No Singular Design Defines India Architecture
Sameep Padora, Principle Architect of Sameep Padora and Associates (sP+a) in conversation with Sreyasi Maity emphasizes the futility of singularity or western concepts of urbanism, given India’s variety of socio-cultural environments.
Winner of Global Architectural Competition for Indian National War Museum, MARMOMACC award for Architecture in Stone, Hudco Design Awards 2017 for Udaan – The cost effective rural/urban housing, Best New Private House 2016, Wallpaper Design Award for Lattice House in Jammu and Wan 21 award winner 2014 as One of the Top 21 Emerging Practices in the world are just some of the honours that have made Sameep Padora and Associates (sP+a) a distinguished architectural practice in India. .
The inception of design firm and what makes them different from others?
Sameep completed his undergraduate studies in Mumbai in 1996 followed by post-graduate studies at Cambridge, where he received a Master’s Degree from the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University in 2005. He then chose to move back to India leading to the conception of his firm sP+a. “I started with a small modern interior project and a rural development project in Baramati. Whatever may be the project, my endeavour is to constantly move back and forth between various possibilities through different modes of investigation and thus find solution best suited for a project. It involves processes ranging from internals conversations, 3d modelling, 2-dimensional drawings, mock-up etc. to arrive at the final process.”
How important is the context and surroundings of a project in your design approach?
Citing the example of stone dust used in the Jetavan project which is not a standard material, he said “The idea of context is about what’s relevant not just to a particular site but also a particular time. This allows innovating with the available materials and knowledge networks creating an architecture which is sensitive, inventive and less taxing on natural resources. sP+a believes that the vast breadth of socio-cultural environments require multifarious means of engaging with the country’s varying contexts.
“While each project has a specific program the challenges you face are from questions that you ask, in order to bring greater value to the project and the potential of a new future.”
Jetavan Sakharwadi Project by Sameep Padora and Associates (sP+a)
Is design moving more towards the globalised approach?
Globalisation and regionalism don’t necessarily have to be seen in opposition. Even while working in rural India, you are embedded in the networks of urbanisation and have tremendous access to knowledge systems. The nostalgia involved with tradition as well as the nature what today comprises the ‘regional’ contexts are amplified by global and regional networks. This access to knowledge network allows an approach that can make the local scenario richer. This attitude enables the practice to look at traditional project types, projecting their formal/relational history within the paradigms of current socio-economic forces.
Citing a fantastic essay by author AK Ramanujan: ‘Is there an Indian way of Building?’ Sameep contends that Diversity is an Indian trait. Structures built in areas with similar climatic influences as traditional architecture have evolved in response to the physical environment of their location. Regions where climatic conditions are similar by logic should manifest the same kind of architecture. However, the differences in culture tremendously influence a project. It is this difference that needs to be imbibed in a design overriding the physical conditions.
“Architects play a marginal role in Indian society today. Their part in the state’s physical planning exercise is notional at best”
Best New Private House 2016, Wallpaper Design Award for Lattice House in Jammu
What is your view on the limited role of architects in the policy of framework of our cities?
“Architects today are marginal to societal development at large. Post-independence, while architects were involved extensively in the physical country building. With liberalisation in the 90s, the role of architects changed dramatically and we became little more than providers of an insular technical service.”
Speaking about the Mumbai Development Plan (DP), he remarked, “The plan operates solely on the basis of land use and the Development Control Regulation (DCR) on the extent of the building use. In effect, this becomes an exercise in quantifying real estate and not the quality of life.
It is imperative that architects should have a more proactive role in the planning of the city. The state is unable to see the value of design beyond the above binaries. The fact is that the city we experience exists in between these two – the role of a building in the city and the city in a building. This is the divide that needs to be bridged for bettering our cities. Our current research projects that we run through not-for-profit organizations are looking exactly at this slippage.
Our earlier research published by the UDRI as a book titled “In The Name of Housing” was on Affordable Housing and looked at the desired environment for living. Our new research now examines the framework of the DP and DCR to allow for a better quality of life and a better quality of the city.”
Your Future Projects in 2019
“In 2019 there are a few housing projects coming up, schools and institutions as well are coming up in several places of India – Shimla, Delhi and Mumbai as well as our first International Project in USA.” The studio also actively engages with research, collaborations and collective models of practice. “We advocate this hybrid model as an alternative to the traditional architectural practice, believing that this enables us to respond to the specificity of the local by evolving methodologies of extreme subjectivity,” Sameep made his closing remarks.