Dynamic Duo: Anagram Architects' Ar. Madhav Raman and Ar. Vaibhav Dimri

Tete-A-Tete with Experts Dated:  April 24, 2015
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Ar. Madhav Raman and Ar. Vaibhav Dimri

Anagram's young, multi-talented founding architects, Ar. Madhav Raman and Ar. Vaibhav Dimri have been consistently producing award winning work since 2006, making Anagram a name to reckon with today. Anagram Architects is known to create modern, energy efficient, culturally relevant, culturally responsive designs in the areas of architecture, interior design, furniture design, urban design and planning. Here are the dynamic duo in conversation with ZingyHomes.

Let’s start with the persons behind the architects. Please tell us a bit about yourselves?
We met in SPA, New Delhi and had both joined the theatre society, Spandan. We were fond of theatre and found it liberating from the hardships of an architectural course. Theatre helped us bond, to trust each other's instincts and grow creatively. We both work hard together even today to pursue our shared passions, both at work and play. Also, our skill sets are perfectly complementary. For instance, Madhav is a skillful sketcher and Vaibhav is a talented model maker.

How and what led to Anagram Architects? How did you decide to team up?
In our final years, we worked on four or five projects together. We often found ourselves opting to collaborate on various design projects so that we could do both, theatre and design. We enjoyed our deep friendship and shared enough design sensibilities to decide to start working together as soon as we graduated.

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How do you see each of you complimenting the other?
We are each other's worst critic and best friend. We have constant and often irrelevant conversations in the studio about our lives, experiences, films, theatre, design and even the state of our nation. Earlier we used to try and ensure that we work on designs together. Today, while that is more a self-indulgence and not

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feasible, we do always offer our designs to each other to challenge, tweak or even completely rubbish. Our mutual trust is comfortingly implicit and our honesty brutally explicit. Each of our ways of thinking and doing are strangely paradoxical. They are weirdly inconsistent but predictably compatible. Vaibhav is a more courageous designer while Madhav is more diligent. On the other hand, Madhav is an articulate speaker while Vaibhav is a very patient listener.

What kind of projects have you been working on?
Currently our projects vary from larger to smaller. On one hand we are designing a small motorcycle showroom and on the other hand we are designing the multimodal integration systems for Tier-1 cities like Delhi.

Which ones of the above, do you enjoy doing the most?
We believe in balancing our potential and focusing on all projects equally. Giving our best shot to every project is our objective.

Tell us something about your approach to your projects?
We think what's unique about us is that we consciously and constantly try and learn something new with every project. That's the reason why no two designs are similar and we aren't afraid of trying our hand at something we are not experts

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This also gives us the opportunity to research and study, which we never got a chance to do during our academic career. We like to find new and innovative solutions. For instance, the use of bamboo as a part of detailed bamboo joinery in our LCS Agartala Project and the use of intricate bamboo in Vagatore Goa Project. Our design process is governed by the materials we use. However, we have no favourite material. The joy is in trying to work with as many different materials, with as many alternative techniques as possible. We believe that architecture tends to be judged rather unfairly, only sensually our passion is to pique people's sensibilities through design. How can one play favourites with material or seasons? As an architect, that would defeat the purpose, wouldn't it? Unfortunately we are trained to “look” at architecture and so we are taught to only concern ourselves with the visual.

What defines your style?
Material innovation and sustainable designs.

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Could you share with us a project that you are most proud of and why?
It is 'Digit'. The approach of our design was to investigate the notion of identity (corporate, organizational and individual) and its urban projection. To this end, we explored, semiotically, the most common idiom of identity, the thumbprint. The shimmering, fluttering, red screen perforated with the company's logo is an idiom for its “digital identity”. The idiom changes to that of the identity of the individual within the organization in the thumbprint ceiling of the entrance lobby within. We felt that the architecture must project an arresting visual language and the split second impact of a roadside billboard while simultaneously committing to a deeper value and meaning to the organization, the edifice and the occupant.

'Digital' facade: The front of the site confronts a noisy road as well as huge solar heat gain. We chose to create a glimmering and visually exciting layered faced to mitigate both. The glazing on this facade is protected by a red aluminium perforated screen. The pattern of the logo is articulated by reattaching the stamped-out discs through a pivot detail. The resultant facade shimmers in the breeze projecting the organization’s corporate identity and domain, all the while standing out from amongst its neighbours through its form. The language of the perforated screen is carried through in the partitions between the main circulation spine and the workstations in the office.

Who/what inspires you and your works?
Sou Fujimoto and Thomas Heatherwick inspire us profoundly.

You have been working on art installations as well. How is your approach different there?
Our one month of engaging in an art practice namely KHOJ allowed us, to an extent, loosen some of the shackles of a straight-and-narrow, programme driven process that underscores our design practice at Anagram Architects. At the outset, we were quite keen to move as far away from architecture with its encumbrances of functional, representational and formal constructs. We wanted to use this opportunity to explore rather than state or argue. In our practice, we are constantly intrigued by notions of territory and have discovered the criticality of tangible and intangible boundaries to these notions.

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Tell us something about your most challenging project?
It has to be Project Sammaan. Project Sammaan aims to redesign & improve community sanitation facilities in urban Indian slums. It brings together architects & designers with empirical researchers, waste management experts, community engagement specialists & project management teams, intrinsically involving government & local urban bodies. It aims to reduce open defecation & reform defecation behaviour by delivering user experience led designs as high quality, replicable modules to marginalized communities.

Project Sammaan helps in organizing the city structure for a large country like ours, problems that we face pertaining to urban sanitation systems. It aims to design, implement and rigorously test a range of hardware & software innovations in shared sanitation facilities in urban slums in India (120 pilot sites in Bhubaneswar & Cuttack). The project's effectiveness was based on an understanding of the present status of urban slums in which it intervenes, via Randomized Control Trials. Facilities were intended to sit in different contexts while delivering uniform service quality. Thus the overall objective was to develop a replicable model for urban, communal toilets (20 typologies across 120 sites) & providing rigorous evidence on its ability to reduce open defecation.

What challenges do you continue to face and what is your strategy to tackle them?
To deal with an ever expanding studio and practice, yet to be in tune with our design philosophies.

What drives you?
Element of surprise:- Purely competitively speaking, quirk and surprise are often very useful elements to have in one's design to get them noticed. Contrarily, we've also lost out on projects because our work was considered too varied and its unpredictability unsuitable. We hope one day we design a white cube that surprises the living daylights out of everyone!

Experimentation:- We are glad if our designs surprise people. It means that we are still trying out different things and that we are not too afraid or too self-possessed to experiment. However, we must say it would be disappointing if that is all that all our designs do. If we could design something absolutely mundane and unremarkable looking and yet get the people who use or visit our design to think long and hard about themselves and/or the space, that would be ideal.

Conference RoomConference Room - The Digit

How would you like Anagram Architects to be known 15 years hence?
Our young and dynamic firm has very rapidly garnered national and international acclaim for designs that span across the spectrum, from modest residences to large public infrastructure facilities. Through our work we attempt to enrich elemental modernity with intensive research into traditional as well as non-conventional practices, evolving culturally relevant, contextually responsive and resource efficient design solutions. 15 years hence we would like to be known in the same way hopefully, but doing unconventional, challenging and non-status quo projects. We would wish to be in a position to question our own work, explore new challenges, new frontiers and continue to be disruptive.

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