IN A MI­LIEU OF TRAN­SI­TION Text Rahul Mehro­tra, Kai­wan Mehta

Domus - - PROJECTS -

In a de­tailed and can­did con­ver­sa­tion with Kai­wan Mehta, ar­chi­tect and ed­u­ca­tor Rahul Mehro­tra ar­tic­u­lates the chal­lenges of the pro­fes­sion of ar­chi­tec­ture, en­cap­su­lates the im­por­tance of un­der­stand­ing the con­text of praxis, and lends in­sights into his re­cent projects abroad

Kai­wan Mehta You have been work­ing as an aca­demic and re­searcher as well as an ar­chi­tect across dif­fer­ent con­texts and dif­fer­ent places in the world, yet you are strongly work­ing in, and com­ment­ing on, the ar­chi­tec­ture and ur­ban sce­nario in In­dia. How does this con­di­tion af­fect your think­ing and work­ing, as an in­tel­lec­tual of our times?

Rahul Mehro­tra It’s in­ter­est­ing that you have used the word ‘‘con­text’’ and ex­tended it to “dif­fer­ent con­text”. I think, in today’s com­plex world that is si­mul­ta­ne­ously in­ter­con­nected and yet of­ten in­su­lated, ‘en­gage­ment’ per­haps is an im­por­tant cri­te­ria by which one can judge art or ar­chi­tec­ture. This in­cludes en­gage­ment with lo­cal­ity, with lo­cal pro­cesses, pro­ce­dures, and pro­to­cols, and more im­por­tantly in the con­struc­tion of lo­cal cul­tures. The ques­tion, of course, is how does one do that as a prac­tioner. How does one en­gage with the con­text to cre­ate this form of en­gage­ment? So for me con­text then be­comes an im­por­tant ques­tion. I am not re­ally sure I am en­gaged in ‘‘dif­fer­ent con­texts’’ but one is con­tin­u­ously try­ing to ne­go­ti­ate and re­ally com­pre­hend the ‘‘con­text’’ of one’s work. Your ques­tion pro­vokes deeper in­ter­ro­ga­tions of this be­cause you are pro­vok­ing me to ac­cept I am work­ing in dif­fer­ent con­texts but com­ment­ing on In­dia. For, what­ever its worth, my work — even when I am sit­u­ated in an­other con­text — is re­ally about re­flect­ing on In­dia per­haps us­ing the lux­ury of dis­tance to see pat­terns that are broader. I en­joy this in­ter­sect­ing of views of dif­fer­ent con­texts. One con­text I am en­gaged with in­volves the ground and build­ing, en­trenched in forms of par­tic­i­pa­tion in a broader com­mu­nity of both pro­fes­sion­als as well as so­ci­ety more gen­er­ally. And then the other con­text is where I teach, and by the na­ture of my in­volve­ment am en­gaged with an aca­demic com­mu­nity, stu­dents with whom I re­search and study ar­chi­tec­ture and ur­ban­ism in In­dia – so per­haps not as ‘‘grounded’’ in terms of the nitty-gritty of what ac­tual build­ing in­volves. Nat­u­rally the strug­gle is how to make these spheres in­ter­sect. How can one make pro­duc­tive over­laps that clar­ify and en­gage in both spheres? In a dis­cus­sion once with Prem Chan­dravarkar, he ar­tic­u­lated some­thing which made me think about pre­cisely this over­lap. He seemed to sug­gest that one of the chal­lenges for us as prac­tion­ers is how we can make our spheres of con­cern over­lap with our sphere of in­flu­ence. This is an im­por­tant ques­tion be­cause as ar­chi­tects, we are aware of, and con­cerned with, many is­sues that are cen­tred around the planet and our so­ci­eties. These range from poverty and pub­lic health, to ur­ban vi­o­lence and cli­mate change. More of­ten than not, our sphere of in­flu­ence does not em­power us to deal with these is­sues in a tan­gi­ble man­ner beyond rep­re­sent­ing these in graph­i­cally se­duc­tive ways. The frus­tra­tions and sense of dis­em­pow­er­ment in our at­tempts to en­gage with these prob­lems is pal­pa­ble in the pro­fes­sion.

KM Would you now com­ment specif­i­cally on how this con­di­tion af­fects your prac­tice as an ar­chi­tect — how then do you deal with this po­ten­tial schism?

RM The idea of the con­text is some­thing we have tra­di­tion­ally un­der­stood as ar­chi­tects. For us this has meant the phys­i­cal con­text ex­tended in its un­der­stand­ing by wider pa­ram­e­ters such as cli­mate, cul­ture and per­haps a deeper ex­ca­va­tion of the site in read­ing em­bed­ded his­to­ries. But then is this read­ing not re­ally broad or pro­duc­tive enough for de­sign­ers to un­der­stand the world they in­ter­vene in?

My col­league at the GSD [Har­vard Grad­u­ate School of De­sign], Neil Bren­ner, chal­lenges us to nes­tle the ‘‘con­text in its con­text’’. The em­ploy­ing of a meta nar­ra­tive to clar­ify the con­text in which the con­text of our op­er­a­tion sits, he be­lieves, is a use­ful in­stru­ment to imag­ine a pre­cise range of po­ten­tial in­ter­ven­tions for the Ar­chi­tect and per­haps all de­sign pro­fes­sion­als. For by set­ting up the un­der­stand­ing in this way one can per­haps see in­ter­sec­tions with its broader so­cial, po­lit­i­cal, and eco­nomic im­pli­ca­tions and the hu­man­i­ties more broadly.

Pro­fes­sor Bren­ner de­scribes these meta nar­ra­tives through a range of emer­gent con­di­tions. Nar­ra­tives that fun­da­men­tally chal­lenge our forms of en­gage­ment as de­sign­ers are rapid geo-eco­nomic in­te­gra­tion and un­even spa­tial de­vel­op­ment. For, from this come both the ur­ban­i­sa­tion of poverty and the re­mak­ing of po­lit­i­cal iden­ti­ties and new claims to cit­i­zen­ship — a crit­i­cal is­sue as you know — that is faced all over the world but in In­dia in par­tic­u­lar. An­other use­ful meta nar­ra­tive is one that an­other col­league at the GSD Eve Blau has shared — the no­tion of si­mul­ta­ne­ous tran­si­tions She has de­scribed a con­di­tion that char­ac­terises east Europe and many parts of Asia, Latin Amer­ica and the de­vel­op­ing world more gen­er­ally, in which shifts in po­lit­i­cal ide­olo­gies do not hap­pen in­stan­ta­neously with changes in regimes. These tran­si­tions oc­cur over decades with a si­mul­ta­ne­ous tran­si­tion out of one set of pro­to­cols and val­ues into new ide­o­log­i­cal sys­tems. And of­ten nei­ther sys­tem is as sta­ble as imag­ined. This has im­pli­ca­tions on the role of the State as well as the ba­sic agency of plan­ning and de­sign in­ter­sect­ing with the re­newed role of NGOs, civil so­ci­ety and so on. In short, this re­sults in rapidly chang­ing modes of pa­tron­age for the agency of de­sign in the mak­ing of the built en­vi­ron­ment.

Nar­ra­tives that fun­da­men­tally chal­lenge our forms of en­gage­ment as de­sign­ers are rapid geo-eco­nomic in­te­gra­tion and un­even spa­tial de­vel­op­ment. For, from this come both the ur­ban­i­sa­tion of poverty and the re­mak­ing of po­lit­i­cal iden­ti­ties and new claims to cit­i­zen­ship

It is pre­cisely through read­ings such as these that you get an in­ter­sec­tion be­tween the con­text and the ‘con­text of the con­text’. This is also po­ten­tially an in­ter­sec­tion be­tween the sen­sual and the po­lit­i­cal as well as one be­tween form or de­sign and so­ci­etal cul­ture. Again, put in an­other way, this is where a potent in­ter­sec­tion be­tween the ‘‘spheres of our con­cern’’ with the ‘‘sphere of (our di­rect) in­flu­ence’’ also oc­curs. Thus, by ar­tic­u­lat­ing nar­ra­tives us­ing the method of ex­am­in­ing the ‘‘con­text in its con­text’’ we nat­u­rally dis­cover that ac­tu­ally our sphere of con­cern (the con­text of the con­text) can be acted upon within by our sphere of in­flu­ence (more im­me­di­ate con­text) and vice versa, each nour­ished and clar­i­fied off the other.

How­ever, most im­por­tantly, what the ar­tic­u­la­tion of these nar­ra­tives has made ev­i­dent for me is the nar­row cir­cum­scrip­tion of our site of op­er­a­tion as ar­chi­tects in the busi­ness as usual model of prac­tice. And how by un­der­stand­ing the site as me­di­ated through, and em­bed­ded within, a larger scale eco­nomic, so­cial and po­lit­i­cal process can po­ten­tially give us the op­por­tu­nity to have a broader as well as so­cially pro­gres­sive im­pact as de­sign­ers beyond the sites of our projects?

So to an­swer your ques­tion more pre­cisely, for the prac­tice and for me in­di­vid­u­ally, re­search and writ­ing has been a crit­i­cal part of our en­gage­ment. In today’s world of di­verse and col­lid­ing con­tes­ta­tions over space, mul­ti­ple modes of en­gage­ment be­come crit­i­cal in dis­cern­ing and un­der­stand­ing the con­text of prac­tice. Publi­ca­tions not only be­come a way to en­gage con­text but also to sus­tain con­ver­sa­tions, in­ter­face with is­sues, and build con­stituen­cies. At RMA Ar­chi­tects, books, cat­a­logues, pam­phlets, man­u­als, and other forms of re­search publi­ca­tions be­come im­por­tant in­stru­ments of ad­vo­cacy. For com­plex projects in the pub­lic realm, the en­ti­ties of users, clients, and pa­trons are of­ten clearly dif­fer­en­ti­ated. Con­se­quen­tially, the build­ing of con­stituen­cies be­comes cru­cial in en­gag­ing dif­fer­ent stake­hold­ers. For me, publi­ca­tions be­come a way of cre­at­ing part­ner­ships, col­lab­o­ra­tions, and friend­ships that serve to ig­nite de­bate on the is­sues, and sus­tain en­gage­ment through­out the process of long-term pub­lic projects. As a re­sult, the im­pact of such publi­ca­tions of­ten per­sists out­side the in­tended realm of the project, tak­ing on a new life, and of­ten ex­tend­ing into the world and beyond.

Of course, the ques­tion of how does one make this use­fully in­form the ac­tual build­ing-de­sign process on a daily ba­sis is also im­por­tant. The hon­est an­swer to that is per­haps in­di­rect, in im­plicit terms: in ways that the broader cul­ture of the stu­dio is con­structed through these si­mul­ta­ne­ous en­deav­ors. In that sense, it’s an in­vest­ment with no real tan­gi­ble ben­e­fit but rather one that per­haps has a deep in­flu­ence on peo­ple go­ing through the stu­dio and maybe through os­mo­sis will one day man­i­fest in their own in­ter­est in re­search or ac­tivism or a com­bi­na­tion of the two. For me per­son­ally that has cer­tainly hap­pened!

KM In today’s times, from your par­tic­u­lar ex­pe­ri­ence, what is ‘in­ter­na­tion­al­ism’, and what is ‘re­gion­al­ism’? What do these words and terms mean for us ar­chi­tects?

RM Ar­chi­tec­ture is very rooted to a place and as Charles Cor­rea would of­ten say — ‘‘Ar­chi­tec­ture is not a mov­able feast like mu­sic!’’ So nat­u­rally ‘re­gion­al­ism’ which emerged in the dis­cus­sion within the pro­fes­sion in­tensely in the 1980s, was re­ally a re­ac­tion to ‘in­ter­na­tion­al­ism’ which had sug­gested that ar­chi­tec­ture was a move­able feast! The Mid­dle East was a potent ex­am­ple of this, where types evolved in Houston and Man­hat­tan in New York were trans­ported, with­out hes­i­ta­tion, by Amer­i­can cor­po­ra­tions to this desert land­scape! Nat­u­rally ar­chi­tects were com­plicit in the tragic ex­ploita­tion of oil cap­i­tal in these ge­ogra­phies and the inappropriate ar­chi­tec­tural ex­pres­sion for this new wealth. In the last two decades, this in­ter­na­tion­al­ism is re­placed with what is loosely re­ferred to as ‘global ar­chi­tec­ture’, again the re­sult of Asia and the Chi­nese econ­omy, that have been ex­ploited of­ten by prac­tices based in the west in build­ing their cities and rep­re­sent­ing their in­te­gra­tion, so to speak, with the global econ­omy. Again, I be­lieve this is a to­tal dis­as­ter for the evo­lu­tion of a sen­si­ble ar­chi­tec­ture that must be grounded in some tan­gi­ble def­i­ni­tion of a re­gion or a lo­cal­ity. Ob­serv­ing these emerg­ing built en­vi­ron­ments, one can­not but be con­vinced that ar­chi­tec­ture should not, and per­haps can­not, be so eas­ily trans­ferred to an­other lo­cal­ity. Of course, this is not to say all the ar­chi­tec­ture built by ar­chi­tects from out­side a lo­cal­ity is bad; many potent ex­am­ples also emerge in the process of this fran­tic build­ing by tal­ented ar­chi­tects who en­gage more rig­or­ously with these re­gions in which they build. But most of­ten the no­tion of the lo­cal­ity or re­gional re­sponse is re­duced to a car­i­ca­ture, of al­lud­ing to ex­ist­ing or his­tor­i­cal ma­te­rial or cul­tural prac­tice in the most su­per­fi­cial way. This of­ten hap­pens be­cause the re­gion is un­der­stood merely as a de­pos­i­tory of mem­o­ries and re­sources which be­come the ba­sis for in­spir­ing or nour­ish­ing a con­tem­po­rary ar­chi­tec­ture. How­ever, if the re­gion or lo­cal­ity is seen as an ev­ere­volv­ing con­struct with new re­la­tion­ships and as­pi­ra­tions as also a fac­tor that needs

In today’s world of di­verse and col­lid­ing con­tes­ta­tions over space, mul­ti­ple modes of en­gage­ment be­come crit­i­cal in dis­cern­ing and un­der­stand­ing the con­text of prac­tice

rep­re­sen­ta­tion, a rather more com­plex en­tity emerges.

In this broader read­ing the idea of re­gion­al­ism is a potent and ex­tremely pro­duc­tive cat­e­gory. While it some­how im­plies a lim­ited phys­i­cal sphere, it can also be in­ter­preted in a much wider and eco­log­i­cally con­structed def­i­ni­tion of what a re­gion and even its larger hin­ter­land might im­ply. So the no­tion of re­gion­al­ism is and can be read dif­fer­ently through the lenses of dif­fer­ent dis­ci­plines. For ex­am­ple in plan­ning, it im­plies this broader eco­log­i­cal read­ing on in­ter­con­nected economies and so­ci­eties to­gether with an imag­i­na­tion of nat­u­ral sys­tems that are in­trin­si­cally in­ter­twined. In Ar­chi­tec­ture it is read through ma­te­rial ge­ogra­phies of a place and the hin­ter­land on which the ‘site de­pends’ on for it re­sources — ma­te­rial and cul­tural. For me what’s com­mon about these read­ings or even the idea of the ‘con­text of the con­text’ is that these chal­lenge us as ar­chi­tects to si­mul­ta­ne­ously grap­ple with two ex­treme scales, with the tan­gi­ble and intangible and most im­por­tantly, con­front, as best we can, with the broader im­pli­ca­tions of our po­ten­tial ma­te­rial in­ter­ven­tions and vice versa.

KM In the light of the above com­ments, could you speak about some of the projects you have de­signed or built abroad? In each of the three spe­cific build­ings we are dis­cussing here, are they spe­cific is­sues that struck a chord, or en­riched your ex­pe­ri­ence as an ar­chi­tect, as an in­di­vid­ual?

RM This is an in­ter­est­ing but com­plex ques­tion and maybe clear­est if I an­swered these project-wise. Let me start with the IOTL project in Oman which was re­ally one build­ing among six oth­ers for the same client , that is the In­dian Oil Tank­ing Lim­ited. This is a firm that man­ages the tank­ing of re­fined oil for dis­tri­bu­tion. They build large cam­puses of per­haps a dozen large oil tanks, and also usu­ally have a small of­fice build­ing to house the com­mand area and the ad­min­is­tra­tive staff. We have been for­tu­nate to build these for them in sev­eral lo­ca­tions such as Mathura, and a cou­ple of lo­ca­tions in Gu­jarat, Chennai, and Goa. In each of these cases we have de­signed some­thing rooted in the lo­cal, and these have ranged from build­ings around a court­yard to build­ings with large tiles roofs. So, in the same vein the build­ing in Oman was a re­sponse to the cli­matic con­di­tion of the site as well as the lo­cal ar­chi­tec­tural sen­si­bil­i­ties in terms of color, tex­ture, and so forth. For us, this one as a col­lec­tion or fam­ily of sev­eral other build­ings with an al­most iden­ti­cal pro­gramme in al­most iden­ti­cal sur­round­ings (a land­scape of large metal oil tanks) but in dif­fer­ent ge­ogra­phies was an in­ter­est­ing chal­lenge of re­sist­ing the pro­to­types that could be re­peated. In­stead, cre­at­ing a re­ally small in­ter­ven­tion in each of these sites in very dif­fer­ent ge­ogra­phies would root and re­mind the oc­cu­pants about the lo­cal­ity — even though what they looked at out­side their win­dows were some generic oil tanks!

The Syd­ney Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art com­pe­ti­tion project is of course dif­fer­ent as this is some­thing that was not built nor did it win the com­pe­ti­tion. But I am glad and hon­oured that you chose to carry this in the is­sue of your mag­a­zine. For us, this was an im­por­tant project for two rea­sons: the first that it was hum­bling to be in­vited in the short­list of ar­chi­tects cho­sen to par­tic­i­pate. And then even more hum­bling (and ac­tu­ally thrilling) to be part of the five fi­nal­ists in what was a blind first stage. Nat­u­rally that makes you feel en­cour­aged that the choices were free of the usual pol­i­tics that sur­round large and im­por­tant com­pe­ti­tions. The se­cond rea­son that the com­pe­ti­tion and its process was im­por­tant to us was that it chal­lenged us to work in a new con­text — that of Aus­tralia. In­ter­est­ingly many as­pects of our think­ing about In­dia in­flu­enced us in un­der­stand­ing that con­text. The com­bi­na­tions of the shared his­to­ries of colo­nial­ism cou­pled with ancient tra­di­tions, in this case the Abo­rig­ines, was very in­spir­ing. This chal­lenge of ‘‘rec­on­cil­i­a­tion’’ in post-colo­nial so­ci­eties that Aus­tralia has demon­strated was an an­chor for us to, in our own per­haps sub­jec­tive way, con­nect with the con­text of Aus­tralia and Syd­ney. The ap­proach to cre­ate a non-build­ing for such a large pro­gramme came from this as­pi­ra­tion to not only con­nect the earth and sky in ab­stract ways but also in the ex­pe­ri­ence of the user. This ex­ca­va­tion of more em­bed­ded his­to­ries and the post-colo­nial sit­u­a­tion we cou­pled in our mind along with our un­der­stand­ing of con­tem­po­rary Aus­tralian as­pi­ra­tion and their si­mul­ta­ne­ous at­tempts at con­struct­ing affini­ties with Asia and Europe. For us, the most re­mark­able thing about the project was to have an op­por­tu­nity with what is a com­par­a­tively soft pro­gramme (of a mu­seum) to rep­re­sent the as­pi­ra­tions of a so­ci­ety and con­text that while we were not en­gaged hands on with, we felt equipped to in­ter­vene in through our ex­pe­ri­ence of work­ing in In­dia and of ne­go­ti­at­ing and in­ter­sect­ing vary­ing agen­das.

The project in Basel for No­var­tis to de­sign a Lab for the Fu­ture (as they ti­tled the project) was a com­pletely dif­fer­ent chal­lenge. The No­var­tis cam­pus is a very spe­cial place and in some ways, could be any­where. The cam­pus sits

While it (re­gion­al­ism) some­how im­plies a lim­ited phys­i­cal sphere it can also be in­ter­preted in a much wider and eco­log­i­cally con­structed def­i­ni­tion of what a re­gion and even its larger hin­ter­land might im­ply.

partly in France and partly in Switzer­land but is a gated com­mu­nity of sorts where cut­ting edge re­search takes place in­volv­ing sci­en­tist from across the globe. So in some ways this is a global com­pound! The com­pany’s in­ter­est in pa­tro­n­is­ing ar­chi­tec­ture has led to them invit­ing ar­chi­tects from around the world to build within a rather strictly des­ig­nated ur­ban de­sign scheme. No­var­tis’ brief to us was to de­sign a ‘Lab of the Fu­ture’, and so this lab build­ing is de­signed on the prin­ci­ple that build­ings of the fu­ture will hope­fully em­body the few con­stants we know, and hence strive to be hu­man-cen­tric and con­nect as seam­lessly as pos­si­ble with the site’s en­vi­ron­ment. Vir­chow 16 is a multi-cen­tre and dis­ag­gre­gated in its or­gan­i­sa­tion, al­low­ing peo­ple to en­gage in con­fig­ur­ing and re­con­fig­ur­ing space as needs evolve. Thus, the build­ing ar­ma­ture, while be­ing ro­bust and mod­u­lar, must si­mul­ta­ne­ously be por­ous and syn­er­gis­ti­cally aligned to foster in­ter­ac­tion and col­lab­o­ra­tion. Be­sides these ab­stract or let’s say more as­pi­ra­tional agen­das we also at­tempted to root the build­ing through art and ma­te­rial. We de­cided to col­lab­o­rate with Pip­i­lotti Rist, a lo­cal artist, who cre­ated with light a video in­stal­la­tion that at times switches on and gen­tly ca­resses the in­te­rior sur­faces of the lab walls, bring­ing a soft­ness to the en­vi­ron­ment that the sci­en­tists are work­ing within. These enig­matic im­ages res­onate both the im­ages that the sci­en­tist is dis­cern­ing through their mi­cro­scopes and also the nat­u­ral pat­terns that sur­round them in the build­ing through the fo­liage. In the de­tails, we chose to let the ma­te­ri­als speak — as in the nat­u­ral colour of the ma­te­rial — be it the stone, the wood, the metal. Thus, the eu­ca­lyp­tus wood does not have a stain, but just the ‘smoked’ colour, or the process we se­lect. Sim­i­larly, for other sur­faces, if we needed to add a pig­ment, it is of the colour in­her­ent in the ma­te­rial. The con­crete too has a lime­stone aggregate from the lo­cal quar­ries near Lies­berg, and there­fore a yel­low­ish hue. The colour then is fo­cused on the fo­liage within and with­out the build­ing – bring­ing an aware­ness to the sea­sonal changes of the veg­e­ta­tion around. Con­nect­ing to the veg­e­ta­tion and the site’s en­vi­ron­ment is in keep­ing with the de­sign in­tent, and part of the client’s brief — to de­sign a Lab of the Fu­ture. Work­ing on the House in Karachi, Pak­istan, was per­haps the most chal­leng­ing of the four projects we have been in­volved with abroad. Be­sides the lo­gis­tics of vis­it­ing Pak­istan in terms of visas etc., the sense of com­plete cul­tural affin­ity and un­der­stand­ing and si­mul­ta­ne­ously an ex­treme sense of po­lit­i­cal alien­ation was a hard du­al­ity to rec­on­cile. Nat­u­rally we chose to ig­nore the po­lit­i­cal cir­cum­stances that have sep­a­rated peo­ple and in­stead find com­mon ground among some cul­tur­ally con­tigu­ous so­ci­eties. So, af­ter we came over this hur­dle it was re­ally like build­ing in In­dia — say in north­ern Gu­jarat! In fact, I could con­verse with the con­trac­tors and crafts­peo­ple al­most as eas­ily as I would on site in In­dia. I would ac­tu­ally for­get I was in Pak­istan of­ten till some­one in con­ver­sa­tion re­ferred to Kash­mir as “azad Kash­mir”. This was all un­nerv­ing in its own way. But the hos­pi­tal­ity of the com­mu­nity of ar­chi­tects in Pak­istan was over­whelm­ingly warm and wel­com­ing. Be­sides be­ing in­cluded in nu­mer­ous so­cial events, I was in­vited to de­liver a lec­ture and par­tic­i­pate in con­fer­ences and ex­posed to a lot of what ar­chi­tects were deal­ing with in that coun­try. This was very touch­ing as well as deeply ed­uca­tive at a per­sonal level. Given the phys­i­cal and his­toric prox­im­ity, I was stunned at how lit­tle our gen­er­a­tion in In­dia knows about Pak­istan.

Publi­ca­tions not only be­come a way to en­gage con­text but also to sus­tain con­ver­sa­tions, in­ter­face with is­sues, and build con­stituen­cies

House at Clifton Karachi, Pak­istan Com­ple­tion Date: 2009

Lo­cated in the Clifton area of Karachi, Pak­istan, this house is de­signed around a court­yard, thereby cre­at­ing a sense of in­tro­verted space, of­fer­ing pri­vacy to the fam­ily and their life­style in the oth­er­wise con­ser­va­tive land­scape of the city. Ar­ranged as three lin­ear ‘bars,’ two are par­al­lel to each other fram­ing the court­yard, while the third runs per­pen­dic­u­lar at the up­per level to bridge the lower two. This in­ter­lock­ing mass­ing di­a­gram helps to or­gan­ise the zon­ing of the house to cre­ate pub­lic and pri­vate ar­eas. An­other fea­ture of the house is a lap pool which acts as a thresh­old be­tween the main liv­ing spa­ces and the court­yard. It is cov­ered by a struc­ture of wooden slats that of­fers shade to the swim­ming pool as well as a veil of pri­vacy to the oth­er­wise pub­lic zones. This spread: the house at Clifton, Karachi, is de­signed around a court­yard and fea­tures a lap pool that dou­bles as a thresh­old be­tween the cen­tral liv­ing area and the court­yard Op­po­site page, far left: im­ages of the var­i­ous mod­els of the house

Of­fice for In­dian Oil Tank­ing Lim­ited So­har, Oman Com­ple­tion Date: 2009

An ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fice for In­dian Oil Tank­ing Lim­ited, the project is lo­cated in the port city of So­har, Oman. The build­ing is or­gan­ised around a cen­tral cor­ri­dor bound by of­fice spa­ces on both sides, and is mod­u­lated by open-to-sky court­yards and dou­ble-height spa­ces along the length of the build­ing. The de­tail­ing of the build­ing is a bal­ance of mod­ern tech­nolo­gies and lo­cal colours and tex­tures. Out­door court­yards veiled by teak wood slats add a vis­ual rhythm to the ex­ter­nal façade, and at the same time pro­vide shaded zones within the build­ing in­te­rior spa­ces.

Com­pe­ti­tion en­try for Syd­ney Mod­ern Septem­ber 2015

RMA Ar­chi­tects was one of five fi­nal­ists in a blind in­vited com­pe­ti­tion of 12 in­ter­na­tional ar­chi­tects to de­sign the Syd­ney Mod­ern Gallery in Aus­tralia. The two stages of the com­pe­ti­tion were held be­tween Oc­to­ber 2014 and May 2015. Our pro­posal is about the con­nec­tion be­tween Earth and Sky. On this beau­ti­ful site, in the midst of the Royal Botanic Gar­den and close to the wa­ter’s edge, is an op­por­tu­nity to make a cul­tural cen­tre that is an­chored in the deep­est be­liefs of Aus­tralian so­ci­ety.

In in­vok­ing the Art Gallery NSW’s place as a 21st cen­tury global art mu­seum, Syd­ney Mod­ern ad­dresses two cru­cial is­sues. Its as­pi­ra­tions — to rep­re­sent a mod­ern so­ci­ety ne­ces­si­tates bridg­ing the East-West dia­lec­tic that is em­blem­atic of Aus­tralia’s par­tic­u­lar po­si­tion — of her abil­ity to strad­dle the geopo­lit­i­cally dis­parate worlds of Europe and Asia. The AGNSW and Syd­ney Mod­ern ad­dress the du­al­ity by be­ing both European – with a Neo­clas­si­cal build­ing, as well as Asian – with a more sub­tle at­ti­tude to the land and the par­a­digm of a build­ing em­bed­ded in the earth. The build­ing un­folds as a se­quence of spa­ces deeply linked to Aus­tralia’s land­scape; with the in­dige­nous art be­com­ing a dis­tinc­tive and core el­e­ment of the AGNSW. Con­nect­ing to an Ancient Ge­og­ra­phy: The in­dige­nous cul­ture of Aus­tralia is based on spir­i­tual ties that con­nects it in­evitably to the land it­self — to be born of the spirit which in­hab­its the land, and on dy­ing, re­turn to the earth to be re­born. The Void is at the cen­tre of the build­ing, with a gallery for Abo­rig­i­nal Art sur­round­ing it. It is a place for con­tem­pla­tion, soli­tude, gath­er­ing, per­for­mance, and cut­ting-edge in­stal­la­tions. The Void is the cen­tral ges­ture, the cen­tral covenant that con­nects this earth build­ing to the sky. This pri­mor­dial re­la­tion­ship has deep res­o­nance both in terms of Aus­tralia’s past and fu­ture – as through ab­strac­tion it is si­mul­ta­ne­ously ancient and mod­ern.

Con­cep­tual ideas for the project:

– Build­ing is an ar­ma­ture for Art. A mu­seum should not be a sin­gu­lar im­age and over­power the ar­ti­facts; rather the site al­lows a plu­ral dis­pen­sa­tion of ar­chi­tec­tural strate­gies and form (or non-form, or earth-build­ing). – Cir­cu­la­tion that al­lows for respite, pause, con­tem­pla­tion and ori­en­ta­tion. The cir­cu­la­tion around the Void ori­ents the vis­i­tor – com­ing out of the gal­leries, from any of the ra­dial points, the Void is a place for respite, and a po­ten­tial site for art in­stal­la­tions.

– The plu­ral­ity of the col­lec­tion is re­flected in the build­ing, and this trans­lates into a col­lec­tion of gallery spa­ces, that are in­di­vid­ual yet work as an as­sem­blage to cre­ate a whole. Strad­dling dif­fer­ent land­scapes; a his­toric build­ing, ex­press­way deck (land bridge with neg­li­gi­ble load), in­dus­trial oil tank (re­cy­cling). Mul­ti­ple as­so­ci­a­tions for the mul­ti­ple ter­rains, with mul­ti­ple en­trances – cre­ate a por­ous build­ing that en­gages, and also ne­go­ti­ates, these land­scapes.

Con­text and Ac­ces­si­bil­ity are ad­dressed by the ease by which the vis­i­tor can walk through and around the build­ing, mak­ing it a part of the con­text. The land­scape me­di­ates the spa­tial lan­guage of the for­mal Neo­clas­si­cal build­ing, the colo­nial English-

style botanic gar­den, and the low heath­lands na­tive to the coastal basin. The plaza is sited un­der the canopy of a high-branch­ing grove of in­dige­nous ev­er­green trees.

The ‘Mu­seum of the Fu­ture’ would have the op­por­tu­nity to de­ploy dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy on sev­eral fronts — for in­ter­pre­ta­tion, guid­ance and ori­en­ta­tion to name a few. Through dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy, would the pub­lic have greater ac­cess to Art? Per­haps yes, as ev­ery­thing from holo­grams to repli­cat­ing ob­jects with a 3D print leads to the pub­lic hav­ing more ac­cess and a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the col­lec­tion. And so a por­ous, plu­ral­is­tic build­ing ben­e­fits from this adapt­abil­ity to dif­fer­ent medi­ums. A mu­seum that ex­erts the min­i­mum phys­i­cal pres­ence, blurs its edge, and there­fore im­plic­itly ex­pands into the Cul­tural Plaza, the Do­main, and the city of Syd­ney at large.

De­sign Team: RMA Ar­chi­tects with AKT II, Ate­lier Ten, Vogt Land­schaft­sar­chitek­ten, ARUP, Verner John­son, and Tonkin Zu­laikha Greer.

This page, top: im­ages of projections of artist Pip­i­lotti Rist’s work ‘Grav­ity, Be My Friend’, a large-scale au­dio­vi­sual in­stal­la­tion, a part of the project pro­posal; left and be­low: var­i­ous views of the pro­posed de­sign of the Syd­ney Mod­ern Gallery, hinged on the idea of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the earth and the sky

Op­po­site page, from top: an ae­rial view of the Syd­ney Mod­ern Gallery and its sur­round­ings; im­ages of the mod­els of the space; a draw­ing de­pict­ing the cir­cu­la­tion around the Void, ori­ent­ing the vis­i­tors com­ing out of the gal­leries, from any of the ra­dial points

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