It is not the physical statement of the structure so much as what it contains that moves us.
These famous lines by the late Canadian architect Arthur Erickson empathetically echo in the work of MO-OF architects – a young architectural firm founded in 2001 by Shantanu Poredi and Manisha Agarwal. Both spent their formative years at CEPT and went on to secure their Masters degree in Architecture from the Architectural Association (AA), London and Cornell University, New York respectively.
The studio engages in a multi-disciplinary practice that offers solutions for master planning, urban design, architecture, exhibition design and interior design. Both principals believe that to arrive at an ingenious solution the designer should constantly question the program and reinterpret typologies. The firm’s vast body of work is offset by the extensive research that covers technicalities and the evolving nature of the space. And that is precisely why their designs are not stuck in time or genre.
Any design should primarily be a derivative of its context and end user, and MO-OF with their experiential designs orchestrate a perfect symphony of the two. Their ability to evolve and unabashedly choose what their instincts dictate allows them to articulate hybrid interpretations.
Here, they speak of design fundamentals, inspirations and things that keep them going.
Three design factors that derive the foundation of MO-OF design? And why?
We constantly engage with first principles of environmental sustainability rather than it being a technologically driven vision. One of the advantages of it is that the users can get actively involved in the design process and its progressive upgrade and maintenance.
Focusing on the diversity of individuals and the vastness of a community creates opportunities of variation and thereby living. Interdependent programs offer a multitude of interactive spaces that are beneficial for a community experience.
Interpretation of context
The presence of everything that has existed prior to our visit to the site is a potential resource. This could be seen in organisational structures, cultural frameworks and existing work/learning/living cultures. Our endeavour is to either enhance these patterns and integrate them into the designed environment or re-interpret these frameworks through newer forms of design.
Typically, an architect’s inspirations and inclinations define his/her signature style. Is there a particular school of thought that you endorse or believe in?
In today’s context social relationships are constantly evolving allowing for newer patterns of organisations. We map and study these evolving patterns that results in questioning program, context and its diverse manifestations. This process allows us to create hybrid organisations that register change – we believe evolving to this change is the constant in our thought process.
In several projects designed by MO-OF we find a seamless amalgamation of art and architecture. Is this a predisposed effort or just the requirement of a certain project?
We look at the design concept stage of a project as a discussion process of varied ideas to usher the path for a seamless design solution. Hence, art in some projects are derived from these discussions. The intention is to collaborate with artists with a sense of co-authorship as against consume the art without its soul. Some of our clients have recognized the value of dialogue and collaboration between art and architecture.
A great amount of research and thought goes into your design concepts. Does it go through major modifications when they actually get built?
The search is more important to us than the research. Design begins with an idea but becomes architecture when it gets manifested after processing through varied filters. This process of evolution could take a few days or a few years depending on the complexity of a project. Most of our works have been translated as they had been imagined in the early stages.
Both of you are actively involved in academics. Do you think academia can make our future generation of architects more responsible designers and how should institutes ascertain that?
We have been teaching for above a decade with the belief that a healthy academic base would produce skilled and knowledgeable professionals to help in the nation building process. Architecture, however is not purely a technical or a design field but is multidisciplinary in its engagement.
We believe the exposure to diverse practices of design and its allied disciplines through interaction and learning would initiate possibilities of newer forms of engagement with the profession. This then would allow for a symbiotic relationship between academia and practitioners.
One crucial stage/technique of the design process that architects tend to skip but should not…
Although a client knows his or her requirements the best, it is critical that an architect questions this along with the brief of the project. Most of the times, this process gives rise to new and contrasting dimensions of the project.
Another crucial stage for architects is to question the direction of the work they get and do in the initial years when they set up their practice. One tends to do any work they get when they start practice and stop looking for the kind of work they enjoy and focus in their practice.
A project that is very close to your heart…
The competitions we have worked on are what we have enjoyed the most probably. The anticipation that starts with seeing the brief for the first time, designing the same in the studio as a team, sending the entry, more anticipation for the result and once it has been awarded, every stage till the project gets built or realised.
A structure designed by another architect which continues to have an impact on you every time you visit…
There are several actually. Just to name a few – Le Corbusier’s Mill Owners Building and Shodhan House, Rem Koolhaas’s Seattle Public Library and Kunsthal, Charles Correa’s Kanchanjunga and Gandhi Ashram and B.V. Doshi’s C.E.P.T. School of Architecture building
What are you currently working on?
We are currently working on the new campus for the School of Planning and Architecture in Vijayawada; this was a competition we won a couple of years back and has just started construction. Then, there is a four star hotel in Thimphu – Bhutan, a Centre for Oncology in Navi Mumbai and a weekend house in Mulshi.
Your favourite architect/designer amongst your contemporaries.
In the contemporary scenario there are several practices in the planning and design field which are experimenting with ideas, tectonics, expressions and their meaning. This has formed an interesting dialogue that we observe in several conferences/seminars/academia and publications.
What do you prefer to do in you spare time? Any interests?
Spending time with our daughter at home and travelling.