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 Anagram Architects, a New Delhi based architectural firm.
Led by Madhav Raman and Vaibhav Dimri, Anagram Architects is a growing studio that works in architecture, installation, urban design and material innovation. The firm is often experimental in nature, and each project is developed with a distinct, independent framework. Beyond architecture, Anagram Architects has also designed objects and installations with a strong, cohesive sense of material, detail and execution. Indian Architect & Builder’s interview with the founders, after the break…
IAB: Tell me about your firm.
Anagram (Vaibhav Dimri + Madhav Raman):
Anagram is a spatial design consultancy recognised amongst the emerging practices in the world, with a commitment towards delivering innovative, context-specific designs that encourage sustainable lifestyles. Our young and dynamic firm has very rapidly garnered acclaim for designs that span a wide array, from modest residences to large public-infrastructure facilities. Through our work, we attempt to enrich elemental modernity with intensive research into traditional as well as non-conventional practices, evolving culturally relevant, contextually responsive and resource-efficient designs. Our practice is based on a philosophy of holistic sustainability that responds to the economic, socio-cultural and environmental contours of a project. We explore an architecture that is not merely physically sustainable, but promotes an experiential reconnect with ecology and nurtures responsible and aware lifestyles. We, at Anagram Architects, enthusiastically explore opportunities to investigate spatial design and endeavour to provide innovative and fresh design solutions by delving into our rich experience in various fields. We also undertake collaborative design projects with other designers and artists so as to articulate more holistic designs and to enrich and invigorate our own design experiences. The practice has revolved around the core values of:
We strive to offer our patrons holistic design services of the most exacting standards whose quality and expertise compare to the best internationally.
From the latest developments in construction technology and materials to age-old cultural practices, our designs are informed by intense research in order to render the best quality. We are also keen on allowing our work to be an exploration into design for both our clients and us.
For us, each project is unique within its specific context and we endeavour to provide our clients with design solutions that are not only tailor-made to their requirements, but also respond to their socio-economic, cultural and geo-climatic contexts.
Equally at ease with the latest design trends and traditional and alternative building practices, we innovate and minutely detail design and techniques to elicit resource-efficient, context-specific design.
IAB: How did Anagram Architects become a practice?
MR: Anagram Architects started as a partnership of three people right after we graduated from the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi. While our third partner later decided to retire to study, Vaibhav and I wanted to continue the firm and try to evolve a practice. The beginning was really a trial by fire. A decade or so ago work was not easy to come by -- most certainly not for a start-up firm with no experience, no links to the industry and no qualifications or specialisation beyond a basic bachelor's degree. The only thing we had to offer, really, was indefatigable enthusiasm. Evolving a practice was the only sure-shot way to learn, grow, explore, build and earn a living - all at the same time. It took time, but slowly we found our groove; we learned to get instinct and then, in turn, to trust it. We realised, if we learn something, no matter how small, from absolutely every project we do, we might just get a better education that any post graduate programme or a greater experience than working at any celebrated firm. I think that this is pretty much where we are and I hope this is where we stay. I don't think Vaibhav and I really want to become experts at anything, ever!
VD: Almost immediately on starting up, we were acutely aware of the number of gaps in our knowledge and our lack of experience, not just in building, but also in running a firm and managing clients. So we had to “practice”: grab at each and every opportunity possible to design, studiously learn from mistakes and rapidly try and gain all that we lacked. We learned that there was not just a little in the realm of architecture that we were yet to discover, but rather a whole universe of understanding outside our profession that was yet to be explored, and that our practice is a vehicle for this exploration. We gradually realised our own individual talents and weaknesses. In fact, Madhav and I are each other's worst critics and best friends! I think that's what powers our practice.
IAB: What is Anagram's design and project development process like?
MR: Modernist architects (like most of us are taught to be) expect to be the pinnacle of a pyramid-shaped project team of any building project. The prerogative, onus and credit for vision and control traditionally is vested in the architect. In a sense, the construction industry and the business of building were structured accordingly. However, today the cracks in this structure are beginning to show. Project processes are no longer sequential. Control is often with developers and globalised visions might be imported. Architects themselves find opportunities in plugging in horizontally to broader team structures. With architecture becoming programmatically and technologically complex, the only option to retain the top spot is for firms to become larger and increase their own in-house capabilities and capacities. Invariably this leads to a greater distance between architects and architecture. Let's face it, the days of architects being the sole design leads with everyone else falling in as a sub-consultant are numbered, if not over. Collaborations are extremely fertile seedbeds for innovations and we find cross-disciplinary ideations an exciting experience. It's like showing up at a BYO picnic! And when it works, it's magical. The diversity in skill sets, expertise and design processes can, if managed well, greatly enhance the quality of the design and its articulation.
VD: Managing collaborations is often a delicate exercise and not all projects can be collaborative. Formulating a good collaboration is often an endeavour that is not project-specific and needs to be nurtured and tested over time before it works for a particular project. Further, partners in collaboration must share some values, not necessarily whole ideologies, and be comfortable with each other for a frank exchange of ideas. We find successful collaborations emerge out of learning to trust your partners and their abilities as well being able use them to expand your own thinking. Ideally, collaboration should attempt at being greater than the sum of the parts, while guarding against being erosive to the contribution of each part.
IAB: What do you consider to be Anagram’s most significant work, and why?
MR: That's a tough one. I don't think any of our projects is singularly significant. For us, each and every one of them has some value, more than monetary benefit. It's fair to say we have grown with each of our successive projects so far. The South Asian Human Rights Documentation Centre (SAHRDC) is the one that got us wide critical acclaim and global recognition. So, it is the one people immediately identify us with. But it was our first completed building, nearly six years ago, and today even our clients have sold it and moved on!
VD: The work we are doing for the Ring (T)Rail Project is quite close to our hearts - partly because it was self-initiated and also because of its nature and the number of stakeholders involved; it's a painstakingly long-term project. But the day it reaches fruition, it will definitely be one of our most significant works.
IAB: You both involve yourselves in academic discourse -- what link do you see between academics and practice?
MR: Vaibhav and I ended our academics at the graduate level and went straight into practice. At a certain level, we would like share all that we have learnt about design outside academia. We would like show students of architecture that its practice is not just a cerebral activity of the mind, but one that involves the heart and might just help you find your soul, and that this exciting journey is there and accessible to all who seek it with passion.
VD: We also learn so much by teaching! Staying in touch with academics means being able to access libraries, critique students' work, take the time to have meandering conversations with colleagues and students on architecture and design. These are all the privileges of teaching. And it does inform our work and influence our thinking in some way or the other.
IAB: Anagram Architects has grown substantially in the past five years, and has diversified its scale and type of work. What are your goals for Anagram Architects in the future?
VD + MR: We hope to expand the studio over the next few years. Not just in numbers, but also in domains. We are currently evolving a strategy to channel what we do in to a practice, consultancy and a research-cum-advisory. We expect to create multiple “rich” links between these channels, while reducing clutter and increasing our efficiency in being able to deliver specifically to our clients' needs. This channelization would hopefully also allow us to drive innovation and direct ideas in specific directions based on our credo of creating designs that enhance awareness (both for our clients as well as for us).