Interview with Ar. Parul Mittal of DADA Partners

Young Turks Dated:  Oct. 29, 2015
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Ar. Parul Mittal

 Architect Parul Mittal is a partner at DADA Partners, a multi-disciplinary design firm offering services in architecture, urban design and planning. The four partners – Parul Mittal, Aditi Arora, Mukul Arora and Sumit Arora who lead the team have combined industry experience of more than 25 years.

Parul holds a Bachelor of Architecture degree from SPA, New Delhi and a Master's degree in environmental planning from Arizona State University. Parul provides urban planning and design expertise for a variety of projects including integrated township master plans, group housing, research parks and SEZ developments, educational campuses and open space planning and development.

Read the excerpts from the interview (below) to know more about DADA & partners, their works and the core team behind it.

Usually, we get to see two architects coming together to set up a firm, but your case is interestingly different. You are four architects at DADA Partners, Gurgaon. So, how did you evolve and how has your journey been?

Yes, we are four partners. We are also family and came together because it was the most natural thing to do. Our enthusiasm towards the creative is something we share in common though the approach arises from different interests, talents and expertise. Each one of us has studied and worked both in India and other countries in different fields of design and our attitudes and ideas are hence very diverse. Over the years there have been numerous discussions and exchange of these ideas over a varied array of projects both in and outside of office, and it has helped us all grow. The learning has been tremendous!

DADA Partners Top left: Parul Mittal; Top Right: Mukul Arora; Bottom Left: Aditi Arora; Bottom right: Sumit Arora

The most talked about winning entry for the SPA Urban Design competition was of DADA Partners. Our readers would want to know more about the overall conceptualization of your design.

Conventional models of institutional planning tend to create insular learning environments that are cut off from the ‘corrupting’ city. In this age of knowledge economy, we are observing closer linkages emerge between institutions and nodes of commerce and culture. The spatial planning for such places of higher learning need to balance creating opportunities for interaction with the city while offering dedicated spaces for specialized learning as well as places of introspection. 

With the changing needs of education, institutions today need to create holistic learning environments interspersed throughout the campus. In defining such environment for the students, institutional plans have to carefully address (often more than others) the design and relationship of the built and open spaces, both indoor and outdoor. 

Institutions are in the unique position to be stewards of good practice. Sustainable models of planning and design are at the core of this 20 acre project with strategies ranging from incorporating existing site topography and bio-diversity into the design, creating low impact development, providing high performance infrastructure. These include incorporating alternate energy strategies, optimum building siting and orientation, reduction of heat island effect, green roofs, stormwater management strategies, reducing air, light, and sound pollution, to making public transit and walk-ability primary modes of movement within and around the campus.
The 'B99 House Project' has been featured as a 'moditional' house, which means modern + traditional. Could you elaborate on the design development?

Designed around the courtyard, this live-work house incorporates hierarchy of zones with formal living spaces in front and private areas at the back; while the central court which serves as a climate modifier and as a social gathering space. The courtyard that forms centre of the house faces south and is overlooked by living and bedroom areas on the ground and first floors. Adjacent to the courtyard is an open steel staircase connecting the upper floors. Multiple green strategies are integrated with the architecture design to make the house sustainable. The architectural design, with series of inter-connected voids, facilitates natural ventilation generated during summers by using stack effect, thus resulting in cooler habitable spaces. South facing solar collectors have been installed to heat water in winters to be used in bathrooms and kitchens. Also,large window openings allow abundant natural light inside the spaces reducing the use of artificial light sources during the day.

indoor spacesIndoor spaces - B-99 House

The west wall of the study, overlooking the street, faces the fierce afternoon western sun, which prompted the use motorized louvers that could be adjusted to block off the undesired glare into the room.
Another appealing project of yours is the 'Three Trees House.' Before we assume anything from this interesting name, we would like to know about it from you.

Set on a 2.5 acre verdant land parcel dotted with large mature trees, the Three Trees House house is nestled -much like a fork- between three large trees. The premise for choosing to situate the building amidst the trees was to preserve the existing trees while enjoying the natural setting in close proximity of the habitable areas. The house is conceived as an assembly of two fairly rectangular blocks, the east facing front block and west facing rear one. Both are connected by a narrow, transparent, staircase block.

Three Trees HouseExterior View - Three Trees House

The largest tree of the three, a flowering Kachnar (Bauhinia), becomes the centerpiece of the courtyard space.. The volume and disposition of the house became a reaction to this sacred object and the desire to visualy connect to the tree and the court resulted in a highly transparent threshold between the built and the open. The shaded north facing courtyard is further animated with different rooms fronting onto it along with the large overhang canopies providing constant play of light and shade. As experienced from within the house, this space brings an enhanced sense of openness inside and also unfolds constantly changing views of the outdoors, as well as the building, as one moves around the house and vertically between different levels of the house.

The major design idea behind the House | OutHouse needs to reach our readers. What was the thought process involved?

Designed as a lifestyle home the program was deliberately split into two units centered around a large central court. The larger of these two units holds the formal and informal areas on the lower floor with the bedrooms on the upper level. The smaller “Outhouse Unit” serves as the entertainment den along with a gymnasium, sauna, changing rooms, and service areas. The west facade facing the entry drop-off court has been deliberately designed as a heavier composition with minimal fenestrations to minimise heat gains. From the drop-off court, a narrow opening between the house and the outhouse provides initial glimpse into the raised pool court and the lawn at the rear-end.

Front ViewFront View - House Outhouse

Most of your residential projects follow a contemporary look. Which '-ism' does DADA Partners believe in?

I guess there could be an ‘ism’, our projects do have a similar expression. But I’d rather not give it one, I would not like us to get stuck with it. Going without an ‘ism’ gives us a chance to evolve, and change our ways of approaching projects and expression if we need to. The look is important to us, but if you see more carefully, our projects are more about the spaces and their relationship with light and views to the outdoors. The look is about an attitude that comes from our exposure to the architecture of the world  but the way the plan and section in each project  builds up, is about the unique experience and living in that space.

Browsing through your projects caught me stuck at 'Experience center.' What exactly is it about and what kind of activity experiences does one get over there?

The experience center was a project for a new township development coming up in Gurgaon. An entity like that is primarily a place a prospective buyer visits to get information about the project. A trend has been developing lately where the developer wants the buyer to experience the kind of place that is envisioned.

Where such information can be given via brochures and models and informative personnel, our experience center sought to set the mood and speak of a lifestyle that the township aspired to provide to the community.

Front View of Experience CenterFront View of Experience Center, Gurgaon

And to set the mood, we first aimed to clear the visitors mind by giving a blank expanse of wall and floor space at the drive-in without attempting to create any impressions, allowing the mind to clear of any preconceived ideas. The entry to the building volume is a walk that allows for a slow transformation by creating a careful collage of experiential elements that comprise of materials and textures, play of light and shade, interconnected spaces, and vegetation. The reception and other internal functions are to inform and amaze while one absorbs the play of volumes inside, the light and the flow of spaces. The rear deck and lawns immerse you in lifestyle options with a cafe/restaurant spilling out in the deck and views of the fields behind that allow for activities like community gardening, trails etc.

All this, to 'experience' and not just be told.

Another notable urban design work of yours is the 'Revitalization of Buzzards Bay.' Could you share few notes about the design brief and your way of handling it?

The open International Design Competition sought innovative proposals for a 21-acre park with extensive frontage on both Cape Cod Canal and Main Street, Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts. The main objective was to create an intergenerational recreation area and cultural amenity for the use of local residents while encouraging downtown economic redevelopment. The Association’s larger vision was the development of a strategy for reinvigorating Main Street and creating a village centre where families can gather, interact and recreate.

Buzzards Bay Main Street RevitalizationBuzzards Bay Main Street Revitalization

Our proposal while recognising the site's inherent potential to regenerate the main street by virtue of its strategic location sitting in between the Cape Cod canal and the main street itself, also looked into the natural processes that eventually shaped our proposal. The edge of the site sitting on the canal was a salt water marsh that maintained an exciting ecology based on the tide. The long canal facing side became a series of parks both natural and built, allowing the tide movement to fill the sculpted landscape. From natural ponds to a system of designed natural edge channels and a long hard edge water feature sloped and stepped to respond to both the diurnal and seasonal tide movements, we managed to achieve a dynamic and diverse  waterfront hoping to attract both the local and regional population. The proposal which included building a tidal march supporting natural flora and fauna with boardwalks around an existing national marine life centre, a large open green field for multiple activities, a town park for performances and other gatherings, trails, integrated the existing and proposed, attempted to create a buzzing downtown worthy of its citizens and its location.

Down the lane, what would 'DADA Partners' wish to be known as ? Your future mission?

It would be good to be known as the team that made some impact in the outlook of design in our times. We continue to be inspired by people (and that word is not limited to just architects), before us and around us today. We look to working with different professionals and organisations so as to make more meaningful  interventions in our time here, to build an ethos of collaboration. That we contributed in building such an ethos is what we aspire for in the future.

NIIT Dining Room ExtensionDining Room exterior View - NIIT Dining Room Extension

Lastly and most importantly, your advice for upcoming architects planning to work on partnership basis.

Partnerships are a great way to expand your thinking, they encourage dialogue and exchange of ideas. The nature of working in a partnership is that of working with multiple viewpoints and skills, so let that work to your advantage. Allowing a more thorough understanding of a problem through diverse inputs will bring more refined solutions. Partnerships are great! They don't let you stagnate.

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