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In the 24 years of its existence, Morphogenesis has established itself as one of the leading architectural practices in India, gaining global acclaim for its approach of devising design solutions through the lens of sustainability. Sonali and Manit Rastogi, Co-Founders, Morphogenesis, take Candor Connect through their intriguing journey.

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Morphogenesis has been a part of India’s changing spatial paradigm for over two decades now. Since its inception, the organisation has been reinterpreting India’s architectural roots and traditional wisdom to employ passive design solutions that lend a unique contextual language to architecture. The result: Work that reflects a contemporary Indian perspective, within the global context.

Today, Morphogenesis is a collaborative of 190 people with its work spread across eight countries and over 50 locations. It has achieved many firsts in the industry, including having designed The British School in New Delhi (India’s first GRIHA 5-star rated and net-zero energy enabled school in India) and Pearl Academy in Jaipur (awarded India’s first World Architecture Festival Award for ‘Best Learning Building’). The organisation is presently working on landmark projects such as The Trump Towers in Gurugram (set to become the tallest twin towers in North India) and Surat Diamond Bourse (set to become the world’s single largest office building). It was also awarded a copyright on its evolutionary design process ‘SOUL’.

Morphogenesis’ forward-thinking vision is courtesy its co-founders Sonali and Manit Rastogi, who, since the beginning, have worked on understanding how much can be learned from the past and reinterpreted for a fast-changing world. We spoke to them to learn more about their journey of referencing the styles of traditional Indian architecture in innovative, sustainable forms.

Edited excerpts from the interview:

When And Where Did You Start Your Career As Architects?

Manit Rastogi: after pursuing architectural studies at the School of Planning and architecture in New Delhi in 1991, we proceeded to spend a long stint at the architectural association School in London. Here, I pursued my interest in the study of nature, evolution and design processes in association with British architectural academic John Frazer. I also acquired a degree in energy and environment Studies with Simos Yannas, who led environmental design research and teaching at the school.

Sonali Rastogi: I pursued my interest in housing and Urbanism with sociologist and urban planner Jorge Fiori at the Architectural Association School. I also studied at the Design Research Laboratory with architectural critic Jeff Kipnis. Bringing together our bouquet of interests, Manit and I started Morphogenesis in 1996 with a clear aim of expanding the boundaries of regional architecture and environmental design with sustainability at the core.

What Inspired You To Start Morphogenesis?

In the 1990s, the Indian economy was experiencing a paradigm shift owing to economic liberalisation, creating a socio-culturally and economically emergent India in the process. Correspondingly, we saw an opportunity for a fundamental shift in Indian design thinking, and the possibility of creating a practice that would define contemporary architecture of Asia. Our desire was to bring regional design to the forefront of global discourse. In this context, we saw architecture as a strategic weapon to bridge boundaries and—through discourse—set the ground for evolution and innovation. It is within this framework that we founded Morphogenesis; this was a poignant decision which was supported by the ongoing paradigm shift in the nascent liberalised economy of India in the 1990s.

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Which Aspects Are Central To The Design Processes At Morphogenesis?

At Morphogenesis, we believe that climatic specifications and socio-cultural contexts are imperative to take into consideration before designing any building. All our projects are conceived through a research-oriented approach to policy, planning, design and technology. Every design at Morphogenesis is conceived through the lens of ©SOUL i.e.

S – Sustainability: Our endeavour is to design in a manner that reduces consumption of resources and energy while increasing the number of habitable hours with minimum reliance on mechanical means. This has resulted in buildings that, through passive design and microclimate creation, consume up to 50-70 per cent lesser energy than certified green building benchmarks— proven through post-occupancy evaluation.

O – Optimisation: We understand that we are often working in an environment with limited resources. Our approach ensures integrated project delivery with spatial, structural, façade and MEP (Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing) optimisation, resulting in a significant reduction in the capital and operational cost.

U – Unique: Architecturally, we celebrate identity and diversity rather than visual homogeneity. We think of our buildings and cities as places of human interaction and habitation. This ensures all our projects are unique, whilst responding to the client, climate, context and end-users.

L – Liveability: The end-user always sits at the centre of our design process in our approach to building smart environments. We consider mobility, security, outdoor comfort, technology, health and well-being, ease of facility management and disaster readiness when creating spaces that work equally well for all users.

These parameters define the enquiry process at Morphogenesis. We believe that architecture, design and urbanism as processes must be in step with the forces of urbanisation, globalisation and technology. It is this bridge, between tradition and modernity, where the work of the practice is positioned. Thus, we like to think of our work as ‘the Indian perspective, in the global context’.

How Are You Building ‘Global’ Projects That Are Deeply Rooted In The ‘Local’?

We strongly believe that processes in nature evolve and so do people and architecture. Our design approach has often been inspired by the vast, historical repository of building knowledge and art and craft traditions of the region. A valuable learning from the past has been that traditional architecture has always been built sustainably, whether as a response to climatic conditions or a dearth of resources. Understanding and weaving together these 5,000 years of building construction history with current-day aspirations, aesthetics and technologies has resulted in sustainable models of development that are ‘global’ yet deeply rooted in the ‘local.’

We thrive on the approach of always optimising a project by deploying passive strategies that respond to the local climate and ecology. We have successfully created exemplars that achieve a 30 per cent reduction in freshwater demand as well as consume 50 per cent lesser energy than established green rating benchmarks without incurring additional cost. Optimisation of all resources is a pre-requisite to our architecture today. This has conservatively resulted in over 9 million square metres of built environment benefitting over 5,60,000 inhabitants, further saving 22 billion litres of fresh water, 4.1 billion kW/hr of energy and a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 3.3 billion kg. Furthermore, we believe in engaging with the society, making architecture more relevant to the common man.

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Morphogenesis is Conducting The Upgradation of Candor TechSpace’s Campus in Kolkata. What Kind of New Developments Can We Expect in This Campus?

Information technology and artificial intelligence are making the world a smaller and an increasingly connected place. In this context, a new approach is required in the way we design workplaces. The design of a ‘commercial workplace of the future’ for Candor TechSpace in Kolkata is all about refurbishing the campus whilst creating an experience for its users that is deeply rooted in art and culture of the city. The 45.40-acre IT park being upgraded will entail a grand arrival with double-height lobbies, exclusive visitor centre and dedicated smart lockers.

The interiors have been designed to be ergonomic and eclectic with sculptural lighting and artwork inspired by the contextual clues of Kolkata. To meet global standards, technology has been incorporated in the form of smart lighting with occupancy sensors, digital screens for dynamic art, and smart controls that allow users to book a hall irrespective of their location or time zone. Multi-functional spaces for over 300 people with integrated, high-end audio-visual systems will be provided for conferences, training and special events. Additionally, lounge-style pre-function spaces with dedicated bar and landscaped terraces have been incorporated to serve as congregation spaces for festivals and social gatherings. Other facilities include upscale food courts, café-style outlets with retail promenade, spa, health club and state-of-the-art banquet halls.

The landscape strategy will be a curated experience that encourages a discourse-based culture naturally gravitating towards chance conversations and outdoor meetings. A central pedestrianised spine integrates a food trail and art walk that connects the entire campus. The provision of comfortable outdoor areas with shaded seating facilities, indigenous plantation, and rain-protected walkways and terraces will ensure a climate-responsive landscape.

Coming To Workplace Design In General, How Has It Evolved Over The Years?

Workplace design is evolving thanks to the impact of technology that is making us more mobile; the influence of different generations entering the workforce; the effect of higher real estate costs; and the growing importance of well-being at work. All these factors have altered the traditional role of the workplace. Gone are the days when office design was simply a facility management initiative of space planning. Work is becoming location-neutral and decentralised workforces are the new normal. Today, office design is as much about human resources as it is about facility management.

The scale of commercial projects has gone up in the last two decades. In many ways, it is a new construction typology. As architects, it is an exciting typology for us to work in—we get to experiment with heights, high FSIs, high-density, etc. It is exhilarating to develop a globally appreciated, commercially viable and robust architecture.

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In A Workplace Landscape That Is Ever-Evolving, More And More Companies Today Are Putting in Significant Efforts To Create Sustainable Workplaces. How Can Workspace providers Like Candor TechSpace Work Towards Building Such Spaces?

Today, we spend most of our time at work rather than at our own homes. Hence, providing a healthy and sustainable work environment is of prime importance in order to improve the performance of employees. Research shows that people think, feel and operate better in offices that have more natural light, cleaner air, comfortable indoor temperatures, pleasant views of the outside, and colours, textures and materials that are welcoming and calming. Furthermore, a healthy office environment improves employee retention, productivity and their physical and mental well-being.

To build sustainable workplaces, commercial workspace providers should reduce the load on the environment in their construction strategy, material resource utilisation, spatial allocation (area optimisation) and energy consumption. They should increasingly rely on natural resources and passive methods of cooling, water recycling and access to nature. Additionally, they must also adhere to non-toxic materials, paints, furniture and equipment as they have an environmental impact that stretches from the manufacturing process to the landfill. The design of a sustainable workplace should also address flexibility in space function and adaptability to the changing needs of companies.

Are There Any Workplace Trends Emerging In 2020?

The debate about the office of the future is centred on re-examining the role of the physical space visà- vis workplace transformation. Whilst debate directions are similar, solutions are becoming highly specific to the modern workplace with the advent of technological innovations like artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of things (IoT), and new management practices. While there is no one prescriptive way forward, the only thing constant is maximising benefits for the occupants while reducing energy and waste, using sustainable practices and reconfigurability to respond to rapid changes.

For one, the office of today must be interactive; ideologically and physically, the spatial organisation must allow for maximum interaction between the outside and the inside, and between various programmatic requirements whilst ensuring maximum visual interaction for all occupants. All this must be achieved without compromising on the economies of the workspace. Additionally, semi-open breakout spaces such as courtyards, verandahs, terraces, etc., allow for socio-cultural interaction, cross-pollination of ideas and exemplify the ideology of equity and transparency in the workplace. Allocation of space, services and resources along with a judicious use of materials and consumption of energy can result in an augmented workforce with better amenities as well as effective use of area.

The work paradigm of the future is reflected in a constantly evolving and reconfigurable office. This can be in the form of spaces such as hives for work desks and jump spaces that allow for mobile workstations, meetings, conferences, training, and workshops in almost all areas. Such spaces boost performance and can be reconfigured in a matter of minutes by the end-user themselves. With the advent of IoT and AI, technology is also built into the furniture and walls, including screens and digital whiteboards that connect seamlessly.

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