Spearheading Innovation

Pioneering father and son duo, Kamal Malik and Arjun Malik of Malik Architecture spill the beans about the nitty-gritty of their design, work philosophy and other interests in an interview with Nisha Shukla

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Founded in the year 1976, Mumbai based Malik Architecture has changed the face of contemporary architecture with its comprehensive and innovative design solutions. Run by father and son duo, Kamal Malik and Arjun Malik, the practice has gleaned from the rich historic, cultural and philosophical past (not in a purely literal or generic sense) incorporating the process of continuous change and generating a contemporary design idiom. Their consultancy services range from providing architectural, structural, H.V.A.C., electrical + computer system, plumbing + sanitation, mechanical, landscape, interior designing, acoustics and building automation systems. Besides the firm also has strong expertise and vast experience in varied sectors including Urban Design & Master planning, Healthcare, Residential, Commercial, Educational, Hospitality, Interior and Research & Development which have won them recognition and accolades both in India and abroad. In the following interview the Father-Son duo talk about their design journey, philosophy and other interests.

Tell us about your journey into the design world and what compelled you to enter this field?

AM: There was always a certain inevitability about my decision to be an architect. It was ultimately the paradoxical nature of the profession, and the belief, through constant exposure to my father’s practice, that architecture, like cinema or literature, was a medium for commentary and personal expression, that led me down this path.

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What is your design philosophy?

KM+AM: Through our work, we have tried to develop an idiom that would reconcile the intellectual and intuitive aspects of architecture, that would provide a tangible link to the past without getting nostalgic, that would be technologically progressive without being experientially stunted, and that would, ultimately, speak through the intangible science of perceptual phenomena.

The current over-emphasis on the intellectual and conceptual dimensions of architecture has contributed to the disappearance of the physical, sensual and embodied essence of architecture.

In our practice, we focus more on generic metaphors rather than specific analogs, relying on the intuitive reading of context, allegory and functional parameters to generate typological shifts. An empirical mathematical process tempered with the exploration of phenomenological precepts to generate architecture that transcends the merely intellectual and visual and addresses the often ignored experiential aspects of architecture.

Where do you draw inspiration from?

KM: My inspiration has been ‘nature,’ when you come face to face with two issues: One being the fact that you cannot create a ‘single’ leaf and the other that knowing how a leaf is created you can fathom the creation of all existence.  When you have learned the art of listening then Nature speaks to you in marvellous ways.  Just like the sun-light, the mind, the trees, the birds. You suddenly feel you are communicating with them as never before.  It’s just like you have suddenly gained access to a certain wave-length that was previously denied to you.

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AM: One of the main off-shoots of this journey is that it allows you to view ‘NATURE’ with for more compassion and intensity and when nature enters to any domain including Architecture there is a different kind of Chemistry that comes in to play.  You suddenly became more aware, ‘activity’ recedes and are replaced by ‘action’.  Sensitivity to all: be it the climate, the sun and wind, sociology, local materials / craftsman, become the bulwark of the design process. Therefore my approach to Architecture is more fluid, no doctrines or ‘isms’ no baggage.

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What is the most important thing to keep in mind while designing a building/ or planning a city?

KM+ AM: Context is one of the most important aspects of design. Part of our profession’s malaise today is the repudiation and misinterpretation of context. Whilst being progressive, our work strives to provide a tangible link to the past. We feel that without understanding our past, there is no clear way into the future. This philosophy manifests itself in subtle ways. Our planning typologies draw historical archetypes, but are subjected to current contextual parametric forces, some empirical and some intuitive. There are a number of volumetric and spatial allusions to the past embedded in our work. Whether it is the monumental loadbearing massing of a cancer hospital in Jaipur, or the re-interpreted soaring and brooding gothic profiles of a research centre in Mumbai, we have always tried to establish a link, through spatial articulation or metaphor, to the past.

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Malik Architecture has a bouquet of projects to its credit- Urban design, commercial, residential, hospitality, educational and healthcare etc.  What types of projects have each of you particularly enjoyed the most?

KM: Each site, each project presents a completely different set of conditions and therefore response cannot be the same: this brings in diversity and the only under-current that exists is the ‘Balance’.

 

Which projects are the closest to your heart and why?

KM: The first major project was the DCW Residence.  It was a great opportunity for me to explore a number of interesting facets: climate, local building materials, sociology, contextual relevance, landscape and interior design.  The narrow bricks used in monuments around Delhi for thousands of years were fired from Kilns in UP.  The understanding of construction techniques using load bearing brick masonry resulted in producing working drawings based on the dimension of a brick.  Landscape interiors and art were amalgamated seamlessly in to the structure and the Architecture.  It was an awakening and I appreciated Kahn, Laurie Baker and Hassan Fathy even more.

AM: The Alibaug house and the GMS commercial building are the first projects that I have completed and they will always be the most significant ones. It was while working on these two projects that I first encountered the profession’s self-established boundaries, and more importantly, this is where I first broke them.

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

KM: Architecture both embraces all the arts and is also a part of the other arts.  This is the concept of non-duality.  I have travelled extensively around the world and frankly the ‘so called’ iconic Land-marks have more often than not been let downs.  On the other hand I have seen myriads of less famous works that have touched me, particularly in Spain and Italy.  Just the nature of these works, how they are fused in to the historic context: they almost seem to speak of the anonymity of the doer.  This to my mind is the ultimate act of creativity, replete with relevance and timelessness.

 

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AM: I have been inspired by work, both past and present from across the globe and while it’s impossible to identify a role model, architects like Luis Barragán, Le Corbusier, Alberto Campo Baeza, Steven Holl, Rem Koolhas, Fernando Menis, Nieto Sobejano and just to name a few have captivated my imagination with their thinking and their work.

What, in your opinion, is the future of design in India?

AM:  I personally think that contemporary architecture in India lacks a distinct idiom. Commercial exigency has caused a proliferation of architecture that is devoid of any meaningful content, one that focuses exclusively on the superficial and visual aspects. We, collectively, seem to have been culturally derailed, and rather than making a concerted effort to rediscover and reinterpret our rich heritage, we have opted for the far simpler option of internalizing symbols of the west. Master craftsmanship, detailing, sensitivity, and perspicacious thought, all of which are synonymous with our past, has been supplanted by a culture of instant consumption.

Our contemporary architectural production is symptomatic of a society that has been unable to reconcile its past with its present. Indian architects are burdened with the task of redeeming our country, and of reimagining it, not as the next China or Dubai, but as a new type of metropolis. This is an onerous responsibility, but its severity is somewhat alleviated by the fact that we have a clean slate, a tabula rasa, on which to work. Young Indian designers, educated here and abroad, are slowly redefining the way in which professional practices are created and sustained, abandoning large unwieldy organizations in favour of streamlined specialized units, functioning almost like think-tanks, a model made viable by the recent influx of construction and management technology.

 

How do you strike work- life balance?

AM:  The question somehow implies a distinction between the Profession and Life. It is the dissolution of the boundaries between the two that allows one to fully express one’s philosophies through thought and action. The shedding of the multiple masks that we are often forced to wear, by inner or outer circumstance, brings forth and enduring honesty and humility and from there on, the process of learning truly begins.

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What interests you outside work?

AM: Travel, reading, movies and football

 

What advice would you give to design aspirants?

AM: Value slowness and patience. Ideas need time and separation to mature.

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