Interview: Architects Cyrus Patell and Eliza Higgins, Founders of CollectiveProject

Young Turks Dated:  May 28, 2015
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Architects Eliza Higgins and Cyrus Patell

Young and Talented Architect Cyrus Patell, a graduate of Yale University School of Architecture, worked with well-known Architecture firms Rahul Mehrota Associates, Mumbai and Kohn Pederson Fox, New York for 10 years before he cofounded the Bangalore-based International design studio CollectiveProject with an equally talented Architect Eliza Higgins in 2013. Ar.Eliza, who is also a graduate of Yale University School of Architecture, worked with leading design agencies Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Deborah Berke Partners and Cannon Design in the past. They have worked on a few but significant projects including the Ekya Early Years project which recently won the NDTV DA Awards.

In this interesting interview, they discuss about the early days of their careers, the cultural differences and their approaches to projects and challenges faced. They also tell us a bit about the award-winning project Ekya Early Years.

Bar CounterBar Counter - The Humming Tree

Please tell us a bit about yourselves, professionally and also about the people behind the architects?
We met in graduate school at Yale University School of Architecture.  Cyrus grew up in Bangalore and knew he wanted to be an architect from a very young age.  He has over 10 years of experience in India and the US, working in the offices of Rahul Mehrota Associates in Mumbai and Kohn Pederson Fox in New York.

Eliza grew up in central New York – riding horses and dabbling in art.  She always loved design but stumbled upon architecture by chance when applying to undergrad. Her experience is diverse, ranging from high-end hospitality to landscape and product design. Prior to relocating to Bangalore, she was a designer at Diller Scofidio + Renfro – one of the leading design firms in NYC.

When did you start your practice and what core competence does each of the partner bring in?
We officially started our practice in November 2013 when we moved to Bangalore from the US. Prior to CollectiveProject, we worked in separate offices though we have been collaborating on competitions/side projects since completing graduate school in 2010.

The way we work is completely different, not only because we come from contrasting backgrounds/cultures but in the basic way we are programmed to approach problems.  Cyrus is fantastic with working through spatial design and details.  Eliza’s process is less linear – she is always evaluating different approaches and deals with big picture concepts.

Reading RoomReading Room - Garden Folly

What is the story behind the name "CollectiveProject"?
The name CollectiveProject is a constant and twofold reminder of our philosophy towards practice.  Firstly, we believe that a collaborative exchange is an integral to the design process – we do not view ourselves as an isolated studio but instead as part of a larger group of designers. Secondly, the name speaks to how we view our portfolio of work – each project adds to a much larger effort that we are just beginning.

What is your design philosophy?
This is just the beginning so our design philosophy is still evolving. Process is incredibly important to us and we take a fresh approach to each project staying clear from preconceived notions of what the final output will be. Relationships to site/landscape, spatial narratives and material relationships are a constant part of our dialog from the very start.

As young, talented designers, what is the biggest challenge you face while pitching for work?
A major challenge has been our lack of experience when interviewing for projects that are a new typologies for the office. It’s ok though – We understand that these things take time and that it is a phase that everyone goes through.

View of Classroom NookView of Classroom Nook - Ekya Early Years: Kanakapura Road

You recently won the NDTV award for Ekya Early years. Tell us something about this project?
Ekya Early Years is an adaptive re-use project that transformed an abandoned watch factory on a 2 acre site into a colorful and engaging space for learning. Designed as an exclusive preschool for both Montessori and Kindergarten environments, the design capitalized on the beauty of the old industrial building by retaining the existing shell as a framework for spacious, naturally ventilated and sunlight filled classrooms.

Which has been your most exciting project so far?
To date, they all have been path-breaking/significant for us. We have been incredibly fortunate to have fantastic clients who have been collaborative and supportive of our proposals and each one of our projects has been different and challenging in its own way. That said, one very special moment was the first day the Montessori school we designed opened for class.  It was so rewarding to see how the children engaged with each space/element and to fully realize the impact it would have on their quality of education.

And the most tricky one?
Again all projects come with their share of challenges and at times frustrations. But that’s not something you hold on to once the project is finished – so far we’ve been satisfied with all the projects we’ve taken on. The more challenging the project the more we get out of it.

Cafe EntranceCafe Entrance - Spoonful of Sugar

What would your dream project be like?
We believe that well designed buildings/spaces can have a significant impact on a community. As a young office we dream about many projects but the top of the list are cultural institutions such a public library or museum. Additionally, in the private sector, Eliza has always dreamed of designing an equestrian center.

What is your vision for "CollectiveProject"? Where do you want to see yourselves 15 years hence?
Right now 15 years seems really far away! Our hope is to position ourselves as a boutique studio that focuses on design, detailing and quality execution. Ideally, we would like to be in a place where we are doing a mix of high end residential and institutional buildings with a parallel focus on socially relevant projects for communities in need.

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