Interview: Studio Symbiosis

Monday 17 Mar 2014

Amit Gupta and Britta Knobel Gupta discuss the Indian approach to construction, how to overcome industry challenges and advice for up-and-coming architects

Studio Symbiosis was founded in 2010 by Amit Gupta and Britta Knobel Gupta, both of whom strongly believe in the creation of spaces that exist in equilibrium with their surroundings. The two founders have combined their diverse cultural backgrounds - one born and educated in India, the other hailing from Germany - to devise a practice that brings together elements of programme, site, context, landscape and climate into coherent designs that resonate with the term ‘symbiosis’.

In the following interview, Amit and Britta give their views on…

Global firms practicing in India

As an international practice working in India the opportunities we are presented with are unique. There is a tremendous growth taking place in India which means we are involved in projects of various scales and sectors ranging from hospitality, housing, masterplans, offices, villas, interiors etc. India is in a stage of flux. The projects in India move at a very rapid pace and for this reason we are spending a lot of time in the Indian office.

India has the legacy of master architects like Doshi, Correa, Kahn, Rewal, Kahn and Corbusier. However in the past years we have seen this rapid urbanism creating a lack of design in architecture. With international firms coming to India along with Indian offices there is a change in this momentum whereby more sensitive designs are now being put forth.

International architects of course bring in a high quality of design and execution detailing but a project is only successful if there is very good site supervision and the details are carried forward in the execution which is the challenge in this setup. That's where we see our strength being international with a contemporary outlook but still having strong presence here in India and the cultural understanding.

The Indian approach to construction

Construction is less dependent on machines in India and more dependent on craftsmen. This is a key factor considered from the concept design stage itself. The design is also dependent on the location in India itself which further relates to the complexity of the project and understanding of the execution of the various elements involved.

Furthermore, there is a lack in detailing in the projects which we see due to different reasons, for example, low fees, low site supervision, no consideration for maintenance, which makes the buildings alter very fast and ungracefully.

Construction documents are elaborated to the maximum extent and done in such a way that a person with very limited knowledge of complex forms can also get them executed. At times we have given 1:1 scale printouts for products so the carpenters could use it as a template and execute the design.

The process of construction is different and so are the tools and techniques. For this reason, if in London we can release a vector coordinate drawing here, we have to break it down further in the elements of construction and assembling details as the machining is simply not available.

Current challenges in the industry

The last decade has seen a transformation of Indian architecture from a sensitive design-based approach to that of mass production at a rapid pace. As such, design values seem to have been lost with the main criteria being looked upon as the cost and payback value. This trend needs to be stopped and being one of the few places in the world where so much construction is taking place a rigorous approach towards architectural design and urban planning is a must. It is this aspect of architecture here that needs to be dealt with.

The quality of architecture is reflected by the opportunities being given to the architects. In India the lack of rules for the minimum fees charges for the projects is reflected in the construction industry with projects being taken for as low as 0.1%. A minimum fees structure needs to be set up to ensure a high quality of design.

One further problem India is facing is that everybody is allowed to build here, for example, structural engineers are allowed to plan buildings and get any architect to sign for a very small fee. This of course lowers the quality of design in construction.

Advice for young architects

Computational design is becoming an integral part of architectural design. It is a tool for design as well as rationalization and optimization. We feel that young architects should immerse themselves in these tools which enhance the design output and sustainable aspects.

As a designer we could design a product, building or a master plan; the parameters change but the process remains the same. So when we speak about architecture itself, a rigorous understanding of design is required which encompasses sustainability, lighting, façade, structure, construction knowledge, MEP and other fields. For students focusing on architecture we feel that this understanding of all the fields is required and not just one specific specialty.

Quick Facts

We became architects because…how things come together fascinate us
For inspiration we look to…nature and technology
Our favourite artists are…Richard Serra / Anish Kapoor
In our spare time you’ll find us…in front of our computers playing around with software / reading

Key Facts:


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