The design process shall lean towards vernacular methods of construction

Spanning a long period of 45 years, designing for a diverse typology which includes corporate and commercial spaces, hospitality, residential, public buildings, educational institutions, campuses and  community spaces, SNK studio in recent years have been experimenting with regional crafts as a great option for sustainable architecture. Nandini Somaya Sampat, Principal Architect SNK Somaya & Kalappa Consultants in conversation with Authindia talks about the role of academic curricula in a comprehensive and holistic program incorporating regional arts and crafts into Architecture, Design and Liberal Arts education.

What are your thoughts on the significance of vernacular architecture in sustainable designs?

There is an inextricable link between vernacular architecture and sustainable design. Architecture that is built in direct response to climatic conditions, materials, land and tradition would essentially be responsive to the eco-system. With a world that is evolving rapidly our climatic conditions are changing as are the materials available and the way of living. To understand and interpret vernacular design principles and to use them in contemporary and innovative ways is the task at hand.

In order to maintain a circular economy, striking a delicate balance between building  influential architecture and use of materials is consequential which can be achieved  by    integration of regional arts and crafts and by continuous effort to keep learning the old ways.

Somaya and Kalappa Consultants restores Tata Sons’ 94-year-old HQ in Mumbai

What were the guiding principles for choosing materials in any project that you work on?

Being a multi- disciplinary architecture and design practice offering a combination of expertise across a diverse typology of projects. Areas of expertise include Architecture, Master planning, Urban Design, Conservation, Graphics Interior Design and Landscape, the design process is propelled by extensive research, site and cultural context. It is inspired by innovative and vernacular methods of construction and use of indigenous local materials and arts and crafts, while evolving steadily within the parameters of sustainable design principles.

The basic principles which remain the foundation of the practice and continue to be the basis of all the work we do. Each project is unique and has its own journey and narrative. Our process is research based and we begin with deep diving into the specific typology or area associated with the project. This allows for cumulative ideation and innovative thinking during the conceptual design process.

To what extent do you agree with the notion that architecture can bring positive change in the living standard of society.

As architects in India we impact less than 5% of the population as practitioners, which is mainly in urban areas. We have not really worked with the 1.3 billion people of our country. There is sufficient work available for us all and we must ensure that we are able to service the entire spectrum of projects that will nurture upliftment of the standards of living and quality of Architecture in our country.

Let us know about any recent interior project in which you engaged or intended to employ the local artisans/craftsmen of India.

Bharat Bhavan II, the global headquarters for Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd. (BPCL) in Mumbai was of great significance as this project resulted in the reflection of the immense narrative and journey of the Maharatna Public Sector undertaking. It shares the story of its mission statement in which sustainability also plays a very important role and it is integrated seamlessly through the entire architecture and design process.

During the COVID 19 pandemic while simultaneously commissioning works from Indian artists and craftsman for this project which assisted in supporting them through the difficulties of the pandemic as well, was an important achievement for us as a studio.

How important is the role of Academicians and Institutes in incorporating regional crafts in innovative design?

It is vital for the academic curricula to integrate a comprehensive and holistic program incorporating regional arts and crafts into Architecture, Design and Liberal Arts education. India is a country where in every city, every town and every village, sometimes hidden but often in plain sight, there is a richness of arts and crafts. Often handed down orally and through families, these skills are getting lost in the battle of survival that Indians have to face to live and support their families. We are losing our art and craft to younger generations who are no longer invested in continuing the skill.

Academic institutions should embed art and craft curricula within their programs allowing for the younger generation to deep-dive into the intricacies, history, materiality, narratives and beauty of the space the outcome to be multi-fold- record and revival of traditional art and craft; creation and innovation of ground-breaking new works based on the principles of what has gone before and an intrinsic value placed on the importance of preservation and respect for the arts and crafts by the future generation.

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