At Par With Excellence

Pioneering architect duo Zarir Mullan and Seema Puri discuss about their design vocabulary, lack of government support in public projects and the need for change in perspective of clients in a conversation with NISHA SHUKLA


Founded by the renowned architect couple Zarir Mullan and Seema Puri, the Mumbai based firm Zarir Mullan Architect & Interior Designer is well known for its plush design. Founded in the year 1991, this architectural firm has won numerous awards for their architectural and interior projects. In the following interview, the architect duo talks about their design journey, design philosophy and their interests.


Explain your journey to the design world and what compelled you to enter this field?

Z: Right from my schooling days in fact, it was probably when I was in my 9th standard, I was very clear that I wanted to be an architect and I don’t even think that I valuated any other alternative profession. I was presumably always very fond of sketches and drawing and I guess that’s what partially led me to take that decision. Also I had an uncle, with whom I was very close to also happened to be an interior designer. Probably he was the only one in my family who had a design background. So these both factors finally led me into architecture.

S: Architecture is frozen music, so it’s not difficult to understand why one would want to choose it as a profession. It’s all about creating and evolving new ideas and mediums depending upon what particular aspect of work you are dealing with, i.e. if it is a structure or interior architecture.  Architecture also teaches you in real life that the common feeling that enthusiasm is common, but endurance is rare, because buildings take ever so long to get built that they’re really a test of your endurance.


What is your design philosophy? What are you most passionate about?

Z+S: There is no design philosophy engraved in stone but we at our firm Zarir Mullan Architect & Interior Designer prefer giving very modern and international look to our projects. We design projects keeping in mind the end user, as he/ she should be comfortable in that space which we are designing for them. Also at times our ideas don’t match up with the clients, so in that case we try to fit in or blend our design philosophy, in order to get the desired end result. We don’t look at the scale and choose projects. We are open to both small and big projects. But as an architect we look for clients who are in sync with our ideas and philosophies.


Tell us about any aspect or element which you always put into your design?

Z+S: We are known for making plush interior designs. We don’t believe in using a particular key element in the project but over the period of years we have formed our own design vocabulary and language. So there are certain materials, veneers, stones, marbles, and certain textures which help us to bring refinement to the spaces. So, yes as a designer there is a tendency to lean towards certain materials a little more than others. At times there are certain elements, materials or certain looks that we consciously avoid just because probably that’s not us.


Where do you draw inspiration from?

Z: See it’s not like you consciously look at anything to draw inspiration but when you are travelling with an open mind be it in any part of the city or country or in any part of the world you consciously or subconsciously pick up numerous things. So when we sit to design it’s finally all these things which is at the back of your minds that’s starts flowing into design and you pick up inspiration. It all depends on what you stumble upon or what you see in it. It may look perfectly mundane to the next person but you have seen something in it and you find a way to utilise it and finally that’s what it is about.

S: Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire , it’s a great saying to live your life by , but I think this is what Architecture is about . I think we can draw inspiration from just about anything if we want to, if I just look at how fortunate we  have been to have had great education and been given so many opportunities in life to create so much , this  thought helps to push me on a daily basis .


According to you, what is the most interesting/fascinating thing about architecture in India?

Z: I think in India we have access to incredibly skilled labour.  Be it our stone masons, our carpenters, people who do stone inlay work, whether it’s the embroidery work carried out on fabrics or garments. We have a pool of very talented artisans in this country. But the most unfortunate part is that people in India are not appreciating this valuable culture we possess. Today the artisans are not receiving the appropriate returns for their valuable art and as a result you can already see the deterioration in the quality of work. So it’s high time that we should do something for them.

S: India is developing and therefore it is great to be a part of this developing nation. It gives us the opportunity to build from scratch and therefore it is innovative. Yes, we could enjoy the process a lot more if most of the good development was in the hands of Indian architects. We could actually create entire town ships from the grass roots because it’s a developing country and be a part of building our developing nation.


How would you rate ‘town planning’/urban planning and architecture in India?

Z+S: Dismal.  It is because planning has never been a forte for India. I am not here to blame the architects or the architectural fraternity. I think we are not adequately backed up by the people who run this country, whether it’s the local government, whether it’s the state government or the central government. The architects can only support or assist in whatever the government wants us to help in.

Right from infrastructure to the stands and from toilets to eateries there is a lack of proper planning in the country. It’s just that we have become so accustomed to living like this and not being accustomed to have any sort of facilities. India is a developing country and there is still lot of development to be done here and for that we need a strong government, corruption free system and also conscious efforts should be made to make the money flow in the system for effective development of the country.


Please elaborate about any aspect which many architects today are missing in their design?

Z+S: I don’t think Indian architects are lacking anything in design. In fact I think Indian architects are very capable, probably what they are lacking is the support from the clientele, developers, the hotel industry, who should support and have little more confidence on the Indian talents instead of blindly reaching out to International talents. I really don’t understand the whole concept of bringing in foreign architects for designing Indian projects, paying them a fat fee and not paying the Indian architects half that fee.  I don’t know when we will get over with this foreign fascination. And, I tell you that there is incredible amount of talent in India.


If not an architect, then you would have been…

Z: As an alternative profession I think may be a lawyer or a financial advisor. But I would still continue to say that as a 48 year old that I am happy being an architect.

S: Can’t think of any other profession that would have fuelled my energies as much.


Any particular artist/architect/innovator whose works you most admire?

Z: If I have to name a person whose work and whose life has inspired me the most, then it would be my ex-boss Noshir Talati. As an Indian architect I have the highest regard for him because I believe he started his career at a time when probably interior design was not as recognised as it is today. Since the time they started their firm they were and are still known for their finest work in both interior design as well as architectural projects.

S:     There are a lot of innovators I admire; Charles Correa would be one of them. Zaha Hadid would be another.  I really want to thank her for putting women up there on the map. A lot of people can’t appreciate the kind of work she does saying that her work is not contextual, it’s too bold, and it isn’t sustainable, too expensive. But the point that should be appreciated is that she dared to be different, it takes a lot to just stand up and explain a design that is radical to a roomful of men especially from a woman, but she did it and she did it well.


Any historical monument/ building that has impressed you and inspired you?

Z+S: Sydney Opera house is a beautiful piece of architecture and engineering so I would say it is a perfect example of a marriage of art and science. Because you have got something which is very artistic looking and without the engineering background behind it there was no way to put up that shell construction. On similar lines, the Baha’i temple in Delhi I think it has drawn inspiration from the Sydney Opera house and it’s one of the most peaceful and serene temple which I had the opportunity to visit.


What is the one design mistake you avoid in your practice?

Z: I am very particular at times about ensuring that nothing that we do is gimmicky or impractical because finally my belief is that something that we do looks good today but  doesn’t stand the test of time or does not look as good as it was three or four years later. It could be considered as good design thought, but thought and implementation are two different things and when you are implementing you are finally making it for an end user. So it has to age well, it has to be detailed well and if something cannot be detailed well or cannot age well then probably it is early to get into something of that sort. If I am convinced that it’s not going to last then, I will probably not pursue it further.

S: Trying to be easy on myself when it comes to giving my best design output. I’m a firm believer of the truth that if you’re not failing every now and then, its sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.


Any anecdote that keeps you going?

Z: It’s my spirit that keeps me going.

S: Be a warrior not a worrier! Love what you do and you will never think that you are working.


What interests you outside work? What are your hobbies?

Z: I used to love horse riding, riffle shooting, outdoor sport, mountaineering. But as of now after work there’s not much time for anything else. So a few hours in the gym is all I get (laughs).

S: Swimming, reading, dancing and enjoying music . For me it’s an amazing mood changer. Music to me has some unparalleled qualities in making me relax, putting me in an upswing mood and a real healer.


Share one piece of advice to the upcoming architect or designer.

Z+S: Believe in what you are doing. The path is not that easy. You will come across with lot of obstacles, there will be many things that will disappoint you and discourage you. Life doesn’t always look up, it always drags you down.  But you should always believe in yourself and believe in what you are doing and always hope that your belief is based on a sound foundation.

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