Memo from Mumbai: Insider’s Take
White Room is a young design practice based in Mumbai founded by Nitin Barchha and Disney Davis. In the ever-changing and evolving state of the city, the voice of their practice is significant in understanding the relationships between the built environment and the sensitive practice of architecture. In Barchha’s own words, “life is fun—seeing homes grow out of the ground, wastelands turn into landscapes, columns stretching themselves to meet the sky bit by bit, very much like the trees around them.”
Interior Design: Are you currently working on any projects in Mumbai?
Nitin Barchha: Yes, we are doing an apartment interior and a terrace garden both in Bandra. Apart from these projects we are also working on a house each in Alibaug and Panchgini.
ID: How would you describe your work and how will it impact the city?
NB: Our work is inspired by nature in that no two things are ever same. The projects we do stand different from each other and always strive to reflect the personality of the users while being sensitive towards nature in the end users. This I propose to be the best way to improve the sensitivity of people so as to create a better place to live in.
ID: You’ve said before that you are inspired by Nari Gandhi. Can you explain how his work has impacted or altered contemporary Indian architecture?
NB: Nari has inspired us greatly and in many ways been my icon who introduced me to organic architecture through his own work. Unfortunately, the impact of his work on contemporary Indian architecture has been very limited due to the extremely complex nature of his projects; also, he has completed very few projects.
ID: Few clients understood the vision that Nari Gandhi had and that he was not driven by trends – do you have similar experiences with clients?
NB: Very few clients can really lay their full trust in the vision of the architect. This stands as true today as it did 40 years ago when Nari started building his first house in Mumbai. Clients are generally driven by the current market trend, which of course is guided by what they have seen at someone’s place in India or abroad. And this becomes a great challenge when one is trying to do unconventional work.
ID: Are there any contemporary practices that you are inspired by or ones that you think are making a difference?
NB: A few contemporary architects who are still working hard towards making a difference to architecture as a whole are Kendrick Bangs Kellogg, Javier Senosiain, Kapil Gupta and Studio Mumbai.
ID: Recently you have been exploring papier mâché techniques; how have these explorations informed your work?
NB: I love the immense flexibility that clay offers when it comes to creating small objects, and this quest drove me to explore papier mâché to use in designer furniture pieces. This then gave me the confidence and curiosity to search for a material that can be used to create larger objects which can be used for people to live in and then I stumbled upon ferrocrete, and ever since have been using it extensively in all my projects.
ID: What about Mumbai inspires you?
NB: The randomness and chaos of the city inspires me to do what I am currently doing. This city gives me the freedom to be a part of this chaos or selectively isolate one’s self whenever the need arises. The epitome of randomness and chaos is when one sees an old wooden building which has verandas sharing a wall with a matchbox stack.
ID: Mumbai’s infrastructure story is full of unfulfilled promises and delayed projects. How can Mumbai regenerate itself sustainably as well as responsibly?
NB: All necessary efforts should be made to decentralize the city and make everything—including business, residences, power supply, drainage, water supply, waste management, transport—decentralized. And this can be achieved by introducing rapid mass transit systems and creating self sufficient pockets in the city which are independent in all the above aspects. Introduction of rainwater harvesting, rooftop gardens, decentralized waste management and using garbage to produce energy (considering garbage as a harvestable resource instead of waste). Essentially, decentralization can help greatly.