Reminiscing about the initial years of Collaborative Architecture, from its inception to the trajectory the practice took, we fondly remember our very first National Award: An erstwhile A+D Spectrum award! Post which we went on to win four more of these. We cherish this incredible association with A+D with deepest gratitude. This along with subsequent awards and publications helped the studio to come into the national prominence. There are many along this journey who shaped our career directly and indirectly, we have had scores of invisible teachers over the period of time; many of them are our friends now.
Since then, competitions have been one of the pivotal strategies to position the studio and to challenge ourselves with some impossible goals. Over the years, amongst others, the studio was selected as the finalists in the Indian National War Museum, New Delhi– a two stage international competition by the government of India in 2016. In 2017, Collaborative Architecture along with the firm’s collaborating partner J Mayer H, Berlin, also got selected as the finalists in BCDA Iconic Tower, Manila, Philippines. The studio’s works have been featured in The State of Architecture Exhibition and conference 2016 in Mumbai, as one of the most significant works of post-independence era in India.
In 2018, the studio got shortlisted in the final six in a three stage international competition for Kennedy Centre Lounge in Washington DC and collaborated with Henning Larsen Architects Denmark in the Second Stage of Musi River Revitalization, a global competition floated by the Telangana Government to revitalize and reclaim 57.5Km stretch of the river. The latest is ‘The Souk’, an installation for Dubai Design Week in Dubai to be installed in Nov 2019
We perceive architecture and design as a language; you don’t need to invent a new language to write a new book. We use the same words, grammar, dialect and phrases, but create totally different writing. Architecture is no different. We feel that design is not to be looked at as a trend, an approach that makes design wafer-thin, thus expendable and hence consciously get out of that particular space, which is defined by trends. The longevity of architecture and design must be substantially higher than simple trends and products. Sadly, this timelessness is grossly missing from the much spoken green. People are crazy about sustainable materials and green. Though we don’t position our practice in either the green or non-green segment, we believe a project should have a much longer design lifecycle, that is, longevity in terms of design relevance, which itself makes it sustainable in the long-run. Despite of using all the available green indices, if the client makes changes in a space, the green aspect is lost.
Another highly relevant aspect is the contextual conundrum. How do we articulate our works to be contextual, without being nostalgic? This has been a complex, innate struggle, each of our projects have gone through. The National War Museum competition really tested the idea of ‘context’ to some extreme, rarefied levels of architectural discourse. But, architecture succeeds, if it is inclusive and people-centric, innovative and technologically sound; India has multitudes of contexts– not just in terms of history, climate and immediate communities. Hence, we need different strategies for different contexts.
A lot of our designs are born out of reprogramming the brief. There is a program to follow, but it just guides us to the direction in which we take the design. The design philosophy that the firm follows is of ‘transforming projects into critical explorations of ideas and visions for the future’. It is heartening to see this effort by A+D to publish an exclusive on Indian women architects. State of women in architecture and interior architecture has made progress, but yet a long way to go, women are still unjustifiably unnoticed in the world of architecture. Whilst the number of women, as clients, project-managers, specialized technical consultants and as architects’ is rising, architecture is still largely a predominant male profession, as is the construction industry on the whole.
In the last decade, the number of female architecture students has grown to 50-60%, however, their number as practicing architects are woefully low; and even lower, if you consider the number of women leading their own firms. As an outcome, only few female architects noticeably influence the profession, a fact glaringly evident while flipping through architectural/design publications or blogs, which is further enhanced by instances of exclusions, such as Pritzker being awarded to Wang Shu without his wife and partner, Lu Wenyu, an echo of Denise Scott Brown’s exclusion from the 1991 award to her partner and husband, Robert Venturi.
The image of an ‘architect’ in the societal perception is still strongly associated with the image of an artist and inventor as a lone, autonomous, dominating genius. These notions about architecture discipline ignore models of creative innovations through collaborations thus excluding partnerships, practiced by many women architects from being recognized.
For us, architecture is about passion, talent and visions and how good one is at what she/he does regardless of the gender. We are asked about the topic and hope that we are able to lead by example. Our firm, in addition to being co-founded by a woman, functions virtually ‘gender-neutral’.
To conclude in words of Zaha Hadid “I’m a feminist, because I see all women as smart, gifted and tough. I don’t carry the feminist flag. Yet I believe in women’s ability, power and independence.” Just by making ourselves and our work visible, we promote the fact that it is possible, but also that it is important to stand up for your opinion and ideas about architecture.
LALITA THARANI is the co-founder and principal architect of Collaborative Architecture, an internationally renowned, multi-award winning practice. A gold medallist, she practiced under prominent firms in the country before setting-up her independent practice and won IIID national award for her project in the inception year. She later established Collaborative Architecture as a partnership firm with Mujib Ahmed.
Under her leadership, the firm has grown to be reckoned amongst the best innovative practices in the country, being widely published nationally and internationally. Credited with more than 53 national and international awards, such as IIID, A+D, Biennale Miami, Designshare International, Aga Khan Architecture Award, Inbar International, FX International, IES American Illumination Award, International Design & Architectural Awards, Society of British Interior Designer, Restaurant & Bar Design, SEED International, Architecture Israel Award, OFFICENEXT International Competition & NDTV Design + Architecture, including being finalist in the international competition for ICONIC Tower in Manila, Philippines along with J Mayer H and in the international competition for Indian National War Museum, Delhi in 2016. The firm was one of the 10 global practices to be shortlisted for Musi River Revitalization competition, Hyderabad in collaboration with Henning Larsen, Hong Kong.
Lalita has also been conferred with WADE– women in architecture and design, role model award, one of the 18 women architects and designers in the country to receive this. Every project is an exploration in innovation going beyond the functional brief to create projects, which are highly sensitive, poetic and within the budget. Completed projects include architecture and interior architecture of high-end residences, hospitality, retail, offices, corporate environments, institutional spaces and temporary architecture.