Design connect

June, 2013


Bengaluru-based Sanjay Mohe is an architect who dislikes closed spaces. For him, architecture is all about integrating inner and outer space to create designs that converse with nature.

"One has to be passionate about whatever one does and must take pride in it." This statement says volumes about this man for whom architecture is a way of life. Based in Bengaluru, architect Sanjay Mohe is one of the most reputed architects in India, and this is no surprise considering his less-than-a-decade old practice has already created such beautiful structures across the country and across categories. SUMISHA ARORA speaks to him about his inspirations and more...

Ok, let's start with a clichéd question. Did you always want to become an architect?
As a child I enjoyed sketching. My cousin was an architect and my parents planted the thought in me. That's how the journey began. Architecture to me is a way of life, something which you cannot separate from yourself.

Are you saying that you look at every kind of space as a potential design material?
Many a time the site, surroundings and context forms the source of inspiration of design. It gives clues and solutions. The relentless process of design begins from here, where you are constantly striving to capture that experience, those emotions unfolding it layer by layer and translating it into a language for space. Space has an identity of its own. Different spaces evoke different emotions. It is about creating spaces which are unique in its 'feel' providing its inhabitant a series of experiences through time and space, light and darkness, unfolding layers and volumes through colours, that makes for good architecture.

Your philosophy of design is unique...
Architecture is always strongly rooted to its place, with its final form shaped by culture, climate and technology, climate being a fundamental factor in shaping our attitude towards life, customs, festivals, culture and finally architecture. Our approach for any design program begins with an earnest effort in probing this link. This is followed by exploring ways for establishing this connection with the earth, sky, wind and water. A building thus born will have a profound influence on the way people lead their lives.

Can you tell us through examples of how you have woven this philosophy into your projects?
Of course. Scaling of spaces to make it more humane and connected is very important irrespective of the size of the project. Rohan Mithila is a residential project planned on 13 acre land. It has a cluster of seven storied apartments with 700 flats. Like I said, our architectural process involves understanding the forces of nature, trying to use their energy to create a healthy and energy efficient environment where the five elements (sun, earth, air, water and sky) becomes an integral part of the built. This makes the building work as a machine that can heat up or cool down. Our courtyards and verandas have evolved as a direct response to these factors, blurring the transition between the exterior and interior. These integrate nature into the built, even allowing birds to fly through. These spaces have become the main activity zones, evident in Hindustan Unilever Research Centre, Bengaluru. In the spine which doubles up as an interactive learning space, light is used as a construction material to create a drama of light and shade.

We make an effort to open up spaces in our buildings. This is achieved by removing barriers and walls. You can see this in the CMR school campus planned along a central spine with activities like amphitheatre and flexible spaces to hold workshops for arts and crafts etc. The classrooms are organised along the central spine with the primary school at the lowest level of the spine, stepping up to middle school and further up into the high school. The spine gives a strong sense of direction to the campus and binds it together.

Emotions evoked by the built environment are connected to memories. Our memories serve as a library of emotions and associations. Architecture, especially while designing houses, gains life by reflecting the patterns and memories of those who inhabit it. Creating certain nooks and corners help absorb memories and make it richer over every passing day.

How often are your designs influenced by ethnic cultures?
I have always been fascinated by the Indian temples, specially the South Indian Temples. Starting from the Gopuram that symbolises a grand gateway the layers slowly unfold one after another till you reach a small dark space, the sanctum sanctorum which creates a sense of infinite space. It is a smooth transition from outside to the inside. From light to dark, from warmth to cold, from porous to dense, from the noisy outside to the calm inside. It all happens so gracefully that it is difficult to define a threshold where "external" space stops and "internal" space begins. Like courtyards and verandas in our residences, our temples are like super verandas appropriate for tropical climate to absorb several different activities at different times of the day. This porosity of form allows breeze to flow through and light to modulate internal spaces. We have tried to imbibe this spirit in our buildings.

CARE College, Trichy is an attempt to seek a design solution that converses with nature. The campus seeks inspiration from the famous south Indian temple called 'Srirangam'. Here the visitor moves from the outer noisy world, cutting across the different layers, towards the point of eternal tranquillity-the deity. A similar layered experience is recreated in the campus where the water body symbolises the inner core of peace and calmness. All other facilities are layered in the order of their relative importance with the core facilities concentrated around the water body and the workshop and labs towards the outer side.

Which would you say is your pet project?
A project like Karunaahraya, a hospice for terminally ill patients where you are working for a cause with the most dedicated people around you, is immensely satisfying. It is not just about architecture and what you learn in every new project. It's also about the lessons you learn about life.

Your dream project...
I would like to design a museum where anyone can walk through, experience the spaces, a design which would inspire and motivate people.


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