Kanika and Jwalant Mahadevwala founded ‘andBlack’ studio in 2012. Both post graduates from Architectural Association, London, Jwalant had previously worked with Zaha Hadid Architects and Kanika with Michael Hopkins in London for about 4 years before moving to Ahmedabad. The philosophy of andblack design studio lies in designing the process that leads to the ‘solution’. andblack design studio has in its core to achieve energy efficiency that deploys intelligent systems and makes use of natural materials smartly. Jwalant’s background in design research and generative processes combined with Kanika’s knowledge in sustainable architecture has given the firm its main ideology. The firm also strongly believes in collaborative work and for every project they try and bring in individuals having relevant expertise in specific aspects of design and construction. Architecture, Interior Deisgn, Furniture, Installations, the firm works on diverse projects be it a crocodile breeding centre in GIR, homes for mentally challenged patients to high end residences and architectural projects. www.andblackstudio.com
Tell us about your project ‘Aastha’. What is the current status of the project?
‘Aastha’ is a residential and institutional campus for mentally challenged people located in Bavla, 30 min drive from Ahmedabad, Gujarat. The main idea was to move away from the ghetto style provision of hostels and provide a homely environment where the inmates feel they are getting to stay in small bungalows which they can call their own. The campus will provide for all activities surrounding the development of a home for a mentally challenged person like dedicated dining areas, toilet training areas, recreational and sport facilities and workshop facility for vocational training along with homely accommodation for almost 200 inmates.
For architecture projects we work towards achieving the nuances of spatial and volumetric experiences. The key features of this project included air-pockets designed to avail the ventilation across the unit and the faceted clay tile cladding for the facade adding to the aesthetics of the building. Currently it is in Phase II and we are about to finish the Admin Block and Cottages for staff members including a cultural hall and common areas.
This project called Aastha, is particularly close to our heart as it is able to architecturally achieve a good balance between what we perceive as a home and what is expected out of an institutional environment. Through this project we were able to reinterpret the courtyard house to suit the context and developed a journey of spatial and volumetric experiences. The faceted clay tiles that are used as rain screen cladding were especially manufactured for the project and designed keeping in mind its environmental benefits.
On similar lines, also tell us about the blind school project.
The school has been passionately conceived by the joint effort of Round Table India and Blind People’s Association to provide education to the specially-abled students.
The idea here was to create an inward looking plan with a central courtyard as the main focal point. The facades are designed to provide natural light and ventilation throughout the year.
The design of access within the building is given a huge amount of importance with well designed ramps and circulation spaces. Surfaces have been designed carefully to have different textures indicating a particular area for the assistance of blind students. We have designed the building to employ sustainable construction techniques, whereby we are building walls with rammed earth technology.
You have also worked on a crocodile breeding center at GIR. What led to this unique project and what kind of homework, research about wildlife did you do before designing it.
We were involved in some projects with the Forest Department of Gujarat at the time, and the key was to work closely with them. With an extremely low budget, and a very specific environment to achieve, this project was a challenge we were happy to take. This project wanted an environment which could imitate the shade under trees and dense plantations along water bodies, hence the idea of a perforated roof. A close interaction with the forest officials help us understand the amount of glazing we could provide vs the amount of privacy the animal requires.
The roof is faceted and the perforations pattern was inspired from the crocodile skin itself. It is the play of shade and light that provides an ideal atmosphere for the crocodiles. The crocodile breeding centre also has regular visitors in form of student expeditions and researchers and hence visibility into the zone at eye level was of utmost importance.
For the Blind School project, Surfaces have been designed carefully to have different textures indicating a particular area for the assistance of blind students.
Tell us about the interesting design for the Toddlers den, it almost has the look of a ‘Hobbits home’. What was the inspiration? Does the project have a green roof?
The Fluid form structure for Toddler’s Den is meant as a workshop space for Toddlers. The objective is to have an organic growth that emerges and merges into the other part of the school, generating playfulness, stimulating interest and in turn drawing kids to the curves. It blurs the boundaries between building, structure, space and landscape through strategic use of form, light, space and material. The form is also conceived as a landscape for children to access it as a mound and play over it.
The Structure is made of metal sections which we pre-fabricated off site. Parametric modelling was used extensively to design the form and also solve the complexity of the fabrication process. The metal structural sections are enclosed with bent metal sheets. A layer of insulation and IPS is done over the metal sheet to reduce the heat gain and also allow human load and movement above the structure. The structural members on the inside are exposed to celebrate the form and structure. It gives a sense of the process the design and form has gone through.
What is the status of this project - Jindal Farmhouse, Lonavala? Tell us about the use of colored concrete for the project.
The farmhouse is conceived as a play between two solid volumes inspired from the western ghats. The site is located on a hill with the approach on the side of the higher altitude. The building opens up towards the valley, overlooking a beautiful river. The contrast
of solid and transparent elements represent the contrasts naturally present on site. The form is made transparent towards the valley to give the house the view of the Dam. The use of tinted concrete gives the form a very earthy and soothing effect. The spaces in
the house have also been arranged so as to minimize the cost of cutting and filling the soil on the structure.
Your work extensively with wood, metal, and paper. Tell us about your love for the materials.
We consciously try and not bind ourselves to a particular material in the fear of getting trapped within our own likes and dislikes. Traditionally in India there is a huge concept of home being the place that is built once in a lifetime and for generations to live in. This only means that we are a culture where we would rather have a long-lasting home than a trendy one. With the onset of ‘interior decoration’ every homeowner feels the need to add design elements to every single wall and surface of the house. At ‘andblack’ we try and push against this trend for the sake of preventing overdone interiors. The main driving force for this philosophy is to have spaces that are long lasting and low in maintenance, feel homely and are still tastefully designed. Using materials like wood and brass help us give space to have a timeless quality and achieved something that is entirely custom designed. Working and designing with these materials help us deviate from mass production and explore the symbiosis of technology and artisans knowledge. There is a sense of localism in the fabrication yet at the same time it uses the latest digital tools and technology for design and process.
Steering clear from the trap of “trendy”, we are able to display our love for wood and brass keeping everything else white and subtle in most of our interior projects. Wood is a material which is extremely malleable yet strong, scalable yet with immense grain and warmth.
Collaboration always brings out new narrative in design. Collaboration also brings a lease of fresh air in a way one engages with design. Working with Rajeev Sethi has been one of the highs for andblack.
What is the story leading to ‘andblack’ studio, the name and philosophy.
Everything that moves us emotionally inspires us. We draw our inspiration from complex interactions present in nature. The use of parametric tools and physical modeling are the primary ways we evolve our designs. We tend to use materials like metal, wood, bamboo, paper etc in ways they haven’t been explored generally in the larger context of design in India.
Tell us a bit about your collaborations, you have worked with Rajeev Sethi on few projects. How is the experience (The white peacock at T2 airport Mumbai is surreal)
Collaboration is second nature to andblack. We have collaborated with different designers, artist and architects on various projects. Collaboration always brings out new narrative in design. Collaboration also brings a lease of fresh air in a way one engages with design. Working with Rajeev Sethi has been one of the highs for andblack. He is an institution by himself. His knowledge of craft and and eye for design is unparalleled. In all our collaborations he has brought out the best of our abilities be it Musqarnas, White Peacock at Mumbai T2 or Shire at Andaz, Delhi. We are collaborating with him for a World Bank project to work with vulnerable craft communities in Nepal and India. This has allowed us to work with materials like Sikki, Sabai, Felt, Bamboo, Paper etc.
Tell us about some of the upcoming interesting projects of ‘andblack’ studio.
We are looking forward to finishing few houses in Ahmedabad and Delhi, Corporate house for Gopal Snaks Pvt Ltd in Rajko, intallations in Hyatt Regency. These are among the few projects which we would finish this year.