Crafting Contextual Designs

Ar. Rahul Mistri of Open Atelier Mumbai gets candid about his design sensibilities, new age innovations, most challenging part of his job, his love and interest for fabrication and much more in an interview with Nisha Shukla

Ar. Rahul Mistri believes in ‘Yes is More’ approach to architecture and design. His interest mainly revolves around aspects such as material application, analysis and production and he constantly strives to research and discover new avenues in those areas. In the year 2010, Rahul Mistri founded his design firm, Open Atelier Mumbai which oscillates between intense cultural and political conditions. The international award winning firm is known for combining various forces of expertise from 3D fabrication, material applications and branding to create a cohesive design methodology. Working across this wide range of scales, the design firm investigates each site, its context and client needs, thereby articulating conceptual visions that later translate into new forms of built scale. Apart from work, Mistri also indulges in teaching. He is a visiting faculty at the Academy of Architecture and is also invited at various design institutes across India. In the following interview Ar. Rahul Mistri unearths details about his firm and other interests.

What influenced you to take up designing?

My very first ambition was to become a musician. However, I developed an ever growing passion for Design while studying at Rachna Sansad, Mumbai. My desire to explore the influence of fabrication in interior design led me into to the Post-Graduate program. Now, I feel, I am best suited for this profession for the creative satisfaction it gives me. Besides, I also like the fact that, with the help of my designs, I am able to make difference in the people’s lives and make it more exciting.


How do you formulate ideas / plan / concepts for your design? Kindly elaborate on the process?

We at "Open Atelier Mumbai" believe that design, like fashion, is an outwardly expression of an individual’s personality. We encourage our clients to allow us to create things that are a reflection of who they are; to speak of them in a way that they are unable to express. Creating something that is holistic in an eclectic way that pushes the boundaries between design, art and material, is something we strongly believe in.


What is your design philosophy? What are you most passionate about?

Design is an expression of an individual's personality; therefore it takes shape from collaborative ideation with clients. For me, design is much more than a concept; it is an expression of client’s vision taking a concrete form. Design is also a craft, and I am passionate about experimenting with local construction methods to establish new boundaries.


Where do you draw inspiration from? What is one most important thing to keep in mind while designing a building/ or planning a city?

I draw inspiration from a host of research work, especially in contemporary as well as experimental architecture and design. We design by development, work and evolve an idea. It is a collaborative effort between the clients and my team. Our core strength is to give shape to an idea. Mostly, clients who make their way to our office are usually the ones who are unable to find what they have in mind. Every single project undertaken by us so far has left us with a different experience. We do not operate with the idea of a closed-end project. A few things that we look for is that there should be no similarity with the previous projects. There should be an element of surprise! It should be stylistically unique.

What kind of design software and equipment do you use in your work?

In the initial process, we visualize in 3D which helps to shape the aerial design, and we use 3D computer tools when we are looking at lighting and furniture placement within projects. We meticulously work to give form to our client’s vision by adopting advance technology.


You have a bouquet of projects to your credit – corporate offices, private buildings, nightclubs, hotels, and residential spaces etc. What type of projects do you particularly enjoy the most?

For us every project is unique and there have been quite a few very interesting ones along the way. Before starting any project, we always keep in our mind how it affects the site, the eventual user, the casual observer, the contactor who will build it. Also, we try to visualise, how the project will look 10 years from now. Strategizing, scheduling, execution and implementation are equally critical for us as a team; as the final product must balance the needs, budget etc.


What are the innovations in the field of architecture that you would propagate?

Well, sustainable and responsive building materials, advanced technology in architecture, innovations in 3D scanning, 3D printing and other design visualizations.


A material/ innovation you’d like to experiment with…

We like to use materials that are sustainable and are available in abundance. However, having said that, we never step back from exploring new materials and its applications.

What sets your firm apart from all your contemporaries?

Our USP is in the quality of design, attention to details, raising and living up to people’s expectations from space and working ethically. We have a commitment towards sustainability and most of our projects reflect it in some way.


An Infrastructure upgrade that is need of the hour for India …

We have realized that as long as you respect the parameters laid down by the client and if you have a good idea, the client is willing to let you experiment. The construction and engineering of the idea is a big problem. There is a total mismatch between the design element and the construction industry. The credit of the failure of an idea goes to the designer, even if it is the fault of the construction. We need to adopt Techtonic and other new-age technology to create innovative design solution.


What’s your ultimate goal as a designer?

Projects handled by our firm showcase our ability to innovate without compromising on space or aesthetics. We are supported by an in-house team of architects who share their zeal, and are advised by consultants who are leaders in their respective fields.


How has the field of architecture & design changed over the years? Do designers need to develop certain skills today?

There has been a vast change in everything from materials to design concepts. Today with globalization, international fairs and conferences that we travel to, we have access to best of materials and technology. Social media also helps in keeping ourselves updated on outstanding works designed across the world that in turn motivates us to use new technology and skills that will not only be beneficial to your clients but also makes a lasting impression in the design fraternity.


A notable change you’d like to bring in the architecture and design curriculum?

Design professionals are problem solvers with aesthetic sensibilities, and ultimately apply their skills to solve problems. We have to treat design with respect and consider the universal application of our solutions to satisfy client’s needs. I would say we have to keep reinventing ourselves.

Which is the most challenging part of your job? Tell us about your learning experience.

In the initial stage of my career, we worked on a corporate client, who was very rigid about specific prototype and were not very receptive to the ideas we suggested. Sometimes it is very tricky to convince such clients, but over the years, we have mastered this skill of convincing that whatever they have seen and liked may not necessarily be functionally efficient for their work space. We convince them through our meticulous presentations.


What is the influence of international architecture/ design on India?

Today with easy access to information and materials, I see a progressive leap in design thinking. This is just the beginning… we have a lot to catch in terms to technology and executing projects.


Tell us about the scope of fabrication in interior designing and its impact on spaces in the near future?

I like to explore the scope of fabrication in interiors. Materials application, analysis and production are my main interest, and I constantly thrive for perfection. You can create amazing results through fabrication. A compact dental clinic that we have designed is well-appreciated at conferences and seminars for his fabrication technique and designs.


Tell us something about your recently completed or on-going projects?

We are working on lots of exciting projects such as large scale hospitality, high-end residential projects in India and abroad, as well as some really challenging retails and corporate spaces.

Any particular artist / architect / innovator whose works you most admire?

There's a big list of architects, I admire and this feature won’t suffice.


What do you do for leisure?

Admitting that I am a workaholic, I love composing and listening to music. I have discovered and benefitted from the therapeutic benefits of music. I also love traveling extensively.”


If not an architect, then you would have been…

Definitely a musician …


How do you strike work- life balance?

The relationship between life and work is changing faster; we have to be agile and flexible in our approach to work to strike the proper balance, which we do through our multi-disciplinary design team.


What, in your opinion, is the future of design in India?

I want to see how a young multidisciplinary office like ours can grow. I want to retain the idea of project identity and test for how long I can balance the growth with quality and creative output. Indians are not very overtly expressive people. An environment to ask questions is not encouraged. It is a cultural block, something that we have to get over. We need research based institutes, which are dedicated to the development of contemporary architecture and design; encourage debatable dialogue between professionals that would in turn provide a platform to learn about work done by others.

What advice would you give to design aspirants?

Practice, practice and practice


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