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A Chat with Ar. Huzefa Rangwala and Ar. Jasem Pirani of MuseLABBy ZingyHomes Editorial Team
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After working at various architectural firms for several years, the young duo Architect Huzefa Rangwala and Ar.Jasem Pirani, with a shared passion for design, founded the end-to-end design studio MuseLab in 2012. In their own words - “the studio offers a bespoke and leading-edge approach to design with a precise focus on unique and highly customized environment, interiors and furniture”.
Architect Huzefa Rangwala, an M.arch graduate from Georgia Institute of Technology, describes himself as a traveler, a passionate photographer and a foodie and Architect Jasem Pirani is an M.arch graduate from the Savannah college of Art and Design. Jasem loves to blog, plan getaways and spend time with friends.
Read the excerpts ( below) from our chat with them to know more about these two interesting personalities, about their studio MuseLab, projects and lot more.
Lets start with the people behind the architects.
Huzefa: I became an Architect by chance, having always wanted to be a Chemical Engineer. That apart, I swear by Rafael Nadal, I thrive on sea food, I am a backpacking wanderlust, a published self-taught photographer, I enjoy watching movies across all genres, my family and friends love me for my sense of humour and my mom inspires me, daily. None of this is on our website, I think.
Jasem: On the other hand I always wanted to be an architect. In second year of college I did doubt myself and then began to realize that over thinking things was only second nature to architects. Had I not been an architect I think I’d have been an event planner. Besides architecture graphic design and the art of book making really excites me. That instant gratification of holding a product that was created by you is what excites me about it since very rarely does one experience instant gratification in architecture. I am a food addict, wannabe athlete and heart oxymorons. I don’t travel as much as I’d like to and I occasionally write for Domus India. I am blessed to have a great set of friends and family that have always been supportive.
Every name has a story. What is the story behind "MuseLAB"?
Huzefa: Jasem and I always knew we'd work together. That idea generated during our travels to Mexico way back in 2008. Come 2012, we officially joined hands to form MuseLAB. To muse means to think, to ponder. But a Muse also inspires an artist to create something, to weave a story. For us, our clients' become our Muse. LAB because we do experiment here - with technology, parametrics and materiality - to induce results which corroborate our stories hence MuseLAB Design Engine.
Jasem: Most artists and or designers look for a source of inspiration hence Muse and LAB because we see ourselves as problem solvers and hence did not want to limit our services to architecture and interior design.
What makes you tick as partners?
Huzefa: I was told "best friends can't work together" and I believe that Architects graduate with a big fat ego. Tricky combination there but what makes us tick as a combination is that we focus on each others strengths and keep our egos behind us. Our thoughts are aligned and we listen to each other without forcing opinions. We believe in hard work and not smart work because for us, there are no short cuts to success. And as much as we are process driven, we are also result oriented and believe in timely deliverables.
Jasem: We are friends first and then partners and very well aware of our collective strengths and weaknesses. That is not to say that we do not disagree – we do but I think we know that there is nothing above the project so we pick and choose our battles.
Could you elaborate on your most challenging project so far?
Huzefa: I think our most challenging project so far is actually the one that is ongoing. It is a 40 acre luxury eco-resort on a heavily contoured forested site at the edge of the beautiful Panshet lake in Khadakvasla off Pune. With focus on sustainability, zero excavation and sensitive intervention of the built form within the natural settings of the forest, the task of putting together the right team of consultants and vendors to help realise this dream project has thus far proven to be our biggest challenge. However, we are overcoming these with the help of a focused client, a brilliant in-house design team and an inspiring site.
Jasem: Huzefa has described this beautifully but yes, Lake Forest is our most challenging project and we are most excited by it. We can’t wait for this dream project to be a reality soon.
And your favorite one?
Huzefa: It has to be X-Stitch, the Ridah boutique we designed for my mom. Having seen her start small from our home some 30 odd years ago, today her brand Zahras Exclusives boasts of international clients within the tight knit Bohra community. And I really wanted to give her a workplace to take her business to the next level and at the same time, defy the stigma associated with a traditional Ridah shop. Jasem came up with a brilliant idea of using one of my mom's kaarigars to help create this incredible cross-stitch pattern on perforated cement sheet panels which donned the walls of the boutique. The theme was very clean with hints of Japanese minimalism inspired from 4 dolls we picked up at a Mumbai lifestyle store. All in all, I had one happy mother, hence this one is and will remain my most favorite project to date.
Jasem: It is difficult to single out one project but we recently moved into a new studio space and doing up our own space was incredibly exciting. From designing the outside façade to the modular furniture and the library unit - putting together every small detail was a lot of fun. We are all very happy with the end result as the space is inspiring and every moment in this space has been eventful.
How do you weave in sustainability into your projects?
Huzefa: We do not force sustainability into our designs for the sake of brownie points from LEED or GRIHA. For interiors, we make a conscious effort to ensure that products we use are certified; for instance low voc paints or certified wood and the likes. And when it comes to an architecture site, we retain trees on site, avoid cutting filling of land, focus on zero wastage and rain water harvesting amongst other green building measures. And where required, we definitely involve the expertise of green building consultants as well at the onset of the design phase.
Jasem: Well we strongly believe that when designing for a project the contextual analysis is critical – cause good designing is sustainable design. As sustainable design is not a plug-in or an afterthought. We may not have all the answers but we design consciously and elicit help when required.
What is your design philosophy?
Huzefa: Our design philosophy is simple. We listen to the client. We learn about them. We respect their needs. We are sensitive to the context. And with this, we create an opportunity for self-styled storytelling which is integrated with the design process to focus on creating experiences which are transformative. So it doesn't matter if it is a Quick Service restaurant or a Clinic for a Cancer Surgeon, a Mall or a High end residential apartment - the approach remains the same. Our work and our aesthetics is a reflection of our understanding of the clients brief. And so far, it has worked brilliantly.
Jasem: Our design philosophy is simple – listen, learn and narrate. We believe in developing a concept and seeing it through as the concept forms the backbone of the project. Once we have a concept everything falls in place. Something that has been evolving is our approach to materials. We are trying to make a conscious effort to stay as true to the material as possible.
Who/what inspires you?
Huzefa: It has always been Peter Zumthor (for the magical spaces he creates), NADAA (for their brilliant focus on patterning and materiality), Matter Design Studio (for the use of parametrics with digital manufacturing) and more recently, the works of the great Le Corbusier (for the love of concrete). However, we do aim to ape the amazing practice and principles of New York based AvroKO as a business model someday!
Jasem: Inspired by the boldness and honesty of Luis Barragan, the incredible analytic process of Foreign Office Architects(unfortunately the firm has split up) – their book Phylogenesis is a bible of sorts and has been since I first learnt about them in 2005. And yes, Peter Zumthor for the way light shapes his spaces. Recently at the Kyoorius Design Yatra we came across the works of Sagmeister & Walsh as well as Malika Favre and what was interesting to see was that like us they do not shy away from colour either. We will certainly following their work closely.
The last India Design Report by CII suggests that Architectural outsourcing service in India has the potential to grow to $12 billion. In your opinion, how equipped is the fraternity to handle this growth?
Huzefa: I am blindly unaware of these numbers. If it is true, I am happy for those members of the fraternity who make a 0.1% of this $12 billion figure. At MuseLAB, we are clear we want to steer sway from outsourcing our services. There is enough work on home turf. Innit?
Jasem: I am not sure what these numbers mean but if that means more exciting work then great we look forward to more challenging opportunities.
What kind of work do you see coming out of the MuseLAB stable over the next five years?
Huzefa: Jasem and I intend to make MuseLAB a brand to reckon with in the field of design. Be it with MuseMATTERS, a self-initiated dialogue within the studio, or MuseMART, an online outlet for limited edition furniture pieces designed by MuseLAB, we do have a plethora of ideas. At some point, our intention is to also begin work on a passion project at an urban scale which would involve identifying, documenting, uplifting an existing community within the city of Mumbai (to begin with) and presenting a design document outlining codes and guidelines with stress on sustainability. I believe as a practice we are very clear that our growth, both professionally and as individuals depends a lot on the diversity of projects we work on, in terms of scale, complexity, budgets and context. This is where we see ourselves in the next five years.
Jasem: I think Huzefa has summed up our next five years pretty well – all I’d like to add is that while doing this we shall be having a lot more fun as well!
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