His buildings may have that ‘Star Wars’ appeal attached to it, but each edifice narrates its own unique story. Architect Arjun Malik’s work is layered beyond the obvious skin of the structure that meets the eye and clings to a paradoxical theory of ‘rational thinking meets intuition’.
The heir apparent of the illustrious firm Malik Architecture has more than his prolific genes working for him, his ability at finding clarity in the complex pattern of his craft allows him to attach a holistic vision to his work.
After completing his Bachelor’s in Architecture in Mumbai, he went on to experience an intense academic environment at the Columbia University in New York. He returned to work on, what have become highly acclaimed, path-breaking structures of the country.
Visually, his work appears to be suprematist in nature and yet, despite the overwhelming form, the projects appear to be completely in sync with the contextual parameters; case in point being the much talked about Alibaug house – an empirical experience resonates throughout its form and at the same time, it is seamlessly synergised with the surrounding site.
Here, Arjun talks about how architecture should not be any different from a meaningful cinematic experience and why he chooses not to stick to conventions.
What was your experience like, growing up with your father – celebrated architect of the country? And exactly when did you decide you would like to pursue the same profession?
There was always certain inevitability about my decision to be an architect.
It was ultimately the paradoxical nature of the profession, and the belief, through constant exposure to my father’s practice, that architecture, like cinema or literature, was a medium for commentary and personal expression, that led me down this path.
Typically, an architect’s inspirations and inclinations define his signature style. Is there a particular school of thought that you endorse or believe in?
Through our work, we have tried to develop an idiom that would reconcile the intellectual and intuitive aspects of architecture, that would provide a tangible link to the past without getting nostalgic, that would be technologically progressive without being experientially stunted, and that would, ultimately, speak through the intangible science of perceptual phenomena.
The current over-emphasis on the intellectual and conceptual dimensions of architecture has contributed to the disappearance of the physical, sensual and embodied essence of architecture.
In our practice, we focus more on generic metaphors rather than specific analogs. We primarily rely on the intuitive reading of context, allegory and functional parameters to generate typological shifts. Empirical mathematical processes are tempered with the exploration of phenomenological precepts to generate architecture that transcends the merely intellectual and visual, while also addressing the often ignored experiential aspects of architecture.
A conservative, structured education system, especially in a creative field like architecture handicaps the creativity of an individual. What did you learn and take away from the two institutes that you studied in?
What emerged from my time in Columbia was the realisation that the process of design is more of a polymorphous construct than a linear progression. Being part of an intense academic environment and interacting with students and faculty from different cultures with a wide range of ideas, led me to understand that perhaps the most important part of architecture was the ability to absorb, assimilate and extrapolate information.
What according to you is today the most ignored aspect of design?
According to me, context is one of the most important aspects of design. Part of our profession’s malaise today is the repudiation and misinterpretation of context. Whilst being progressive, our work strives to provide a tangible link to the past. We feel that without understanding our past, there is no clear way into the future. This philosophy manifests itself in subtle ways.
Our planning typologies draw historical archetypes, but are subjected to current contextual parametric forces, some empirical and some intuitive. There are a number of volumetric and spatial allusions to the past embedded in our work.
Whether it is the monumental load bearing massing of a Cancer hospital in Jaipur, or the re-interpreted soaring and brooding gothic profiles of a research centre in Mumbai, we have always tried to establish a link, through spatial articulation or metaphor, to the past.
The concepts of time, continuity, infinity, reflection and introspection provide us with a theoretical underpinning and we try to articulate a syntax of metaphors that allows, through our work, to comment on subjects ranging from urban decay and regeneration to the more abstract and intangible notions such as the subtle differences between homogeneity and purity and contradiction and chaos.
I personally feel that, like meaningful cinema and literature, the experience of architecture should be a gradual process of revealing; where with every successive ‘viewing’ or ‘reading’ layers could be peeled back and embedded constructs and metaphors could be allowed to emerge.
Light has always been a subject of fascination, and an integral part of our work, whether as a visceral sculpting tool, or as implied metaphor. Homogenous light paralyses the imagination in the same way that homogenization eliminates the experience of place.
Much of our work draws inspiration from nature, not through its physical forms, but through its principles and processes.
Things that inspire you (apart from design/architecture) that eventually also stimulate your design cells.
Nature / cinema / travel / literature /philosophy…
Do you believe the scale of a project is detrimental to creativity? What are the creative difficulties working on, for instance, a township as opposed to a small residence?
When ideas and thoughts are underpinned by a coherent philosophy they transcend scale. Investigation and evolution are an inseparable part of the creative /extrapolative act, and as a corollary, so is the urge to challenge the boundaries of one’s own comfort zone.
This departure can take place at many levels, from typology to material to process to scale, but the inherent potential for critical commentary, hovering below the surface of the bricks and mortar, exists at all scales.
All projects for an architect have some memories attached to it. Was there one such project where you were left personally enriched?
The house at Alibaug and the GMS Grande Palladium are seminal; both projects represented a path into uncharted territory, and like many such forays, there were moments of self-doubt and adversity, but the risk was well worth it.
Any one building material that fascinates you and would like to apply in your practice someday?
Translucent concrete and rammed earth walls.
One quality of your father you admire and would like to imbibe?
His clarity and his ability to filter out background noise and cut to the core of an issue. As well as his grace in never overwhelming those around him, instead providing a healthy environment for personal growth.
Malik Architecture has built an enviable legacy over these past 37 years, what goals have you set for the firm in the coming years?
The question of legacy and achievement is a grey area, especially at a time and in a society whose definition of ‘success’ reeks of misplaced priorities. We love our work, and we value our ideas and, above all, our ethics. There is no goal in sight, no target to pursue.
Interview by Shweta Salvi