ArchiFeature> Bijoy Jain, Studio Mumbai
*An Indian By Design Exclusive*
Bijoy Jain’s works remind me of a refuge, a sanctuary. Almost as if he was recreating spaces he finds comfort in – an underlying wish for peace. I visited his office and had a conversation over good coffee. About his projects, architecture, even why the interiors of all his projects were so bare; no art on the walls, simple to the point of being austere. I was told they were shot before the owners moved in with their furniture and aesthetics. Clearly, there is great importance he accords to his work, his people and his peace. Presenting a selection of his works and thoughts.
> The Palmyra House, Nandgaon, Maharashtra, India, 2007
Bijoy says: “Located outside of Mumbai on the Arabian Sea, Palmyra House was built as a refuge. The house consists of two wooden volumes set inside of a functioning coconut plantation.”
> Leti 360 Resort, Uttaranchal, India, 2007
Bijoy says: “Leti 360 is a small resort set on a promontory in the Indian Himalayas. Situated at 2300 meters above sea level and nine kilometers from the nearest motorable road, the site is accessed along a narrow walking path. Set into existing agricultural terraces, five stone, wood and glass structures open out onto expansive views of mountains, forests and river valleys.”
> Reading Room, Nagaon, Maharashtra, India, 2003
Bijoy says: Protected under a large Banyan Tree, a timber frame addition is knitted to an existing house. White agricultural shade net wraps the structure, allowing light and air to permeate the space.
> Tara House, Kashid, Maharashtra, India, 2005
Bijoy says: “The house, shared by a multi-generational family, is configured around a garden filled with Plumeria, ferns, grasses, bamboo and jasmine. Beneath the garden, a secret room fills with water from a subterranean aquifer, providing water for the house and gardens through the year.”
> Bungalow 8, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India, 2006
Bijoy says: “Bungalow 8 sits beneath the benches of Wankhede Cricket Stadium. The cavernous space was opened up by lowering the floor level by 600 mm; found pieces of furniture and light fixtures were loosely arranged to define the interior spaces. The store is accessed through a fluted glass façade.”
> House on Pali Hill, Bandra, Maharashtra, India, 2008
Bijoy says: An existing house on a narrow site was stripped to its bare concrete frame. Trees, wood screens, planted trellises, glass, and curtains wrap the house, providing privacy and protection from the urban environment of Mumbai city.
Upcoming Project > Trinity Guest House, Kochin, Kerala, India, 2008
Bijoy Says: The project is a five-room addition to an existing guest house in historic Fort Kochin. A thin concrete bar was conceived to preserve two beautiful trees growing in the compound. This addition is connected to the existing guest house by an elevated concrete slab that accommodates these trees.
Objects designed by the Studio
In conversation with Bijoy Jain.
Indian By Design: You run a practice dependent on the energies of a large metro and you chose to stay and work in an idyllic rural environment in Alibaug. Why is that?
Bijoy: I grew up in Juhu, Mumbai. It was suburban and rural in an interesting way, with outcasts, poets, artists and musicians making it their home. I moved to the US, but was clear I wanted to move back. Returning to Mumbai, I was faced with the angst of a growing city. I felt if I had to practice as an architect, I wouldn’t get a sense of nature living in this urban environment. If I had to be sensitive, I had to engage in that surrounding…Then again, the anxieties of living in a city, diminishing quality of life, things that really, were more worrying than concerns of how I would practice. It was more about discovering what I’d like to do. Today, I don’t get troubled traveling 2 hours from Alibaug to the city. I think it’s enabled me to understand the city…Now having lived 12 yrs in a rural environment, I am faced by the aspects of unpredictability in it. Of how exposed one really is, how daunting it is, especially before the monsoons. I am alert to the weather. So in a way, it’s not really idyllic – that’s perhaps urban romanticism.
Indian By Design: How do you position your own work within the modern Indian scene? What other work do you see as being valuable in the country presently?
Bijoy: I’m still exploring. I’ve never designed with the intent of…it unfolded naturally. I value having the ability to build my own work, to participate with local builders and artisans. I’m doing my work and it is what it is, and it is insignificant in a way.
As for what I find valuable, it’s not the master plan cities or the developers works but the anonymous proliferation of structures that our profession hasn’t paid attention to, the unplanned growth that lie outside our purview.
Alibaug, Indore, small homes, the ground plus one structures. I’m fascinated by them. The seemingly random array of them – how does one find a space to get in somewhere here? The local Indian metal dish rack – fantastic design – I’ve no idea who designed it, but it has quality, aesthetic. There are plenty of projects I see around with great details – a grill there, a door here, a beautiful staircase somewhere etc.
I’m undertaking a highway project that needs to be up within 3 months. It’s low budget and needs to meet aspirations of the growing population. My curiosity lies in negotiating these aspirations. That for me is modern Indian architecture, relevant for me. It constitutes a much larger populace that we’re not talking about now. That’s my place of interest. The kind of work that I find curious.
Indian By Design: India is building feverishly. You focus your talent in producing a relatively smaller private body of work. Why is that?
Bijoy: Primarily it’s about what I can do well and diligently and what I am capable of doing within myself. For me my commitment has been to be qualitative from my own standards not an external measure. And that is why there is this work. If I can take up larger projects with the diligence I give my smaller projects, I would do them.
Indian By Design: You’ve created getaway spaces, hidden, private, tucked away, far from urban spaces and then there’s something like Pali Hill. How confining or liberating is location?
Bijoy: Location is not confining. The idea of freedom is created internally, it is not an external phenomena.
Indian By Design: Your post Palmyra work seems to have a recurring feature – wooden screens. Why has this become important now as opposed to the seemingly unlinkable work you did before. Leti, tara, reading room.
Bijoy: For a year or so, we did use the screens recurrently, for no reason except that they seemed to create continuity in our projects, especially when we started working on the research centre, but we have since moved away from them.
Indian By Design: What is modern Indian architecture to you? What, in your opinion, stands as testimony to that idea?
Bijoy: The Indian landscape is dotted with concrete. Our relationship with nature has always been to overcome its unpredictability. Thus the idea of no maintenance, using material that is impervious to nature – all worked towards creating secure spaces, creating predictability.
Rather than dismissing what has developed over several hundred years or discarding something because its new, we could work with a combination of periods – a hybrid. After all, what is modern? I think huts on the road are modern, ingenuity is modern, ‘jugaad’ is modern. That is special.
We’ve lost dignity – given up that position of doing things with a certain discipline. Earlier things were created with a spirit – nothing to do with physicality – just the spirit with which they went about doing it – that’s probably why we are fascinated with the old, because of the intrinsic quality of what brought that about. If you encounter something today that was made with the same spirit, it is as modern or as old.
I would say Laurie Baker – not because he used bricks, but the spirit, attention, care, love, and the dignity he gave to his projects.
Indian By Design: What do you aim to create each time you design? Is there any particular thing you would like someone to take away from a space you create?
Bijoy: Modern man looks at life restricted to a lifetime. Take Piero Della Francesca’s Resurrection of Christ, which Huxley termed ‘the greatest picture in the world’. It is said that the presence of this painting saved the town of Sansapulcro from Allied shells during World War II, much after the painter had ceased to exist, in memory or reality.
All great work is created with complete submission to one’s limitations and abilities, with a realisation that this is greater than us, than our lifetime. And when it transcends all of that, as this painting did, it’s not about the physicality anymore; it has its own life form. The creator turns anonymous, doesn’t matter.
Even if I’ve done five projects, only through what I do, what I do well, what I am capable of, that I will be able to make a difference. That means operating with 100% attention, love and knowledge.
Most clients start with an idea, of space, of peace, of freedom, but in the end they lock themselves in a room. Sometimes there is unwillingness to engage, to get into those parts which are bound to create internal disturbances once entered into. Thus they maintain the status quo and box themselves in the familiar.
My endeavour is to do it so well so they will engage albeit in a passive manner. Every little thing is paid attention to, so it will be paid attention to. The details permeate unconsciously, emerge in time and give them a sense of pride – that’s what we’re interested in.
Indian By Design: What next for the studio?
Bijoy: The people who build with us have an amazing ability to absorb and participate acutely. I’m more like a conductor, working in an orchestra – I make the framework, I know the potential, and I work on getting unique notes out of them. Most of our generation and the next haven’t worked with our hands – I wish to bring dignity to that talent and expression.
As for work in the future, I’m in a sailboat and a lot of form and shape comes with continuous reading of the wind and weather. Thus the dialogue is continuous. I have no aspiration of being an office of 200 people. The head carpenter is the most valuable person in my studio. A person who works with dignity and detail. I want to cultivate people of that calibre, to create a resource of this kind of infrastructure who can then go and proliferate into the industry. That is the endeavour of this studio.
All pictures provided by Studio Mumbai. Picture credit Helene Binet (Palmyra, Tara House), Fram Petit (Bungalow 8), Ryo Yung (Leti), Michael Freeman (Reading Room), Studio Mumbai (Leti, Pali Hill, Tara Baoli, Tara House)
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