Soumitro Ghosh on creating 'hope' and importance of materials in architecture

Indian architect Soumitro Ghosh discusses his installation 'Hope' at Materiology 2.0, and how Mahatma Gandhi, BV Doshi, Alvaro Siza and Le Corbusier always focused on people.

by Meghna Mehta Published on : Apr 22, 2020

Early this year, Bengaluru-based architect Soumitro Ghosh joined hands with multidisciplinary designer Sandeep Sangaru to exhibit an installation titled Hope at Materiology 2.0, an exhibition that brought 12 architectural, design and art stalwarts to create six powerful installations. Here, Ghosh of Mathew Ghosh Architects speaks with STIR about his installation, a boat made by hand with bamboo, his inspirations and resonance with ideologies that he believes create good architecture.

STIR: Please tell us about your installation with Sandeep Sangaru at Materiology 2.0? How have you used the idea of material to connect it with the past and the future?

Soumitro Ghosh (SG): I think the idea of material is very critical in fields of construction. The way material, crafts, as well as the building industry developed in the past has not only been due to technology, but also community wisdom and individual creativity. There have been generations of learnings. However, what we are familiar with during the study of architecture courses is a compact understanding of all materials, which is a tough thing.

For me, there is no difference between the past, present and future in the larger perspective. It is just what you identify with. – Soumitro Ghosh

We looked at the relation of how we remember making paper boats in the monsoon and floating them. There is a nostalgia, an innocence and the beautiful time of childhood. It starts with that idea of engaging with water and that you do not know where the boat will go.

The installation ‘Hope’ at Materiology 2.0 organised by STIR in February 2020 | Soumitro Ghosh | Mathew Ghosh Architects | STIRworld
The installation ‘Hope’ at Materiology 2.0 organised by STIR in February 2020 Image Credit: Amit Mehra

STIR: Why did you select bamboo as the material for the installation?

SG: Sandeep (Sangaru) works more with bamboo than the other crafts. We saw it as a great combination to explore together. My idea of scale and his skill came together. The work is like a skeleton, not in a negative way, but much like how memory is a skeleton, it is tender and fragile. The comprehension that comes from this scale has a far more sensitive understanding of the possibilities.

Sketch of the installation ‘Hope’ at Materiology 2.0 organised by STIR in February 2020 | Soumitro Ghosh | Mathew Ghosh Architects | STIRworld
Sketch of the installation ‘Hope’ at Materiology 2.0 organised by STIR in February 2020 Image Credit: Courtesy of Soumitro Ghosh

STIR: How did you anticipate somebody would experience the work?

SG: One was through the tactile experience, another was about the reflection, because the pool was such a fantastic possibility. It has different views from different settings and that gives it a dynamic field. That is the beauty of any good artwork that people are able to find a space to attach themselves to, rather than a singular meaning.

STIR: You had once posted a video of Oscar Niemeyer that said, “Architecture is not the most important”. Can you tell us other aspects that you believe are also important?

SG: Coming from a space of architecture, where Nisha (Mathew) and I work as partners, it is not the easiest thing to practice. If the architect and the patron desire different things to create a better space for people, how does one slip this in for the benefit of both? And I think that is a middle path. Knowing clearly well that you cannot change the world, you accept that. Well, we are not calling for a revolution but empathy would be a big takeaway.

There are patrons who have also taken the risk. It is this balance one has to bring in and it gets built over time. And it works. Nobody is a monster who cannot be changed.

  • Model of the Big Brewsky | Soumitro Ghosh | Mathew Ghosh Architects | STIRworld
    Model of the Big Brewsky Image Credit: Mallikarjun Katakol
  • View of the Big Brewsky | Soumitro Ghosh | Mathew Ghosh Architects | STIRworld
    View of the Big Brewsky Image Credit: Pallon Daruwala

STIR: While we are discussing changes in architecture, the recent Central Vista proposal has generated much debate. What are your thoughts on this?

SG: There are a few issues. I think the major complaint, which I sort of agree with is that certain processes need to be followed in a democracy because they are critical. It should not be the wilfulness of an individual which should drive the decision. In a democracy, it has to be a collective will. Besides, there are design issues, of course, and those are open questions, which have not been debated with the wider society. I think there has been a loss in a lot of ways.

Another aspect is about heritage, there is a lineage of Old Delhi, Lutyen’s Delhi, there is today, there is tomorrow. Does that mean that it has to erase itself? I know it is very difficult because rarely do you find consensus and that has been the problem of democracy. It is normally disregarded after the election campaign.

A design store by Mathew and Ghosh Architects | Soumitro Ghosh | Mathew Ghosh Architects | STIRworld
A design store by Mathew and Ghosh Architects Image Credit: Pallon Daruwala

STIR: We hope things are addressed in a positive way. Also, you worked on the extension of RBANM School. Can you tell us about the project?

SG: The traditional trader family from Chettinad had built a school for the underprivileged. They wanted to give back to the society, which is largely related to a certain community who lived around. The brief was to simply add one classroom to the school. I felt the need to provide a good environment for learning. It should be kind; it should be a place where teachers and students ask questions and it is a space where everybody learn. What we created was a common space where children can play, they can eat, have their PTA meetings, they can wait for the parents to come and pick them up. We put the classroom on top and that was a very simple proposal. It worked very well because it has completely changed the way the children use the place and the community also feels connected. I think simple interventions are possible and it has to be done in a very restrained manner, where one is humble about it.

  • An addition to the RBANM School in Bengaluru | Soumitro Ghosh | Mathew Ghosh Architects | STIRworld
    An addition to the RBANM School in Bengaluru Image Credit: Abhishek Dasgupta
  • The open space and elevated classroom opened new possibilities of usage for the kids and the teachers alike | Soumitro Ghosh | Mathew Ghosh Architects | STIRworld
    The open space and elevated classroom opened new possibilities of usage for the kids and the teachers alike Image Credit: Soumitro Ghosh

STIR: The connections between communities, it is an interesting aspect.

SG: Yes, finding connections between communities is very important. If you take the example of (Mahatma) Gandhi when he initiated the Dandi March, it was based on the simple idea of a pinch of salt and the kind of repercussions of a simple act that it had, it became symbolic. One – it is something about taste. Two – it is about something which we cannot do without. It has enormous connect with everybody because its absence will make you feel that something is certainly missing.

I think he (Mahatma Gandhi) had the understanding and the humility that he could mingle as everyone and no one, and that is what I call his ‘extreme minimalism’. – Soumitro Ghosh
  • The ongoing project - Museum of Art and Photography  | Soumitro Ghosh | Mathew Ghosh Architects | STIRworld
    The ongoing project - Museum of Art and Photography Image Credit: MathewGhosh Architects
  • Sketch of the ongoing project - Museum of Art and Photography by Soumitro Ghosh    | Soumitro Ghosh | Mathew Ghosh Architects | STIRworld
    Sketch of the ongoing project - Museum of Art and Photography by Soumitro Ghosh Image Credit: Courtesy of Soumitro Ghosh

STIR: What are the other projects that you are working on?

SG: We are currently working on an international museum – the Musuem of Art and Photography. Another ongoing project is a weekend home in hills of Coonoor being designed for an architect.

  • Sketch of the weekend home in the hills of Coonoor for an architect client | Soumitro Ghosh | Mathew Ghosh Architects | STIRworld
    Sketch of the weekend home in the hills of Coonoor for an architect client Image Credit: MathewGhosh Architects
  • Model of the ongoing project - Museum of Art and Photography by Soumitro Ghosh | Soumitro Ghosh | Mathew Ghosh Architects | STIRworld
    Model of the ongoing project - Museum of Art and Photography by Soumitro Ghosh Image Credit: Mallikarjun Katakol

STIR: On the personal front, who do you think has been your biggest inspiration? You talk about Balkrishna Doshi a lot.

SG: In some ways there is a closeness to the way of thinking or the ideology. There have been many other architects including (Alvaro) Siza, (Le) Corbusier, Oscar Niemeyer, their primary focus was always about people. I think if one can find the right balance between getting back to that, rather than personal gains, that shows that you are far more responsible than how much money one takes home. It is beyond that.

Doshi’s way of thinking has links, not directly but to a great extent to Gandhi, there are common roots there. – Soumitro Ghosh
BV Doshi with Soumitro Ghosh | Soumitro Ghosh | Mathew Ghosh Architects | STIRworld
BV Doshi with Soumitro Ghosh Image Credit: Soumitro Ghosh

They may not have very strong, clear or fragmented ideologically limited spaces. They are actually sort of fluid. But the focus is, again, people. There has been the coming back to that word of ‘empathy’ to what one may consider as a sign of a good human being.

(Materiology 2,0, with the theme ‘What Happens when Yesterday Becomes Tomorrow?’ was presented by STIR and curated by Amit Gupta and Pramiti Madhavji; it took place at at STIR Gallery @ vis a vis, 2 North Drive, DLF Chattarpur Farms, New Delhi, from February 1-29, 2020.)

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About Author

Meghna Mehta

Meghna Mehta

An architect by education and a journalist by passion, Mehta pursued a crossroad between her two interests. Having completed an M.Arch from CEPT University in Ahmedabad, she has worked in the field of architectural journalism for over 5 years. Besides content generation for STIR, she continues to teach in architectural schools in Mumbai.

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