Gurjit Singh Matharoo is our very own new – age modernist who has played a significant role in reviving the Indian architectural scene.
A CEPT, Ahmedabad graduate, Gurjit’s bold architectural vocabulary sparingly reflects the language of the early modernist movement of India (primarily headed by Louis Kahn and Le Corbusier).
Gurjit’s own signature is evident in every project that he designs. Here, I am tempted to use the term ‘out-of-the-box’ to describe his work but fear Gurjit might say, “‘out-of-the-box’… really? That’s been done to death; can’t you be a bit more original?”
By remodelling structural elements and playing around with materials and techniques, Gurjit breathes life into each of these built spaces. So, it comes as no surprise that the man has earned several accolades and the most recent one being the lifetime honour of International Fellowship of Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA).
We decided to congratulate him on his latest achievement and while at it, we managed to pick his brain too… read ahead to get inspired.
‘Quintessentially unique’ is what Matharoo Associates stands for; what efforts go into each project to maintain this brand identity?
Like the first serve in tennis, we give each idea our best shot – more often than not, it’s an ace.
As follow through, we are able to satisfy even the smallest of the clients’ functional requirements. By integrating design work ranging from architecture, interiors, landscape and structure under one roof, we dish out a parcel that is fresh, intact and on time.
With our internal working philosophy of ‘when in doubt, reduce; when not in doubt, surely reduce’, clients are ensured that, at least the amount of the fees they pay us, will be saved from the project cost, because of our innovative solutions. Our service is thus free and our unique designs, a bonus!
We use materials in their natural form. With harsh sun falling on wood, concrete, brick, stone or metal, we are able to get profound textures, much like carvings do to a temple in tropical light. While our buildings remain truly embedded in nature, our approach to sustainably is taking green and adding a little blue for open mindedness, so environmentalism goes hand in hand with science – a turquoise approach to architecture.
Our projects are injected with a potent dose of wit, so buildings are not sterile, but fun to be in and playful. Innovation becomes an essential ingredient of our soulful cuisines.
You were recently conferred with RIBA’s Lifetime International Fellowship, which before now only two other Indian architects were honoured with, how does it feel to be the youngest Indian to have earned this great honour?
With almost no buildings designed by us outside of India, “contribution to international architecture” could only be through the original ideas developed by our brilliant team.
This is an honour we never anticipated and it’s an incredible achievement to be recognized by one of the foremost authority in global architecture, made possible only through our client’s wholehearted trust and support in our efforts. RIBA’s international fellowship will go a long way in encouraging our design philosophy.
Pen and paper or mouse and AutoCAD, which is your preferred set of tools? and why?
We are suspicious of architecture conceived on the computer screen, and pride ourselves that both the start and finish of our projects is found at the end of a pen or paintbrush.
In putting a physical distance between your body and the drawing or model you gain an essential breathing space for reflection whilst maintaining the essential mind-hand-drawing-building link. Whilst the machine is an efficient tool for production, working manually on initial sketches and presentation drawings is an escape from the restrictive regime that one’s thoughts must abide by, as a computer program extracts forced confessions from you.
A structure designed by another architect which continues to have an impact on you every time you visit…
Master Architect Mies Van Der Rohe has been my greatest inspiration. My visit to his Pavilion in Barcelona, built in 1929 and reconstructed again in 1985, was a pilgrimage of sorts.
Every day I would go and sit inside this overwhelming exposed and endlessly enclosed pavilion: Each time that the four walls, eight columns, single roof and two waters combine, they create an ever changing experience of the pavilion for the beholder.
He is the man behind the most profound statements such as ‘God is in the details’ and ‘less is more’. He was also the only male member of an All Womens’ Club in Chicago; we bow down to him.
You are a visiting faculty at CEPT, what does teaching mean to you?
Since I came back from Switzerland, I have been a regular with my Alma mater CEPT. I enjoy my time with students a lot. Like in practice, I follow a hands-on approach with them.
The belief in bringing new ideas onboard stems from the fact that it is hard at first, then enjoyable. My students are not allowed to leave the two and a half hour long class, use phones or even visit the library. They are only to produce work, self correct and produce more – do first, think later. Prof Doshi, whom we revere, on seeing the outcome compared this to the life in an ashram where there is total submission and leaving from within.
Tell us something about your passion for automobile design…
I am a complete automobile junkie with a love for all things mechanical. Our in – house creations vary from the Prathama Blood Donation Vans christened ‘Cattiva’, to a just delivered vanity van for a film personality, down to a modified Ducati I ride to work.
When I was growing up in Ajmer, my fathers’ BSA500 Twin had pride of the place! These were the days one had to wait years before they could own a scooter. My brother and I watched him dismantle and put it back together numerous times, accompanying him, cleaning, passing him the tools and generally hanging around.
It was observing him that developed this interest in machines in me, that I am able to pursue as hobby today. While my brother learnt the trade of actually setting things right, I asked too many silly questions. Some I got answers for, some I am still asking.
A project which is very close to your heart and why?
Prathama Blood Centre, Ahmedabad and Ashwinikumar Crematorium, Surat – both of which were won through competitions. These marked the beginning of our foray into institutional projects. We call them our life and death projects.
That the blood centre was to be a lounge for donors and not a medical facility building, and the crematorium was to be constructed while the cremations could not be stopped, added challenge to an already otherwise complex mechanism- blood flow and ritualistic incorporations.
Both these projects went on to win important national and international awards and are testimony that we met those life and death challenges successfully.
What are you currently working on?
We have an interesting mixed bag of projects that we are waiting eagerly to complete. There is a building which has large remote controlled screens of stone with patterns of fossilised plants in it. This is set against the actual vertical landscape, similar in character and scale. Together, they create an illusion of what is real, what is reflected and what is a reflection of reality. We have decided to call it ‘Moving Landscapes’.
In another institutional building which has occasional public events, the giant walls of the three storey building move out to render the otherwise closed building entirely open to public. We have named it ‘Shifting Borders’.
In a subterranean house fully buried under a green landscape, there is a 10 lac litre rain water tank with a swimming pool above it, literally creating ripples with layers of water below. This one is called the ‘Undercurrent House’.
Glowing in the soft evening light of Ahmedabad and nestled on a 20,000 square metre green expanse, you see a residence as pinpoint of altering light. As one travels towards it through a fissure in the landscape, the source gradually reveals itself. We call it the ‘Light Osmosis’.
Come September and we will move into our new studio, presently under construction. The basement will have a mechanical workshop for our nefarious underground activities. The entire studio faces a swimming pool, our hangover from the present riverside office, and the name is obvious – ‘The Pool’.
On a ‘serious’ lighter note…One thing which you want to do, but you feel you can’t do?
Tennis is one of the many things I couldn’t do. Making a court in our new office now, maybe I can start with my children.