1. Home
  2. >

On the Cutting Edge


Our 10 handpicked architects and interior designers are redefining the structures where we live, work and relax. While this may be not the most definitive list, all of them are truly global in their design aesthetic, approach and practice.

New-age Indian architects and interior designers are increasingly reinterpreting the country’s architectural heritage and juxtaposing it with a global design aesthetic and modern technology to build structures that, hopefully, will tell the history of 21st century India.

While in the overall scheme of things it is difficult to sound enthusiastic about the state of India’s architecture due to what architect Kapil Gupta calls, “a lack of policy initiatives and a credible urban development plan,” slowly, over the years, a handful of contemporary Indian architects and interior designers have been forging a change, creating cutting-edge
architecture and interiors that can rate right up there with global architectural and design practices.

Their references are myraid and consist of intellectual and, often, professional engagement with works of masters such as Charles Correa, BV Doshi, Rem Koolhaas, Zaha Hadid, the late Geoffrey Bawa and Joseph Allen Stein.

Architect & Interiors India presents the work of the finest 10 architects or engineers of space in India currently. Their realm of work includes re-planning private and public spaces in a country where the idea of what you do with them is rapidly changing.

All of them have experimented with forms and spaces to develop a design idiom that is unique to them. Along the way, they have picked up national and international accolades, awards and contracts — leaving their mark in Singapore, Dubai and Shanghai.

If the main preoccupation of Kapil Gupta and Chris Lee of Serie Architects is to figure out ways in which they can deal with the congestion of an urban city to effectively use small spaces to create architecture and interiors that are not only contemporary but also radical, Nisha Mathew and Soumitro Ghosh look at the larger question of how they can contextualise their projects in a city or culture they are located in.

If Nuru Karim uses technology to create signature spaces in lyrical, white minimalism, he has also won an award for working with the concept of a spinning wheel, the charkha.

Arjun Mailk, working sans conflict with father, Kamal Malik, uses modern technology to create structures that seem suspended in space, while being connected with nature, still plentiful in some places.

If Shantanu Poredi and Manisha Agarwal’s practice offers integrated solutions that look at urban design, interiors and architecture as an integral whole, Ambrish Arora believes that design cannot be separated from daily living and has to be made approachable for everyone to experience.

If Sandeep Khosla draws inspiration from architects like Geoffrey Bawa and Charles Correa and the way they have interpreted traditional concepts in a modern way, Dominic Dube is inspired by the chaos and colour of India.

Zubin Zainuddin and Krupa Zubin make their presence felt on huge projects, bringing in a design sensibility which works with the optimum utilisation of space, mandatory for the over-peopled urban spaces of India.

Quaid Doongerwala and Shilpa Ranade not only experiment with popular aesthetics using materials that are generally considered kitsch, they also hold on to India’s default energy-efficiency born of austerity rather than abundance.

Kapil Gupta & Christopher Lee
framing urban spaces

Together, they run a practice that is not just transnational but also focused on urban development and master planning. The partners of SERIE Architects are constantly exploring the way architecture frames a city and defines it, says Deepali Nandwani.

Kapil Gupta and partner Christopher Lee work in two different cities, which are not just geographically distant – but even, architecturally and culturally, poles apart.

Gupta works out of his modern office in Mumbai’s old Lower Parel area, once dominated by textile mills and a unique culture that shaped the city at the turn of the century with its community-engendering chawl system of housing — and now a crazy mess of old mills, shiny shopping complexes and gated communities.

Lee, on the other hand, works out of London, the city that has increasingly redefined contemporary architecture and art.

Lee graduated from the Architectural Association School of Architecture, London, while Gupta graduated with B Arch from the Sir JJ College of Architecture, Mumbai, and did his post-graduate studies at Architectural Association, which is where he met his partner.

The two run Serie Architects, a transnational practice that’s involved in projects across continents. Besides Mumbai and London, it works out of Beijing, China. “Our practice is completely without borders,” says Gupta. “You can’t call it Indian, British or Chinese.”

The duo is fascinated by the evolution and mutation of building types in cities today.

“Working typologically, or in our terms, thinking and exploring in series – harnessing the cumulative intelligence of building types – is key to our work,” says Gupta. “We are interested in how architecture frames a city. All our work is informed by a constant negotiation between architecture and the city.”

Housing, they believe, defines the nature of a city. “Every city has its own typology,” explains Gupta.

“For instance, New York has skyscrapers, while the fabric of London is Victorian housing or the row houses. We constantly experiment with ways by which we can work with this typology and transform it, without destroying it.”

Take, for instance, their ongoing project to design part of the Guiyang Huaxi Urban Centre in China for the Homnicen Group. Serie Architects, alongside 10 other young international architects, have been invited to design the new Urban Centre.

“Located on the south cluster of the masterplan comprising low-rise developments, our proposal draws together two parallel ideas — one typological and the other from the indigenous landscape of Guiyang,” says Gupta.

“The project begins with the typological transformation of the traditional Hakka Tulou house (or earthen houses of the local Hakka people). Drawing the intelligence of the circular courtyards, our proposal put forth an organisation that combined a clear collective shared circular courtyard that binds together a series of smaller private courtyards.”

Each of the proposed SOHOs (Single Occupier Home Office) – as a new live/work type – contains a private courtyard around which rooms are clustered. The rooms have a double façade, one facing the private courtyard and the other facing the shared courtyard which capitalises on the views on two ends of the site: the mountain and the valley.

Serie’s practice ranges from luxury villa projects, like the one in Slovakia, to low-cost housing projects like the one they are competing for in Pune. The Slovakia national villas scheme, says Gupta, is meant to be a luxury housing scheme.

Unlike luxury homes, a term that necessitates huge, sprawling spaces, houses here are spread over just 300 to 400m2.

“Exclusivity generally comes from large sites and the privacy that a house offers its residents. So this completely turns the notion of luxury on its head.” The project has been designed as a thickly wooded forest and the houses are placed in such a manner that they look like little dwellings within a clearing in the forest.

A series of flowering hedges draws the boundary between a house and the city. The houses have a courtyard, and the duo has used four to five variations within the courtyard typology.

The other interesting project, at the other end of the spectrum, is the middle-class housing scheme that they are designing – again in Slovakia. In this country, no middle-class housing scheme is over eight-storeys tall.

However, this building has three towers of 12, 19 and 29 storeys. “We have learnt and applied our South East Asian experience,” says Gupta.

“For instance, the lobby is small, unlike large lobbies in Europe. Also, each tower has its own elevator. In this way, the builder maintains higher efficiency.” To make it look more luxurious than it is, the architects have created the façade in the form of a wave, and the wave-like intervention on different floors is patterned in different colours to enhance the

Unlike cities in Europe, or even in China, Gupta says that India’s urban development is rather disjointed because of the lack of regulation. “This is why urban planning is getting privatised, a fact that you see in gated communities. I would call these gated communities the new urban condition or real estate movement. It is not an architecture movement, and we need to recognise the difference.”

Besides working on a competition to develop a 50-acre middle-income housing scheme in Pune, the Serie duo has been involved in a few stand-alone projects in India – which have, in fact, helped put them on the design map worldwide.

One such project is Tote, a restaurant, bar and banqueting hall at the Mahalaxmi Race Course in Mumbai. It is set in a 2,500m2 space in a series of disused buildings from the city’s colonial past.

“The conservation guidelines called for the preservation of the roof profile for three-quarters of the buildings and full conservation for the remaining one-quarter,” says Gupta.

The interesting aspect of the site, however, was not the colonial buildings but the open spaces covered by mature rain trees. These spaces are shaded throughout the year by the widespread leaves of the rain trees, allowing for the extensive use of the outdoors in a city that sorely needs it.

“We continued the idea of a continuously differentiated space with no clear boundary into the envelope of the conservation building. A new structure was constructed within. The structural system adopted was that of a tree branch – so the new roof was constructed to look like one.

We wanted to expand the experience of being under the magnificent rain trees within. The propagation of the branching system along the longitudinal section of the conserved building was differentiated in its growth along the transverse section.

Each dining space (wine bar, restaurant, pre-function and banquet facilities) is captured within a different spatial volume… When the branches touch the ceiling, the ceiling plane is punctured with a series of openings, which become light coves and slits,” they say.

The Serie practice is constantly informed through the research conducted in the renowned Architectural Association School of Architecture, London, where Lee holds the position of Diploma Unit Master since 2002.

Jointly, the two have been nominated amongst 10 ‘Visionary Architects’ by the European Design Academy. Serie Architects was a runner up in the 2008 BD Young Architect of the Year Award, UK. Jointly, they were among Architectural Record’s eight Design Vanguards for 2005. Their works have been exhibited recently in the Armani Teatro, Milan, as part of the Global Edit 06: Emerging International Design curated by Wallpaper* magazine.

Dominic Dube
Art in Concrete

Art and culture form the very core of Canadian-French architect Dominic Dube’s work. Dube, whose influences include master architect Le Corbusier, tries to balance his architectural skills with his love for art.

Painting doesn’t appear subtly in his projects; it plays a huge part in the way he conceptualises them, a fact you can see in the Caperberry restaurant in Bengaluru, which he has designed in a way that reflects harmony, refinement and peace — almost showing an artist’s hand.

Dube explains his design philosophy as “an effort to immerse in culture and society, and translate it in today’s way.”

This architect’s skills are not limited to a contemporary use of art. There are very few architects who can use concrete the way he can. He believes that if you love concrete, it “changes” and takes on forms that you didn’t know it was capable of achieving.

Having studied architecture in Montreal and worked there for a while, Dube travelled extensively on work over the next 10 years. He visited Ahmedabad in 1994 at the invitation of veteran architect BV Doshi. In 1996, after a trip to Auroville, he decided to stay there.

Recalling those years in Auroville, Dube says, “My most important work in social and public architecture happened during the seven years I spent there.”

A complete Renaissance man, this architect-artist-teacher-painter has worked in countries including Mexico, Thailand, Greece and France – and these diverse influences can be seen in his work.

In 2003, he co-founded DDIR Architecture Studio Pvt Ltd with Inge Rieck. Among his favourite buildings, he counts Kazuyo Sejima’s The New Museum in New York.

DDIR believes in integrating architecture and design with art (nature), technology (structure), life (light) and culture (spirit), and Dube maintains that there are no old-age or new-age architectural concepts.

“This is the same world of inspiration in which we source and find definition, aesthetics and plasticity to match our needs.”

Among the other influences he counts is Doshi, with whom he worked for two years. “Several architects have inspired me. In the beginning of my career, there was Moshe Safdie and his project – Habitat 67 in Montreal. Then there was Roger Taillibert and his Olympic Stadium, again in Montreal. They put me on the modernist track.”

The entire spectrum of Dube’s works is exhilarating and straddles small interior spaces as well as large town and urban planning schemes. In between there have been art galleries, corporate offices, farmhouses, condo towers and lounges.

“Having touched most of the scale from town planning to retail showrooms, the residential part has happened to be the main focus of the work during the last few years,” he says. If in Caperberry restaurant he has used gold colour and metal art installations, in Hint, another lounge-pub-cum-restaurant, he has played around with light to great effect.

Dube feels that Indian contemporary architecture from the 1950s to the 1980s was “stunning” and strongly influenced by Corbusier and Louis Kahn – but in the past 30 years, contemporary architecture in India is much more modern and fast-paced, and lacks soul.

For Dube, India is a flow, a movement. “Within the chaos lies harmony that, eventually, is the real and unique beauty of India.”

Last year, Dube held a show of the compilation of his works at the Time & Space Gallery in Bengaluru. The abstracted, scaled-down models of his architectural work showcased his journey.

There was the Inge’s House at Auroville, considered one his masterpieces. It resembles the shape of hands held together in prayer, with one hand straight and the other arched slightly. The spiralling concrete staircase is such a sculptural marvel, that it finds a place on the visiting card of the architect.

Profiled in the book, ‘Houses of the 21st Century’, Inge House is described as “striking for its sculptural quality, expressing the plasticity of concrete as a construction material. Both the concrete and the black stone, which is either sedimented or polished, emphasise the formal elements of Dominic’s architecture.”

For a more recent project, consider a home he has done in Bengaluru. It is a modern structure that has the feel of a palace. Although a traditional structure, you find modern touches in the form of wood imprints.

The architect believes in minimalism, sophistication and elegance. Not someone to follow trends, he is quite open to the use of technology. His work appears simple because of the lack of clutter.

Neat lines and details that are woven into the main design without overpowering it defines his architectural style, and his strength lies in the way the space is designed and planned rather than in the use of embellishments.

Dube’s architectural studio has won several awards including an international award for a low-cost housing development in Mexico. Then there was the second prize for the Museum of Modern Art in Montreal; a trophy for excellence in design; and a few more awards for residences.

Reflecting upon his architectural practice, he says, “I have evolved and believe in simplicity, purity and the use of natural materials in my work.”

The artist in him makes him a fascinating architect. His biggest strength as an architect, in his own words, lies in “proportions and equilibrium”.

Sandeep Khosla
An Absence of Ordinariness

This Bengaluru-based architect runs a niche, boutique practice that reinterprets Indian design concepts using contemporary idioms. After a decade and half, Khosla Associates is still refreshingly idealistic, finds Shalini Seth.

Sandeep Khosla may have studied architecture at the Pratt Institute in New York, but there’s still a lot of old-world Kolkata on his mind. “My earliest architectural memories are of colonial houses in Kolkata.

I used to live in one of those with colonnades, high ceilings, black and white marble floor, wonderful verandahs, colonial clubs such as the Saturday Club and the Tollygunge Club with their louvered shutters. They are all embedded in my mind. The feeling of loftiness and scale was wonderful,” says the Bengaluru-based architect.

Every once in a while, Khosla-watchers will be able to track these influences in his work. For instance, in his latest residential project in Kerala, the Cliff House, he made sure there is no glass in the entire house.

“The window details are inspired from those louvered shutters – reinterpreted with new systems of sliding and folding. We use the verandah regularly in our houses. The feeling of sitting in a shaded area where the roof is enclosed and the sides open is really relevant to our work and climate,” he says.

At a glance, the house is vaguely reminiscent of Khosla’s favourite building in the world – Frank Lloyd’s Wright’s Waterfall House.

Khosla’s oeuvre is high on quality and variety – creating private houses (design, build and interiors); restoring heritage properties for contemporary use, sometimes commercial; retail spaces in India and abroad; hospitality projects (creating interiors for restaurants and designing resorts); designing corporate identity; and institutional work.

“My work with architect Charles Correa as his associate (1993-94) and my early experiences with the late Geoffrey Bawa of Sri Lanka [globally known for tropical modernism] were major influences. They inspired me to reinterpret traditional concepts in a modern way. I was seeing all the Asian masters do seamless architecture with the outdoors. Unlike the West, where you live in insulated boxes, the transition between outdoors and indoors is important in India. An open-to-sky courtyard, verandahs, terraces and even the shade of a tree is a transition space,” he says.

Since its opening in 1995, Khosla Associates has not confused evolution with mindless growth.

“We call ourselves a niche boutique practice and pride ourselves on being a small office with quality v/s quantity. We never chase huge developer projects. Amaresh Anand, my partner, and I spearhead the design and idea process. We do site visits ourselves. I’m inspired by Charles Correa’s office, which only had 10 architects,” Khosla says.

In Khosla’s work, the total absence of run-of-the-mill, ordinary or bread-and-butter projects is striking. Almost as if he never forgets or lets you forget the sheer joy of architecture, always adhering to his design philosophy: “Placed in its context, to create architecture which blends in, leaving the smallest possible carbon footprint, which is not wasteful.”

For instance, at Touch (2004), a restaurant in Hyderabad, Khosla used LED lighting innovatively, working in collaboration with his wife Tania, who runs a graphic design studio, TSK Design.

He says, “Boundaries between interiors, product design and graphic design get blurred. We needed to contextualise the space — so we used the Nizam’s jewels, particularly his headgear and belt buckle, in the wallpaper created especially for the space.”

An alumnus of Doon School in Dehradun, where he was head of an art society, Khosla actually went to study art in upstate New York but got sidetracked by architectural history classes at Bard College and transferred to Pratt Institute, graduating in 1992.

“I was exposed to different disciplines and schools of thought – from structuralism, classicism to post-modernism. You took everything in like a sponge, and later filtered out what you did not agree with,” he says.

The much-talked-about Manwaring House (2002) indicated early on the kind of architecture Khosla wanted to practise. Another one of his private houses was the Vastu house (2007).

“We had to design a house according to the Vastu Purush Mandal, while keeping it aesthetically pleasing and contemporary. The position of every door, WC, numbers of stairs, clockwise or anti-clockwise, were strictly according to the Vastu Purush Mandal.” Khosla says.

Being eco-sensitive sometimes means using fewer natural materials. Khosla, who uses new-age materials such as resin acrylic and steel trusses, says, “We love using stone, but how much should we quarry of the earth’s resources? How much timber? The natural inclination is to use materials that you have been using. Use bamboo, which is sustainable. We loved to use Makrana white marble at one point, but it is no longer available. Jaisalmer stone is fast depleting.

In India, the preferred wood is teak wood – which is not sustainable. If you fly over Bengaluru, you see the defacing of the hills.”

Khosla’s most rewarding work is with heritage buildings, to turn them into viable spaces. Hard Rock Café in Bengaluru (2008) is an old Tudor-style building restored for its present use.

“Great cities of the world preserve and glorify their buildings. There was an INTACH listing of 800 colonial buildings that had to be protected, which has now come down to 250 that are still surviving. Ground floor structures are not commercially viable. There is no legislation to protect them yet. Considering profitability while saving the building is the best,” he

Khosla has also worked on an MTV office (1998) using clichés –film posters dominated the walls and the reception looked like an auto-rickshaw – in collaboration with TSK. He has helped build brands from Café Coffee Day (2002), KFC (2004), Pizza Hut (2004) to ING Vysya (2003).

From his early experience, an international style, crisp lines, a contemporary vocabulary and the idea of saying a lot with minimal materials has stayed with him despite the fact that “in New York the approach is quite New York-centric.” His time studying and working in New York has help put peculiarities of Indian architecture in sharp relief.

“For Shiro (2006), Mumbai, we used local craft to create these huge sculptures rather than import everything from Bali. Local sculptors are used to making Ganesh idols on a large scale. In India you can customise anything. You are not choosing everything from a catalogue. You can sit with the worker and create everything from scratch,” he says.

But there is also a lot missing in India. “Sadly, not enough relevant contemporary architecture is happening in our cities. Too many mediocre architecture schools are churning out architects trained to think in practical terms. We don’t have strict zoning laws.

There is too much mixed use happening. Purely residential areas are becoming commercial.

Cities that have been planned, like Chandigarh or Lutyens’ Delhi, remain pleasurable. Others are growing in a chaotic and haphazard way,” he says.

Apart from winning many awards, including the Rajiv Gandhi Shiromani Award in 2006, his work has found place in ‘Night Fever’, a book on bar and clubs design, and ‘Bon Appétit’, a book on restaurant design by Frame Birkhauser Publishers (Netherlands), ‘Indian Design’, a book by Daab Publishers (Germany) and ‘The Anthology of Contemporary Indian Architecture’ (Roli Books, India 2008).

His current projects include one in Goa, a luxury home development on a hill, a spa resort in the Maldives with villas set in water, an office building for Himatsingka Seide Ltd in Bangalore, a boutique hotel in Male and international retail stores for the furnishing brand Atmosphere. Khosla says, “Maldives is really in danger of sinking because of global warming.
We are working closely with ecologists to make sure we do the least harm to sea life while creating a resort in a lagoon on a 13-acre island.”

Nuru Karim
The Shape of Things to Come

Almost like a sculptor would, the founder director of the Laboratory for Interactive Visionary Environments (LIVE) carves out a space and gives it a unique form. Maria Louis catches some tantalising glimpses of the artist concealed behind the architect.

When you think of futuristic forms in emerging Indian architecture and space design, you cannot ignore the role of Nuru Karim – an avant-garde architect who pays heed to the past before expressing his vision of the future.

The most telling example is the BMB art gallery launched in Mumbai in September 2009 by (Yash) Birla, (Devaunshi) Mehta and artist (Krishnamachari) Bose. Karim’s keen sensitivity to the heritage architecture of the colonial building that houses it, is evident in the way he has restored the old-world façade of the gallery; but step past the glass doors and you enter a
contemporary space that’s reminiscent of a walk-through sculpture.

In keeping with the clients’ desire for an interactive interior that connects people from different walks of life with art, the gallery houses an art bookshop with a dedicated reading area and an onsite café.

As Karim describes it, “Conceptually, the project literally paints layers of opacity into the gallery space, paint-brushed with pixels and bytes. The clean stark display panels within the gallery space fold back into tessellated skins with differentiated perforations ranging from 5mm to 50mm.” Forming the primary frontage of the gallery space as well, the tessellated skin
is made from a material that has become a kind of signature medium for this “artist”.

“Corian by Dupont is an extremely flexible and versatile new-age material,” maintains Karim, the founder director of LIVE (Laboratory for Interactive Visionary Environments).

“Its ability to be thermoformed and CNC’d aids digital modes of design and fabrication.” Indeed, so enamoured is the architect by this material which is otherwise found only in kitchens, that he used it for the dramatic staircase in singer Shaan’s home and in the installation titled ‘Machining Sound’ that he created with Luis Fraguada (co-director, LaN,
Spain) for the exhibition Relative VisA curated by Krishnamachari and held at the now defunct Bodhi Space art gallery in Mumbai in 2008.

Karim is one of the new breed of architects blessed with an international outlook, having worked with the redoubtable Zaha Hadid Architects in London while still a student. With characteristic understatement, though, he simply says he found “the seamless transformation from academia to the challenges of architectural design practice a great experience.”

Three years after completing his Master’s in Architecture and Urbanism from the Architectural Association, London, Karim founded LIVE along with Shyam Raheja in 2009.

He describes it as a practice that functions on a variety of scales and situates its projects within a wider research context, including teaching and writing on art and architecture – so “playful experimentation, serious research and old-fashioned problem-solving” are all in a day’s work at LIVE.

For Karim, architecture is an open system of interrelated issues ranging from architectural typology, digital methodologies, sustainability, structure, fabrication, materiality, tactility and use, as well as larger social, cultural and environmental networks.

He has been witness to his chosen field being transformed by “digitally-driven technological changes” as opposed to methods “based on traditional mechanical ruled drafting tools guiding the delineation of graphic space”; but believes these changes are but a means to reconceptualise our understanding of details with respect to fabrication, assembly and

“Within the last decade, an increase in new materials in conjunction with the availability of new production processes has resulted in a codified approach,” he acknowledges, “but the issue is also one of ‘technology transfer’ – where technologies and materials from one specialised field migrate to another.”

Karim works as a volunteer in an NGO, the Aga Khan Development Network, in the thematic areas of the built environment such as Housing, Disaster Management, Water and Sanitation.

He believes that there is a need to strengthen urban governance and the promotion of equity amongst the poor in India in order to tackle the issues of lack of housing, lack of infrastructural services, property rights, air pollution and traffic that our country is perennially plagued by.

Apart from running his own firm, this young achiever has taught Architecture and conducted design workshops besides being invited as guest critic by leading national design schools.

Winning awards and competitions are par for the course in his case. He won the ArchiDesign Young Architect of the Year award, Western India, in 2006 and was declared runner-up for the IIID’s Emerging Interior Design Practice award in 2008, but the most memorable was Notions of India held in 2007 to create an Architecture and Engineering symbol for contemporary India.

The Charkha, Karim’s winning entry in this competition sponsored by the Tata Group, traces the concept of the spinning wheel, which is emblematic of the history and traditions of India, into an innovative form that captures the spirit of India with the spirit of steel.

Lauding his efforts, the master jury had commented, “As Indians sitting in the midst of an emerging India, for us the story of this spinning wheel holds immense significance – from a form that transpires from the Ashok Chakra to the Charkha… that which had imploded earlier has now exploded with vigour and vivacity to capture the dynamism of the momentum of India with the material of the future.” An excellent example of how Karim answers the call of the future with echoes from the past.

Influenced by thinkers such as Henri Bergson, who in the early decades of the 20th century “argued for a concept of life as forms of creative change able to encompass both natural and technological species,” Karim finds the work of the Spanish modernist architect Antoni Gaudi inspirational, as it involves an integration of materials, processes and poetics.

“The hyperboloids and paraboloids he borrowed from nature were reinforced by steel rods and allowed his designs to resemble elements from the environment,” he muses in obvious wonderment.

Looking forward to the inauguration of the “breathtaking” La Sagrada Familia in 2026 in commemoration of Gaudi’s 100th death anniversary, Karim says, “Gaudi spent 10 years working on studies for the design of La Sagrada Familia and developing a new method of structural calculation based on a model built with cords and small sacks of lead shot.”

One can almost hear a whispered wish that he would be able to create a memorable masterpiece of his own one day. From what we have seen, such yearning would be anything but far-fetched.

Arjun malik
Tripping the Light Fantastic

He’s the restless new kid on the block, and that’s precisely why he stands tall among our handpicked aces, says Maria Louis about the son of ar Kamal Malik – who has inherited his father’s uncanny knack for harnessing light.

When architect Kamal Malik, in response to my query to his son Arjun about the turning point in his professional life, ripostes in a jocular vein: “He hasn’t had any time to turn as yet,” there is an underlying seriousness in his tone. But what the junior Malik lacks in experience, he more than makes up for in intellect and skill – not to mention the formidable genes he has inherited.

His prowess was evident right from the first two projects he undertook and successfully executed: the Alibaug house and the GMS commercial building at Mumbai’s Bandra-Kurla Complex.

“It was while working on these two projects that I first encountered the profession’s self-established boundaries; and more importantly, this is where I first broke them,” confesses the young Malik who completed his Bachelor’s in Architecture at the Rachna Sansad Academy, Mumbai, in 2002 before going on to receive a Master of Science in Advanced Architectural Design from the Columbia University in New York in 2005.

He had worked with his father at Kamal Malik Architect (now Malik Architecture) for three years before leaving for the Big Apple, and he rejoined the practice on his return in 2005.

“What emerged from my time in Columbia was the realisation that the process of design is more of a polymorphous construct that a linear progression,” recalls Malik.

“Being part of an intense academic environment, and interacting with students and faculty from different cultures and with a wide range of ideas, led me to understand that perhaps the most important part of architecture was the ability to absorb, assimilate and extrapolate information.”

Declaring that the most important lesson he has learned is to set himself adrift in a sea of culture and information, Malik concedes that his thoughts have been shaped not only by academics and the professionals he has interacted with over the years, but also by his exposure to different streams of media such as film, music and art.

His disdain of style-based design has allowed him to “penetrate the surface of phenomena and to seek out the essence as opposed to being merely satisfied by its physical manifestation.”

This quest can be seen in the dramatic design of the Alibaug house. “The creation of singular sensory experiences has been the primary organising and sculpting vector,” explains Malik.

“Numerous geometric inflections and articulations are designed to engage the senses in unconventional ways. A walk through the house is meant to yield unique moments of being suspended in space, of intimate enclosure, of vertiginous assaults but, most importantly, of being connected to nature.” The connection to nature is strikingly apparent in the seamless way in which natural light and the outdoor space are manifested within the interiors.

But even in the city, where the concrete jungle is fast obliterating any evidence of nature, Malik is able to establish that connection – his own (650ft2 + 300ft2 mezzanine) apartment being a case in point.

When he first saw it, the tiny, boarded-up, poorly-lit and inadequately ventilated loft that sits atop the former Admiralty Court at Kala Ghoda (now known as The Great Western Building) appalled yet seduced him. “The degree of decay that had beset this erstwhile bastion of colonial grandeur is symptomatic of a society that is still unable to reconcile its past with
its present,” he observes with a maturity that belies his age.

The rectangular space (55’6”x11’6”) was lit and ventilated by a single, large opening at its far end, while the roof heights varied between 8’6” and 27’0” due to the eccentric roof slopes.

“It was very important to me, without getting overtly nostalgic, that the original volumes and textures be retained, with delicate interventions serving only to enhance the unconventional proportions of the space,” discloses Malik, who gutted the entire space to excise all extraneous and non-structural elements, and replaced redundant roof partitions with skylights.

Two partial mezzanines were introduced – one at the entrance, to function as a study, and the other further along, to serve as a bedroom space. Today, an axial view from the entrance reveals a hierarchy of spaces that culminates in a balcony overlooking a large tree in the courtyard beyond.

Glass has been used extensively, not only to establish a fluid interconnectivity of spaces – but also to create a kaleidoscope of reflections. The primary central volume is constantly animated by shifting patterns of light as it streams through the two skylights placed opposite each other along an east-west orientation.

Adjoining a tall, wooden partition wall in the living-room is the staircase leading up to the study, suspended with steel cables that give it a lightness of being. Slender wooden planks are used for treads, and risers have been eliminated to enable natural light to filter through and cast splintered shadows on the wall.

The study mezzanine is bound by a suspended glass box. A triangular shard of glass offset from the floor profile acts as the study-table yet allows a visual connection with the roof even when the viewer is directly beneath it.

The final outcome is a space that is architectural in its predisposition, with physical and visual transitions taking precedence over material applications, but light is definitely the star of the show played out on this once-dreary proscenium.

While working with 3D models and diagrams is an integral part in the evolution of design today, in this case major decisions were made and a majority of the details were crafted on site.

“The complexity generated by the arbitrary structural augmentations made over the years necessitated a more hand-on approach,” explains Malik, who seems equally comfortable and adept at working with new-age or traditional materials and methods of practice, depending on the project.

“We focus on re-interpreting materials, in the same way that we restructure typologies… In some cases, the materials we use must bend to the will of an architectural concept; whilst in others, the intrinsic properties of the material inform the architectural concept.”

Albeit Malik Architecture is progressive, their work strives to provide a tangible link to the past. The philosophy that manifests itself subtly is that there is no clear way into the future without understanding the past. “Our planning typologies draw historical archetypes, but are subjected to current contextual parametric forces, some empirical and some intuitive,”
says Malik.

Volumetric and spatial allusions to the past are embedded in their work – whether it is the load-bearing massing of a cancer hospital in Jaipur, or the re-interpreted brooding gothic profiles of a research centre in Mumbai.

The firm addresses the immediate urban context through complex typological operations. In response to the rapid recession of green spaces in the city, they have worked on projects where the built masses are made to float above the ground, while the lower levels are left free for water, landscaping and street interactivity.

It is probably this maturity of approach that ensures there is no yawning gap between father and son.

Ambrish Arora
Perfecting the balancing act

‘To Be Is To Build’. German philosopher Martin Heidegger’s phrase seems to have made a lasting impression on contemporary space, furniture and exhibition designer Ambrish Arora, the founding partner and CEO of Lotus Design Services.

Arora lives by this philosophy and believes that design is an omnipotent part of our lives.

“It is a part of our daily lives and it doesn’t matter what you do or who you are,” he says. Arora and his partners – Sidhartha Talwar, Ankur Choksi and Arun Kullu – are currently working on many projects simultaneously: a comedy club in Mumbai, artists Subodh Gupta and Bharti Kher’s new studio, Rohit Bal’s flagship store in Mumbai, a restaurant in Macau, a retail space in Dubai, besides doing a lot of work at the Meherangarh Fort in Jodhpur.

There is a fascinating story related to the success of a niche design and architectural firm like Lotus. “The first year of opening Lotus was extremely challenging. We had no work and were almost on the verge of shutting shop,” recalls Arora, “until we did three projects: the first FBar in Delhi, a chain of restaurants called Khaaja Chowk and Viya Home. Then suddenly, we were flooded with work… and there has been no looking back.”

Arora’s belief in the ideology of trying to change people’s mindset and reinvent design to make it more approachable drives him to create path-breaking, refreshing spaces – like he did at the Xylys stores in Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Mumbai, or at the Patiala Heritage Festival.

The launch of Xylys marked the entry of Titan Industries into the premium watch segment in India, currently dominated by European brands.

The client brief was to create a store that would change the way people looked at the product, and would hold its own when launched internationally. The entire store interior and façade is wrapped around with a dynamic one foot tall band at eye-level, which serves to define the visual frame for the product display on one side and a frame for brand communication on the other.

An opaque band on the glass facade of the store incorporates the store branding and show windows for product display. The band extends into the store along the left wall in the form of a 40-foot- long seamless Corian display niche covered by anti-reflective glass that works as a display space for the products.

The display incorporates a customised state-of-the-art system that lets customers’ shortlist their selection. By using a unique Xylys stainless steel card, they can select or deselect their preferred models using an arrangement of slots just beneath the displays.

The information is relayed in real time to the inventory keeper, who then prepares and presents the models on a tray. When the customer is finished with his/her selection, they come to the trial counter – where the watches are instantly brought out to them to try and perhaps, buy.

Upfront in the store is the high-technology installation called the ‘River of Time’, a six-foot-long interactive counter made of Corian embedded with an EMF sensor on the underside. On it is projected a virtual river that has logos, flowers and petals floating on it.

On being touched, the icons fragment to display trivia/films/facts related to time. Customers interact with this touch-enabled surface to access more information about the history and physics of time as well as information about the Xylys brand.

At the Patiala Crafts Mela, on the other hand, the Lotus Design guys went completely earthy.

The simple use of paper and colours brought back memories of the paper windmill sellers with their colourful wares. The brief was to create a vibrant low-cost outdoor environment, and the Lotus team visualised it as a poem of colour.

They largely used fabric and paper to design the entire ground – awnings, chattris, pandals – around the Qila Mubarak, where the mela was held. The entire area was lit up with paper lamps.

A front entrance was created using a series of fabrics in colours like red, yellow, blue, green and maroon.

“Lotus’s vision is to constantly explore new paradigms in their inherent desire to stretch the boundaries of what is acceptable or even possible. A core area of exploration of the firm is the interface between craft and technology. We believe in creating experiential spaces that blur the edge between visual communication and architecture,” says Arora.

In the last two years, Lotus has expanded its scope to provide architectural consultancy. Arora and his team find inspiration in ordinary things, everyday events and chance encounters.

They believe that a sustainable experience is seldom about a first ‘wow’ and hence don’t believe in a single big idea approach.

The practice explores ways to engage the customer, the way they move through the space and interact with it. To them, designing a space offers the opportunity to build in layers that unfold differently for different people.

Quality is well-matched with quantity at Lotus. The firm has done several projects around the world, including the store design for Good Earth, Rohit Bal’s couture store at DLF Emporio, hospitality design for Marut Sikka’s restaurant Magique and public space architecture for Overall Firm. Awards too have been flowing in – at the last count 16, from some of the best-known names in design and architecture.

Surprisingly, Arora did not study design. Born in Mumbai in 1970 and raised all over India, he travelled extensively with his father who was in the Indian Navy and would get transferred every three years. The family finally ended up in Delhi.

After high school, he dropped out of college following an argument with the management about the education system. After trying out several jobs, he ended up as a boat designer in his father’s business – where he worked for five years before turning to architecture and interior design almost 12 years ago.

Arora worked as one of the two directors of Design Habit, a leading exhibit design firm in New Delhi for three years before setting up Lotus in June 2002. “This has been an interesting period in my life, and I am deeply humbled by the opportunity that has come my way,” he says.

But the journey has only just begun.

“Design is so new to our country. It was only post-liberalisation that we even thought of it as a form that permeates every facet of daily life,” he says.

Arora finds that contemporary Indian design is very confused, derived from Western sources and trying too hard to say something. But at the same time, “sometimes you come across a very original and fearless approach to design, though. The next few years would be very exciting,”

he thinks aloud. “There are so many people doing exceptional work, it is a good time to be in the country.”

That contemporary architecture is shaping cities and making them vestibules of the regional culture also helps.

“Look at Gurgaon, for instance. The city is known for its contemporary architecture. We’re finally getting to a point where people are stepping out of their private space and engaging with issues at large, cities included. The biggest role of an architect and architecture today is to be able to generate some debate and awareness about these issues,” he says.

Engaging with society through designing public spaces is one of the many things he would like to do in the next few years.

Arora is now looking at the rich architectural heritage of the country for inspiration for his next projects. “Fatehpur Sikri is completely unbelievable. Sarkhej Roza, just outside Ahmedabad, is perhaps one of the most elegant and unique architectural complexes of its kind.

Then, of course, there are the baolis or step-wells that are also outside Ahmedabad, which are so serene and beautifully composed. They move me to tears.”

Shantanu Poredi & Manisha Agarwal
creating interactive spaces

At MO-OF, art blurs into architecture. Sapna Kulshrestha delves into the designs of architects who offer integrated solutions that encompass urban design, landscape, interiors, architecture, art and more.

“Change is the only constant” is the design philosophy of MO-OF, or Mobile Offices, the architectural firm founded by Shantanu Poredi and Manisha Agarwal in 2000. Manisha Agarwal says, “The meaning of collaboration, for us, is to bring together people from different disciplines and ideas.”

Today MO-OF offers integrated solutions encompassing urban design, architecture, landscape, interiors, exhibition design, art as well as academic research. In fact, they consider research the starting point of design.

“It is not limited to logistical information but also conceptual thought,” says Poredi. For an art exhibition A-maz-ing at Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai, they converted the gallery space into a virtual and phantasmagorical Wonderland fit for Alice.

Through the framework of a maze and the specially created sections, the viewer could look at the art on the walls, panels, floor, within boxes, suspended from above, thus unfolding the experience by virtue of engagement with space rather than surface.

It is this interaction that leaves its mark on much of MO-OF’s work. Sustainability becomes a design concern. At C House built in Kashid, the spatial interrelations between landform and the built envelope typify it.

The house, fragmented and situated amongst mango trees, utilises the difference in levels to subvert the idea of sleeping spaces that are carved into the land rather than building a multi-storeyed structure.

“We view materials and technology as available resources, with the site as the centre and the climate as its function. This allows us to reduce redundancy by appropriate reuse,” they say.

The duo spent their formative years at the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology (CEPT), Ahmedabad, where they studied architecture. Poredi earned his Masters of Arts in Architecture and Urbanism from Architectural Association, London in 1999, where he was awarded the JN Tata scholarship, RD Sethna and Rajan Raheja Scholarships.

Agarwal acquired Masters in Architecture (Urban Design) from Cornell University, New York in 1997 and received the Helen Fagan Tyler award, James M Kittleman award, Mary Lyons Fellowship, RD Sethna and the Ratan Tata Travel Grant at Cornell.

Poredi says, “At the late Professor Anant Raje’s office in Ahmedabad, I learnt the discipline of drawing a building. At Architects’ Combine in Mumbai, I was involved with the construction process based on available resources and technology. At Terry Farrell’s in London, I worked on international competitions as a visualiser. Large-scale projects and technological advancement made it possible to cross over from the physical to the virtual medium,” he says.

Agarwal, who worked in India and New York, says, “My work trajectory involved exposure to both small and large-scale practices in varying contexts. I learnt the craft of building with personal involvement at Reinhold Pingel in Auroville. While working with Kiran Kapadia, I understood all about the diversity of an urban practice. At Rafael Vinoly Architects, a New
York-based firm where I worked on various competitions and projects, I was exposed to their design methodology in a professional work environment.”

But even so, coming back to India meant understanding and addressing issues that are pertinent to the Indian subcontinent. They won the first prize at an all-India open competition of the Mahatma Gandhi Antarrashtriya Hindi Vishwavidyalaya in Wardha (2002).

As the winning team, it offered them the opportunity to not only build the project but also design it on the concept of ‘New Culture’ in which faculty, students and visitors participate in a non-hierarchical structure. Elements such as enclosed structures are integrated with open spaces to provide variation, non-linearity, change and flexibility.

Besides emphasising creation of socio-cultural communities and integrated physical infrastructure systems, MO-OF works towards reinterpreting client briefs to subvert existing typologies and evolve new types.

Interior Urbanism for them concerns the integration of internal and external environments, also reflected in their design of international advertising agency The TBWA office, Mumbai.

The industrial nature of the space is enhanced by suspended spaces and objects like stairs and bridges; the circulation space is rendered as an event street that culminates into an amphitheatre to initiate interaction. Poredi says, “An investigation into the identity of the company and their work patterns allowed us to evolve a concept of thematic spaces,
choreographed to express a vibrant workspace.”

Apart from their current projects including housing, commercial, office and an entertainment club, they are also involved in public architectural projects such as the Elephanta Island Redevelopment with INTACH, the Nariman Point edevelopment Plan in collaboration with architect PK Das, and parks around Juhu beach with Juhu Citizens Welfare Group.

Expressing their disappointment on public architecture in India today, they say that the fraternity of architects has not worked to earn the respect of either civil society or the government agencies.

Inadequate public interest, government intent and political will have only added to the problem as obvious in the Elephanta Island project where no particular agency has overall ownership for coordinated efforts to ensure development. They advocate creating hybrids by mixing functions, to integrate communities and develop interdependence of programmes.

Participation in the Conference on Slum Renewal organised by the Netherlands Institute of Architecture and their exhibition, ‘What makes India Urban?’ at Aedes Gallery in Berlin, Germany, has made them realise that the country can offer unique solutions to solve problems of other developing countries as well.

“Cities can be revived if we find a link between the planner and the architects via the urbanist. At a larger level architects demonstrate a political ideology,” says Poredi.

In addition to a number of articles to their credit in known architectural journals, the duo has been awarded the first prize in a competition for REL Housing at Powai and New Haven, Mumbai 2007 and a commendation prize in a national competition for the redevelopment of Minto Hall, Bhopal by EPCO 2003. They also teach at Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute, Mumbai and various architectural institutes.

Ask them about their design style and they consider it a restraint because of transience.

Poredi says, “Post Independence, a whole generation of architects responded to the larger issues that arose with the building of the nation: what is Indian? The architects of our generation have the freedom to script a new architectural manifesto. However, this whole discussion seems to be missing.”

The duo says that until the last decade the government was the biggest client, with architects working towards one vision. However, with liberalisation, large-scale private developments have created a fragmented vision in the Indian subcontinent.

They recommend scripting a new code of conduct to compete in global markets and a master plan for each region to guide new developments that form a collective identity.

Quaid Doongerwala & Shilpa Ranade
playing with austerity

DCOOP treats street architecture as an ongoing exhibit, bringing a local identity into a diverse world. Shalini Seth unravels their multi-layered approach to building institutions, creating products and designing interiors.

When Quaid Doongerwala talks about Colaba market in Mumbai, he is not speaking about the intricacy of Indo-Saracenic or Gothic architecture, which makes its way on to postcards of the city. Instead, he treats today’s busy, kitschy marketplace with a colonial backdrop as an exhibit to be walked into and be informed by.

“If you look at shopping or if you look as kiosks in the city, at the act of selling things… you will see how people innovate…the ingenuity which street architecture has, morphing, adapting itself to situations, using strategies. Visually and graphically, it has been of great interest. There is a merging and intertwining of the informal with the formal. It has been some kind of a collection to go to, look at and enjoy,” he says.

It is individually informed observation of urban spaces and gender that enriches the practice at DCOOP, or Design Cooperative, headed by Doongerwala and Shilpa Ranade. DCOOP encompasses the small – from product design in light fixtures – and goes up in scale to large institutions such as the postgraduate campus of Sri Venkateswara University in Cudappah, Andhra Pradesh, which they designed after winning a national open competition in 2005.

In between there is everything from interiors for offices such as Ensemble (2001-02) and Indigo (2004, 2009), Tarun Tahiliani’s store in Mumbai (2003, 2008), a private gym, office on a jetty (2006) and several private homes. Doongerwala was also invited to present Mumbai at ARCAM Exhibition, Amsterdam, in 2008.

Doongerwala and Ranade have worked together since 1999. Both graduated from the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology (CEPT), Ahmedabad, “which has a strong modernist architecture and teaching philosophy”. Doongerwala was an exchange student at TU Delft in the Netherlands where “you felt the shadow of Rem Koolhaas very strongly”.

Ranade earned a postgraduate degree in cultural studies from the University of Arizona, Tucson, and has been a research associate with the Gender and Space project at Pukar, an NGO.

Rather than be as pupils to teachers, Doongerwala and Ranade go ahead with their work with a nod to the masters, acknowledging the reference.

“For example, in the university, we have used a lot of screens. There were two references. One was traditional Indian architecture – jaalis that are used in Islamic as well as other traditional architecture. More contemporary was (the late) Joseph Allen Stein, the Delhi-based architect. We had him at the back of our mind. One was conscious of Stein. But one does not want to simulate or take things directly, instead, putting it together in one’s own way. So if one was using screens one wanted to use them in a different way than Stein had,” says Doongerwala.

Popular aesthetic plays a part too, “It has influenced us over a period of time and still does. We have done a project, Indigo, where you see corrugated metal and fluorescent acrylic.

It almost transcends itself, taking kitsch material and transforming it into an elegant material,” says Doongerwala.

Whether in product design in lamps made out of metal pipes and fluorescent tubes, or at a larger scale in an interiors projects at Ensemble entirely done up with particle board to give a “monolithic look”, the absence of the extraneous is striking in their work, displaying foresight rather than hindsight born of decades of trial and error.

Ensemble remains a favourite with both. “It is a very small and well-crafted office, clear in interiors. The particle board goes on the wall and the underside of the ceiling. It’s one constant space. Where we need to have openness and transparency, we have used glass,” says Doongerwala.

At the university, given 400 acres of area to work on, the duo limited building on 100 acres. The heat in Andhra Pradesh, where the university is located, dictated that the buildings not be randomly placed, which would necessitate students to bicycle or walk long distances.

Instead, the campus is divided by a road. The site plan has the buildings clustered according to use and come together at one place such as the auditorium or the convocation hall. “A part of it is marked as nature reserve. We did not want to build more than necessary,” says Ranade.

This integral green approach is very Indian, says Doongerwala. “A lot of Indian architecture, by default, is environmentally much more conscious and sensitive than a lot of Western architecture. The materials we are using are far more sustainable. LEEDS is based on a Western model, which is already highly energy consuming. A lot of corporate offices are going by LEED.

But it is misleading to think that it is environmentally more sustainable or better. In India, in economically more constrained budgets, the quantum and extravagance of material is not there, so they are automatically more efficient and sustainable,” he says.

While many architects are doing good, niche work in India, the duo believes it’s only a minuscule quantity compared to what the country is building. Much of the rest remains dismal, with little thought consciousness at the building and city level.

“India is going through a transitory stage. There has been good influx of money. People are spending more on buildings and are open to what they have seen all over the world. But, at the same time, there is a lot of the work that is heavily influenced by the West. This is a passing phase. Richer architecture will come out soon. We are moving fast and we surprise ourselves,” says Doongerwala.

At DCOOP, the approach is well-defined. “As a professional practice, DCOOP aims at bridging the gap that exists between concerns of ‘pure’ design, the contingencies of construction and sensitivity to the demands of the end user.

It is an appropriate response to its particular reality that gives each DCOOP project a unique sense of identity. Pragmatically planned, meticulously put together, subtly fine-tuned to stimulate out senses; our projects are characterised by their refined proportions and a sense of balanced restfulness.

At the core of the work is our belief that architecture should be constructed well, it should function well and should look and feel beautiful,” says the duo.

The material may be a dream material such as silicon or “concrete, brick, plaster – being used in India for the past 50 years”, but it is possible to push limits. In one of t

Most Popular


Olympia Group announces to build up 1.1mn sq-ft greenfield it park in Guindy
The project will have a total investment of about Rs 750 crore


Vital pre-monsoon building works resume in Maharashtra
The state government has permitted pre-monsoon work by BMC and other agencies

Latest Issue

Sept 2020
01 Sep 2020