Presently working on the Oberoi Wildlife Resort at Bandhavgarh and a new RAAS boutique hotel project in Rajasthan, Studio Lotus design firm is in the process of finishing the new Royal Enfield Headquarters & Tech Center in Chennai. Winner of over 70 design awards, this Delhi-based firm was founded in 2002 by Ambrish Arora, Ankur Choksi and Sidhartha Talwar. We speak to Ambrish Arora, who plays the role of chief mentor to the team at Studio Lotus, on what makes their works click with the jury and the clients alike.
Share your design philosophy.
We believe in a thorough understanding of the local context. We look at sustainability through the spectrum of cultural, social and environmental impact and our works are an integration of the historic and the contemporary. Deeply focussed on the experience of the end-user, we employ solutions that are rooted in frugality and innovation, and include traditional wisdom. Also, there is an undercurrent of playful engagement with intangibles – magic and delight.
How do you decide on the elements required for a particular project?
Our key focus is the end user. This – combined with a high stress on sustainability whether environmental – forms the starting point.
What challenges do you foresee in a project?
Conceptualisation and ideation are vital, but ultimately these have a limited role in the outcome. There is a pressing need to have systems and processes that engage and enable each stakeholder to take charge of the build process. This involves dealing with people across a wide spectrum of social strata and different volition for engagement. How to harness the best from this complex ecosystem to create a great end product, is often the most difficult part.
How do you come up with a sustainable design?
Fundamentally, building in any form is unsustainable. So, we try and minimise the environmental footprint of the building to the best of our ability. What often works best for the Indian context is a low-cost frugal model that borrows from indigenous models of ‘passive design’. This entails a study of sun paths and wind movement. The building is designed to be responsive to these parameters; its orientation, heat gain and daylight ingress is addressed using thermal mass, wall window rations and shading devices – resulting in significantly lower air conditioning loads. We lay emphasis on water management, an increasingly critical part of the planning process. We are increasingly looking at solid waste management systems in larger projects.
Do you integrate low or no cost sustainable design strategies into projects?
Yes, a lot of our strategies come at no extra cost to the client. In fact, they end up in reduced costs over a period of time.Sustainable design is about taking a holistic view of the needs of the project.
How has the design sensibilities changed over the last three decades?
There has been an increased homogenisation of taste. Easy access to images online has enabled people to ‘curate’ their likes and dislikes. Sadly, these engagements are superficial and transient. It is impossible to capture the experience of a complex organism that the building is in a two-dimensional image. This phenomenon has diluted the value of deeper thinking in architecture and given rise to Starchitects – often purveyors of fantastic images.
Which has been the most challenging project for you so far?
One of our initial projects – an office for a travel agency, which we handled turnkey, hoping to make much needed money to run the studio was our first encounter with failure.On the other side is a high, which has been the highly recognisable Krushi Bhawan in Bhubaneswar. Working with government departments in creating a highly innovative building using bricks made from multiple colours of clay, locally sourced laterite and over a hundred craftspeople working at site was highly challenging and complex but immensely rewarding as well.