When in your life did this passion for architecture engulf you?
This is so cliched that I’m almost embarrassed to say that I remember being interested in design from when I was in the 8th or the 9th class. I think it also has to do with growing up around my grandfather who, being a dealer of Kashmiri craft objects, would often be repairing them and touching up or polishing walnut furniture. In retrospect, this might’ve been a factor of influence.
Architecture, urban design, planning… sP+a deals in these three segments. Which one is closest to your heart and why?
All three. Eventually even a small crafted object is a result of the spatial and political dynamics of the region that it is crafted in. There is a commonality in the intelligence and sensitivity needed in all realms of design.
Tell us about the team at sP+a… do your collaborative energies come together to form the firm’s design philosophy? And what just is that philosophy?
We almost never know what a project is going to be. There is no master sketch; there is just intensive processing of information and conditions. Our design processes are open to systemically incorporating feedback from various components of a project building, with the end product almost contingent on the stages and inputs in its construction. It helps us to balance aspiration and brief within a structural logic that questions certain accepted ideas of building a project type.
The big projects keeping you busy these days?
We are not interested in the largeness of scale, though we are currently working on large housing projects in Hyderabad and Bhubaneswar. Our interest lies in the unique conditions that ‘bigness’ might create and how these might evolve new formal project types.
What is your take on the state of architecture and design in India today?
As a country, India exists simultaneously in many ages. Here, traditional rituals co-exist with our technologically networked everyday lives. We as people live with contradictions that result from this simultaneity at the least, without noticing it; at the most revelling in it. Our practice tries to occupy this space in between worlds. For example, moving from extreme craft to mechanization as a mode of production, many a times in the same project. As a collective body of projects in the country, there is a naivety in the state of contemporary architecture — it is either overtly coded or completely ‘placeless’… which makes it an architecture of extremes. The latter is also a resultant of hugely predatory building codes in cities like Mumbai.
On a lighter note
What is your quirkiest design/inspiration to date?
Noorani’s Chicken Baida Roti… I’m serious.
Given a choice… the country you would shift base to? And why?
The Easter Islands. Being one of the most isolated places on the planet, I’d
win every single architectural competition there.
If you could be a fictional character, who would you be and why?
Sherlock Holmes; so I can wear the deerstalker cap without anyone laughing at me.
The one thing you would save if your house was on fire?
My bicycle; so that risking my life to bring it out might guilt me into riding it as well.
The funniest moment in your design career?
My two-year-old son pointing to the kirana store in my neighborhood saying ‘papa ka building’ and my mother-in-law almost believing him.