LAB – Language. Architecture. Body.
The name itself echoes the work code of the Mumbai-based firm Labwerk. Founder and principal architect Shonan Purie Trehan, who established the firm in 2010 boasts of a strong academic foundation – with a Masters in Architecture from London’s Bartlett School of Architecture and a degree in Architecture from Rhode Island School of Design.
The firm indulges in rigorous research and in each project they diligently explore the line of inquiry. The pedagogy of the practice involves study of socio-cultural systems, spatial narrative and behavioural patterns. And none of the discoveries get lost in translation as they eventually find a place in their future projects.
LAB doesn’t believe in playing it safe and the proof of the unpredictability of their spaces resonates in the playful design of Roti Kapda Makaan and distinctly, in their technically-strong Medanta Hospital in Gurgaon. In a short span of five years the firm has developed a laudable oeuvre that ranges from residential, commercial, healthcare and hospitality projects, and has earned wide recognition along with several design honours. They also offer comprehensive design solutions and craft bespoke furniture, lighting and accessories.
Some may call their approach a quest to upend conventional thinking, but design is a field where one needs to be intuitive, failing which the work appears uninspired.
Here, Shonan discusses design philosophies, inspirations and directions.
What design fundamentals define LAB’s practice?
Every project is an invocation of inquiry. The compass of each inquiry is unique for each project. At LAB we play a lot with narrative and inhabitation of space. Extensive dialogue with the end user is often a departure point.
We distil inspiration from these conversations and cull the essence of the project. In response, we conjure up an idea book, which is then a directory for the project. The LAB team is committed to creating unpredictable, interactive and joyous experiences. We are faithful to the belief that form follows spirit.
LAB puts in substantial efforts in research and investigations to develop new geometry and structural systems. Could you briefly explain the process?
Our research focuses are typically driven by the context of a project but, occasionally by a wilful interest. The translation of our research into applied systems is never a linear process. Often the research which takes flight in one project will nest in another.
We have two categories of research in our practice: material development and spatial narrative.
The first category requires extensive investigation, rigorous analysis, modelling, simulation and prototyping through the development process. In search for emergent building systems we experiment with materials; such as integrating bamboo with concrete. We have invented a self-structuring brick system, which is still looking for an application in a project.
On the subjects we work with constantly, is the translation of narrative from the imagination to spatial structures. We study behavioural patterns, social systems and challenge them through design.
Your firm works on a diverse range of projects, right from large scale institutional campuses to retail design. Which project for you has been the most challenging till date?
Working on a large 1600 bed multi-specialty hospital was extremely complex from a technical and an anthropological perspective. Both the planning and execution of this mammoth project was an education. Designing spaces that spoke to vast cross section of users was the biggest challenge.
What according to you is the most ignored aspect of design today?
The people which translate design from the drawing board to a built environment are the most ignored aspect.
Few design with consideration for the hands that will actually build the project. The existing skills and craftsmanship available are often discarded for the misguided aspirations.
Textures and materials play an important role in your work. Any particular material that you would like to work with?
We push the boundaries of material use, by deploying fundamental building materials such as brick, concrete, thermoplastics and timber in inventive formats.
A structure designed by another architect which continues to have an impact on you every time you visit…
The depth, rigour and spirit of Gaudi’s work is mind blowing. Lewis Carroll always transports me as well.
In a very short span your firm has received recognition from the design industry. What does this success mean to you and what immediate goals have you lined out for the practice?
LAB is a team of young, passionate architects. The energy of this team has enabled us to deliver a large number of projects in a short span of time. The recognition propels our momentum. At this stage we would like to compartmentalize more time for research and invention.
What are you currently working on?
A wide range of projects that include: villas, hospitals, corporate HQ building and villa development.
Could you list a few architectural practices across the globe that according to you would define the architectural scene of tomorrow?
Renzo Piano, Thomas Heatherwick and SHoP
What do you do in your spare time…any other interests?
I love reading, running, cycling. I just had two kids in less than two years, so spare time has evaporated.
Interview by Shweta Salvi