Sanjay Puri Architects is one of the leading young architecture practices based in Mumbai whose work has gained international recognition. The practice is led by Sanjay Puri whose work across India has received several national and international awards. WAN’s Mumbai Correspondent Pallavi Shrivasatava had a chance to speak to him about his practice, origins and his recently concluded project Bombay Arts Society in Bandra, Mumbai. A full review of the Bombay Arts Society will be featured in an upcoming issue of News Review.
Growing up, which architects did you look up to both nationally and internationally and why? What kind of architectural philosophies have you tried to emulate and are there any specific bodies of work that have given you great inspiration?
The kinds of works that are inspiring are the ones that are exploratory creating a completely different architectural language in terms of the ways their spaces are perceived. The Jewish Museum in Berlin by Daniel Libeskind, The Cinema centre in Dresden by Coop Himmelblau, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and The Stata Centre in MIT, Boston both by Frank O. Gehry are some of the most inspiring works of architecture I have experienced.
In total contrast to these relatively new projects, the old towns of Budva & Kotor and the Sveti Stefan island in Montenegro, each of them built 600 years ago and still being used today were very inspiring to me because of their organic character and the delightfully surprising spaces they possess.
In India, Fatehpur Sikri and the older parts of Jaisalmer and Jodhpur in Rajasthan too are amazing to experience as a series of interesting spaces built many many years ago and yet with such a sense of contextual response.
Sanjay Puri Architects is one of the leading homegrown young architecture practices and your work has gained global recognition. Can you share a little bit about your journey as an architect; how it began, leading to its current form and where you see the studio moving in next 10 years with respect to projects, growth and firm's philosophy.
The journey would take many pages to describe. It has been eventful all along. I joined Architect Hafeez Contractor’s office in Mumbai when he had just begun his career and I was the 4th person to join his office.
When I joined, I had not yet applied to an architectural college.
Before starting college in Rachana Sansad’s Academy of Architecture in Mumbai, I had already worked on housing, hotel and office interior projects and had made working drawings, supervised sites and done a lot of what qualified architects do. That beginning itself was an unbelievably enriching experience. I continued to work throughout the 5 years of college with Hafeez Contractor. Simultaneously working on hypothetical design projects in college and on real projects in office was an extremely knowledge gaining 5 years. In addition, I also started doing interior projects on my own from the 2nd year onwards. From purchasing hardware and plywood to executing designs with unskilled workers, I went through the entire process learning, making mistakes & gaining experience.
Even before my 5th year results were announced, I was made an Associate Architect and that was another landmark event. While yet working, I was approached by Ashwin Sheth of Sheth Developers, a Mumbai developer, to do some small architectural work. During one of my visits to his projects, he asked my opinion on a layout of 54 acres. Instead of just giving an opinion, I sat with him for a couple of hours re-sketching the entire layout, creating a hierarchy of spaces and generating large garden areas in the layout as opposed to the original approved one. This eventually became my first large project on the basis of which I started my own office in 1992.
In the years to come I look forward to creating large urban projects that will rejuvenate cities, while being contextual, sustainable and exploratory in the way spaces are perceived.
Can you tell us little bit about your Bombay Arts Society project?
Bombay Arts Society - Fluid forms enmeshed together in parts emerging from each other in parts constitute this small building. Within an extremely small plot measuring only 1300 sq m, a mixed use building programme based on the client’s needs had to be adhered to.
Art gallery spaces, an auditorium, a cafeteria and artists rooms had to be planned within 1,000 sq m and another 1,000 sq m of office spaces were to be provided for, each with separate entrances.
Fluid spaces across the three lower levels, house the art gallery spaces and their allied functions with walls flowing into roofs homogenously. The fluidity of form seen externally, with a concrete skin encapsulating spaces while undulating in both the horizontal and vertical planes, is carried through to the interior volumes making the entire experience as that of moving through a sculpture.
A separate entrance lobby at the rear corner leads one up vertically into a four level office space that is angled to allow the offices unrestricted views of the ocean in the distance.
The office spaces are encapsulated in a concrete skin punctuated volume with floor to ceiling glass panels in the direction of the sea. Thus within this small 1,300 sq m plot two distinct set of spaces are created, each with its own discernible identity and yet
enmeshed together to create a uniquely sculptural building.
How do you balance the multi-faceted aspects of running a practice and are you drawn to one aspect of it more than others?
Running an architectural practice, especially in India, with restricted budgets, changing rules and dealing with a general lack of awareness amongst most clients is a difficult task. If I could somehow have the requisite people to run all the business aspects, I would be happy to only concentrate on the design aspects of each project.
With the influx of international design firms finding foothold in India, do you see it as a significant influencer or game-changer?
It would be interesting to have design-intensive international firms doing work in India. However, most of the international firms trying to work in India are very commercial & they are not designing projects that imbibe any tradition or are in response to the climate here.
Some Developers are choosing to work with international firms only to add a perceived “brand value” to their projects. If a developer chose an international firm simply for their ability to create a new vocabulary that is contextual to India, it would make sense. However this is not the case generally.
What would be your advice to young and emerging architects?
To create meaningful, contextual, responsive architecture and not merely follow trends.
Sanjay Puri Architects , Mumbai - Maharashtra
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