Every architecture and design firm “speaks” a particular design language through its projects. At Morphogenesis, one of the leading practices in the country and valued the world over, this design language is hinged upon climatic specifications and socio-cultural contexts — both are imperative before designing any building, say co-founders Manit and Sonali Rastogi. “Each project is conceived through a research-oriented approach to policy, planning, design, technology, passive and low energy design.”
Four aspects are central to the practice’s philosophy. Each design is conceived through first principles and through the lens of SOUL — Sustainability, Optimisation, Uniqueness and Livability. The firm’s belief in sustainability shapes all its projects, and forms the very basis of design. “Our endeavour is to plan in a manner that reduces consumption of resources and energy, resulting in up to 50% less energy consumption than certified green building benchmarks, through passive design and microclimate creation, proven through post-occupancy evaluation,” explain the Rastogis.
In a country like India, the duo also take into account the fact that projects often involve resource optimisation. It is achieved through integrated project delivery and by breaking barriers of established cost benchmarks, while reducing consumption through design innovation. This aspect coupled with the responsiveness of design to client, climate and context — and being “mindful that the project is globally pertinent” — enables them to create projects that are truly unique.
Morphogenesis recognises that processes ultimately are at the service of the end-user. Hence, liveability is at the core of the design process to build genuinely smart environments. The founders elaborate: “We consider mobility, security, outdoor comfort, technology, health and wellbeing, ease of facility management and disaster readiness to create spaces that work well for all users. Architecture, design and urbanism must be in sync with the forces of urbanisation, globalisation and technology.” It is this bridge between tradition and modernity, where the work of the practice is positioned, and why the couple place emphasis on ‘the Indian perspective in the global context’.
Establishing and running a successful practice is credited to Manit’s education in sustainability as well as work with John Frazer (“with whom I studied evolutionary design”) as his major influences till date. “Frazer introduced me to nature and the interconnected universe, to evolutionary space and time, and that gave me our vision and purpose. Simos Yannas helped me understand the science of passive design, that forms the basis of all the work we do today,” he adds. For Sonali, being Indian and living in an evolving, diverse country with varied craft and styles of working and materials... simply being surrounded by the environment and history has been key in shaping her thought process. “Our education at the Architectural Association (London) exposed us to cutting-edge architecture and discourse on design, furthering our ability to see and absorb. So, it is an institution, not a person that helped me on my way to an almost constant development of sensibility, and not a one-time influence,” she explains.
Encouraged by these influences, the duo co-founded Morphogenesis 23 years ago to expand the boundaries of architecture and eco design. Their one goal is to achieve design as well as built excellence. “Our working strengths are complementary, which makes us a solid team,” Sonali shares. “On a project level, we brainstorm concepts. Manit works towards defining the passive design strategy, setting out goals and metrics that need to be achieved. I am the details person, carrying that through into the actual design, ensuring efficiency in delivering projects on time and to quality.” It’s this synergy that keeps the wheels moving at Morphogenesis.
One of their significant approaches is a belief that processes in nature are a continuum, evolving for different paradigms… and so do people and architecture. “To place Indian architecture on a global platform meant that we will always be weaving the wisdom of 5,000 years of India’s construction history with current day aspirations, aesthetics and technologies,” explain the architects.
The practice was set up at a time when India was at the cusp of globalisation and in the midst of a paradigm change in the nascent liberalised economy of the 90s. Both Manit and Sonali saw it as an opportunity for a fundamental shift in design thinking. Their desire was to bring Indian design to the forefront of global discourse since “architecture, design and urbanism as processes needed to be in step with this radical shift”. So, they chose architecture to bridge boundaries and through discourse, set the ground for evolution and innovation, and engage with society to make architecture more relevant to the common man.
“We have become architectural activists in an attempt to affect change in our cities,” the duo say. Recently, they exhibited ‘The Fractal Metropolitan Layer’, Morphogenesis’ ongoing mission to revive Delhi’s historic nullah network. The endeavour embodies the practice’s urbanist, environmental, architectural, socio-cultural and artistic dimension. The aim is to create a new metropolitan, sustainable network in the capital. Besides public interventions, their overall work deploys passive strategies by responding to the local climate and ecology. “We have successfully created exemplars that achieve a 30% reduction in freshwater demand, consume 50% less energy than established green rating benchmarks, without incurring additional cost.” Morphogenesis is proud to state that in over nine million square metres of built environment, benefitting over 5,60,000 inhabitants, they have recorded savings in 22 billion litres of fresh water, 4.1 billion kW/hr of energy and a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 3.3 billion kgs.
Given their extensive experience, they are well versed with the challenges faced while designing sustainable commercial and institutional spaces. “These are driven by two completely different sets of parameters. Their scale has gone up in the last two decades. In many ways, it is a new construction typology,” they say. It is nonetheless an exciting typology for them to work in; to experiment with heights, high FSIs, high-density, etc, to develop a globally appreciated, viable and robust commercial architecture.
As for institutional, the practice has had a repertoire of projects. However, the notion and perception of an institutional space by the modern Indian student has changed, they point out. “Space is no longer a physical entity. Learning is no longer limited to a particular space. In a world geared by the Internet, learning is digitised and our structures must embrace that. It is exciting to create spaces that not only resonate with today’s youth but also imbibe in them a lifelong learning of living in sync with the environment.”
Working in the commercial segment, has made them aware of how external factors influence design. From concept to completion, trends change. At times, there are frequent revamps on the briefs and the perception of marketability. “Architects must understand that such changes are an integral part of their brief. The buildings must be robust enough in their design to accommodate any market flux and related usage patterns,” say the co-founders. Prescriptive designs, failure to address sustainability and liveability factors throughout the building’s lifecycle are some of the mistakes seen in the commercial sector. “Rather than creating ‘carpet area’, the intent must be to create a ‘home away from home’. At Morphogenesis, our attempt is to bridge these gaps.”
An architect’s role has been not only of a master craftsman, the duo clarify, but also of somebody in charge of the entire collaborative process. Commercial design has the largest number of stakeholders — from banks to clients, from project and facility managers and marketing teams to a plethora of consultants involved at various stages. Morphogenesis also gets experts for facade performances, environmental designers, hospitality and security consultants, disaster management specialist on board as well. An architect designs the building and also responsibly integrates all emerging parameters and evolves the design process to include all necessities. This is where knowledge about global best practices comes into play, they disclose.