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 interview, part of the first volume of the series, takes a closer look at ‘Indigo Architects’, an Ahmedabad-based architectural firm.
IAB: Please describe your work.
Uday + Mausami Andhare: We have positioned our efforts in the field of architecture in the context of our time, which is ridden with great contrasts. On one hand, rapid and haphazard development in the cities is putting the existing infrastructure under a severe strain and on the other, smaller towns and villages continues to suffer age-old neglect in the area of planned growth and quality of construction. With fast-depleting resources, the onus of a sensitive approach to these realities is a dire need...And architecture has the power to effect change, of course. The question is about being effective in various contexts. Urban, rural, big, or small, private or public, it is imperative to give utmost care and dignity to the smallest of efforts. Perhaps, this may be a model that allows well-meaning practices to carry on with their tasks with an integral focus, in any profession.
Ours is a collaborative practice, two individuals, a group of young graduates, big on-site work and involvement. Internal debates between us become the initial generators of ideas that get translated into conceptual hand-drawn drawings. Further, process models aid in distilling these ideas, which get cemented through intense interactions with the client. This mostly eliminates the confusions that arise out of different perspectives and make the realisation of the project, a common journey.
There are a few environmental cornerstones in our practice: Strategies to keep the structure cool using passive methods, rather than looking to cool the air within, has been more effective in our work. Use of stored rainwater is to create a radiant system to cool and warm the structure. We have used dug-wells instead of bore-wells wherever possible. Substitution of cement in construction is through revival and use of traditional lime as mortar and plaster. Lime-plastered surfaces have an amazing durability that gets stronger with time and also bring about a distinct rough-hewn quality that makes a virtue of the intense Indian Sun. Combined with natural compounds like fenugreek, molasses and guggal, it acts as a highly protective yet breathable barrier. Sustainable design strategies are evolved through explorations for a given programme and site. The cardinal orientation, solar radiation control, harnessing prevailing breezes, selectively defining the amount of controlled spaces and its corresponding design responses, define the grammar of architectural elements; a belief that expressiveness rooted in these sensibilities can result in an appropriate architecture that belongs to its time and place.
IAB: What stays consistent and essential in your work?
UA + MA: Each project presents itself with an exciting possibility of defining a fit between the programme and the context. Often, the interpretation of the program and the emerging concerns of sustainability in each case define the sub text for our intervention. The excitement is always in the careful elaboration of the germinal idea and defining its expressive potential. A variety of intense experiences through travel, documentation and photography, looking at everything, from ingenious water systems, farm implements, farming methods that define landforms and landscapes, vehicles for local transportation, music traditions both folk and classical have informed our perceptions. As Anant Raje very beautifully once put it to us, “A guru is a set of experiences that one draws from.”
IAB: What is your most significant project?
UA + MA: In our view, The Contemporary Craft Centre in, Paddhar, Kutchis the most significant work to date. This is an ongoing project. The institution aims to conduct programs that are aimed at the revival and enhancement of textile crafts along with other crafts. A museum gallery for the crafts of Kutch, exhibition spaces, workshops and residential areas form the core of the built spaces. The site, context and the program has challenged us to seek architectural and environmental solutions that are to be relevant for many generations in a severely resource-scarce region.
IAB: How have your experiences in academia influenced your work?
UA + MA: The synergy that exists through interactions with students and colleagues is vital. It always brings back into focus, issues in architecture and various other disciplines relevant in our times. Practice in turn brings a fresh point of view into an academic environment. So the relationship is symbiotic.
IAB: You’ve noted that your projects are meant to “act on” rather than “fit in” to the context that they serve. What do you mean by that?
UA + MA: By ‘acting on’, one seeks to establish an experience that becomes a memory, heightening its context, irrespective of its scale or form.
IAB: How do you envision the studio developing in India?
UA + MA: In the Indian context, studio practices will have to evolve newer self-defined modes of intervening to be effective and increase their outreach.
Our objective is to define trajectories towards meaningful ‘programme’-based approaches, as well as the current project-based consultancy with a sustainable agenda. Given the transformative potential of architecture, new ways of working need to be sought out that make working for a larger social sector, a reality. Within the studio, individuals with diverse abilities and a common focus become resources. The stress on design process and dialogue with the end-user provides the basis for meaningful work.