What or who has influenced your design aesthetics the most?
My world view. I think aesthetics is a reflection of how one views the world. Egalitarian, democratic societies, a deep respect for nature and living with it, and a fundamental belief in people and their connectedness drives my view. This translates into buildings that sit comfortably and naturally in their environments, shorn of a certain egotistic individualistic character… Buildings that embrace natural materials, the sun and the wind, as opposed to mechanized boxes that alienate people and nature.
SJK Architects is more than a decade in the business of space design… how do you keep your office motivated and on the same page?
I believe strong ideological underpinnings in any practice bring together strong motivated individuals. Fortunately, the visual outcome of our work makes it easier for like-minded people to come to us, stay with us and strive towards similar goals. As an office, other than structured Monday morning meetings and ‘design reviews’, we have a collective lunch where video-viewings and discussions happen animatedly every day.
You are known for blending traditional India with contemporary spaces, for using local materials with global technologies. Is it always that easy to bring in such a synergy? How do you work with your client to create the right mix of the old and the new?
That’s an insightful question and one that we work hard at. Every project has a story. We must understand our client and their motivations completely, then be able to weave together all the clues from the site, the client, the history of the area, and the ultimate end-user. We then compose our story coherently and narrate it visually so that the process is highly collaborative. We believe that for an architect, ‘the client’ is a complex mix of the person who hires us, the ‘end-user’ (who may not have directly hired us), and society at large, who may ‘passively’ view and engage with the building during its long life of a 100 years or more. Ensuring that we are ultimately building for the latter is important to us as a practice.
What do you feel ought to be imparted to the next generation of architects and interior designers?
There is a trend towards overdesign amongst Indian designers. We need to believe in the intrinsic value of space, light and proportion, and refrain from investing in overlays of materials, claddings and ‘designer artefacts’ to compensate for the lack of basic values in design.
If you were to team up with another architectural firm, who would it be and why?
I would love to team up with a grassroots firm of ‘barefoot architects’. These are architects who work directly with materials and masons natural to their terrain. The young brand of Hassan Fathys and Laurie Bakers, making their mark in the developing world.
On a lighter note
The one thing we’ll always find in your handbag?
I’m fast losing the need for a handbag. My mobile phone does everything short of making coffee for me.
A dish you savour the most?
How do you unwind after a long, busy day?
Chat with my effusive, energetic daughter and my calm analytical son. Great combination.
Your quirkiest inspiration?
The leaves at my site inspiring a house. It still amazes me that it all came together.
Your autobiography will be called…
Of Sun, Wind and Courtyards.