Aurgho Jyoti is a practicing architect with research interest in materials, environment, geometry and critical inter-relationship between architecture, culture and technology. He holds an M.DesS from Harvard Graduate School of Design with a concentration in design and technology. During his time at Harvard, he was involved in transformable housing research at MIT Media Lab. He holds an M.Arch-II from Cornell where he was mentored by Neil Denari and Asymptote, and a B.Arch with distinction from SPA, New Delhi. Aurgho has worked for offices of internationally acclaimed firms which include SOM, OMA/Rem Koolhaas, Gehry Technologies, Massimiliano Fuksas Architetto, 3 Gatti Architecture Studio, and Morphogenesis Architecture Studio. He has served as a guest critic at Harvard, Cornell, University of Hong Kong, Wentworth Institute of Technology, and California College of Arts. He has been a Teaching assistant at Harvard and Cornell, a Visiting Lecturer at Delhi College of Arts, and workshop instructor at Smart Geometry. Aurgho’s works have been published and exhibited in the US, UK, Netherlands, Denmark, Spain, Austria and India. He has won several awards which include a special mention in Evolo Arch, New York; SOM Prize in Architecture finalist, Chicago; ’20 Under 35' Designers by Alliance Francaise de Delhi. Recently, Modelo had the opportunity to learn more about Aurgho’s unique approach and design philosophy.
On becoming an architect
It was pretty early and now it sounds romantic. I was a three year old and my mom a school teacher. We lived in an extended family. I used to stay at home, and my mom would leave me with my toys. I had paper and pencil around and she started noticing that I was drawing objects around me, I was making an effort. She took the initiative and at three and a half enrolled me in a private art school. It wasn’t unusual, being born into a Bengali family, for kids to habitually engage with some form of art. I started learning how to draw but I hated being in school; I didn’t want to sit and draw with other kids; I didn’t want to be told to do things. I guess I wanted to be free and do things my own way. My elder sister was persistent and made sure I was there for my classes. Things took a turn soon and I looked forward to my weekends at art class. My art teacher became my mentor and I ended up going to his art school for twelve years. I distinctly remember the time in first grade, for a class essay about my ambition in life I wrote I wanted to be an architect. I knew nothing about it, and no one in my family did either. I had a cousin who was studying architecture at School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi, a school I would later go to. I wanted to do something more than art; I wanted to be an architect. That stuck with me for another ten years before I got into architecture school. At SPA it was a very fine art driven approach, something that made me comfortable but I would later realise that it was not the core of architecture. It took me a while to think spatially and was only towards the end of my time there that I could appreciate the tectonic and develop interest in materiality. Though I did great in school I struggled internally to figure what it meant for me as a personal reflection. It is important to be strongly opinionated and develop a design philosophy. At Harvard and Cornell, I would pursue my design and research interests in architecture to formulate my thinking and figure out what I want to do. Your opinions evolve with every passing day and I feel fortunate to be in a field where every day and every project is new. There is no end to learning and exploration.
On a parallel trajectory, the spirit of travel infused by my parents early on as a kid stuck with me since I started architecture school. We went traveling for two weeks every year. I was becoming aware of the world we live in, different people, different cultures, different food, different languages and different architecture. Traveling is critical for growing as an architect. I have always believed that one graduates from being a tourist to being a local when you start working and living in a place. You develop a deeper understanding of the nuances of the culture. When I moved to San Francisco two and a half years ago it was the 10th city I had lived in 10 years — Calcutta, New Delhi, Shanghai, Rome, New York, Ithaca, Hong Kong, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco; in that order. The firms that I have worked for have taught me what not to do more than what to do, which I believe is critical.
On discovering our own voice and influences
Architecture school nurtures a certain way of thinking, which interestingly is not through textbooks, but by the act of self-reflection, doing and making. Things have evolved and keep evolving over time. Over the years I’ve realized that I appreciate the cultural, the social, and the material aspect in architecture more than anything else.
Architecture is foremost a spatial and experiential practice that is situated in a culture and environment, and manifested through materials. My curiosity is based on the thought that architecture influences human thinking; and both consciously and subconsciously effects and affects our senses.
Architecture is a way to redefine reality through physical form produced through materials and necessitated by programs. As architects we are always designing for the future but that future lies in the past and the present. Our interventions should aim to reinterpret and reappropriate the past and the existing to project our future.
In terms of architects that influence me, I would say it is Kengo Kuma and Herzog and de Meuron. The have successfully treaded the narrow line between the minimal and the ornamental. They have also successfully often reinterpreted the vernacular with a strong materiality and cultural connection. The tying element is that there’s no formal stylistic similarity between their projects. It’s always about new material exploration. At the end of the day they do things that are meaningful, experiential and they look elegant, which is very essential. We can always talk about process in architecture and about how things are done, how things evolve but at the end of the day we’re all here because beauty is our obsession. If we don’t make beautiful things in the end the whole process is meaningless for me.
On current interests
Materials and Craft — The essence of a material and the craft of construction. Also to harness vernacular material knowledge and traditional craft based construction techniques of putting them together. The High Tech and the Low Tech are both essential.
Anonymous Architecture — I’m interested in a minimal yet ornamental reinterpretation of vernacular architecture in the context of our contemporary city in terms of materiality, scale and proportion. In mainstream we often talk about architecture with a capital ‘A’ but the collective intelligence of a society to develop building techniques is of equal significance.
Housing — We are in a time when we need to build a lot. According to Reinhard Goethert from MIT the housing that we have built for the last 6,000 years needs to be done in 20 years. We need to evolve a different way of practice, and different way of integrating technology into practice. Also Live-work relationships have greatly changed with the internet age. Different forms of contemporary living questions traditional residential typologies.
Alternate High Rises — The project that I presented today was from my thesis at Harvard, which investigates high rise morphologies in urban contexts through optimising environmental parameters. I have been interested in alternative high rises: both in terms of how the macro-form of the building is influenced by environmental factors, and how alternative materials like wood/ceramics can influence the design and carbon impact of the project.
On his aspirations for the next 5–10 years
I see myself in the long run as a practicing architect making well-crafted buildings using materials and technology in a meaningful way that can question and help rethink the accepted and the normative. It should not just be an object but respond to the context, culture and environment. In parallel, I feel we need to be involved in academia, we need to be involved in research. They constantly feed each other, it goes both ways. To make ourselves relevant in a society so that people respect us as a profession we need to reinstall our value by dealing with real problems, real materials.
On the future of architecture in the next 5–10 years
We live in an age of information dominated by images, hashtags and selfies. It surely has made society more complex as quantity of information has multiplied. In such a time and space when and where the virtual has become as important as the real, the physical environment I believe has much more responsibility. The physical, the tactile and the sensorial needs to challenge the imagerial. And architecture has a huge role in that. Also architecture is a social project. Apart from the rhetoric of Koolhaas and the excess of Gehry we also need Aravena’s socialism, Zumthors Poetics and Herzog’s Materiality to make ourselves relevant as social practitioners and make an impact.
Manifestations of technology will play a key role. Not only in terms of the obvious which is integrating computational processes, automation in design and fabrication and advanced engineering; but also a sublime interpretation of technology which I am interested in. Technology in terms of technique, craft, and material processes.
As architects we are dealing with internal and external forces that influence our design. Knowledge about these forces help develop an informed intuitive process. I feel architects that are beyond style make a bigger impact because you are not bound to your inhibitions. You should be doing things that are relevant and appropriate for that scenario.
We need to get involved, be active and not reactive. Theory is important as it helps you situate your work and formulate a methodology but we need to know how to build more than theorise. The way I think of it is you cannot write the Kamasutra by being a Virgin.
On advice he would give his younger self
Be informed, be conscious and be excited. Never be bored and always dream with your eyes wide open. Be well rounded and engage in critical thinking about all aspects of life and society. Develop creative hobbies and pursue it well. Know what you truly love to do. Be sure if architecture and design is something you really want to pursue more than anything else. Make it your obsession. It needs to be cultivated and protected against all odds. Let it be your pain and antidote at the same time. It is never easy and it can be and will be tough but you need to protect it with your life.