of view that the expert knows everything to have come to a learning that the expert does not know anything. What the expert actually does, and should do, is be the role of the facilitator to help people recognise what is important to them. I think that is really the core of what we do.”


<24:11> Anand Sonecha, SEALAB

“For each project, we change our tools. For example, for the School for Blind and Visually Impaired Children project, we were drawing very specifically to investigate the light. Because light conditions were very important. For partially blind students, they are very sensitive to direct light. We had to think of an indirect light or light from the courtyards. That is where we were also investigating through drawings, the quality of light. We also use a lot of models for our visualisation of spaces. At different processes, we use models of different scales and different materials. Actually, I have problem in visualising only in 2D so I take support of the model because it is like a miniature building. Each project has its own inquiry and we are open to change our tools and methods of working based on that. We do not have a very fixed way of drawing or conceiving architecture.”


Chapter Three | THE QUESTION OF PRACTICE

<25:22> Mitul Desai, Studio ii

“Our personal interest comes from how can we do projects, which in this larger metropolis, give you a sense of poise and quiet and when you go into those projects, can you just feel relaxed? There is no material to see, it is not a project that you see but that you inhabit. For me, it has always been these other arts that engage my intellect or emotion such as poetry or music or photography – I love the works of Henri Cartier-Bresson or Sebastião Salgado and that is where it really hit me. Even though I shot a lot of architecture, my source of inspiration was street photographers. While I am doing architecture, my source of inspiration is actually poets. So how do you short circuit the field of arts? It is at the end of the day the idea of expression that you are talking about.”


<27:20> Rohan Chavan, RC Architects

“For me the idea of space becomes very important. Even if I look at a picture, if it is spatially rich, it influences me. Even in the studio while working, a lot of decisions are made considering that we are looking at space, so let that be more important. We are not looking at flooring or a material or some sort of a ceiling, right? So, let that be more important.”


<26:50> Prasad Shetty, BARD Studio

“Space has been thought of in a variety of ways across many philosophical traditions. Space has been philosophically thought in India as well as in the West as something which ties up matter, energy and emptiness together. All of these ideas of space are very important to us because they all impact each other. Like physical space, impacts the idea of social space, the idea of framework space, the idea of continuum space. It affects each other. What is being taught to architects? You graduated as an architect, all of us graduated as an architect. What do we actually learn? We learn how to make orthographic drawings, we learn some construction details which are fixed, standard construction details. And we learn a little bit of supervision of buildings. The idea and concept of space is very blurry because there is no theory of space. Coming from trying to understand cities, for us the questions of methods to understand space and explore space became very important. Many conceptual tools were developed, the idea of the glossary, the idea of how do you look at space conceptually, how do you validate space, the idea of transactional capacities, the idea of settling. So, we look at our practice as developing conceptual tools to hold and explore space.”


<30:19> Anand Sonecha, SEALAB

“Still there is a lot of work that needs to be done in India. We are catering to only a certain segment of society. I would say three or four percent. The rest of the population has no access to architectural services or neither can they afford it.”

<31:38> Aishwarya Tipnis, Aishwarya Tipnis Architects

“I often feel that we have all gotten ourselves in a trap. A trap where fast work, quick work, and really quick-fix solutions are the real issue. There is ambition and there is a thing to just do it. Either it is for money or for power or for whatever the reasons may be. I think we have lost the soul of doing the right thing. We as a community have done that. We cut each other out in competitions, we do not support each other when we need to. People have gotten so cut-throat about these things that we have forgotten what the whole goal of architecture was. The whole goal of architecture in the built environment is to live sustainably as a community.”


<32:23> Rupali Gupte , BARD Studio

“One interesting thing that is happening today is that the idea of the traditional studio or even the large corporate office, is in crisis. In that crisis, people are grappling around and starting to ask questions from within, which I think will be really productive in the next few years. We still really need to ask questions on spatial culture and particularly spatial justice. I think these are coordinates because we work within professional practice, there are certain ethics that come from professional practice itself. Which in some ways are at friction, with the ideas of spatial justice, there is a lot of hope with younger practices because younger practices are realising that the space that the older practices had built for themselves are in some ways collapsing. So, in some ways they have to rebuild that ground and so you see people going and working with municipalities, they are struggling to produce a new ground to build from.”


Chapter Four | ARCHITECTURE AND THE CITY

<33:42> Kalpit Ashar, Mad(e) in Mumbai

“The housing which is getting built in Mumbai is leading to apocalypse, you can see it. You can see the old city and see these pencil towers popping up with no imagination of what these buildings actually mean to the city. That has been our concern and continues also through the series of studios which we do at KRVIA or at SEA of thinking about what role does housing play. In most of these projects there is never an architect. Unless they are very big scale projects then there is of course an architect. But those are very less percentage of projects which happen like that. But there is a city which you experience everyday which is the mundane city, the everyday life of people, your pavements, your skywalks, public toilets, aanganwadis, schools, crematoriums, lot of these functions. That is the real chunk of the city, which they are usually built through contractors because there are tenders, there are contractors who fill up a BOQ and just the quantities are defined. Without having an architectural plan or a building the quantities are decided of a project and the projects are executed. That is something shocking. It is like designing an everyday life with a list of materials and quantities.”


<35:00> Anand Sonecha, SEALAB

“Most of the works that we have been seeing are in a private domain and very less work nowadays we see in a public domain and also in the public domain, only very few firms get an opportunity because there are some competitions but there are some rules that if you have not done a certain kind of project or certain scale, you cannot even participate. So, you generally see the works of the practices that you know, building it. Very less young architects are building new things in the public domain. That is what is concerning in a way.”


<35:50> Rohan Chavan, RC Architects

“In Japan, they are doing the Tokyo Toilet Project and it is initiated by the city administration. They go to architects like Tadao Ando or Shigeru Ban or Maki and then you have these wonderful looking projects within the city. But here you have to initiate a lot of work. The Government or the city administration never comes up with any ideas. I do not think the city administration knows who the good architects are. I think it starts from there.”


<36:23> Mayuri Sisodia, Mad(e) in Mumbai

“If you look at the kind of market in terms of construction – we say that we do not have funds. We have an amazing amount of funds. And the municipal corporation and politicians also have ambition to do things. Politicians want to do things because in the next term they want to come back. The bureaucrats are also passionate, intelligent, they want to channelise that process. There is no way that there is no scope for an architect. There is a large scope for architects. But what is happening, is that they need a connection to a correct consultant who is able to channelise the process and do something meaningful for the city.”


<38:00> Bhavana Kumar, Kumar La Noce

“The question is –  what will encourage a continuous and broader acceptance of architecture and design in our cities for individual clients, for authorities, for the Government? How can cities start opening up more to the value of design? There are always sparks of good architecture in individual buildings, houses, in projects that we keep seeing. The numbers are increasing. But, there is still definitely space for wider acceptance.”


<39:24> Vidhya Mohankumar, Urban Design Collective

“Why do not we look at creating liveable cities through participatory planning? It is not just how to we make our cities better but how can we do it together? Our work in the initial years was mostly about telling people what is urban design, what are the possibilities, what is lacking. This we did across domains. Creating liveable cities means that you actually traverse multiple domains so there was a lot of empirical research that we engaged in the early years to inform ourselves. We use very simple tools like conducting neighbourhood walks, gathering people that we could then have conversations at that scale of the neighbourhood which was more attainable for most people to deal with rather than talking about the whole city which can be a bit esoteric for most people. We started out with a lot of neighbourhood level engagements, just going on walks, reading up on history, trying to understand development patterns and the forces that are shaping our cities one neighbourhood at a time.”


<40:28> Kalpit Ashar, Mad(e) in Mumbai

“If you look at any of these buildings, take the building in old city, they are built by the private landlords. All these buildings are about the city. The building on the metro or you see the musafirkhana. Always there is a gesture to your immediate environment and that is what we see it as. That has gotten somewhere lost in the city building process. That needs to come back. If you are doing architecture, you are going to be in the public as well as the private realm or in the domestic and the public realm. “  


ENVOI

<41:42> Divya Ethirajan, BetweenSpaces

“A good thing about practising now and being here at this time is that none of us need to put ourselves in that kind of box and say that this is the kind of thing that we do.”


<41:54> Saleem Bhatri, Case Design

“As a random theory, what happens if two studios merge? If two individuals are working together, what if two studios merge together for specific projects what then can be potential outcomes? Not only across architecture but I am talking across design, graphic design, art, so many creative domains are operating in silos. More and more, I expect and hope that those barriers or those things become loose in some way. There will be more interactions in the creative framework.“


<42:28> Samuel Barclay, Case Design

“I feel like one of the ways I have always felt interested in, is creating some small amount of influence is by producing things that are exceptional and having those go out into the world and be used by people, in whatever way that is. At whatever scale that is. Whether it is a tower, a metro system, a school or an object you can hold in your hand, I feel like each of those has a unique potential.”


<43:01> Prasad Shetty, BARD Studio

“The future cannot be one. Usually the future has been thought of as an apocalypse or as a technological utopia. There are the two ideas of futures that have been prevalent. These are very few ideas. But there may be many futures possible. Each individual can have her own future. All of those ideas of futures will mix up to make the city whatever it will be. And we do not know what that city will be.”


Contributors to the PRAXIS Initiative:
Harsh Patel and Bhavana Hameed, Playgroup Studio
Anand Sonecha, SEALAB
Pramod Jaiswal and Divya Ethirajan, BetweenSpaces
Rohan Chavan, RC Architects
Bhavana Kumar and Nicola La Noce, Kumar La Noce
Mayuri Sisodia and Kalpit Ashar, Mad(e) in Mumbai
Aishwarya Tipnis, Aishwarya Tipnis Architects
Samuel Barclay and Saleem Bhatri, Case Design
Vidhya Mohankumar, Urban Design Collective
Mitul Desai and Priyank Parmar, Studio ii
Rupali Gupte and Prasad Shetty, BARD Studio

Editing:
Gasper D’Souza, White Brick Post Studio

Filming:
White Brick Post Studio, Goa
Talking Cloud, Ahmedabad
Dhanraj Raju, Bengaluru
Accord Equips, Mumbai
Pinhole Media, New Delhi
Muvi Media, Chennai
AJ Media Productions, Surat


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.


A conversation with Esra Aydinoglu – Product and Brand Management Group Manager, Şişecam Group

Şişecam Flat Glass India Pvt Ltd

With a corporate history spanning more than 85 years, Şişecam is currently one of the world’s leading glass producers with production operations located in 14 countries on four continents. Şişecam has introduced numerous innovations and driven development of the flat glass industry both in Turkey and the larger region, and is a leader in Europe and the world’s fifth largest flat glass producer in terms of production capacity. Şişecam conducts flat glass operations in three core business lines: architectural glass (e.g. flat glass, patterned glass, laminated glass and coated glass), energy glass and home appliance glass. Currently, Şişecam operates in flat glass with ten production facilities located in six countries, providing input to the construction, furniture, energy and home appliances industries with an ever-expanding range of products.

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THE POTENTIAL OF GLASS.

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