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Sonali Rastogi on sustainability in architecture

Architecture and design firm Morphogenesis' co-founder says mentorship is a collective process

In the future, Rastogi wants to play a part in the evolution of public architecture in India.

By Shail Desai

LAST PUBLISHED 22.01.2024  |  01:00 PM IST

In 1996, when Sonali Rastogi returned to India after finishing her degree at the Architectural Association in London, she noticed homogenous glass structures all around her—what she describes as the architecture of “nowhere". It was in direct contrast to a strong regionalist movement that she had witnessed a few years ago, when architecture could be associated with a geographical region—what she calls architecture of “somewhere".

From a garage in New Delhi, she soon set up the studio Morphogenesis alongside her partner, Manit Rastogi. They intended to establish a practice that fell somewhere in between the two—architecture that drew from its local context, but which also satisfied the needs of global context.

“It’s what we call ‘an architecture of almost somewhere’. Besides that, environmental, social and economic sustainability was crucial to our practice right from the beginning," recalls Sonali, 56.

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Today, the pair leads a collaborative studio with projects in South Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Their focus is on designing spaces that respond to the local climate and ecology, which at the same time are economically viable and globally pertinent. At the heart of their practice is their philosophy of SOUL—Sustainability, Optimisation, Uniqueness and Liveability—and the desire to leave behind a lasting legacy.

“These grounded principles enable us to take on projects of varying scales and typologies, and still develop contextual and innovative solutions every time. When our projects fulfil these four criteria, they automatically create a balanced solution that is also cost effective," she says.

Among their eclectic creations is the Lodsi Community Project for Forest Essentials in Rishikesh that is rooted in its regional context through its materiality and construction techniques. And the Surat Diamond Bourse, the world’s largest office building, which consumes 50% less energy than a conventional structure.

In the future, Rastogi wants to play a part in the evolution of public architecture in India and in exploring ways of decentralised development and resource mapping of Indian cities.

Rastogi talks to Mint Lounge about why mentorship is a collective process.


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Who do you consider your mentor?

I was raised in a family of architects, and then studied at the School of Planning and Architecture and the Architectural Association. I consider my upbringing and education as mentors. A combination of the two has given me perspective and a way of looking at the architecture and design profession as a process.

One major insight you worked on with your mentor’s guidance?

I view my partner, Manit Rastogi, as a mentor, particularly in the realm of sustainability. This influence extends to all of Morphogenesis’ projects and shapes my design thinking. Additionally, I’ve come to see clients as mentors. One client taught me the importance of precision and thoroughness in all aspects related to engineering in architecture and associated fields. My community of professionals working on the Surat Diamond Bourse project has also influenced me in the way they organise themselves and make decisions about design.

What does being a mentor mean to you?

I define mentorship as the collaborative process where individuals work together, learn and find inspiration through interaction. It’s about the collective experience of my colleagues. The most rewarding moments of mentorship occur during group interactions with the team when we are in the ideation phase.

What is your advice for the next generation of architects?

Being an architect is a difficult job—you must be really passionate about architecture if you want to pursue it. You should also consider the domain where you’d like to create meaningful impact. Architecture is a wide profession—you must introspect on which role you would like to fulfil.

What are some of the productivity principles you follow?

I don’t follow a structured productivity process because my natural tendency is to fully immerse myself in the problem at hand. For me, productivity is an immersive exercise and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to it.

What’s the one positive work routine you have developed during the pandemic?

The understanding of when virtual meetings are more effective and when in-person meetings are preferable. While I heavily rely on interpersonal dynamics for my creative thinking, during the collaborative process of building, numerous small and quick decisions arise. Understanding which decisions are best addressed virtually has been a key lesson during the pandemic.

Any book or podcast you would recommend about mentorship and growth?

For me, all sources of information serve as mentors, especially in the field of architecture. Actors serve as mentors, podcasts are mentors and even articles function as mentors. I recently participated in a podcast for Ecogradia and since then, I’ve been following them closely. Their deep conversations are valuable sources of information. My daily news intake from platforms like ArchDaily and Dezeen also serves as a form of mentorship. They provide information and I delve into anything that captures my interest.

Monday Motivation is a series in which business leaders and creative individuals discuss their mentors and their work ethics.

Shail Desai is a Mumbai-based freelance writer.

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