Manit Rastogi is a Founder and Managing Partner of Morphogenesis, one of India’s leading, award winning architecture, and Urban Design practices based in New Delhi, India. Founded in 1996, the firm is a collective of about 70 architects, interior designers, urbanists and environmentalists and is handling projects across varied and complex typologies. Over the last fifteen years, the firm has been responsible for many award-winning projects such as the Apollo House, Gurgaon (2000), MGF Metropolitan Mall, Gurgaon (2003), The Uttorayon Township, Siliguri (2006), Pearl Academy of Fashion, Jaipur (2008) etc. which have established Morphogenesis’s leading role in defining contemporary architecture in India and led to international acclaim. The practice is the recipient of numerous national and international awards and has been recently featured in BD’s World Architecture Top 100 list (UK) in the list of World’s largest architectural practices.
Manit has taught at the Architectural Association (London), School of Planning and Architecture (Delhi), and the Hong Kong Polytechnic Institute (Hong Kong). Manit, who has also been a member of the jury panels of many design awards such as Young Design Entrepreneur award - The British Council, The Urban Reader Connect Initiative - Times Foundation etc. and several academic juries at architectural institutes throughout the country, believes that architects, designers, urbanists and planners must engage in order to institute a stance that would interrogate our position as global Indians today. Architect Manit Rastogi, in an exclusive interview with Debajyoti Samal, talks about Architecture in contemporary India, green and sustainability issues, Indian design and architectural education, about architectural communication, urban planning and Morphogenesis. Here are the excerpts from the interview.
How would you define, interpret Architecture in contemporary India, a period that marks the globalization of the economy, which reflects the contradictions, glamour and displacement caused by rapid economic mobility?
Indian architecture has had radical shifts twice in the recent past; one in 1947 with the emergence of a post independence architectural language and more recently in 1991 when the economy was thrown open. However, the grim remainders of the last couple of years have highlighted the susceptibility of the Indian architecture industry to modern day market forces. Today, India is hard-pressed to find a model of sustainable urbanism, architecture, and design. Therefore, on one hand, we may have Infrastructure as an issue to deal with, on the other; conservation of values, craft, and cultures becomes a challenge. The fundamental issue that needs to be addressed instantaneously in order to bridge this gap is that of discourse. Architects, designers, urbanists and planners need to engage in order to institute a stance that would interrogate our position as global Indians today; Thoughts, methodologies, and processes need to be exchanged and discussed to generate a vision for our cities.
Since its inception in 1996 Morphogenesis has been involved with designing projects across varied and complex typologies. What is your design principle? Do you follow a particular form of design?
Most of the projects range across diverse typologies; Hospitality, Institutional, Commercial, Master planning and Residential. All projects are conceived through a research-oriented approach to policy, planning, design, technology, and passive/low energy design and continue to carry the Morphogenesis brand of Building with Nature. Whether it is an institute or a restaurant in a traditional bazaar or a corporate office, each project is a step forward in our efforts towards formulating economic, environmental, social, political and cultural processes that shape city life.
What is the role of green and sustainability in the overall agenda of the future of Indian architecture?
The words, Green and Sustainability, with their extensive use and abuse, sound like profanity today. The green industry has turned the ideology from being a way of life to a marketing tool. There is no doubt that buildings contribute to 40 per cent of all carbon emissions in the world and therefore, must be green to be sustainable. The built environment is one of the largest consumers of energy. Traditional Indian Architecture has always been green as built form intervention has been done within a localised/regionalised context – not to save the planet, but as a response to not having access to abundant resources of water and energy; almost all our traditional buildings have been a response to the local climate, materials and resources. At Morphogenesis, sustainability is a core creative value and is practiced in the evolution of the design. The practice considers the widening scope of sustainability to be all inclusive; to include social, cultural, financial, technological and environmental sustainability. It is this inclusive nature of design that, Morphogenesis believes, will define the new emergent Indian design.
You have been involved in teaching architecture and have taught at Architectural Association London, School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi and at Hong Kong Polytechnic. Do you think Indian design and architectural education at par with the global standards?
In India, there are 105 million people between the ages of 19 to 25 with only 11.7 million enrolled spread across 21,000 institutions. The quality of majority of these institutions is mediocre at best due to draconian laws and lack of funding with not even one premier institute that provides comprehensive inter-disciplinary education in art, design, technology, architecture, urbanism, media, economics, politics, management and sustainability.
To overcome the current tepid pace of traditional higher education in India and after demonstrating success in the design industry over the last decade, in order to address issues pertinent to Design Education today, Morphogenesis education is engaging in providing advisory and consultancy services to architecture and design schools across the country. This initiative will foster excellence in design education, supplement classical and traditional modes of design education in India, and thus help to shape the next generation of design professionals. Morphogenesis Education engages in providing Professional Advisory and Consultancy Services - to develop high value programmes in design, art, architecture, music, project management, urbanism (urban design), sustainability, planning of infrastructure and other related fields to achieve operational and financial viability for Institutions and universities across the country to further develop, utilise and augment their resource in creating the next generation leaders.
Do you think that in coming years, Internet and social networking websites will play a major role in putting the Indian design community at the global map, as more and more generation next architects and designers are largely using internet as a medium of their creative exposure?
In the last decade or so, architectural communication across the world has become not merely a voice but as a recognised forum for all practicing professionals and enthusiasts to engage with emergent and current issues of the trade. Today, internet and social media is a conduit to the wider international forum and helps professionals in preemptively positioning ourselves with respect to the global environment.
As we know we are working on a plan for the Delhi’s abandoned and much polluted nallahs, what is it all about? Could you through some light on it?
With a strong commitment to life and the built environment and an emphasis on social welfare, and environmental sensibility, the work of Morphogenesis operates beyond the traditional precincts of livability, sustainability and social equity. Morphogenesis has spent over 15 years in establishing its core design practice and having established sustainability and good design principles as deeply rooted values demonstrated through architecture for over a decade, we are now aiming to develop a discourse bridging design, urbanism, sustainability, and education both at a local and global level. Delhi Nullahs (www.delhinullahs.org) is one such initiative that exploits the hidden potential of the omnipresent hidden layer of our ecosystem that sustains the city in a non-political manner to achieve urban regeneration and ascertains the ‘Environment’ as an ecosystem on which the city thrives. It is a project that addresses issues of democratic space, equity, access to commons, memory, and engagement within a single transformative initiative.
What is your vision to organise the capital city’s urban planners as you once said they are the most disorganised when it comes to execution of urban planning?
Indian cities are at a vulnerable juncture today, confronted with the classic dichotomy of the city as a machine versus the city as a bazaar. Our cities are not new, and are in fact traditional cities, which have grown organically. The economic boom has superimposed a modernist layer of the machine onto the erstwhile time-honoured natural development. A major fall-out of this has been distortion between infrastructure, transport and land use. For example, The Master Plan for Delhi- 1962 was based on a poly-nodal, polycentric, distribution of work centers, largely based on road transport nodes. Even the most recent, much heralded MPD 2021 makes the mistake of prescribing the framework for the development of the city under various distinct sections such as Land Policy, Public Participation and Plan Implementation, Redevelopment, Shelter, Housing, Trade and Commerce, Industry and Environment etc. which creates segregation and isolation. Hence, the superimposition fails to integrate the city as a naturally functioning ecosystem, and generates exclusive urbanisation that leads to unsustainable growth with infrastructural issues. Our approach to infrastructural development, should therefore, not be centred around motorised transport, but instead focus on being more inclusive, by addressing the slower modes of transport such as walkability, pedestrian movement, cycling etc.
If given a chance to amend building byelaws, what is your wish list?
Today, developments across India and perhaps even throughout the world, are designed with a layer of sustainability or ‘green’ superimposed on it. However, there should be a conscious attempt to step away from this system and incorporate passive design approaches to design right from the conceptual and planning stages.
As an architect what mark do you want to leave here on the city?
At Morphogenesis today, we have become architectural activists in an attempt to affect change in our cities, in the buildings we dwell and ultimately, the lifestyles we adopt. We understand that we are working in an environment with limited resources. Design is viewed as a process that is a resultant of different stimuli, ranging from climatic conditions, financial and market forces, globalisation, local conditions, prevalent traditions and technologies, and the community. There is no other choice, but to re-engage by being responsive to nature. Our belief is that the new urban blueprint needs to be derived from the opportunity that lies within. The approach has to be systemic.