The Agency of Architecture
Rahul Mehrotra in Conversation with Mustansir Dalvi
Volume 1, Issue 1, September 2014
pp. 106 – 119
Rahul Mehrotra is a practising architect and educator. He works in Mumbai and teaches at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University, where he is Professor of Urban Design and Planning, and Chair of the Department of Urban Planning and Design as well as a member of the steering committee of Harvard’s South Asia Initiative.
His practice, RMA Architects (www.RMAarchitects.com), founded in 1990, has executed a range of projects across India. These diverse projects have engaged many issues, multiple constituencies and varying scales, from interior design and architecture to urban design, conservation and planning. As Trustee of the Urban Design Research Institute (UDRI), and Partners for Urban Knowledge Action and Research (PUKAR) both based in Mumbai, Mehrotra continues to be activelyinvolved as an activist in the civic and urban affairs of the city.
Mehrotra has written and lectured extensively on architecture, conservation and urban planning. He has written, co-authored and edited a vast repertoire of books on Mumbai, its urban history, its historic buildings, public spaces and planning processes.
He is a member of the Steering Committee of the Aga Khan Awards for Architecture and currently serves on the governing boards of the London School of Economics Cities Programme and the Indian Institute of Human Settlements (IIHS).
Professor of Architecture at Sir J. J. College of Architecture.
Mustansir Dalvi has lectured, read and published several papers on architectural education and architectural history and heritage. His research is published in ‘New Architecture and Urbanism: Development of Indian Traditions’ (INTBAU), ‘Buildings that shaped Bombay: the Architecture of G. B. Mhatre'(UDRI), ‘Quiet Conversations: the architecture of Kamu Iyer'(MPC/NCPA), ‘Mulk Raj Anand: Shaping the Indian Modern’ (Marg), and is the author of ‘The Romance of Red Stone: An Appreciation of Ornament on Islamic Architecture in India’ (Super Book House).
In his writings and talks, Mustansir Dalvi critically observes Mumbai’s urbanity and charts the semiotics of its contradictions.
Exerpts from the dialogue
It is inevitable that any interview with Rahul Mehrotra is going to be multi-disciplinary in nature. In his person and in his practice Mehrotra straddles several spheres with ease- architecture, planning, urbanism, history, conservation, research, social concerns, socio-urban activism, writing and pedagogy, all this with a critical eye on the present. He has been an initiator of the architectural conservation movement in Mumbai that set an example for the rest of India and (with Sharada Dwivedi) the primary narrator of the history of Mumbai. In his work, Mehrotra explores beyond the obvious, ‘beyond binaries’, as he puts it, making each project a transformative one for the users and the immediate physical context. He has been teaching fulltime for the past decade and his practice and research come together and are forwarded by his pedagogical interests. This conversation covers many of his interests and becomes a dialogue of ideas and possibilities.
In your architectural projects at RMA, you have frequently gone beyond the conventional limits of site, even immediate context. You have tried to incorporate the intangible, addressed socio-cultural immediacies, and sought new significance, whether in projects like Hathigaon in Jaipur, the more globalized offices for corporate houses or even single-family dwellings.
For me understanding the ‘context of the context’ is the starting point. I think the physical excavations of a site are the more obvious parameters to extricate – climate, geology, materials availability, local craft and building practises etc. The more challenging, but perhaps far more nourishing excavation is making the relationships between this obvious set of excavations from the site with the more intangible, the deeper histories, implicit cultures, the broader contemporary flows etc.