Architecture is one design stream which entails being much more than just ‘pleasing to the eye’. High on functionality it’s all about how your senses respond and connect with the space you are in. And when an architect gets this right you can say he/she knows his/her job. And Sonali Rastogi, co-founder of Morphogenesis who graduated from the Architectural Association, London, certainly knows her job.
Her work doesn’t just reflect environmental concern but is also replete with social and cultural consciousness. Be it the educational building, Pearl Academy of Fashion in Jaipur or her very own residence in Delhi. Both these structures indicate that eco- friendly architecture is no excuse for dishing out run-of-the-mill work. The firm blends and bridges the divide between traditional techniques and state-of-the-art technologies.
Her exuberance, the deep connect she has with the world around and the conviction to be the bearer of change makes her passion for work really endearing. And maybe that’s why in spite of winning several awards her feet rest firmly on the ground.
This interview celebrates more than just woman power, it also salutes the spirit of all ‘changemakers’.
Tell us about your journey as a designer – from your college days to present times?
Being an architect was a childhood dream. My father had his architectural practice at home and hence I guess it was environmental conditioning. I always wanted to be in India and find like-minded people to set up design practice with. Consequently, Morphogenesis was formed. It’s been a journey of discovery, learning and engaging in multitude of ways.
You have always advocated the credibility of vernacular methods of architecture; now with ever fluctuating climatic conditions and the trend of skyscrapers which of these traditional systems are viable?
I have advocated the logic and judicious use of resources in vernacular architecture. I believe these basic tenants to be viable in all forms of habitation.
You have been practicing for over 15 years, what’s changed over the years?
Post-liberalization of the Indian economy, there has been a fundamental shift in Indian design thinking. Within this milieu of an emergent India, social, cultural, and economic values are changing at an unprecedented pace. The clients now are more receptive. Their perception and expectation from us have changed significantly.
Things that inspire you (apart from design/architecture) that eventually also stimulate your design cells.
The inherent desire to be an instrument of change and excellence. The approach to creativity is inspired by the evolutionary processes in nature to create built form which is optimized for the built environment and the community. Design is viewed as a result of different stimuli, ranging from climatic conditions, urban fabric, local traditions, and human activity.
Can you tell us something about your cultural venture “Manthan”?
A new awakening. It is unbelievable and extremely special. On a personal level, it has filled my home with an aura that can’t be described. Manthan is an endeavour to establish a platform for creative individuals who seek to share, discuss and engage in a discourse of concepts and ideologies in an informal setting; an opportunity to bring forth the processes behind creative work.
An architect/ designer who has always been an inspiration?
Action is a reaction to a sum total of events. In the professional life of an architect there is a moment of inspiration that allows one to choose architecture as a profession without experiencing the fact that it is not a profession but an all pervasive way of engaging with life with a passion and a constantly changing set of rules of engagement.
We believe that there is that one moment of inspiration that sustains you a life time, as in the case of Laurie Baker’s chance meeting with Gandhiji or conversely a lifetime in this profession itself is your daily source of inspiration. In many ways architecture itself becomes the defining moment and its own generator of inspiration. My inspiration mostly comes from Morphogenesis Studio.
You have won several awards and have been recognized by prestigious publication around the globe. What does this recognition mean to you?
As part of a mission for global reach of Indian Design, it is a powerful achievement. On a personal level, they don’t mean as much.
What are you currently working on?
I seriously can’t differentiate between work and life. So lets’ just say everything. Yes, but some noteworthy projects of public interest in Dakka, Mumbai are different at the moment.
Apart from your professional practice your firm is involved in several socio-cultural and environmental activities. Enlighten us about your initiatives.
That is what the mission of Architecture & Vision of Morphogenesis is about. It is deeply embedded in our conscious. We are now aiming to develop a discourse bridging design, urbanism, sustainability, and education both at a local and global level through our R&D think-tank. Some of the initiatives are:
Delhi Nullahs (www.delhinullahs.org): an initiative that exploits the hidden potential of the omnipresent hidden layer of our ecosystem that sustains the city in a non-political manner to achieve ‘Urban Regeneration’ and ascertains the ‘Environment’ as an ecosystem on which the city thrives. It is a project that addresses issues of democratic space, equity, access to commons, memory, and engagement within a single transformative initiative.
Manthan (www.imanthan.org): a cross creative platform, established for the exchange of ideas aimed to bridge the boundaries between art, architecture, design and urbanism.
Mainstream Architectural Education: After demonstrating success in the design industry over the last decade, in order to address issues pertinent to design education today, the Morphogenesis R&D think-tank is engaging in providing advisory and consultancy services to architecture and design schools across the country.
This initiative will foster excellence in design education, supplement classical and traditional modes of design education in India and thus help to shape the next generation of design professionals.
For us, every project is an opportunity to investigate the program from a fresh perspective and to challenge the orthodoxies of architectural design and its established hierarchies.