Sian Pascale, a Melbourne based architect/artist/writer is a powerhouse of talent. Her first work to hold our attention was Pi Ke Puht, a biodegradable terracotta cup that germinates once discarded, and ever since we have watched her work gradually yet consciously evolve into an introspective practice that aims at facilitating socio-cultural development.
She set up her firm Young Citizens in the year 2013, and currently the studio’s portfolio spreads across the fields of architecture, furniture design and ceramic design. Her claim to fame though, has been the South Mumbai boutique hotel, Abode, that revisits the colonial and art-deco past of the city.
She believes that it is time to critically think about the social impact that design can have on people’s life, and work consciously towards diminishing the gaping divide between rural and urban planning and development. Working in India was purely accidental but now, Sian says, she has developed a deep connect with the design and culture of this country.
In a candid conversation with us, she reveals her future plans, aspirations and influences.
Tell us about your journey from choosing architecture as a profession to finally setting up your own practice?
It was all quite serendipitous. I had been a freelance architect and interior designer in Australia for about 5 years before I moved to Mumbai. When I arrived here I started working for a boutique design store and during this time was offered my first small solo project for the charitable organisation Women Weave. This cut my teeth in how building and design runs in India – totally different from Australia!
Several months later, I was offered Abode on the dance floor of a wedding. At first I thought I could take on the project whilst still working for someone else, but the project was too big and other work offers started to simultaneously come in, so I had no choice but to take a big risk and head out on my own. That’s how Young Citizens was born.
What’s a design constant when you conceptualise any space or product?
Context, craft and meaning.
Things that inspire you (apart from design/architecture) that eventually also stimulate your design cells.
Anything can set off a design idea for me and to be honest it is rarely a finished design or architectural work. I am inspired by my constant travels, the textures, the fabrics, the way people live and use the streets. I’m inspired by the art that I see and the art that I produce and the processes involved in creation (I am a ceramic artist amongst other things). I am inspired by everyday objects and crafts people and the way things are made and everyday materials in a place. I am inspired by my yoga practice and meditation practice, by the books that I read and the films that I watch. I am, basically a sponge for my entire experience.
How has the experience been working in India?
Working in India was amazing because I had a lot of creative control and was able to design not just interiors but also furniture, fabrics, door handles – it is possible to create every single detail in a building from scratch due to the cost of labour. However, it can also be pretty taxing!
At the moment we don’t have an office set up in India as I am in Melbourne, but who knows what the future will bring.
You have collaborated with craftsmen on several projects; how has the experience been working with the artisans?
I love working with artisans. It takes a special kind of person to be able to work with me though! I really expect fineness in quality and a headspace which wants to explore new things from the craftsmen I worked with. Some really rose to the challenge, were intelligent and creative, and loved the idea of doing something completely new. With these people I have been able to collaborate and do great things I could never have done on my own.
A structure designed by another architect which continues to have an impact on you every time you visit it…
Anything designed by Bijoy Jain of Studio Mumbai. I think he is pure genius and was my motivation to work in India.
All projects for an architect have some memories attached to it. Which one is your personal favourite?
Wow, so many memories… One of the funniest ones for me was while I was building a yoga studio in Versova called Yoga 101. The builder was a total character. He wore only orange robes and never shoes on site (that would be against the law in Australia where there are so many safety rules!) Every time he was paid by my client he would disappear back to his village for several weeks halting all work and making me and my gorgeous client Rinku tear our hair out.
She would have to constantly call him and cajole him and his workers back on site. The funniest time was when I arrived and he was asleep on a mound of dirt that had arrived in preparation for landscaping.
What goals have you set for your firm, Young Citizens in the coming years? What kind of work would you like to be associated with?
I think in the future, the projects that I would take on would be within the area of emergency relief, housing for refugees and natural disasters or other community projects. When I was able to see and hear the impact that my work designing a training centre for young weavers at Women Weave had on people, it affected me deeply. The kind of impact you can have on people’s lives is pretty incredible.
What are you currently working on?
Right now I have taken a sabbatical from interior design/ architecture and am focussing on my work as a yoga teacher and an artist.
You are an avid yoga practitioner… tell us how it has influenced you?
As a yoga teacher, yoga naturally flows into every aspect of my life, almost like a filter on a camera, changing the way I look and do things. Yogic principles are part of my design philosophy and can be translated in so many ways – in the yoga sutras Patanjali talks about the yamas – outward observances such as honesty, non-harming and non-stealing, these are simple attitudes that are brought into everyday business and also help me to decide on the types of businesses and people I want to work with. Are they good people? How do they treat their staff?
Do they do work that I believe will have a positive impact on the world? I also ask myself these questions every day! Is what I am doing worthwhile? Am I supporting a craftsperson, keeping an idea alive, giving back to the world in some form? If the answer is no (and it does sometimes happen) then I can’t continue with it.
I also look at it in this way; the projects the studio focuses on are categorised into two realms – the social and the contemplative. Social spaces and projects are those that bring people together, create community and actively engage people. Contemplative projects are those that encourage introspective, thoughtfulness and going within. Both these aspects are equally important for balance in life.
My meditations have had a profound impact on my creative processes and have helped to completely free me and get me into a creative flow, without that internal judgement or criticism. This has directly influenced my artwork and design work.
Interview by Shweta Salvi