Come October and Melbourne will be home to India’s celebrated architect Bijoy Jain’s creation for the MPavilion 2016. Jain talks about the philosophy behind the project in particular and his works in general.
At a time when designs are all about gloss and brazenness, Bijoy Jain does something that most architects don’t do or talk about. He believes in humility, care and love as the facets that sustain his works. Little surprise then why Jain’s body of works has achieved such a great reputation (more on that later).
Mumbai-based Jain has been invited by the Naomi Milgrom Foundation with support from City of Melbourne and the Victorian State Government to design a temporary pavilion for the Queen Victoria Gardens in the centre of Melbourne’s Southbank Arts Precinct. The pavilion will serve as an event hub for four months and Jain will be the third architect to be creating MPavilion in Melbourne this October. Inspired by London’s Serpentine Gallery Pavilion, Naomi Milgrom established MPavilion in 2014 as an annual event to reinforce Melbourne’s standing as a global leader in architecture and design.
Fascinated by Jain’s model around collaborations with local craftsmen and other resources in his Studio Mumbai, it was last year when Naomi Milgrom asked Jain if he would be interested in creating the MPavilion in Melbourne. Jain’s idea of collaboration, according to Milgrom, is a creative collectiveness and one that aligns with the vision of the Foundation. It was an invitation Jain gladly accepted.
Jain has come up with his idea of the pavilion, which he says, is symbolic of a gathering space for celebration. “Like the Durga Puja or any of the festivities in India when people come together, there is a sense of ritual not in a religious sense but in an agnostic sense for me. It is an open field and it is about sharing or communicating an empathy that goes beyond the culture of Australia or India, something that we all universally share.”
The pavilion will be a 12-metres high bamboo structure which will be built by making a bore deep into the ground, explains Jain during his recent visit to Melbourne to release the design of the pavilion. The bore is an intrinsic and key design element which in some ways goes and connects with the original settlers or the aboriginals. “Once I make contact, at that point we use the sky as the other reference point. Everything that sits in between – all cultures, all civilizations, and all kinds of time evolutions are contained in that.”
To understand the idea better, Jain takes the example of the rock, which in India assumes significance the moment some people start painting it with vermillion, while some others put flowers on it so that it gradually and slowly becomes an idea of an embodied energy. “It’s a form of evolution. So the pavilion here is a structure nearly like a mandap or a ceremonial space. It’s a framework in bamboo just like any scaffolding we have.”
The ceiling or the roof will be encased in red earth and the floor with local bluestone. Jain connects the idea of ground, sky and earth. “So the surface we are on is the one that contains us. In that everybody, be it indigenous or the aboriginals or any one is held; it is a shared universal space. MPavilion would be a place where the heart, mind and body are all connected.”
Part of the structure will be built in Mumbai and will be completed only when it is assembled on the site here in Melbourne. Although some of the materials are coming from India, Jain believes in looking at materials that exist everywhere. In fact, this approach best showcases Jain’s commitment to sustainability. Bamboo, earth, stone and ropes will be used in realising the structure. Jain, known for displaying empathy in his creations, says, “The choice of the materials is about being as close to possible as to what makes us. In this way, you can develop a relationship via sight, sound, smell and condition, which in turn, becomes a way of caring.”
Jain’s approach is more an emotional response or more a way of life, which is what attracted Milgrom to his works, thereby finding in him an exceptional talent for collaboration.
It is this emotional response that finds expression in Jain’s architecture. “The only thing that truly sustains us is love,” he reflects. “If I take that idea and what is embodied in that, it’s more the symbolic gesture of the hand. When we are born, the moment we came into life the first thing that touched us before even sound came out was the touch of the hand. And for me it’s the transmission of what is passing through at that moment that goes from me to someone else, the time continuum of that. So the idea of the hand here is more a representation of transmission of an ethos, of a value that we’ve always had and always will. And that is the only one thing that will sustain us. So for me sustainability is about that transmission, it’s about care.”
After graduating from Washington University in Saint Louis, and working in the US and England, Jain returned to India in 1995 to start his own practice. “I returned to India to understand my own centre. I like the sheer diversity of India. Like a capacitor in an electrical field, it stores and contains energy. It’s the last vestige in my view of an idea of a collective culture of diversity.”
In 2005, he set up Studio Mumbai developing a body of work that continues to reference aspects of both Indian and Western cultures. “What sets the studio apart is a brilliant combination of tradition and modernity. Local resources and Indian craftsmanship form the basis for highly contemporary architectural designs. The architecture of Studio Mumbai shows a deep concern for the relationship between man and nature and insists on the importance of the genius loci.”
Jain’s famous Palmyra House (Nandgaon, 2007), was shortlisted for the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2010, and projects such as Leti 360 Resort (Uttaranchal, 2007), Copper House II (Chondi, 2011), collectively helped Studio Mumbai win the BSI Swiss Architectural Award (2012) for their “sensitivity to landscape, environmental and social context.” He has had exhibitions at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum and the Venice Biennale. Some of his original ideas include the Palmyra House that he built for industrialist Anand Mahindra in 2007.
Asked what is important in design at the moment, Jain thoughtfully goes back to his dreamy jargon and uses words such as love and care again. “The best way I can explain is: when your mom makes you a meal, that for me is good design because of the experience of what you experience. The word for it is care. That’s what she is transmitting in making you that meal. We use our senses of touch, smell, sound etc., to understand space. So that space that she inhabits is transferred to you through taste. For me that is design. How you take that and relate it architecture is in instilling within you a certain sense of infinite. So architecture for me is an extension of the human body. Say, you have a good pair of shoes but it does not fit, it is going to be uncomfortable. If it fits well there is a sense of it being an extension of your feet. The closer it is to you, the more precise it is in design. I think all creativity springs from something much bigger than us and goes beyond us. It has something to do with the idea of an infinite.”
Jain’s explanation is generous and his advice to young architects is to be open, to be in humility and to care. “Three words that I like are affection, restrain and manner (a state of being). Restrain is how to resist applying force in thoughtful manner that allows me to interact with you, so affection can enable restrain. The three are interlinked in acquiring a qualitative space. For me that’s what I would endeavour to achieve.”
In his constant search for creativity, Jain is drawn to an angle of repose. “That means a state of rest. So yes, naturally, the winds blow, there is rain, storm, sunshine, but somewhere in all of that movement you can be in a state of rest when you are able to absorb and participate with that movement. Of course with the wind blowing too hard you might be moved a little bit, but the idea of search is to move back and come back to the centre. The search is something that brings you back to the centre. For me that is a difficult exercise, it is something that we are all confronted with. How it relates to architecture is in the way architecture has the capacity to be in a state of rest when it is aligned truly to gravity. At the end of the day we are dealing with gravity.”
Jain, who has visited Melbourne earlier in 2008, observes it is fluid city but one that contains hope. Rest assured, the city will be witness to Jain’s ardent message of empathy in the MPavilion and his endeavour to do things with care when October comes.

(The MPavilion will open to the
public from October 4)

By Indira Laisram