Rajat Sodhi is a Director at Orproject, an architecture and design practice set up in 2006, with offices in London, Beijing and New Delhi. Orproject’s work explores advanced geometries with an ecologic agenda, the integration of natural elements into the design results in an eco-narrative. Rajat received his diploma from the AA in London in 2007 and the DRL masters in 2009. He has worked with 1-to-One for Herzog & de Meuron, Foster + Partners, Morphogenesis Architecture Studio and Le Groupe Arcop. His interest lies in developing computational geometry and exploring material formations inspired by nature’s inherent optimizations. Recently, Modelo had the opportunity to learn about Rajat’s philosophy and unique approach to design.
On becoming an architect
I grew up in New Delhi in a family of architects and artists. My earliest memory as an eight year old is of sitting on the drafting board next to my parents while they frantically shifted the parallel bar around with set squares, stencils and Staedtler stationary. I wondered what the fuss was all about, as I tried to understand how lines drawn on paper translated into buildings many months later. This connection between drawing and building — its translation into three dimensional spaces made up of materials enchanted me as a kid. I wondered if I sneaked and changed the lines, would the buildings change too?
I graduated from the Sushant School of Art and Architecture in Gurgaon. After working for a few years in New Delhi and getting my license, I moved to London to study at the Architectural Association where I graduated with the Diploma and a Masters from the Design Research Laboratory.
I worked as a computational geometry consultant for Herzog & de Meuron on the Elbphilarmonie in Hamburg and later at Foster and Partners in London. These practices enabled me to work on projects designed using computationally developed geometries and realize them using state of the art construction methods.
I moved back to India five years ago, and started Orproject with my partners in London and Beijing. We explore forms through computational design and develop them for their structural, material and spatial potential. Working across from China to United Kingdom, I feel we are part of a global architectural office and are getting the opportunity to do some great projects.
On his influences throughout his career
I’ve been influenced by many architects over the years. As a student, I was intrigued by the writings of Peter Eisenman and Bernard Tschumi. When I travelled to Europe and the US, I had saw the work of modernists like Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier — who still largely influence architecture schools in India today. During my time at the Architectural Association, I studied buildings by Peter Zumthor and Herzog & de Meuron whose work I admire for their unexpected use of material and innovative architectural detailing. These architects and practices built their projects with a lot of love and care — and it is this quality that inspires me the most. While these qualities are not explicitly present in their buildings, yet at an atmospheric level, one can sense the clarity in materializing an idea and a love for building architecture.
Other than architects, I am influenced by classical music. I am still moved when I listen to Glenn Gould’s or Karajan’s renditions of Bach’s symphonies. The structure of music allows me to imagine small variations and mutations that create beauty in repetition over time and I find myself writing algorithms while listening to them.
On the beginnings of Orproject
We setup Orproject as a research-based practice in 2006 in London. Back then, we wrote computational algorithms that simulated venation growth. The first project, Or1 was built in Milan using a minimal surface that stretched over a courtyard and descended into it in a column-like form. It was built using photochromic plastic that changed colour from white to blue as a reaction to ultraviolet radiation in sunlight. During the day, as the sun moved across the courtyard, the gradation of the colour intensified in the areas that received direct light and filled the courtyard below with a blue-ish glow.
This responsiveness of the form and material to its environment is what we call an ecological narrative. For us, it is an alternative way of looking at sustainability where the intelligence is embedded in the design instead of adding solar panels on the roof.
Over the years, the venation growth algorithms have become more intelligent. The current algorithm can negotiate site-specific requirements and the tree-like forms are structurally efficient. For example, the installation Vana in New Delhi consists of four tree-like columns that converge to create the ceiling. Instead of making the installation stand up, we decided to hang it down and use 150 gsm Ivory paper to build it. Since paper cannot take compression and would crumple, we could locate areas of compression and adjust the geometry to make it perform purely under tension — which is similar to how Gaudi developed the design for Sagrada Familia using hanging models. By doing so, we are able to add material and structural behavior of a geometry into the algorithm and simulate how these forms would behave when made to stand up.
These projects have defined the firm’s structure as a contemporary research-based practice. We work through design ideas in three stages — algorithmic design, prototyping and building. Today, we have a number of research agenda, in different stages of incubation and we are building them across the world. What started as three architects sitting in an apartment in London, has evolved into a global practice with twenty five designers across three countries. We were lucky to have the support of many people and organizations who helped us realize our “crazy” ideas and trusted us with their projects. And to say it as the English do, we are doing “not too bad”.
On Orproject’s evolution
Over the years, Orproject has evolved in three ways. Firstly, we have developed our early algorithms and made them more sophisticated. One can see this evolution from Or1 to Vana to Bubbles where the original venation growth algorithm has adapted to programmatic requirement. We have published papers documenting this research at various conferences and symposia.
Secondly, we have many more research agenda in the firm ranging from venation growth, cell division, mitosis and meiosis, formal sound analysis and material and construction systems. For instance, Anisotropia, or frozen music is an installation built for the China National Museum using formal sound analysis. While making this installation, we explored the potential of the geometry both as a structural system and a fenestration system that modulates transparency. We used this for our design for the Busan Opera House in South Korea, where a layered wall structure modulates the amount of sunlight into the building and provides sound insulation.
Lastly, by expanding the office across three countries, we are able to explore multiple agenda in different environments with an international team of colleagues and researchers. The experiences in China and India has led us to explore our social responsibility towards people and the urban environment. Our proposal Bubbles was driven by our right to breathe clean air and to create an infrastructure for cities that delivers clean air to its citizens. This international working ethos extends to highly collaborative projects such as Dynamorph which was designed across China, India and UK and built for the Venice Biennale.
On Current Projects
Currently we are building two installations in Beijing based on our research on cell division, mitosis and meiosis. The two installations will be built using colored polypropylene panels.
Bubbles is a light weight, large span envelope inspired from the structure of butterfly wings that covers a botanical park. In polluted cities in China and India, a structure such as this could be used to grow and sustain a biodiversity park that cleans air naturally, maintains a temperature of twenty four degrees using passive heating and cooling system and supplies clean air to the residents in its vicinity. The research on venation systems was used to create a large span minimal surface that optimizes structural and material costs and in the process create an iconic architectural landmark. We are now exploring opportunities to build this in the Middle East and South America as well as in countries with cold climates where the green cover disappears during winter such as Russia and Canada.
On the future of ORPROJECT
Orproject is a young company with all its directors under forty! We’ve come a long way from building small prototypes and working out of an apartment in London to realizing projects all over the world. We feel we have the right energy and structure in the office to drive more research, prototype and develop them into buildings. We publish and present this research work at various conferences that gives us a chance to have conversations with researchers who draw interesting parallels in their own work.
Our latest research agendum is promising. We are investigating new way to build buildings using natural materials without any waste. We feel the potential of this system could change how we design and build. By engineering material properties and construction techniques into the computational design process, we would like to build new forms in interesting ways.
We hope to attract talented designers and engineers from across the world to collaborate with us in our offices in China, India and the UK and share our love for architecture.