Traditional Modernity

Under Mango Tree is a Delhi-based architecture practice that designs with a difference

Published: 19th April 2015 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 17th April 2015 12:51 AM   |  A+A-

GGaurav Sharma is a man with a plan. The 35-year-old architect is the founder and director of Under Mango Tree, a young and innovative Delhi-based architecture and design practice with a global reach. Having trained at the Architectural Association London, Edinburgh College of Art, and the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi, Sharma has delivered award-winning projects for prestigious clients within the cultural, arts, hospitality and heritage sectors. “We work closely with clients and communities and our recent work includes the creative adaptation of a derelict cottage in Shimla, projects for University College London (UCL), a telemedicine centre in rural Nepal, and an ecological-led masterplan in Gurgaon,” he says.

What was the story behind the name of his practice, we ask. “In India, the shade of a mango tree is the natural place where people meet and exchange ideas. In our case, Under Mango Tree is used metaphorically to refer to a place where design ideas are exchanged and where project stakeholders meet. Mango is also the national fruit of India and has a lot of historical and cultural significance,” explains Sharma.

Outside immediate project brief and functional requirements, Sharma believes that architecture and design must respond to some of the critical issues that contemporary society throws at it. “Traditional and contemporary craftsmanship excites me and I try to use my skills and training as an architect to merge crafts-based knowledge with contemporary design thinking,” he says. Having lived in Scotland for three years, he was able to closely study the work of Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh, including his famous Glasgow School of Art (which was destroyed in a fire recently). “I travelled especially to Oporto to see Alvaro Siza’s architecture (including the pools and baths he designed at Leica de Palmeira) and to Finland to see the work of Alvar Aalto, including his seminal Villa Mairea in Noormarkku and the Saynatsalo Town Hall. I also admire Swiss architect Peter Zumthor. His Thermal Baths project at Vals in Switzerland is very inspirational. Closer home, I admire the work of Charles Correa, BV Doshi and Geoffery Bawa,” says Sharma.

Some of his recent works include the creative adaptation and comprehensive refurbishment of a derelict 19th century cottage in Shimla (Dhar View), involving new extensions and interventions, re-organisation of spaces, major structural and non-structural repairs and new services; setting up a tele-medicine centre in Nepal; and TMRS ecological park for a village community in Gurgaon, where the design integrates new public amenities and green infrastructure.

Interestingly, soon after graduating, Sharma worked with TEAM architects in Delhi on a major arts project for the National Gallery. Since then, he has worked and collaborated with artists and on art and gallery spaces. He says, “In London, I was involved in a small project for the prestigious Royal Academy of Art. It involved the restoration and adaptation of the historic Weston rooms to meet current and emerging international environmental and display standards. The Weston rooms were originally designed by renowned British architect Richard Norman Shaw. I am also currently involved in an arts project for the Government of Mauritius.”

Another interesting project that Sharma is involved is with the Institute of Making, an exciting new  department within the Department of Engineering at UCL. “I was involved in the project to adapt and convert a disused delivery and service bay into the new home of the Institute of Making. The space has been designed so that it is not only visible to the world outside but also inviting, accessible and inclusive,” he says. The heart of the Institute of Making is designed as a multi-functional space which is used for group work, master classes, guest speakers, presentations, demonstrations, and so on. It’s a space where it would be totally normal for someone experimenting with ceramics in the kiln to be looking over the shoulder of someone melting chocolate on the cooker. A range of materials and techniques, new/ forgotten, cutting-edge/ traditional were deployed in the making of the space and its fitted and loose furniture. Under Mango Tree is working on the next phase of the project, involving the redevelopment of the street outside into a pop-up venue.

Sharma is the recipient of the Sarai-CSDS Associate Fellowship and a finalist in the AMD OAN international open architecture competition. In 2013, he was elected into chartered membership of the Royal Institute of British Architects (one of only a handful Indian architects to do so).

What next? Sharma and his team are working on two newly build houses on a unique site on top of a mountain ridge in Himachal Pradesh. They are also working on a phased programme of restoration at Sujan Singh Park in New Delhi, which was originally designed as the first apartment complex in Lutyens’ Delhi. “We are also working on a small boutique hotel and F&B projects,” he says.

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