Manit Rastogi giving the keynote address at the eighth edition of the iGen Design Forum, held in Bengaluru this year
Manit Rastogi giving the keynote address at the eighth edition of the iGen Design Forum, held in Bengaluru this year

Delhi-based architect Manit Rastogi of Morphogenesis set the keynote at the iGen Design Forum in Bengaluru

Building Practices’, Manit Rastogi’s keynote address,, led the audience through the evolution of his design firm as it witnessed the shifts in the Indian economy

Recalling his student years with co-founder (and wife) Sonali Rastogi at the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi, in the mid-80s to early 90s, Manit Rastogi mentioned, “At that time, a lot of the discourse in architecture was heavily driven around a socialist construct.” They were taught to build cities and spaces for the everyday man. But when it came to their time at Architectural Association in London, where both Manit and Sonali were pursuing their Master’s degree, the emphasis was on “process” and their influences traversed from philosophies, evolutionary thinking to theories such as neo-Darwinism.

When they returned home and chose to set up their practice, it wasn’t out of choice but a need - both on principle and the personal front. Rastogi remembers applying for five jobs and being rejected by all. “It was not a great time for either architectural practice or getting a job anywhere,” he added, and thus Morphogenesis was born on the mezzanine of a home garage. “We called it Morphogenesis because it means the origin of development of form, structure and organisation in nature,” explained the architect pointing out the unique designs we see in anthills and snail shells. At this time, the economy was transitioning from socialism to capitalism - “or socio-capitalism, as we were calling it” - and bringing with it a number of “foreign” architects designing buildings and cities in IndiaT.

This was in contrast to the influences international architects such as Corbusier, Kahn, Baker and others had on the country. In the scenario unfolding in the mid-90s, “global discourse on contemporary indian architecture has virtually vanished,” found Rastogi, who also believes these strong influences were not from the “West” per se - but from the northern parts of Europe and America from where the capital funding was coming. As the development in India shifted from government to private, a New India was being envisioned primarily by private players, building cities and structures that - the Rastogis believe - were not true to the notion of contemporary Indian architecture. It was precisely this reality that Morphogenesis set out to dismantle by becoming a practice that would contribute to a global brand for contemporary architecture in india.

Alongside this objective, they were determined to be a firm that follows the highest standard in consulting,  creates a gender neutral work environment; builds a dynamic work culture that goes beyond the founders; works across typology, scale and costs; and, finally, becomesd an organisation that fosters learning and leadership. “We found that, in India, most firms were driven by their founders and those practices died with their founders. The wisdom would disappear and won’t perpetuate,” explained the co-founder.

They continue to follow the five principles till date. For instance, despite being one of the largest firms in india, Morphogenesis will still design an art gallery or a house while simultaneously also building three smart cities. For the practice, this process helps them to understand the “idiom of architecture in the global context”.

Read more about Rastogi’s inspiring presentation in our August issue…

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