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Interview: Architect Rajeev AgarwalBy Andrew Chyne
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Rajeev Agarwal is a seasoned architect with 15+ years of experience. His firm, Rajeev Agarwal, Architects, has worked on diverse projects ranging from institutional, commercial, residential and tourism related projects to low cost appropriate architecture, studies of settlements, villages and other traditional architecture. The firm has won many national level architectural design competitions and their projects have been featured in various leading magazines. Rajeev, an SPA graduate, has won the JIIA ’96 and IIID-MK Awards ’04, ’06, ’07, and ’08 in the interior design category. He also bagged the prestigious ArchiDesign ‘Architect of the year’ Award in 2009. Below are the excerpts from my chat with him.
Please tell us something about you as an architect and you as a person?
I graduated from School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi in 1988 and soon founded an architectural design studio called Rajeev Agarwal, Architect, in New Delhi. The firm has worked on a range of projects including exhibition galleries, residences, resorts, commercial buildings, institutions & master plan developments in the last 15 years.
What is your design philosophy?
It took me close to 10 years to unlearn the design process as gathered in architecture school. The design process is actually closer to the one experienced by an artist while creating a work of art. Of course, the site, context, materials and use do play a role in defining the actual design moves but to my mind these are incidental. These get absorbed and internalized to aid the design process unselfconsciously. Architecture is an embodiment of a way of life and the values that determine its path. A successful work of architectural design has SIMPLICITY & CLARITY with crystallization of design thought and moves to a degree that the design is simple, almost austere. The construction techniques and materials are used to explore all their intrinsic qualities like strength, density, and texture in their bare HONESTY form. They should explore all facets of the material to do JUSTICE to it. A constantly changing experience jogs the mind constantly and it continues to absorb and react to the built environment making it PLAYFUL. Constant play between two contrasts like changing views, light and shadow, change in axis, smooth and rough texture, hard and soft landscape. Each one enhances the opposite by contrast in close proximity. There is always a duality at play with two opposite materials, two colours, two spaces, two geometries and two textures. Eventually the built environment consists of SPACES, which are sensed through a play of LIGHT. These are both, the tools as well as the end products in architecture.
How would you define your signature style?
Apart from various external forces that help in shaping architecture; like climate, site, socio-cultural milieu and historical references, there is an internal quest to encode the design with some element of ‘universal language’. This may take the form of a mathematical rhythm of numbers, or some other defining proportion.
What challenges you?
The first design gesture is usually the most challenging and satisfying. The inspiration could come from number of sources.
Which has been your toughest project so far? Why?
Every project, however large or small, reaches a certain point in its process which may be termed as ‘tough’. In some cases it could be at the breakthrough of appropriate design solution, which in others it could be in the construction material, and others, the site management.
When did you start your practice? How has the journey been like?
The practice started through 2 design competitions, which our firm won and that marked the beginning of my architectural practice. Over the years, I honed and developed my technical knowledge by handling various projects both small and big and now I continuously try to push the boundaries. Overall, it has been a satisfying as well as a challenging journey.
Tell us something about your Vedic Village projects?
We have been working on the Vedic Village Project for almost 15 years now, hence very special. It started with master planning for 40 acres and eventually grew organically to 250 acres most of which is built, sold and occupied. The one singular facet that I feel unique in the project is; the collaborative way in which the client and architects have worked on the project. Often, a design or material thought is discussed in abstract and then the program revolves around it.
Could you elaborate on your AICA award winning project - The Gateway Resort?
Sprawling over 20 acres with nearly 1000 trees, the resort is designed as a weekend retreat in the outskirts of Gurgaon, creating a rustic, homely atmosphere nestled in the natural environment. The architecture attempts to dissolve the boundaries of the building to integrate the inside and outside. The initial design intent focused on retaining the existing landscape, so as to celebrate the natural surroundings with the built areas.
The resort essentially exhibits three attributes - landscape, local materials and exposed structure. Consequently, the artwork including scrap metal sculptures, embroidered and hand-painted textiles and studio ceramics were conceived to lend a similar experience by reflecting the essence of the natural habitat.
What is your vision for Rajeev Agarwal Architects?
I would like the firm to grow into a dynamic and alive design practice with a lot of space for experiment, freedom to adopt different styles and thought processes backed by systems aimed at delivering rigorously built buildings.
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