'Doing More With Less' While Building Masterpieces

Chamba-born, Harvard-trained architect Sameep Padora talks about issues on affordable housing in India, the perpetual malaise surrounding urban planning, and the role of architects

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Sameep Padora is the principal architect and founder of Mumbai-based architecture studio Sameep Padora & Associates.

Sameep Padora

Padora completed his undergraduate studies in Mumbai in 1996 followed by a Master's Degree from the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University in 2005.

He is a member of the Academic Councils of a number of schools and is a member of the National Technical Committee of Habitat for Humanity, India. Amongst the many awards he has received in the recent past his practice received Wallpaper Magazine’s award for the single-family house of the year as well as the World Architecture News, (WAN 21 for 21) Award for 21 Emerging International Practices for the 21st century and he has been a Nominee for the BSI Swiss Architecture Award. Recently his practice also received the HUDCO National Award for Affordable Urban Housing for 2018.

In 2016 he founded sPare, a research arm of the studio. sPare’s maiden project, documentation, and analysis of historic housing types within the city of Mumbai resulted in a traveling international exhibition entitled In the Name of Housing and has written a book on the subject.

He is also co-founder of the not-for-profit, Bandra Collective, an organization of architects engaging with the design of public spaces in the city of Mumbai.

Entrepreneur India spoke to Padora wherein he discussed issues on affordable housing in India, the perpetual malaise surrounding urban planning, and the role of architects.

“One thing is about that strong notion of place and also certain universal values that prevail in architecture throughout the world,” Padora said.

The Chamba-born architect spent his childhood surrounded by Kashmiri craft as his grandfather was a trader of Kashmiri craft objects, papier-mâché, carpets, walnut wood furniture, etc. who would often be touching-up paint, re-polishing artifacts.

“In retrospect, perhaps this nascent engagement was the impetus for my initial interest in design. However, my first memory of being acutely aware of architecture and its presence was from a family trip to the ruined medieval palaces of Mandu, in central India. The experience of the beautiful silent ruins in the lush monsoon landscape was I think a transformative moment. I was initially tending towards Archaeology, given my interest in history and architecture but at some point, architecture for me become more interesting,” he reminisced while sharing his early memories that showed having a creative bent of mind.

Ideas for the platform at the level of the type of the project are a contigious work in process, where they are suturing ideas across many projects evolving and refining them. The newness/uniqueness of a project idea is really a function of its site and material context. These projects are also embedded in the networks of knowledge that the projects might be enmeshed in. These ideas are always contingent on intensive design processes that are open enough to recognize and imbibe unique possibilities within the project workflow, Padora on generating new ideas.

“While we work through the design process, we often go beyond the written client brief, looking to create value with new layers of intervention that would not have typically been seen as adjacent to the original program. It’s about finding out what a project may need beyond what the client wants,” the sP+a’s principal architect mentioned.

Creativity and business are often looked apart. According to him, to balance the two is a skill in itself as it has taken them a while to figure how to marry the efficiencies needed for a successful business with the freedom needed for a creative work environment. But it is something they are constantly working on. He thinks, one of the strategies that has worked for them is to decentralize control on process efficiencies while creating an internal critique format to see that their core design values are not compromised.

“When we work with new projects that need to have a public presence, we try to work with the image we’d like to have people take with them of the physical place. We carefully consider what the strengths of the brand are and what the space for its should be and where is the scope for us to intervene. For instance, if it’s a restaurant or café, till the food reaches the table it’s the job of the space and its ambiance to keep the customer engaged. Indigo Deli at Paladium in Mumbai was one of our early experiments with this kind of image-making,” he explained while talking about when the idea sprouted of launching a brand.

According to Padora, three-point advice to people who are creative but can’t think the scale would be distant as it is important to see the potential of a project or practice, decentralize decision making, and looking to create a culture and not just a practice.

He believes that one’s highs and lows can be dealt always through rationalization, to see if even in the lows or failures we are trying to create value. Remember that one is as good as one’s last and next project. So, if there have been mistakes previously made there will always be an opportunity to improve on them, the next time.

“We have had a period of consolidation the past two years but now are bullish about the time ahead. We now have a small presence in the US mid-west and are looking to expand and to do more work outside of the country now,” Padora shared his presence in India and overseas and his expansion plans.