Having studied Architecture and Planning in Los Angeles and New York, Sameep Padora graduated with a Masters in Design Studies from Harvard University in 2005. He then chose to move to his homeland to explore his professional prowess leading to the genesis of his firm sP+a.
His work charter begins by addressing the context of a project albeit by challenging it, as is seen in the case of the Shiva Temple in Wadeshwar. Here locally available materials have been used but the structure itself is a fine example of symbolism in architecture, where the essence of temple architecture and symbolism has been kept intact in the finished shrine.
Sustainability is also a key feature of his work: sP+a’s eco-friendly design for 321 Tardeo, a residential tower, with its perforated skin is a fitting example of their green endeavours.
A chat with Sameep divulges the extent of his evolved thinking, though his work might appear bold and very much ‘out there’ (testament to this is the Indigo Deli, Mumbai where by denying the rigid geometries he created an undulating and interlocking structure that dramatically swoops above the dining area.), his humble nature manages to break through and charm you.
What’s your design philosophy?
There are commonalities and interests in all projects we do but all change over time, there isn’t a single statement. But if I was to define these commonalities they would be rigorous design processes and the need for a design idea to have an existential logic.
Do you think today’s architecture is heavily dependent on the technologies available at hand?
No not really, the real test of a building as architecture is phenomenological – the experience of its spaces, its ability to express ideas beyond the accommodation of program. Technologies are merely tools to help articulate intent. As architects, we are dependant on so many things client aspirations, funds etc… That our dependence on technology is the least of our problems.
We see progressive architecture practiced across the globe… When do you think India will achieve such design maturity? Are we anywhere near it?
I don’t think that is necessarily true. There is interesting work within the country as well, but the sheer volume and speed at which the economy needed to get infrastructure built meant that this percentage of work that innovated was comparatively small. Also the built fabric was feeding of the manifestation of a networked global economy which meant the image of this development was blindly imported as well. So an office building in Gurgaon looked like it could be anywhere in the Californian Bay area. It became an assemblage of an internationally standardized material pallate.
But I think post the first wave of development, clients are starting to realize the limitations of this kind of development, and hence one does hear this growing talk of sustainability…though most of it is notional and superficial thus far.
We often see ‘architecture within architecture ‘ in your work. What’s the fascination with creating double skins/ volumes?
That’s an interesting question, starting practice working in Mumbai we ended up doing a lot of interior architecture projects. We consciously looked at the potential architectural capacities of even interior objects and the spaces they create and occupy and that I think led to this condition you call ‘architecture within architecture’.
The skin/ volumes you refer to in itself are manifestation of program, they are not self-referential in any way. They exist because they need to and a formal language is an explicit strategy to for incorporating program.
Your favourite architect/designer amongst your contemporaries.
Too many favourites – Serie, Studio Mumbai, to name a few….
A project that you designed that finally led to the brand ‘Sameep Padora’… Tell us something about the project.
I am not sure if there is such a thing as a brand. But I think realizing the formal exuberance of the Indigo ceiling installation, or in the case of the Shiv Temple, formal familiarity and its deviation from tradition were significant in getting our work noticed.
Your favourite simple yet useful tool…and why?
The physical model, I find the tactility of models comforting. In today’s times where a majority of our interface is digital, the ability of being able to touch is extremely engaging. Even more so for architecture which is rooted so much in its experience.
Things that inspire you (apart from design/architecture) that eventually also stimulate your design cells.
I am very inspired by innovation in varied disciplines of any kind, in cinema, rural development, economic processes, for instance in cinema innovation can be reconfiguring its traditional linear narrative (Last Year at Mareinbad, Memento being a few examples), the work of Tarun Bhart Sangh or the Barefoot college in rural development or even the simplicity of Amartya Sen’s argument of Development as Freedom.
There is a frequent use of varied skilled techniques in your design… tell us something about that.
Our design processes are structured to be open such that in the process and even in the actual building of a project there is potential for it to become greater than the sum of the skills in the studio.
This happens by incorporating local skills, materiality and attitudes. I believe in the idea of a building transforming beyond our original image of it as it gathers input from other forces and context influencing it. This I think leads largely to the variety of techniques you mention.
You have won several awards and have been recognized by prestigious publications around the globe… What does this recognition mean to you?
It is encouraging no doubt, but these are just indicators that we might have been doing something right in our practice until that point but after receiving recognition it means you have to keep persevering to up the level of the work and sustain its quality.
On a lighter note, a common cliché in designers that you have noticed and you think the fraternity can do without?