The common sense approach to design

Last Updated 30 June 2016, 19:10 IST

For architect Sanjay Mohe, the endeavour is to try and create a balance between the built and non-built. The form and materials should age gracefully, lending a timeless quality, learns Bindu Gopal Rao.

A respected name in the field of architecture, Sanjay Mohe was born and brought up in
Mumbai. Despite his numerous achievements, Sanjay’s simplicity makes him a role model and inspiration for many. Mindspace was formed in October, 2004 by Sanjay Mohe, Vasuki Prakash and Suryanarayanan, who have extensive professional practice of working together and the firm has experience in handling residential, institutional research labs and IT projects.

In an interaction with Deccan Herald, Sanjay talks about his award-winning
architectural career, inspirations and sustainability. Excerpts:

How has the journey been so far?
It has been a wonderful journey. Every journey has to have a destination, but in this case, the destination keeps moving away and when there is a feeling of reaching closer, it would have already moved further. And this is what makes the journey so wonderful — the pursuit of destination. That is why it doesn’t feel long. In fact, it feels like it has just started and there is so much more to be discovered. It is about enjoying the process, every moment of it. It is about complementing, contradicting, questioning, learning, unlearning. But always moving forward together towards that elusive destination. For us, the next project feels more exciting than anything done before.

We were introduced to architecture in J J College of Architecture; eventually, each one took their own route. Over time, the path which looked ambiguous started
getting clearer and like-minded people got together and started moving in a single
direction. It is important to be surrounded by people who are charged with positive
energy all the time, challenging each other.

On simplicity in design...
Whenever I see something and wonder ‘Why didn’t I think about it?’, it would
invariably be a great idea, a very simple solution achieved with elegance. It doesn’t look ‘designed’. You always want to design that way, removing the unwanted, till what is left behind is pristine, but it is not easy.

In fact, it is easier to be complicated and difficult rather than being simple. I call it a common sense approach. We designers tend to mystify the creative process with tradition, philosophy, art, a lot of immeasurable parameters. It is easier to demystify and start with measurable parameters like technology, climate, functional needs and then move on to reach the immeasurable.

Things to remember while designing for environmental sustainability...
This is where you need a common sense approach, to try and create a balance
between the built and non-built. Understand the forces of nature — bring in light but not the heat; bring in air, but not the rain. For this, one has to orient the built, after studying solar path, wind direction etc. It becomes important to use appropriate materials looking at their ability to either absorb or reflect heat, sound, water etc. It is also important to look at embedded energy of materials, during the process of manufacture, the energy spent on transport, and use materials with lower embedded energy.

At the same time, the built form and materials should age gracefully, lending a timeless quality. If the architect has to be dependent only on mechanical systems for cooling a space, then there is no creativity involved. Our forefathers understood the way of keeping buildings cool without mechanical equipment. And one has to understand those principles and then work with latest technology. It is important to make nature a part of the built environment, allow the enclosure to breathe. Harvest energy and recycle water. Most of this doesn’t need additional money but the right design intent. Thus, it is not a challenge but a way of designing.

What inspires you?
The idea of architecture itself inspires me. Architect Charles Correa had once said, “A leader like Mahatma Gandhi is called the architect of the nation, not the engineer, nor the dentist, nor the historian.” An architect with his ability to imagine, has a vision of the future. An architect can redefine the way one lives, learns, works, entertains — creating energetic spaces or meditative spaces, contemplative spaces or motivational spaces. And design it to be passed on to the next generation and the next, to transcend time, to be timeless. This is what makes it a wonderful profession.

What is your ultimate goal?
As I said earlier, the goal keeps moving. It is just about being passionate and enjoying the process. Sometimes, you get the idea standing on the site and everything falls in to place while at other times, you struggle and still don’t get it. Hence, it is important to be surrounded by passionate people who are always pushing you, setting the bar higher, to a point where you are not allowed to compromise. I am sure every architect has this dream to be remembered as one of the most sensitive creators and I am no different. However, it is also important to be remembered as a wonderful human being.

Which is the project that has made you truly happy? 
When you are so much in love with a project during the conception and the
construction, you are not in a position to critically look at it and analyse it as an outsider. Hence, it takes lot of time to come out of that phase and till that phase gets over, that is your best project. However, a project like Karunashraya, a hospice for terminally ill patients, gave me a different kind of satisfaction, mainly due to the cause behind it and the committed set of people I interacted with — people who work for their cause with so much dedication and passion that it changes your way of looking at the world.

Advice to young architects...
Today, there is abundance of information, which is easily available and can be a cause for confusion. You tend to absorb without analysing, freezing thoughts and ideas by borrowed imagery, which is in a way harming the creative process. One has to convert information into knowledge and then transform it through the creative process. This needs time, patience, hard work, and there are no shortcuts.

As an architect, one needs to be a keen observer of the surroundings, of nature and of human behaviour. It is about asking appropriate questions all the time, challenging accepted norms and being convinced about the right decision. To become a creative person, it is important to be sensitive and feel everything around you. Since you would be dealing with cutting-edge technology, it is also imperative that your analytical and problem solving skills are high.

How is architecture evolving today?
For the first time after the Industrial Revolution, we are experiencing a paradigm shift. Everything around us is getting redefined — workplaces, the education
system, transport, the medical field. All this will have a major influence on lifestyle and perceptions, ultimately influencing architecture, especially on the way it is perceived functionally and emotionally.

We are going through a phase of ‘form making’ as an international trend of creating iconic forms against the skyline. The next few years would be about redefining every living space, the way the idea of a ‘home’ was redefined during the Modernism movement, a reaction to the Industrial Revolution. Similarly, this would be the most exciting phase of architectural space making.

(Published 30 June 2016, 15:36 IST)

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