Ahmedabad based firm Indigo Architects commemorates the passion that the design capital of the country is synonymous with. The principals, Uday and Mausami Andhare through their practice have been eloquently validating the epochal nature of the field.
Their work engages in a perennial dialogue with the ecosystem and displays innate sensitivity towards it. Their structures are not an isolated entity that indulge in gimmicky signature styles but showcase symbiotic poetry through architecture.
Providing dignity to the socio-cultural milieu and the environment is at the core of their practice. Each element of design is handled with conscious effort at strengthening the context, where the firm caters to the tangibles that in effect shape the intangible aspects of a project. Both the principals firmly believe each built form by default, should be sustainable and hence tirelessly indulge in research that supports the contextual make-up of the project.
With simplicity and efficacy the firm breathes life in the forgotten traditional techniques and reinstates that an architect should essentially rely on experiential inspirations. They are our new-age modernists who adopt a bold architectural language but do not believe in disengaging from their roots.
Here they speak of crucial parameters that would help reorient the Indian architectural scene and their upcoming projects.
When did you realise architecture was your true calling?
Mausami: I grew up in Ahmedabad. As a child, we travelled a lot with the family to places in India and attended several cultural events in the city of Ahmedabad. The fortified city and its annual cultural rituals of Moharram, Rath Yatra and Uttarayan were all experienced against the backdrop of its dense, rich and layered architectural fabric.
I cycled to school, passing by several institutional and residential buildings that had come up in the late 60’s and 70’s. They fascinated me as a counterpoint to what I saw as historic and yet seemed congruous and elegant. It was when I was 13 that I thought I was seriously interested in buildings and that probably was my first recollection of what I wanted to do.
Uday: I grew up in South Mumbai, and lived in the Prince Of Museum campus where my father was a curator of paintings. The museum was an extension of our home.
As a child I visited the Jehangir Art Gallery, the BNHS society with Dr. Salim Ali at its helm, the then C.J Hall which housed an annual cultural event called ‘Kal Ke Kalakaar’ where we were taken as kids to music and dance performances by young artists. It was quite inspiring.
I had begun to draw and learn music as a child, influenced by what I saw around me, but I wanted to become a pilot! We moved to Ahmedabad in 1983 bringing our family in contact with lot of interesting people including Prof. B. V. Doshi and the CEPT School of Architecture.
It all culminated in me joining the school to study architecture. In retrospect, I believe this was to form the foundation of what I would enjoy doing.
We see a synchronized juxtaposition of masses in your work that sits in perfect harmony with the surrounding landscape. What’s the basic approach to design for any given site?
Our work attempts to address the climatic realities of where we build. Mass and voids within buildings are manipulated within the framework of the program to achieve this quality. Form is un-important, scale is important.
That a building must connect to the ground firmly is equally important to us. When in architecture school, we were told, “Listen to the site”; it’s true. It tries to tell you something. Sometimes you hear what you want to do. That has to be curbed to hear it better. It’s like allowing voices to come into your mind. Over and above the physical, spatial or other dictates of a site, we seek the underlying influences that are crucial. i.e. cultural, social and aspects related to people and their history.
We feel that seeking the right trigger to initiate thoughts is a very important milestone in design thinking. We seek thoughts that enable us to ground the process in something truthful.
It is usually climate, water, thermal comfort, appropriate use of materials, frugality; always constantly seen against the backdrop of client needs and aspirations.
You practice in a city which is synonymous for great architectural landmarks and is considered the breeding ground for design. How has Ahmedabad’s design culture influenced your practice?
Profoundly. There is a way of thinking that is specific to the design culture and ethos of this place. Its underpinnings in being culture specific and yet contemporary, to seek ideas and solutions that are progressive and yet localise them with great panache, frugality and simplicity are intrinsic.
The spirit of adventure and caution towards being ‘over the top’ somehow moves hand in hand!
It is evident that a lot of effort has been taken to turn to traditional methods in your design. Are these techniques easily substitutable vis-a vis our modern material and techniques?
We are fortunate to experience and draw from thousands of years of traditional building knowledge. This has to become a resource. Continuities are important. Interpretation, change and adaptation are equally important.
Unfortunately, traditional knowledge and systems are used to make stylistic overtures in the name of conservation and preservation of our heritage.
A deeper understanding of materials, their chemistry and practices that existed in history and the ones that we have today is essential. Materials and details that help in creating an appropriate climatic response can make architecture more expressive, contextual and hence relevant.
Lime construction has existed for centuries, all over the world, before the advent of cement. Its qualities of durability, plasticity and water imperviousness seem worth emulating in contemporary construction. Our re-exploration of lime in masonry construction and plasters for buildings, is a work in progress. We work with all materials, giving each its due share of purpose.
Construction of cost effective rainwater harvesting tanks using masonry and lime, support skill sets and help nurture it. We have well documented codes for lime construction in our country which we have used effectively to reduce costs and consumption of cement where not needed.
According to you, which are the three sustainable features/processes that should be made a requisite in the Indian architectural scenario?
We believe that the crisis over water and energy is very critical today. Some of the cornerstones in our practice which have become essential for any building are:
Mandatory use of rainwater for cooking and drinking irrespective of the scale of the project.
Make thermal comfort a priority. Keeping the structure cool is probably cheaper than cooling the air inside buildings.
Energy code compliance for all building types should be made mandatory.
Use solar PV to offset energy needs.
Re-use of grey water – in whatever way possible within the site.
Today, we find the young generation of architects blindly aping the West without understanding the climatic make-up of our country. How should an architect draw a line between getting inspired and blindly emulating?
Ironically, what is published is seen as “appropriate“ today. Just as magazines and other media pander to the visual satiation of readers, few tend to do justice to explain content in architecture the way it ought to. Fewer have time to read. An architecture that is our own cannot be synthesised from this mixed visual milieu. Being inspired is about understanding deeper structure and meaning.
The transition process of a student to a practicing architect is considered as a teething period where a fresher struggles to connect the dots. But is there one lesson that you learnt (not academically) during your college term that you still follow in your practice?
Struggle is intrinsic to our role as practitioners. What we struggle for is very important to define. Values play a vital role in defining the course of our future.
Our country has a wonderful architectural heritage (sadly some of it is in a dilapidated condition); any personal favourite structure? Do you take cues from our rich history?
There are too many.. Kailasa at Ellora, Raja Mahal at Orchha, Chand Baodi at Abhaneri, Ahichhatragadh at Nagaur, Akbar’s tomb at Sikandra, Sarkhej Roza in Ahmedabad, Padmanabhapuram Palace, Kaviyur Temple near Kottayam, Hriday Kunj at Gandhi Ashram, Ahmedabad, Narsinh Ghat in Ujjain, monuments at Mandu, Golconde in Pondicherry, Mahakoota Temple complex near Badami, to name a few, hold a very special place for us.
Several formal as well as vernacular buildings, complexes and settlements have been inspiring. We look to all these as a great resource to understand and clarify a lot of issues we confront today in design.
Any traditional technique which you haven’t explored as yet and would like to work with in the near future?
We came very close to constructing a kund on one of our projects that was to use the ancient art of using dry masonry construction to hold water. We have been studying this closely and hope to build one in the future.
What is the firm currently working on?
Our studio is just completing the Center for the Contemporary Crafts of Kutch for Shrujan in Paddhar. It houses four galleries for the crafts of Kutch as part of its museum block. We have been involved with some schools in which our emphasis has been on developing systems for using rainwater for drinking, sanitation and solid waste disposal. The MPUH Dialysis Center and pathology labs in Nadiad are also being designed by Indigo Architects.
Could you name one building which will always be a landmark structure in architecture for you?
Golconde in Pondicherry.
Any other creative activity you indulge in?
We travel a lot and sketch. We grow our own organic vegetables, cook, share seeds and plant vegetable gardens in the houses we build. Practise guerrilla greening in open spaces that don’t belong to us!
Interview by Shweta Salvi