“ Without spirit, Modernist architecture cannot fully exist.” – Tadao Ando
These words by the renowned Japanese architect eloquently resonate in the practice of _Opolis Architects. Principal Architects Rahul Gore and Sonal Sancheti both secured their undergraduate degree at CEPT Ahmedabad and went on to pursue their Masters in US.
Before starting their own firm, they worked for few years in Japan and their experience there duly reflects in their architecture.
_Opolis architects’ work is also influenced by Corbusian’s purist language and the clean lines find space in their interior projects too. This vocabulary is further strengthened by apt use of materials, bringing out a striking visual texture in their work.
Following the diktat endorsed by legendary masters like Louis Kahn, Le Corbusier and more recently by Tadao Ando, the duo offer a slice of experiential architecture as opposed to the two dimensional visual excess that is prevalent today.
_Opolis has won several awards and competitions and in the past 13 odd years has created a niche that is devoid of any trimmings or gimmicks. The firm conscientiously adheres to sustainable principles while designing and has ventured into extensive material research to optimise the quality of design.
In this space, they talk about architecture, influences and life in general.
Firstly, could you tell us a bit more about the interesting name of your firm, _Opolis architects?
‘Polis’ stands for a city in Greek and ‘O’ comes from our time spent in Japan. ‘O’ in Japanese is a prefix used to show respect. Like O Basaan which means grandfather, O Mizu is water. All things that need to be revered are followed by this prefix.
So, Opolis stands for respect for the city and respect for the practice that happens in context with it. _ makes the practice more open ended. So, basically an open practice paying ode to its surrounds. That said, the name also did sound cool!
There is a purist architectural language that emanates in your work, which also transcends in your interior projects. What are your basic design fundamentals when you design any project?
Primarily, to keep it simple. Throughout our practice we have worked at keeping things clean and crisp. And again this comes from our teachings by our Japanese professor and mentor, Prof. Shimizu, who used to always ask us, “Is it really necessary?”.
That’s the question one should ask oneself when one sits at one’s drawing board or even otherwise in life, “Is it really required?”. So, this approach towards design, you may call as purist or minimalist. This very ideology cast the foundation stone of our young practice. Yes, there are times when one works towards making a ‘statement’ with a structure, but in those cases too, it should come through a coherent thought process. So, the core idea is to really question everything that you do.
Then again, we have had great references in the form of masters like Le Corbusier, Louis Kahn, Tadao Ando. These are the veterans who have stuck to the purist vocabulary and have inspired us deeply.
Your firm adheres to sustainable sensibilities while designing any project. What according to you should be the approach of a designer to achieve an all-inclusive sustainable project?
Sustainability has become a buzzword, though in truth it is a necessity today. Sustainable architecture is the only way forward; we don’t have the luxury to not take that into consideration. Without complicating it too much, in most cases if you use your common sense, sustainable design would be the end result. So we are not taking any special effort to be sustainable.
In early 2000s, organisations like LEEDS, GRIHA were introduced and the ‘green architecture’ wave had just hit the country, this period proved to be equally crucial for our practice too. In the year 2003, we had participated in an international competition for the design of sustainable cities, hosted at the World Gas Conference, Japan. Our team represented India and did really well at the competition.
But what the competition did was, it really changed the direction our practice took and we looked at anything we did from a sustainable perspective and when we say sustainable we primarily mean food, water and energy. These three things we need to secure as we go ahead and essentially conserve them.
Architecture is directly related to collective energy (embodied, natural, material and physical) and water, hence wherever we can economize on that front, we definitely do. It’s all about being sensitive towards earth and its elements and respecting them.
And traditional Indian architecture’s basic constitution has always been sustainable, so, we already have a strong legacy to refer from.
The debate between the benefits of technology vs. traditional techniques and concepts is an old one. Today, however, we find the young generation of architects blindly aping the west without understanding the climatic make-up of our country. Do you think architects should draw a line between getting inspired and blindly emulating?
Firstly, we are also young, so won’t preach (laughs). India is heading towards globalised architecture, but having said that, an architect should be always true to him/herself. And when you are attuned to the fact that you are a contemporary Indian then there is no question of blindly aping anybody.
No architecture should be accepted if it is not indigenous to the place in which it is built, and this applies even within the boundaries of one nation. The design sensibility should be both reflective and responsive to the topography it occupies.
Rahul, you have often mentioned about your fascination with Nari Gandhi’s exceptional work. Could you elucidate more about his design sensibilities and why do you admire them so much?
Rahul: His work has touched my heart at a very early stage in my life and his work is something that I have cherished all along. As far as influence goes, anything you like will always influence you… What we learnt from Nari Gandhi’s work is to actually enjoy the architecture you do, and again, question everything you do.
Mr. Gandhi did not answer anybody but he did answer himself for whatever he did. He had an innate understanding of the materials used and had a natural flair for structure. He was an artist, potter, a structural engineer all wrapped in one.
His work moved me from within. It deeply affected my sensibilities and I wanted to study why it affected me so much. So I decided to confirm it through my undergraduate thesis.
I had not met him personally so I had to draw analogies primarily through experiencing his structures and by measure drawings of his buildings.
Our country has a wonderful architectural heritage (sadly some of it is in dilapidated condition), any personal favourite structure. Do you take cues from our rich history?
Many actually, but to name a few, there is this palace in Mandu, Rani Roopmati Palace; it’s almost early medieval architecture.
Then again, the glorious Ellora temples and Ajanta caves are a living proof of what exceptional architecture our country has witnessed in the past, the craftsmanship and finesse literally staggers you.
You may choose to visit these places multiple times and you still find something new to learn from them. And besides, history is a good teacher in every walk of life.
When developers think of building iconic structures or commercially viable designs they invariably turn to the West to rope in architects. When will the Indian talent get the opportunity to prove their mettle?
Yes, the construction industry is growing and Indian architects somewhere have not been able to deliver the kind of volume and intensity of a complete document that these larger projects demand, that’s the reason why developers have been going abroad.
However now, the architects are learning the tricks of the trade and sooner as opposed to later, Indian architects will effortlessly fill up whatever void the developer community felt existed.
Indian architects are fundamentally good. Again I say this, if we remain true to ourselves and at the same time learn certain aspects from others, like time and quality management, if we figure that out, it will be a win-win situation for all Indian architects. Having said that, India is a growing economy so there is scope of work for everybody.
What would you like to say about the increasing number of Indian women in architecture getting recognition, today? What do you think has been instrumental in bringing this much needed change?
Sonal: I beg to differ on this. I don’t think that enough number of women get recognised for their work. Going by numbers alone, the headcount of girls in my undergraduate batch exceeded the boys; it makes me wonder why such few women architects manage to climb to the top! The ratio, to be frank, is staggeringly at odds.
One thing for sure, we are way more empowered to multi-task and can handle the various dynamics of a project. But Indian society, I feel, still hesitates to give women architects their due credit and respect.
A project that is very close to your heart…
You will hear every architect saying, all projects are important and special, but there are of course favourites and lesser favourites. In the more favourite ones are some of the houses that we have done.
One of them is House on the Ridge, one of our early projects. We are fortunate enough to use it because the weekend house is designed for Sonal’s parents.
Effectively in this house, design for us is a continuous process, every time we go there, we learn, we improvise; it’s one project which is on the drawing board for us all the time.
A traditional technique or a material that you would like to work with in future…
We were working with bamboo and continue to be interested in it. Unfortunately, we have not been able to explore it further, since there has been no client who was open to experimenting. In 2008, the project we were working on was stalled when markets went bust, so we couldn’t continue to investigate it further. But we still continue to experiment with natural materials.
What are you currently working on?
Our office is involved in Bihar Museum project, in Patna, an international competition that we won along with Maki & Associates, Japan. So that’s something that’s keeping our office busy, it’s on a tight schedule and on a large scale. We are galloping towards the opening by March-April next year. Then there are residences happening all over the country Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Coimbatore etc.
A structure designed by another architect that you never tire of visiting….
Rahul: All of Louis Kahn’s and Le Corbusier’s structures. They are spaces you would repeatedly want to visit. La Tourette, Lyon by Corbusier and Kimbell Art Museum, Texas by Louis Kahn are my personal favourites.
On a lighter note: Any other creative activity you indulge in?
Rahul: I love to play tennis and I like to be ‘creative’ at beating my opponent. So, that’s me being creative there. (Laughs)
Sonal: For me, my architectural creativity is best when it’s supported by the many other creative activities I indulge in. I love to travel and explore the world; I enjoy scuba diving and love to paint in my spare time! Going trekking in the Himalayas is my latest obsession and I have been learning the ropes literally!
Besides, I can get really creative in the art of multi-tasking. Work, kids, home, social events, family, and still finding the time to explore something new always is what keeps me going!