From the Mecca of Indian Modernism- Charged Voids | Dialogues | Future Trajectories

In extension to the Future Trajectories series, Charged Voids reminisces about their journey in a conversation with Megha Pande.

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We have now reached Chandigarh, as we expand the narrative introduced by the Future Trajectories: Promising Architectural Practices of India series and uncover the stories that young Architectural practices of India have experienced since establishment.

Location: Chandigarh
Founder: Aman Aggarwal
Year of Establishment: 2008

Established in 2008 by Chandigarh-born and bred Aman Aggarwal, Charged Voids epitomises the core Chandigarh-Architectural style. Principally, the firm’s architectural language is an amalgam of Western Modernism and elements of Indian architecture; a conversation with the firm’s Principal Architect and Founder, Aman Aggarwal, introduced us to the side of the practice involved in vernacular building techniques. Revisiting experiences and sharing anecdotes, Aman talks about how architecture should be sensible first and foremost, why an architect should be out of the building after building and narrates a young BV Doshi’s ‘relatable’ and literal instance of putting ‘Architecture on a pedestal’.

From the Mecca of Indian Modernism- Charged Voids | Dialogues | Future Trajectories 1
Charged Voids Founder and Principal Architect, Aman Aggarwal

Reminiscing the beginning

establishment: on basing the practice in Chandigarh

A fresher architect and an unplanned practice! For Aman, while establishing a practice was unplanned, being based out of Chandigarh was equally obvious. What started with a few small-scale projects led to an award-winning firm inspired by Le Corbusier’s core principles in Le Corbusier’s city.

I was born and brought up in Chandigarh and did my graduation from Chandigarh College of Architecture. Corbusier’s buildings, which I have had the fortune of being associated with, influenced me. I used to visit the Capitol Complex almost every day.

So, Architecture has always attracted and impressed me.

I experienced it so much that it was natural for me to take up architecture.

I was clear about being based out of Chandigarh because this is the city where I belong. I have always been uncomfortable in larger cities like Delhi and Mumbai.

Chandigarh is one of the most prolifically cited examples in Indian Architecture. Architects and architecture enthusiasts from all over the world visit the city that introduced Independent India to Modernism. But, as a resident, did Aman ever experience Chandigarh with the ‘awe’ of an architect?

I experienced the city as a typical resident. Chandigarh has always been and still is a very liveable city. I remember observing all the pollution and getting stuck in traffic jams when I was young and would travel to Delhi and Bombay. Chandigarh, on the other hand, was much cleaner and more organised.

From a resident’s point of view, the quality of life in a city precedes the understanding of architecture. And, I believe Chandigarh does a great job in allowing us to build as a city.

Chandigarh was a conscious choice, a private practice wasn’t.

I had never thought of establishing a practice. Nor did I have a clear plan on how I wanted to proceed. After graduating, I took a sabbatical to travel. Eventually, I got a couple of projects. One thing led to another, and the journey just went on.

And thus was established Charged Voids! The name’s origin is a story on its own.

To concise what is a long story, I am enamoured with empty spaces and spaces that move us and transient us to a different world altogether. These spaces or voids, and their ability to ignite, led to the name ‘Charged Voids’.

Significant experiences

interning with Vastu Shilpa Consultants

As a student, Aman did his internship with Vastu Shilpa Consultants. Working under Architects BV Doshi and Rajeev Kathpalia, the internship experience shaped his perspective and ideology.

As a student, I had the opportunity to intern with BV Doshi sir and Rajeev Kathpalia sir. The internship shaped my ideology and thought process regarding architecture.

My time at Vastu Shilpa made me realise what I have been experiencing all my life- I have lived in Corbusier’s buildings!

As an intern, Aman once asked Mr BV Doshi a question that every young architect or architecture student would probably have. And the response would make the average architect relate more to one of India’s greatest architects.

I had once asked BV Doshi sir a question. When you are young you want to be famous, you want to be a star architect.

I asked him what was it that made him famous. He laughed and told me that when he started his practice, he built the Institute of Indology almost on a pedestal so everyone could see. In stark contrast and irony, when he thought he was at the fag end of his career, he built the Hussain-Doshi Gufa, where the architecture almost vanished into the ground. 

In Focus

architect-client-resources

Listening to Aman narrate his conversation with Mr BV Doshi made me recall the few incidents I have noticed of non-architects remarking on the egoistic quality of an architect, often wondering if that stereotype stands true for our community.

A lot of architects are not ready to listen. As architects, we have a responsibility towards society, the clients, the users and especially the resources- money, time, and labour. We have to act responsibly.

The day you finish a building, regardless of how it looks, it is not a good building if the users are uncomfortable. It is not good architecture if we create a space that the users want to escape- to satisfy our creative ego.

So, let go of the ego and listen to people. When we do that, it would be a process that everyone would find relatable.

The architect, I believe, after finishing the project, should be out of the project. The project shouldn’t be identified by the architect’s name but by how people interact with the space.

users and placemaking

People perceive a space in different ways. Often the usage of space as envisioned by the architect is different from the actual use by the user. Charged Voids had one such instance with a hostel project, one of their initial large-scale projects, the firm’s Principal Architect fondly recalls.

Initially, as with most young practices, you start with small interiors or private residences. But as a young practice, it is exciting when you graduate to doing large-scale architecture, public architecture.

You think of certain things because you do not know the actual user. You would envision them using the space in a specific way, but the users can own it differently.


Like, for a hostel project, my idea was to design a place where you could walk around inside the building instead of dingy corridors- like moving through a garden where you can take multiple routes to reach the same place. It is satisfying to see the actual users using the space designed by you. I had designed one such corridor envisioning students using the space for studies. Instead, it was being used to play cricket! Inside the hostel! And, I realized this is what Indians do- they can set up games in any space. It resembled a gully within the space. So, it is interesting how users find their way of utilizing/ looking at a space. I would say this opportunity to work on large public spaces is fascinating me right now.  

on the challenges faced with large-scale projects

The Practice is currently involved in several large-scale projects.

We are doing a couple of university campuses right now. With large projects, it becomes challenging because you have a small project, and then there is a 500 acres masterplan. Doing University campuses is challenging for me because you also have to address several other elements such as climatology, sustainability guidelines, and the evolution of spaces. Also, Post Pandemic, things have changed.

the connect between human and space

The Pandemic gave users the opportunity to observe their built surroundings.

Maybe Covid gave people the time to introspect, away from the continuous hustle-bustle, but I still see them back to their Pre-Pandemic use of space.

The bottom line in architecture is that we should understand that humans are a part of nature. As long as we can experience nature, architecture will be successful- good lighting, ventilation, outdoor spaces where you can sit, or transitional spaces that are part-indoor and part-outdoor- blurring the lines between interior and exterior. People experience such spaces, and this experience is what I am after. In this world where everyone is electronically stimulated- with a phone, a laptop or some form of technology- we stop experiencing buildings and spaces. So, architecture should play that role where you design spaces so powerful that you can let go of this continuous electronic stimulation.

modernism

Charged Voids project, Residence 568- a fusion of Western Modernism and Indian architecture

The practice’s architectural style is an amalgam of Western Modernism and Indian architecture. But, at the same time, Charged Voids gives equal importance to each project’s local context.

Our project approach changes with the context- my work is very contextual and sensitive to where we are building.

It cannot be one approach that fits everywhere. Architecture has to be sensible, it has to stay.

We are doing some projects in Himachal using traditional methods of construction. In one of our projects in Naldehra, a beautiful hilltop, we are not using a single bag of cement.

Human aspirations are destroying nature everywhere. So, you have to be sensitive to where you are building and what you are building.

Now that the project is mid-way, the client has also realized our vision. We are quarrying on the site, using the same stone along with sand mortar, lime mortar and traditional forms of construction like Dhajji.

I am not envisioning building anything aspirational or doing something that stands out. I want to build sensible architecture. It is not about the style. It is about practising sensible architecture- architecture that is precise, architecture that is experiential.

We must understand that as architects, while we have to be artists, we also have a commitment toward the client and the resources behind building a project. So, if architecture is sensible, that people immediately get attached to or can identify with, it stays for a long time.

Experimenting is okay- you can think carefully about what you are trying to achieve. I do not mean that we shouldn’t look forward, but I certainly do not want to let go of our roots or ways of life.

The Practice’s Evolution

From a young practice that saw organic establishment to having concrete values and beliefs, Charged Voids has come a long way since 2008. After nearly 15 years post-establishment, Charged Voids remains equally enthusiastic about creating meaningful and sensible spaces.

As a young practice, at the time of establishment, you do not have a clear idea of what you want, your goal as an architect, and what you are hoping to find. I have come to realise, after working for over a decade, that this search is what is guiding me- trying to find that perfect space and atmosphere. I think that is the evolution where we are trying to explore designing and built forms- you can take that experiential quality to the helm.  

Looking back, I have had my share of mistakes. I would have liked to do a less number of projects than I did when I first started. I could have started a few years later than I did- I started very early without experience. We can always say that a few things could have been approached differently, but I feel everything is going fine.


About the Practice

Charged Voids was established to explore the possibilities of a transcendent and spiritual character in architecture. Founded by Aman Aggarwal, the work of the award-winning Chandigarh-based practice is underpinned by a purposeful dialogue between Western modernism and elements of Indian architecture. Inspired by Corbusier’s core principles, their unique architectural approach derives from a critical examination of the times we live in and the ecological and environmental factors that shape our collective experiences.


From the Co-ordinator’s desk

Future Trajectories | Dialogues was envisioned to look at India’s young architectural practices beyond their projects. As the series coordinator, I wanted to put a voice to the work that, time and again, has impressed our senior community of architects with their, as Gautam Bhatia once mentioned, ‘bold and risk-taking ideology’. As a young architect belonging to the latest generation of architects- I was curious. Curious about the thought process behind the establishment of each practice, about the doubts and the struggles that they faced and continue to, and the humble beginnings that led to these practices having an impact.

I have interviewed several practices at this point- each conversation excited me as a coordinator to share their story and left me inspired as an architect by their approach and passion. I have had conversations with architects educated from top Indian and Global Architectural schools who have re-established themselves in their humble towns and cities, architects who once led global MNCs and have returned to their roots, and architects so committed to their craft that they provide plans without charging those who can’t afford them.

These stories need not necessarily be extravagant. It is the relatability that gives them their appeal. We have spoken with Practices from different corners of the country and, proceeding forward, hope to include practices from every corner and every city tier of India.

If you are a young architect/ a young architectural practice based in India and want to be a part of our dialogue series, CLICK HERE

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