Designing the Town RED! with Ar. Sridevi & Ar. Rosie

“You have to love what you do, to the fullest. That will see you through everything else. “

Honest believers of this statement, and also the founders of the firm ‘Mason’s Ink’ are Ar. Sridevi & Ar. Rosie. A Bangalore based practice founded in 2012, this young architect duo is setting a new definition of sustainable architecture: Sustainability through honesty.

In conversation with Unbind, they discussed ideas, passions, and much more. Excerpts from the interview:

Unbind: Your work has been largely influenced by the Auroville style of architecture. What prompted this?”

MI: Both of us were fortunate to have relatively long stints in Auroville during our careers. I (Sridevi) worked at Intach, Pondicherry and Rosie was the head architect at The Auroville Earth Institute. During our time there, we understood sustainability for what it really is. Auroville has every aspect of it figured out; solar, water, wind, you name it, it’s there. It’s left an impression on us forever. Since we decided to set up firm in Bangalore and we couldn’t take our office to Auroville, we brought Auroville into our office!

Unbind: Why the name Mason’s Ink?

MI: We have realized that great designs can always be done, but without hands to construct it, there’s no sense. Masons have taught us so many things. The process of construction is all about them, really. That’s why we are called Mason’s Ink.

Unbind: What are some philosophies that you follow?

MI: We tend to follow the idea of ‘a good hat and a good boot’. Right from a proper foundation to the roof, we look into every detail that the building has. We believe that detailing each component of the building with the same conviction is what makes a structure truly beautiful – be it a mundane sewage/plumbing detail or some intricate flooring pattern.This is what we really believe in: God is in the details.

Unbind: You work largely with CSEB (Stabilized Earth Blocks), rammed earth constructions, domes and vaults, do these materials prove to be challenging sometimes?

MI: It is not so much the material being challenging as the ignorance of construction methods that surrounds it. Most contractors are used to working with cement blocks with poor quality of constructionand patching it up with plaster. None of our materials function like that. We don’t plaster any of our walls. The finish is natural, so the process has to be done well. This is where we spend a lot of time and focus on: Getting the finer details right.

Unbind: What ‘ism’ do you believe in?

MI: Trueism, we’d say. Honesty in design, honesty of thought, honesty with the client, even if it’s brutal! Basically honesty in everything that you do.

Unbind: You are about 2 years old and have a lot of ongoing projects now. How has the journey been so far?

MI: The learning curve has been great. There certainly have been challenging times, but we really love what we do, and that’s the most important part of it all. We love what we do.

Unbind: Being pioneers in the field, how would you define sustainability?

MI: For us, sustainability can be achieved through two approaches. Passive and Active . Passive approach of sustainability includes considerations at the design stage itself; planning in ways to take care of light, ventilation, choice of materials and being climate responsive. Passive approach to sustainability is what goes a long way in impacting the environment, and that is the focus of our design.

Active approach is much more about course corrections; figuring out sustainable solutions during and after the process of construction to make the building more climate responsive.

Study of site and site context play a really important role, especially in sustainable architecture because most of your raw materials are acquired from your own site.

Unbind: Both of you have opened your own firm. What’s your advice to students who want to do the same?

MI: We honestly have individually and collectively benefitted from previous work experience before beginning our own practice. It is what shaped us, and gave us direction. Our advice to students is to work under somebody, to be an employee before you become an employer. This has several advantages: it helps you to build contacts, it helps you to learn how things function, and most importantly, it helps you get rid of your ego. You need to be in an environment that helps you grow to the level of opening your own firm.

Unbind: How do you decide to take the plunge of opening a firm? How do you go about it?

MI: We decided to do it because we had figured what we were most passionate about: Sustainable Architecture. When you know where you really want to make a difference, that’s when you know it is time. College gives you exposure to so many sub-fields of architecture. Keep your eyes and ears open to experimenting, you will find something that drives you.

Unbind: When students go out for an internship, how would you advise them to make the best of it? Many are clueless.

MI: Keep aside your ego, be willing to learn. Mould yourself according to your situation. Help somebody else if you finish your own drafting, watch somebody else working with a new software. Be around. Don’t be in a rush to design. Remember that you shouldn’t enter with any pre-conceived notions.

Unbind: What is your advice to architecture students in college? How do they increase their learning curve?

MI: Our sincere advice to students is to rough it out a little bit. Don’t get stuck in comfort zone. Don’t restrict yourself. Participate in out-of-classroom-activities, design trophies for NASA etc. Intern whenever you can. Join a carpenter for a month, you will learn more joinery details than you can imagine. Only when you are challenged will you grow. College should be a boot camp, and that will bring out the best in you. You need to believe that anything in your path is part of the learning curve.

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