Indian Architect & Builder, through a two-part series titled ‘Practices of Consequence’ (Volumes I and II) delves deeper into contemporary Indian practices that have carved a unique identity and place for themselves in the country today. This article, part of the first volume of the series, takes a closer look at ‘Hundredhands’, a Bengaluru-based architectural firm.
Patient and purposeful, the work of Hundredhands responds to fundamental concerns of form and space, material integrity, economy and efficiency with a strong efficacy with respect to function and relevance. With a team of architects and architecture trainees directed by Bijoy Ramachandran and Sunitha Kondur, Hundredhands has a significant investment in the conceptual development of their work and architectural discourse as an extension.
Pragmatic and grounded in ‘doing’, the built work of Hundredhands is developed through an analytical process of drawing, physical and virtual model-making, detailing and a control on the process of building. Their buildings have a sense of clarity that comes through methodical process and elimination of the unnecessary. They use contemporary building technology and materials responsibly and with due regard to available skill. Their architecture is enriched through selection and restraint.
Indian Architect & Builder's interview with the founders, after the break…
IAB: Please describe your firm.
HH:Hundredhands was founded in November 2003. We currently have ten architects and are working on a mix of residential, institutional, industrial and commercial architectural and interior design projects. All our work is produced through a rigorous process of manual drawing and model-making. We do not believe in the ‘napkin sketch’. The final outcome cannot be ascribed to any one particular decision - it is always a response to the haphazard, random series of events we encounter through the process. Chance encounters, a photograph, a conversation, a movie...and of course, the site, the brief, the contractors, and the client - all carry with them clues to an incredible outcome. Initial sketches carry the seeds, but sometimes, the process is so varied and complex that the end product is much richer and layered than expected.
All our work seeks to address the existing condition we are presented with and to find a way to augment existing patterns, and establish new ones as extensions of these. We are interested in this newness, but not in isolation. Architecture and interior design are inherently violent acts - our effort is to minimise the impact of this imposition by weaving our projects into systems that may already exist.
Through our work we are trying to address concerns which are larger than the briefs given to us by clients; we want to engage with the real opportunities India provides us - the chance to work with sophisticated craftspeople and specialised fabricators, the chance to reinvent mechanical systems to address building techniques and sustainability issues, the chance to look at buildings beyond building systems and in terms of principles.
In working with the locally available materials, recognising local skills, and directly responding to the given conditions (site, climate, etc.), we are only continuing an age-old practice of being prudent and responsible. We think this current predilection of talking about green architecture or sustainable architecture is redundant – we should always be thinking of an all-inclusive practice - or as Graham Morrison says, 'an architecture without adjectives.'
Hundredhands will turn nine this year. Our practice is, in some ways, modeled on the old-fashioned ideal of a ‘slow practice’. We spend a lot of time considering the work we do in terms of drawings and models. In having completed projects of different scales and typologies, we are now conscious of a different kind of rigour required to get things done in India – the clever and inventive use of materials and detailing to address the unique opportunities and challenges working here offers.
IAB: Purpose-driven, your architecture develops from a patient process of visualisation and material experimentation. Your work refers to the context in terms of the urban and considerations of the environment. What forms the ‘central idea’ or the ‘process’ that defines your architecture?
HH: We do not approach our work in merely intellectual terms. We are careful to understand the client’s brief, observe the conditions that exist physically and the demands made by the programme. The process is usually a back and forth between drawings (sketches, details, etc.) and models (physical and CAD).
IAB: Through a continuous development of ideas, Hundredhands has produced remarkable work in response to diverse and challenging programmes. What are the critical objectives for Hundredhands?
HH: We are hoping that the work is representative of the conditions in which it was produced and the context in which it exists. Our relationship with clients is often what drives the work. Their reactions, requirements, and aspirations have a direct bearing on what we produce. The ‘concept’ is usually buried under the many seemingly banal conversations we have with clients, the ‘demands’ of the site, the directions the projects take because of the people who work on them and the often tedious negotiations we have with our consultants and contractors. The work is not produced in a vacuum.
IAB: “We are interested in this newness, but not in isolation," says a transcript of the ‘Propositions’ lecture.
HH: We are interested in creating a ‘new’ experience, but see our work also as part of a continuum. It is responsive to the many conditions that make the work possible.
IAB: Hundredhands’ projects have identifiable elements and articulations in form and detail. The materials, spatial compositions and ideas of space have a consistent development over time. What are the necessary and sufficient conditions for Hundredhands to evolve as a practice in India?
HH: Our work needs to focus on the way we build. We have, so far, worked primarily within the mainstream construction idiom, but I think we need to find ways to tap into alternative ways to build to address the urgent environmental issues we face. We still have access to quality craftsmanship and it is still possible to custom-design and fabricate things in India. We are interested in the great opportunity this provides us, both in creating unique solutions to address construction and environmental challenges, and as a way to collaborate with a much larger group of people to produce the work.