I was recently invited to present the studio’s work at a symposium in Bangalore. This was held at the end of a 10 day workshop where the focus had been form-making and its implications in terms of construction. It has always been very difficult for me to approach design as primarily a way to articulate ‘form’. The inherent assumption here being that there is an a-priori stand made by the designer which has to do with the way the project looks. Rather than asking ‘what might be’ we are often asking ‘what exists’. In most of our projects the final outcome cannot be ascribed to any one particular decision - it is always as a response to the haphazard, random series of events we encounter through the process. Chance encounters, a photograph, a conversation, a movie...and of course the site, the brief, the contractors, and the client - all carry with them clues to an incredible outcome. Initial sketches carry the seeds but sometimes the process is so varied and complex that the end is much richer and layered than expected.
We are about to complete a small restaurant in Bangalore. The project began with a simple brief of having a nice large courtyard and ample seating, much of it in verandahs, under light roofs and canopies - best suited to the mild Bangalore evenings. A chance trip to Venice introduced me first hand to Carlo Scarpa. I saw the garden of the Querini Stampalia Foundation and it is easily the most beautiful garden I have been in. Small, almost insignificant, the garden is filled with exquisite details articulating junctions, establishing hierarchies, and providing enclosures. On coming back I immediately began imagining our little restaurant as a variegated plinth with a panoply of local materials and subtle level changes all articulated in the Scarpa tradition. Just like in the Venetian garden, smooth materials (Jaisalmer & honed Sandstone) are juxtaposed with rough ones (exposed concrete, flamed Granite and exterior grade terrazzo), shiny elements (copper water spouts, troughs and glass) sit astride dull ones (cement floors, Kota stone and timber). The joints are articulated using grooves or sometimes a third material. The simple white and exposed concrete building sits on this rich surface gently, separated by water channels and light. The plinth is important here because it is continuous given the early idea of sheltered verandahs around gardens. One could potentially encounter this plinth seamlessly from enclosed, sheltered spaces to semi-open verandahs to sun-lit patios. The restaurant also exhibits another recurring fascination - the idea of simple enclosures and complex, asymmetrical open spaces.
In projects where we have the opportunity to interpret the brief as a series of pavillions (like the restaurant) or as a group of buildings (like the schools we have done in Tamil Nadu), the buildings are simple and have a clear and direct organizational strategy but the way in which they are composed on the site, orientation, site geometries, and natural features begin to dictate their locations. The open space generated becomes a result of this careful composition and the facades of these buildings become opportunities to establish hierarchies (in terms of scale, color and materials) and define boundaries.
In a housing project on the coast in Kerala, we have developed three primary house types and have arranged these on the site (aligned to the jagged 200m no-build zone line as per the Coastal Regulations) to create an intimate pedestrian way between the houses which meanders (varying substantially in shape and size) from one end of the site to the other (around half a kilometer - a five minute walk) establishing a rich, varied, and car-free environment. This pedestrian way is the core of our project and the simple houses we have designed are a backdrop to this complex open space network. We have been working on an interior design job and this has been by far the most challenging thing I have done. Interior design is, I think, mostly about the celebration of the logic of the architecture. Successful interior design requires sophisticated architecture otherwise it is merely camouflage - a way by which unresolved structure is hidden. This wasn’t immediately apparent to us and after a long struggle which included numerous flamboyant schemes which had nothing to do with the rigorous and principled structure of the building, we finally got it. Most of our cues came from the logic of the building - accentuating the structural rhythms, layering the various finishes, giving them a logic by which their arrangement could be understood and establishing rules of alignment to introduce datums, and respond to the many services.
So in effect all our work seeks to address the existing condition we are presented with and to find a way to augment existing patterns, and establish new ones as extensions of these. We are interested in this newness, but not in isolation. Architecture and Interior design are inherently violent acts - our effort is to minimise the impact of this imposition by weaving our projects into systems that may already exist.
Department of Architecture, Manipal Institute of Technology