Architects and designers working in India are now dealing with an entire gamut of social, cultural and economic phenomenon that are molding the built environment at phenomenally rapid rates. In the process, the role of the professional architect has been marginalized - for within conventional praxis, the professional does not engage with this broader landscape but rather chooses to operate with the specificity of a site and in the process often becomes disconnected with the context of practice. Thus our approach to Working in Mumbai has been to actually use the city and region of our operation as a generator of practice - as a way for us to evolve an approach and architectural vocabulary that draws its nourishment from a more elastic definition of the profession which sees multiple disciplines as being simultaneously valid in engaging with this kinetic landscape. How do we as architects work with the many worlds in the city - do we respond simultaneously to the time past, present and future. How do we do this when all these times exist simultaneously? Can we design with a divided mind? This intertwining of times, of attitudes, of the coming together and moving apart of the past and present - is what historically has created the urban kaleidoscope of Mumbai. Thus in our projects, the approach has been to abstract and interpret spatial arrangements and building elements from tradition while using a contemporary sensibility as well as building vocabulary. The attempt is thus to combine materials, to juxtapose conventional craftsmanship with industrial materials and traditional spatial arrangements with contemporary space organization; to explore how architecture can be used as an instrument to resist the polarized conditions in our cities; in short, to give expression to the pluralism and dualities that so vividly characterize the Indian landscape.
Rahul Mehrotra is a practicing architect and educator. He works in Mumbai and teaches at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University, where he is Professor of Urban Design as well as a member of the steering committee of Harvard’s South Asia Initiative. His practice, RMA Architects, founded in 1990, has executed a range of diverse projects that have engaged many issues, multiple constituencies, and varying scales, from interior design and architecture to urban design, conservation and planning. As Trustee of the Urban Design Research Institute (UDRI), and Partners for Urban Knowledge Action and Research (PUKAR), both based in Mumbai, Mehrotra continues to be actively involved as an activist in the civic and urban affairs of the city.