agenda by Zosia Swidlicka

reading time 4 minutes

In this new series we celebrate the best of Moleskine Publishing. Here, we explore the creative journey of Bijoy Jain and his architecture practise Studio Mumbai.

Entering into the Studio Mumbai headquarters, one has the feeling of being in a toy shop. Moulds, wooden 1:1 scale models, tools, materials and objects fill the space. Artisans and architects are hard at work in the courtyard. Dozens of voices rise and fall together, debating and discussing the latest projects. Excited tones infect the atmosphere and generate buzz. Backgrounds, perspectives and languages collide harmoniously.

Located across the harbour from Mumbai, India, this is not your ordinary architecture practice. Founded by Bijoy Jain in 2005, it operates on the belief that the hand and the mind are of equal importance. Jain prefers to describe it as a ‘human infrastructure’, referring to the masons, carpenters, engineers, colourists, technicians and, of course, architects who all play a part in the creative process. The few computers in the space are relegated to a corner, setting the stage for the manual process to shine. The team moves as one, designing, prototyping and building together under one roof. The idea is carried from page to plank of wood to fabric with ease and agility. It’s a world away from the architect-contractor relationship typical of most firms. This is craftsmanship exposed in all its glory.

In 2010 the studio took over a room at the V&A with a full-scale recreation of the sliver of space in-between their studio and the adjacent warehouse. By bringing to life the space that had formed between the boundaries of two existing buildings, they expertly transported the daily drama that unfolds at this tiny junction on the periphery of India’s commercial centre to the heart of London.

This synthesis of the entire process makes it difficult to determine where the inspiration begins and the end result finishes. Jain is strongly influenced by the makeshift architecture and daily goings-on in his home country. He is drawn to subtle details wherever he goes. The scribbled ramblings of a local ‘lunatic’ who writes on walls, doors and window panes. A rainbow of saris hanging off the side of a building, waiting to dry. The ephemeral nature of the ‘mosquito net colonies’ that spring up at night to offer shelter to the many villagers who travel into the big city to earn money as day labourers.

Jain’s starting point can be the colours of the surrounding landscape, the interests and activities of its inhabitants, or the availability of local materials. A clue to his approach may lie in his insistence on the power of observation. Specifically, seeing how things relate to one other and understanding how they condition a space. Here, he puts it beautifully:

“This way of looking at reality doesn’t always come at once. It’s more frequently the case that you spend years travelling the same route, then one day you notice a particular aspect that you never realised existed. It is not reality that has changed: what has changed is yourself, or your way of looking at reality.”

Looking at the drawings reproduced in the book (Studio Mumbai: Inspiration and Process in Architecture), what’s most striking is their stylistic diversity. The technique is not just reserved for the architects in the studio but is embraced by carpenters and masons alike as a way to communicate and develop an idea. Organic in form and rough in execution, their sketches beautifully contrast against the perfectly straight, orderly architectural plans with their carefully numbered lines. Jain favours a red pen to stand out against the ivory-coloured pages of a Moleskine notebook. Other times, the ‘drawing’ is captured on the site itself, by marking lines on the ground to visualise its effect on the area.

The studio works primarily with local materials, which guide the build of a project. Teak wood, palm-leaf screens, the finest marble-dust arāish plaster, grey volcanic stone, sheeted copper, plumbago and ceramic all feature prominently, imbuing each site with a richness that doesn’t detract from the place itself. The materials enhance the building’s function as a “wonderful window”, framing the daily interactions and sensations that take place within its walls.

Free from the bureaucratic restrictions imposed on architects in other countries around the world, the studio can move fast and progress an idea from paper to prototype without having to wait for legal authorisation. This often results in a spontaneous, multi-layered process with no linear structure. On any given day in the studio, mock-ups could be produced and materials sourced while drawings are still being completed. This melting-pot of approaches facilitates cross-fertilisation of the different stages at various intersections. Making way for the unexpected, it culminates in a point where a natural balance is ultimately achieved.

Sourced from: ‘Studio Mumbai, Inspiration and Process in Architecture’, published by Moleskine SpA

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