It is oft easy to stick to a mould instead of challenging the norm. LIJO.RENY.architects however in their 12 years of practice so far, have always believed in pushing the envelope and have made an indelible mark in the field of architecture.
Based out of Kerala, Lijo and Reny have played a pivotal role in revolutionising the architectural scene in the state. The studio’s constant endeavour to experiment and present a new narrative with each project has been duly acknowledged – the firm has won several awards and their work has been extensively documented by distinguished publications.
Both Lijo and Reny are artists at heart – they practice art as a passion – and approach each project through the sensitive eye of an artist. They visualise the materials, form, textures and the personality of a building as a sculptor would do for its artwork. And maybe that could be one of the factors why they are more inclined towards designing residences, as homes allow them to pour in the personality of the residents in their design.
Now the studio has ventured into commercial and institutional spaces as well. Here, they share with us the principles that drive their practice, their passion for art and future plans.
You started your practice in 2005. Please walk us through the journey so far.
We met in a previous firm that we were working for, that’s where we realised we share similar wavelength in terms of design, architecture, art and life in general. In 2005, we got married and immediately started our architectural practice. In the initial phase, we operated from a tiny space at our home and in 2010 we finally moved in with our team into a beautiful office that we now practice from.
One of our initial projects, a residence that we did for my brother, won JK Young Architect Award and in the same year we won the Gold Leaf Award for Excellence in Architecture at the IIA State chapter. We got immediate recognition after these wins. Coincidently, the architectural media scene was picking up in Kerala – our state alone boasts ten regional publications on architecture and that is unheard of in India.
The electronic media hosted few shows on architecture and hence, this particular project received extensive coverage. So, we didn’t have to go through the proverbial struggle that most young studios go through.
Eventually, our portfolio has expanded and evolved. We have been practicing a design language that Kerala wasn’t really familiar with at that time, and people did take notice and appreciate our approach. Kerala has a very difficult demographic to please, everyone has an opinion about everything, which is great, as it reflects how well-informed they are.
What are your individual strengths that you bring to the drawing board?
Lijo: The good part about having two people heading a design firm is you get to fill the gaps that probably the other person has left. Speaking about our individual inclinations, I am more of a dreamer; I reside on a utopian plane, while Reny is more of a practical person. When I am flying high, she rationalises and put forth the logistics.
Whereas, when she gets too technically correct, I suggest that we should bring in more life in the design and think out-of-the-box. So, we share a great partnership.
Your fascination with natural elements and the physical form shine through in your work. How crucial are these aspects and how do you manage to bring out their harmonious co-existence?
We give primary importance to natural factors in every project that we design. These elements bring life into the space, and stimulate and engage the users on a psychological and visual level. We believe that spaces should breathe; so just like any living entity it requires light, breeze and vegetation. The rest of the design factors like the open spaces or transformable spaces, fall in line. If you see any drastic difference visually in our projects then it is solely based on our artistic take on our client’s taste/attitude, but the basic principles for every project remain the same.
According to you, which are the three sustainable features/processes that should be made a requisite in the Indian architectural scenario?
We don’t believe in the rating systems that people use as parameters for sustainable design. There is no point if you source accredited materials from China to build a residence in Kerala, for instance – the carbon emission during transport is not accounted for.
For us, the first requisite in design is honesty; honesty because if you do something with genuine concerns, effectively representing the requirements and functional aspects without donning skins and pretentions then the results are bound to be sustainable. Acknowledging the necessary and unnecessary aspirations and addressing them accordingly must reflect in the buildings you design.
Understanding the threshold that’s where the honesty comes into picture. That we believe, is the most sustainable way to build.
Secondly, responding to the climatic conditions, allowing the spaces to breathe, adopting renewable energy means, and opting for passive design techniques.
Thirdly, use resources – local or sourced – responsibly, because even our natural resources are depleting. Example, here we used to get laterite stone in abundance, but due to environmental issues we have regulations for quarrying of these stones now. We have a limit to using natural resources. So, one must bring in certain sensitivity through the choice of materials. Though globalisation allows you access to sourcing anything from any part of the world, you should make sure it is less labour intensive and there is less carbon emission.
Any one building material or technique that fascinates you?
Steel fascinates us because of the characteristics of the material and also the innumerable possibilities it offers to explore our artistic inclinations. Though the material is not the most suitable material for a climate like Kerala, but the treatments and applications available to counter are also plenty. So, yes, we would like to explore steel.
What is the firm currently working on?
We started our career with large projects but when we experienced the real pleasures of working on smaller projects, we took up lot of small scale residential projects. Now we have started exploring large scale commercial and institutional projects too. We are working on a media institute and few commercial spaces. By the end of this month, we would start with a resort project as well.
Both of you are interested in art and keep exploring it through your work. Any aspirations to pursue it through different media or allied discourses?
We practice art separately. We have done lots of installations and sculptures and not necessarily in connection with our architectural work. But being architects, you can’t really forget you are an artist deep inside and that reflects in our work. We apply our artistic streak in several ways: Firstly, with a poetic subtext – through textures and materials we choose and effects created by natural elements that we include in our designs.
Secondly, we try to infuse the characteristics of the clients in our design – we believe capturing the emotions is essential part of art. That is precisely why we refer to architecture as frozen music. And the more tangible way which we apply art in is we design the artwork in several of our projects.
We are happy at the moment not pursuing art for commercial reasons. We have practiced art not for recognition – we get more of that from architecture – we do it for personal fulfilment as it charges us up.
On a lighter note
If you had not been an architect, you would be…
Lijo: I already have an alter-ego. I am an artist.
Reny: I always had an interest in psychology. In fact, I had already enrolled myself for the same before I got into architecture.
Your favourite pick of ‘simple yet smart’ design…
Sounds mundane but I would say a safety pin. A safety pin or a spoon has hardly gone through any transformation over time. Because its form is functional and any other way doesn’t really meet the purpose. If you try to put in a certain kind of exaggeration then the product won’t serve its function.
Interview By Shweta Salvi