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Anthill Design: ‘We are becoming ever more sceptical of architectural concepts’

Anthill Design Pavilion

AR_EA India: Anthill Design

It was after the 2001 Gujarat earthquake that Riyaz Tayyibji decided to leave Mumbai and move to Ahmedabad – the city where he studied architecture – to work on housing reconstruction and projects with greater social implication. While income inequality is widening in the country, many practices are left with no other choice than to let commercial values prevail over social ones. But Ahmedabad remains a privileged spot for the Indian architecture scene – smaller in scale than the megalopolises of Delhi, Mumbai or Bengaluru, it does not suffer as much from economic pressures.

Following the masterpieces of Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn, Ahmedabad saw the pioneering work of the first generation of Indian modern architects. BV Doshi founded – and designed – the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology University, an institution that proved instrumental in bringing the architectural community together. Today, an unusual camaraderie perpetuates between practitioners and academics, encouraging architects to push the boundaries of experimentation. Anthill Design, founded in 2005, believes that the variety of its work wouldn’t really be possible elsewhere in the country. Their projects range from interior design to landscape interventions, from book writing to exhibition curation and from private houses to post-earthquake schools reconstruction. The founders also started AntWorks Furniture to design and manufacture building components and furniture pieces. The direct contact with materials, both in the process and in the final object, is fundamental to the young studio, which likes to work through projects with models and mock-ups.

Anthill Design’s Pavilion of Incremental Form

Anthill Design’s Pavilion of Incremental Form

Instead, the young architects see challenging client requirements, convoluted site geography, restricted material and financial resources as key drivers for design. In their Pavilion of Incremental Form (pictured opposite) built for graphic designer Hazel Karkaria as an annexe to her main residence, the client required an additional two floors to be added onto the current single-level studio. The structure’s simplicity speaks of the tight budget and rapid construction process while visually expressing the glass box’s ability to grow upwards – the slender and colourful steel columns connect to the roof’s concrete shells only through lateral connections. Reflecting the project’s embedded potential for evolution, the exoskeleton also makes visible the unfinished and open-ended character of the studio, giving the end users the ability to shape and adapt the space over time. ‘We believe that buildings must transcend their germinal ideas,’ says Tayyibji.

‘We believe that buildings must transcend their germinal ideas’

Working on projects across the country – in Alibag and Vadodara, Gurgaon and Kolkata, Mumbai, Umbergaon and Wardha – the architects face wide disparities in landscape, climate and culture. Engaging with context doesn’t have to exclude the ability for them to think about design and construction differently, aiming to help move architecture forward. And they seem to be proving that simplicity can become the greatest asset. ‘Our approach is consistent, it is the buildings that vary.’

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