Founded by Bijoy Jain, Studio Mumbai is a human infrastructure of skilled craftsmen and architects who design and build the work directly. Gathered through time, this group shares an environment created from an iterative process, where ideas are explored through the production of large-scale mock-ups, models, material studies, sketches and drawings. Here projects are developed through careful consideration of place and a practice that draws from traditional skills, local building techniques, materials, and an ingenuity arising from limited resources. The essence of our work lies in the relationship between land and architecture, it requires coming to terms with the presence of the environment through the succession of seasons.
- Nandgaon, Marharashtra, India
‘It’s impossible to have a favourite,’ explains Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) curator Abraham Thomas, ‘however, Studio Mumbai captured the spirit of our exhibition perfectly’. Staged to demonstrate ideas about refuge and retreat, the V&A’s recent exhibition, 1:1 - Architects Build Small Spaces (www.vam.ac.uk/smallspaces), features seven temporary pavilions designed by practices yet to build in the UK.
Thomas credits the AR’s Awards for Emerging Architecture as his principal source of inspiration, with many of the 19 firms who were invited to make proposals being familiar to these pages. This study focuses on one of the seven finalists, Studio Mumbai’s entry, In-Between Architecture, and follows a visit to Alibaug, India, where the AR witnessed the prefabrication of the piece at first hand.
With a more conventional design studio in Mumbai, most of the firm’s hard graft takes place in a rural plantation 30km away, where founder Bijoy Jain and over 100 craftsmen work together in simple shelters or beneath the trees, designing, prototyping and constructing.
‘In our practice,’ explains Jain, ‘there is no separation between artisan and architect. Every part of the process is exposed and everyone takes their share of responsibility.’
This equitable, craft-led attitude to producing architecture was first introduced to Jain in Los Angeles, where he worked in the model shop of Richard Meier (making models for the Getty Museum) while studying under Studio Works founder Robert Mangurian.
His tutor was, he says, instrumental in initiating him into this method of working. Following a brief period practising in London, Jain returned to India in 1995 to set up the Studio Mumbai workshop, a vast operation that makes Renzo Piano’s urban equivalent look insignificant by comparison.
‘Our way is quite medieval, recalling a time when architects were builders,’ says Jain. It is, however, far from archaic, with Jain running an extremely tight ship. Working closely with their clients on bespoke houses they operate on an open-book, cost-plus-profit basis, so the client always knows where their money is going. They also produce large-scale mock-ups and prototypes that add a creative transparency to the process, which gives clients the confidence to proceed with what are often quite sizeable investments.
Studio Mumbai currently produces two or three houses a year, but Jain is confident that he will be able to take on bigger contracts. This is largely down to his increasingly confident and highly skilled workforce. ‘It’s incredible,’ he says, ‘people with skills just turn up to work and some are part of a 60-generation lineage of craftsmen.’ Prior to coming here to work, it is likely that few of these men had any idea of their true value. Now they have a contemporary focus for their skill, and with many of them becoming long term collaborators, there can be no suspicion of exploitation.