Third Edition 2011-2012
Studio Mumbai Architects
Founded by Bijoy Jain, Studio Mumbai is a human infrastructure of skilled craftsmen and architects who design and build the work directly. Gathered through time, this group shares an environment created from an iterative process, where ideas are explored through the production of large-scale mock-ups, models, material studies, sketches and drawings. Projects are developed through careful consideration of place and practice that draws from traditional skills, local building techniques, materials, and an ingenuity arising from limited resources.
The essence of the work lies in the relationship between land and architecture. The endeavor is to show the genuine possibility in creating buildings that emerge through a process of collective dialogue and face-to-face sharing of knowledge.
Bijoy Jain was born in Mumbai, India in 1965 and received his M. Arch from Washington University in St Louis, USA in 1990. He worked in Los Angeles and London between 1989 and 1995 and returned to India in 1995 to found his practice.
The work of Studio Mumbai has been presented at the XII Venice Biennale and the Victoria & Albert Museum, and received several prizes, among which the Global Award in Sustainable Architecture (2009).
The jury voted unanimously to award the prize to Studio Mumbai for the quality of the works presented (Palmyra House in Nandgaon, Leti 360 Resort in Leti and Copper House II in Chondi, India) and the originality of the process from which they were created: “a process based on a refined craftsmanlike knowledge that is reinterpreted and enhanced through the constant interaction of design and construction, and a collective working method in which the various contributions come together inextricably to create the end result. In these works the relationship with local tradition stems from the concrete action of creating (rather than from a specific formal or typological repertoire) and throws the very nature of the creative act into question, drawing from an empirical orientation that paves the way to fertile developments”. As Mario Botta, Chairman of the jury, explains, “what is striking at Studio Mumbai are the methods involved in the creative process and the search for a relationship with history and the memory of place. This evolves into a contemporary language constructed on embedded layers of knowledge, rather than a sinking into nostalgia. I am pleased to think that in these years of globalisation there is a return to expert craftsmanship such that architecture can once again be, first and foremost, a cultivated and erudite expression of human endeavour”.
Nandgaon, Maharastra (India), 2007
Accessed on foot along a moss-covered stone aqueduct, the house sits at the heart of a dense coconut plantation. The two timber-framed volumes are carefully positioned to preserve as many trees as possible and are anchored to stone platforms which overlook wells, water channels and a field of palms, weaving and absorbing this complex landscape into an inhabitable whole. Light and air filter through the handcrafted wood structures, gently inundating the spaces. Alternating reflections, shadows, brightness, and semi-darkness enliven the way in which the house is revealed. The house disperses living and reading in the north volume, while the south contains cooking and dining; sleeping and bathing functions are shared in both structures. Events oscillate between these two volumes, involving the space in-between, and the infinite itself in this performance. Set within this space is the pool, a channel for swimming towards endless vistas of palm trees to the east and the sea to the west. The density of the trees prevented the use of heavy equipment and all phases of work were executed manually by artisans from the studio. Structural framing for the house was fabricated of ain, a local hardwood, and prepared in the workshop. It was later assembled at site using interlocking joinery. The external louvres were made from the outer part of the palmyra trunk, a local palm species, and were carefully calibrated to provide protection from the sun, wind, and rain and privacy to the interiors. Exteriors were detailed with hand-worked copper flashing and ship lapped wood siding while interior surfaces were finished with teakwood and gray-green coloured cement plaster screed, mimicking lichen that pattern the bark of coconut trees. Four wells on the site supply the house with water and irrigate the plantation using aqueducts typical of the area, involving the landscape in an ongoing and reciprocal relationship with inhabitation: the continuation of tradition, the beginning of a ritual.
Palmyra House / © Video by Daniele Marucci
Leti 360 Resort
Leti, Uttaranchal (India), 2007
Situated 2300 meters above sea level and nine kilometres from the nearest road for motor traffic, the project is perched on a promontory at the foothills of the Indian Himalayas. The site is accessed along a narrow footpath carved into the mountainside, part of a network of trails used by local villagers for daily travel and transport. The trail culminates at the central living and dining structure built on a plateau, around which four guest dwellings are discreetly set into existing agricultural terraces. The design was influenced by the inherent constraints of building in the region, concerns of environmental impact and cultural sensitivity, and careful observation of indigenous materials, climate, landscape and access to the site. The project was constructed over a period of seven months with the help of more than 70 village masons, carpenters, and craftsmen. They leased out the land and provided the labour, but they did impose one important condition: the work schedule had to respect the cycle of the seasons and the customs that this has always dictated. The farmers/builders halted the works for the two months preceding the arrival of the monsoons (in June) and winter (in December) to shelter their animals and prepare their homes for the incessant rain and snow. The project is a passive reworking of the landscape through gathering, moving and condensing native materials into cohesive but temporary structures that do not attempt to challenge the transformative effects of time. Thick dry-stacked stone walls provide weight and texture to each structure while glazed surfaces visually connect occupants with the surrounding landscape. Locally quarried stone and other building materials were proportioned and unitized and transported to the site by porters and mules. Due to its remote location the project is independent and relies on its own infrastructure. Solar panels are provided to heat water and charge portable lanterns for the dwellings. The project is envisioned as a temporary settlement designed to be dismantled, permitting the land to reclaim itself. Local farming continues on the terraces between the dwellings, passing herds of sheep, goats and cattle graze on the grassy landscape, merging the project with indigenous life in the mountains.
Copper House II
Chondi, Maharastra (India), 2011
The language and logic of the building are located in three primary architectural moves. The first is the creation of two distinct blocks, varying in width by a foot, separated by the stone-paved courtyard on the ground, and united by the copper roof plane on the upper level. The two blocks function as discrete personal spaces on the upper level, one is a singular space of bedroom and bath, the other has an additional study. At the ground level, an indoor family room becomes an adjunct to the main living space that functions literally as the deck of the house, overlooking the landscape and the courtyard, creating a simultaneity of vistas, each of a different scale and access. The copper-covered private spaces at the upper level are positioned in mutual tension, with the guarantee of simultaneous intimacy and isolation. In Kerala, further south from Mumbai along the west coast of the Indian peninsula (as in many other regions), the courtyard was the center of the traditional house. The central room formed by the courtyard flanked by pillars was called the naalukettu. But the entire structure, comprising the central hall and the four wings around was also commonly referred to as the naalukettu. This reference to the courtyard as the house itself, holds a clue to the development of the design for this house, as it evolved from being an embracing structure to one which opened out. The second move is the layering of light through a series of material gestures, each one tuned to the direction that light takes and the need for changing degrees of privacy. This is articulated with screening devices made of fine netting framed in traditionally crafted wood, fluted glass which diffuses the light and greenery and hints at the absent city, and sliding and folding wooden windows. The walls are finished in a celadon-coloured traditional plaster, smooth like human skin, and crackled like the ancient Chinese glaze, giving the transitory appearance of a fragmented ceramic container, rectilinear and encased with a lid of weathered copper. The last move is the inclusion of the element of water, whether in the form of the monsoon rain which is relentless in its action on material and mood, or in the form of the well, the stream and the pool beyond the house. The seasonal ‘anxiety’ of the ground is addressed in the manner in which the paving is worked out within the courtyard in a continuous linear fashion and in a loose ring around the house, with undulations registering the flow of rainwater as it reaches for the nearest point of exit. The final gesture was housing the massive rock which came as a gift from the owner’s mother, leaving it for time to take over, as time inevitably will.
Copper House II / © Video by Daniele Marucci
Studio Mumbai Workshop
© Video by Daniele Marucci