Manit and Sonali Rastogi, Morphogenesis: ‘An architecture of almost somewhere’

Ecogradia
Ecogradia
Manit and Sonali Rastogi, Morphogenesis: 'An architecture of almost somewhere'
/

Manit and Sonali Rastogi, Morphogenesis: ‘An architecture of almost somewhere’

Sponsored by

Sponsored by

Ecogradia
Ecogradia
Manit and Sonali Rastogi, Morphogenesis: 'An architecture of almost somewhere'
/
Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle Podcasts

Can a building address local and global imperatives? Can it be informed by the vernacular and yet be energy efficient? Can it be locally attuned and low carbon? What would this look like, say, in a place like India?

This episode features Manit and Sonali Rastogi, co-founders of the award-winning firm, Morphogenesis, which offers a range of design services from interiors to master planning.

Morphogenesis brings to the Indian context a perspective on what it means to be sustainable, bridging traditional materials and techniques with modern forms that are rooted in climate and context.

Episode outline

00:08:19 A new design practice at the crossroads of time
00:14:13 “We began to see the divide between these two extremities… we would have to tread a middle path: an architecture that draws from the local environment yet suffices the needs of the global context. That’s why (it’s) an architecture ‘almost somewhere’.”
00:18:00 Pearl Academy of Fashion: Integrating place-making with performance
00:26:26 “Pearl Academy of Fashion did not begin with an attempt to save the planet. It set out to solve a problem (of) the cost of construction. In the dire institutional market of India, what could we afford?”
00:29:18 “Pearl Academy of Fashion proved that you could make a highly sustainable building, you could make it highly affordable and you could make it comfortable.”
00:30:53 “The first thing that we (ask) is how we get the perceptible temperature on the site, the microclimate, to dip by 5 to 7 degrees. From there, we go to the building and say, ‘Okay, how do we cut the heat down by 75%?’ Is it a combination of low-velocity fans, or dry misting, or evaporative cooling? And then, (for) what we can’t offset, we go to aircon.”
00:36:56 “We do user surveys of occupants who have been in buildings for the last five, 10, 15 years. It’s not only (about) the energy data, it’s also how people are using the buildings.”
00:37:36 Surat Diamond Bourse: Operationalising sustainability for a mega project
00:42:56 “You begin a project with ‘no is more’. You don’t have electricity, you don’t have water, you don’t have resources. Now let’s talk about design, no preconceived notions.”
00:49:10 Becoming Morphogenesis
00:51:13 “Perpetuate a process, a way of thinking… get the right people in the right place to work together… essentially, that’s our model. It’s purely based on nature and synergetics.”
00:52:17 “You could be the one who is making the perfect mud block… you could be the one that is taking the Indian design voice global. Only choose this profession if something inspires you, otherwise, it is too hard a profession.”
00:54:00 “Don’t think that you can (have) a flashbulb idea and change the world. That’s what they tell you in architecture school over 10 semesters. Keep researching, keep learning, and find that little bit that you can do over and above… accumulate that small change and the big difference that you’re talking about will be an emergent impact.”
00:56:45 “It’s an architect’s responsibility to take marginalised communities along in the process and include them so that in some ways they are no longer marginalised.”
00:59:21 “There’s going to be a point (in time) when (the planetary system) will break. We need to find a method of moving away from exponential to serial growth in line with resources on the planet.”

Summary

An ‘architecture of almost somewhere’, a term coined by the Rastogis, describes unresolved tensions in an increasingly globalised India, where many remain rooted — often constrained — by local conditions.

Manit and Sonali recall conversations they encountered, returning from the UK in the 90s, that presented them with an opportunity to craft a position on what it means to be in India in the 21st century.

The firm experiments with the interface between climate, cost, and comfort. This bridging of the local and global has segued into a position on sustainability which, not unlike Regionalist ideas in the 70s and 80s, prioritised local resources, and argued that they are used judiciously.

The Pearl Academy of Fashion in Jaipur, India, is situated in a hot-dry climate, where it adapts vernacular-inspired sunscreens called jaalis.
© Andre Fanthome

The Pearly Academy of Fashion exemplifies the overlap between constraint and opportunity, the line between engineered performance and human experience. It brought attention to the firm at a time when the Green movement was critiqued for its checklist approach.

In the semi-sunken basement of the Pearl Academy in Jaipur, India, shallow pools of water lower ambient air temperature to improve occupant comfort.
© Morphogenesis

Scale remains problematic in developing countries like India. Megaproject Surat Diamond Bourse – one of the largest office buildings in the world – pushes Morphogenesis’ mantra of climate and comfort to another level and shows how to negotiate between big and responsible.

The Surat Diamond Bourse in Surat, India, is a megastructure, also one of the world’s largest office buildings with a capacity of 70,000 occupants.
© Morphogenesis
The atria of the Surat Diamond Bourse in India are part of the building’s natural ventilation system which reduces the demand on air conditioning.
@ Morphogenesis

There are insights in this interview into how their partnership, personal and professional, evolved over time, how learning and experimentation become part of the company’s DNA, how sustainability, as an endgame, affected early questions at the drawing board.

Morphogenesis continues to experiment with climate-moderating facades, seen here in the British School in New Delhi, India.
© Randhir Singh

The work of Morphogenesis punches above its weight: engaging social systems, bolstering local economies, and contributing to communities and ecosystems. Manit and Sonali seek nothing less than to redefine Modernity in a place with much historical baggage, at a time when the pursuit of sustainability, really, also appears to seek solutions of ‘almost somewhere’.

Gallery

Images

Episode Notes

Keep reading if you want to deep dive into this interview’s content and get more out of it. You can also find out more about this episode’s guest/s and sponsor/s, and the team that put it all together.

This episode is brought to you by:

The Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

The Holcim Foundation helps drive systemic change towards a more sustainable built environment. It was founded in 2003 to define and promote the key principles of sustainability for the construction sector and is committed to accelerating the sector’s transformation so that people and the planet can thrive.

The Foundation has investigated various aspects of sustainable construction via a series of roundtables and conferences with international experts. It has also recognised excellent contributions to this field with the Holcim Awards which are considered the world’s most significant competition for sustainable design.

Committed to a holistic approach that recognises the equal importance and interdependence of four key goals, the Foundation combines the collective knowledge, ideas, and solutions of our global community of experts with our recognised platform of international competitions to democratise thought leadership for the entire sector.

Today, the Holcim Foundation is proud to accompany Ecogradia’s new podcast and its host, Nirmal Kishnani, with whom we share a common goal: contribute to a just, equitable, and sustainable future via sustainable construction and design.

W  |  holcimfoundation.org

Facebook  |  Twitter  |  LinkedIn  |  YouTube  |  Instagram

This episode is brought to you by:

The Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

The Holcim Foundation helps drive systemic change towards a more sustainable built environment. It was founded in 2003 to define and promote the key principles of sustainability for the construction sector and is committed to accelerating the sector’s transformation so that people and the planet can thrive.

The Foundation has investigated various aspects of sustainable construction via a series of roundtables and conferences with international experts. It has also recognised excellent contributions to this field with the Holcim Awards which are considered the world’s most significant competition for sustainable design.

Committed to a holistic approach that recognises the equal importance and interdependence of four key goals, the Foundation combines the collective knowledge, ideas, and solutions of our global community of experts with our recognised platform of international competitions to democratise thought leadership for the entire sector.

Today, the Holcim Foundation is proud to accompany Ecogradia’s new podcast and its host, Nirmal Kishnani, with whom we share a common goal: contribute to a just, equitable, and sustainable future via sustainable construction and design.

W  |  holcimfoundation.org

Facebook  |  Twitter  |  LinkedIn  |  YouTube  |  Instagram

As mentioned in this episode

If you heard it in this episode, we likely have a link for it right here. Click on any topics, people, buildings, places, products and/or technologies listed below to learn more about each of them.

00:05:54 “…and one is DRL, Design Research Lab…”
AADRL (Architectural Association Design Research Lab)
00:07:32 “…who had been doing a lot of work around genetic algorithms…”
What is the genetic algorithm?” | MathWorks
00:07:32 “…who had been doing a lot of work around… artificial life…”
Artificial Life” | Britannica
00:07:32 “…who had been doing a lot of work around […] artificial intelligence…”
What is artificial intelligence?” | Brookings
00:07:32 “…who had been doing a lot of work around […] neural networks…”
Explained: Neural Networks” | Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT News
00:07:32 “…who had been doing a lot of work around […] cellular automata…”
Cellular Automata” | Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
00:12:23 “…they could accede to either Pakistan or India…”
3 mistakes of Nehru that led to the horrors of Partition” | TFIPOST
00:12:40 “…let this be a new town symbolic of the freedom of India, unfettered by the traditions of the past, an expression of the nation’s faith in the future…”
Chandigarh: India’s Modern Dream” | Studio Nicholson
00:13:50 “…in direct contrast to that was a very strong regionalist movement…”
Re-evaluating Critical Regionalism: An Architecture of the Place” | ArchDaily
00:15:43 “…either a regionalist or a modernist…”
Modernism” | RIBA Architecture
00:23:13 “…did a lot of solar path studies…”
Sun Path Diagram” | Elsevier Science Direct
00:27:12 “…the baoli is evaporative cooling through the internal courtyards…”
Evaporative Cooling” | Elsevier Science Direct
00:29:33 “…as you worked with an adaptive thermal comfort band…”
Adaptive thermal comfort in sustainable cooling solutions” | Alliance for an energy efficient economy
00:31:50 “…I recognize Ecotect diagrams…”
Past computer software” | AndrewMarsh
00:34:27 “…you’re trying to find a language for contemporary Indian architecture…”
The Changing Culture of Architecture in Modern India” | Archinect Features
00:50:39 “…the idea of synergetics that the whole is greater than the parts than the sum of the parts…”
Synergetics” | Buckminster Fuller Institute
00:58:55 “…cities have to be closed-loop…”
Circular cities and the closed-loop economy” | The Fifth Estate
00:59:16 “…the idea of the GDP, year on year growth…”
Gross domestic product (GDP)” | OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development)
00:03:36 …in the works of Laurie Baker and at generally in the architectural discourse…
Lauriebaker.net
00:05:22 “…I decided to study housing and urbanism under Jorge Fiori…”
The PhD Research Program at the Architectural Association” | Architectural Association
00:05:22 “…I decided to study housing and urbanism […] at the Architectural Association…”
Architectural Association School of Architecture
00:05:32 “…a new program called DRL was introduced by Jeffrey Kipnis…”
Collaborators: Jeffrey Kipnis” | World Building Institute
00:06:59 “…Simos Yannas was the director of the program, still is…
The PhD Research Program at the Architectural Association” | Architectural Association
00:07:28 “…another professor at the school, John Frazer…”
John Frazer
00:09:24 “…it today? Morphogenesis. How many…”
Morphogenesis
00:10:01 “…the works of the great regionalist Charles Correa…”
CCA: Charles Correa Associates” | Charles Correa Foundation
00:11:46 “…when Corbusier was building Chandigarh…”
Le Corbusier” | Britannica
00:12:00 “…Nehru, the first Indian prime minister after independence…”
Jawaharlal Nehru” | Britannica
00:15:59 “…and then DRL happened to me, which is […] Ben van Berkel…”
Ben van Berkel” | Unstudio
00:15:59 “…and then DRL happened to me, which is […] Sanford Kwinter…”
Sanford Kwinter” | The European Graduate School (EGS)
00:15:59 “…and then DRL happened to me, which is […] Peter Eisenman…”
Profile | Eisenman Architects
00:16:11 “…people who were in and around the studio, Rem Koolhaas…”
Rem Koolhaas” | OMA
00:50:36 “…a believer of in the works of Buckminster Fuller…”
R. Buckminster Fuller, 1895-1983” | Buckminster Fuller Institute
00:10:49 “…we have three main offices in Delhi…”
Delhi” (Delhi, India) | Britannica
00:10:49 “…we have three main offices in… Bombay…”
Mumbai” (Maharashtra, India) | Britannica
00:10:49 “…we have three main offices in […] Bangalore…”
Bengaluru” (Karnataka, India) | Britannica
00:11:01 “…we have one in Pune…”
Pune” (Maharashtra, India) | Britannica
00:11:01 “…we have one in […] Chennai…”
Chennai” (Tamil Nadu, India) | Britannica
00:11:01 “…we have one in Surat…”
Surat” ( Gujarat, India) | Britannica
00:11:41 “…the biggest influence on modernity in India came from Chandigarh…”
Chandigarh” (Chandigarh, India) | Britannica
00:12:08 “…in a reaction to having lost Lahore…”
Lahore” (Punjab, Pakistan) | Britannica
00:14:04 “…high up in the hills in Kashmir…”
Kashmir” (Indian subcontinent) | Britannica
00:18:12 “…the Pearl Academy of Fashion, which was featured in my book…”
Pearl Academy of Fashion” | Morphogenesis
00:18:26 “…in the hot, dry climate of Rajasthan…”
Rajasthan” (Rajasthan, India) | Britannica
00:21:26 “…baori is in […] Gujarat…”
Gujurat” (India) | Britannica
00:28:01 “…we finished the British school in Delhi…”
The British School” | Morphogenesis
00:38:12 “…the Surat Diamond Bourse in Surat, Gujarat…”
Surat Diamond Bourse” | Morphogenesis
00:46:22 “…there’s an area called Morbi…”
Morbi” (Gujarat, India) | Britannica
00:41:37 “…about 800,000 square feet of radiant cooling…”
Radiant Cooling” | US Department of Energy
00:21:13 “…It’s got baoli…”
Stepwell” | Britannica
00:21:13 “…it’s got the cementitious jalis…”
History of Jalis in Indian Architecture” | Penn State University
00:22:03 “…there is a very nice one down in Jodhpur…”
Toor Ji Ka Jhalra, Jodhpur, India – an ancient step well” | Navrang India
00:23:29 “…we need to recreate this second skin…”
How Do Double-Skin Façades Work?” | ArchDaily
00:42:40 “…we have a massive underground aquifer that only stores rainwater…”
Aquifers” | National Geographic

Host
Nirmal Kishnani

Producer
Maxime Flores

Editorial assistants
Amulya Dhulipala
Ann Mathew

Sound technician & Editor
Kelvin Brown  |  Phlogiston

You can follow us and share your views on

If you like this episode and want to hear more, head to one of these podcast directories

Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle Podcasts

or other listening apps where you follow podcasts. There, you can listen to other Ecogradia episodes and write a review.

Better still, subscribe to our podcast today. Every new episode will be automatically downloaded on your chosen device, ready to be enjoyed offline, anytime, anywhere. And by doing so, you’ll be helping us produce even more great content.

Buildings offer shelter. Good architecture does more: it is a form of care for the mind and spirit. So how do we ensure sustainable equitable care for everyone, all social and emotional needs included?
As we aim to ‘do good’, we often wrestle with what to buy. Which materials are less harmful to the planet? But can a product also be net positive? Could manufacturing help reverse global warming?

Leave a comment

Before posting, please review our comment policy here.

0 0 votes
Rate this podcast
Subscribe
Notify of
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Follow us on

Recent podcast episodes

Recent blog posts

Recommended episodes from the podcast

As we aim to ‘do good’, we often wrestle with what to buy. Which materials are less harmful to the planet? But can a product also be net positive? Could manufacturing help reverse global warming?

Leave a comment

Before posting, please review our comment policy here.

0 0 votes
Rate this podcast
Subscribe
Notify of
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments