What is the impact of our architectural expression on the social and climatic context? What purpose do the materials used serve? How will the building age and does it have to age? Questions that need to be asked but are often neglected in our quest for creating iconic architecture.
But Banduk Smith Studio is not only asking these questions but providing solutions too. This young architectural firm based out of Ahmedabad was started by Sachin Bandukwala and Melissa Smith in 2011, with a goal of ‘designing for better lives’. Their practice caters to product design, interior design, architectural work, and urban design. The scale or complexity remains immaterial to the studio; their approach is firmly rooted in the context, and strives to forge a connection with the socio-cultural conditions of the location and the user.
When materials usually are typecast as per their use i.e. structural or aesthetic, Banduk Smith Studio believes in exploring the full potential of materials, all while doing justice to the techniques used. So, the design is synthesised from the micro and not the macro entities, which provides their projects a unique identity.
Their new venture, Various at Dhobi Talao in Mumbai, is a new-age design lab that celebrates the processes of designing and questions our love for a fast-paced life, by slowing time down to notice and appreciate finer things.
Could you share with us details of the inception of Banduk Smith Studio and its core fundamentals?
Sachin (S): While I was working here in India, in 2008 I met Melissa, who was in India at the time researching informal adaptations of architecture in Chandigarh. We began a discussion about the built environment here and the world at large – what we take from nature, how we transform things and what we give back – the idea of designing better lives, for now and for generations to come. When Melissa finished her Master in Architecture and Master in City & Regional Planning from the University of California, Berkeley in 2011, we decided to start a practice that could address these concerns at different scales and different places.
At Banduk Smith Studio we constantly try to remind ourselves that we serve people, but even before that we are served by nature and therefore the materials that we break away from nature should connect back in due course of time – after living a life which has been moulded by craftsman’s hands or machines.
Typically, an architect’s inspirations and inclinations define his/her signature style. What are your inspirations?
S: People to people interactions find their form. This also happens in nature within its different elements. How to make people to people interactions as smoothly negotiated as nature, where the spirit of celebration finds the form which is dynamic of this state of being, happy or sad, partly human-made and indigenous.
Melissa: I am inspired by the elegance and simplicity of unconsidered solutions – clever approaches that solve problems beautifully.
Competitions are a good platform to tap into new talent. How has participating in competitions helped your practice?
Our participation in competitions has led us to improve our office efficiency and camaraderie. We use competition opportunities to think about larger ideas of the architecture community, and to connect ourselves with those trajectories through lines of work found typically outside our practice.
Unfortunately, there are not enough competitions in India that can feed young talents. There is great scope for making better design accessible to the people of India simply through opening design competitions that are unbiased, and removing tender processes that stifle design and give work to the lowest bidder.
In the few competitions that we have been a part of, we have been finalists in the Sabarmati Biodiversity Park Competition and in the Indo-Swiss Building Energy Partnership Dynamic Shades Competition, where we were runners-up and received funding to develop a prototype.
Stemming from your theoretical interests and research, how significant is the life of a structure and how should it eventually age?
All structures age. The necessary thing to know as a designer serving a specific client or a group of people is how to design this structure for the user, so that the pace of aging of the structure accommodates the ageing of that user. When we make something for a specific purpose, however small or big, it must meet the criteria of economy & ecology, commodity & its pricelessness – with this in mind, we should continuously try to know our materials better, to use them innovatively in such a way that their varied pace of ageing is in harmony with the originally envisaged decay of the building.
Architecture is one of the significant drivers of climate change. According to you, which are the three sustainable features/processes that should be made a requisite in the Indian architectural scenario?
All permitted buildings should be allowed only with an assessment of their impact, which includes the distance a material has travelled to reach the site, and the method by which it was extracted from the earth and processed.
Since water is scarce and valuable, every project should have rain water storage tank to collect rainwater from roof & percolating wells for the ground surface water.
The architecture of interior spaces should achieve a temperature difference of 8-10 degree Celsius from the external areas in all climatic conditions, to reduce the load on artificial air conditioning.
India has a wonderful architectural heritage – some of it is in a dilapidated condition; any personal favourite structure?
S: The overgrown Shiva temple in Polo forest, North Gujarat & Chaurasi temples at Bharmour, Uttarakhand
M: Kailash Temple at Ellora, Jama Masjid at Fatehpur Sikri
Any traditional technique which you haven’t explored as yet and would like to work with in the near future?
There are many things that we are yet to explore – some obvious traditional techniques that we have not yet explored are oxide flooring, and all-lime construction.
Could you tell us something about your new store, Various at Dhobi Talao in Mumbai?
It is for Various Works, foods & happenings! Somehow the course of evolution has been about growing faster and going faster – we all want to go to places faster, do lots of things in short time including cook faster and make furniture faster – evolve faster and dissolve slower! At Various at Dhobi Talao, we are trying to bring together furniture & products that pause time and help us celebrate beauty & crafting spirit of creations, with sensible use of materials.
Our ambition is to make this a place where we can talk of everything that affects our lives represented in the realm of art & architecture through projects focused on modes of making. We currently have a collection of furniture and objects that are handcrafted or semi-machined. To make these we take traditional processes and use them for contemporary designs. Presently we are also preparing to sell carefully prepared forgotten recipes & food experiments or just products that help us experience finer things in life!
What is the firm currently working on?
We are working on several projects that range from the interior design of a penthouse, an adaptive reuse of a row house into office, a 5 story separate-but-together joint family house, the design of bio-industrial plants and to urban interventions in small town public spaces.
Melissa, women are gradually making their presence felt in the design industry. However, the progress in the field of architecture is sluggish. Why?
M: There are issues with expectations. People, whether it is a client, agency, or contractor, expect men to handle the construction of a building. This is the biggest battle that women have to face in the industry, and it is one that they face outside India as well. In fact, it is easier to gain the respect of the agencies on site than it is to gain a client’s trust, because on site if one demonstrates their skill, respect is earned. With less direct contact about construction knowledge, stereotypes held by clients that women do not deal with things like structure, construction, electrical and plumbing work, for example, are harder to break.
Interview By Shweta Salvi