SIDDHARTH BATHLA: A DESIGN ODYSSEY
Architecture + Design|September 2021
Architect Siddharth Bathla hopes that his oeuvre will expand the compositional repertoire available to future designers to cope with the increasing complexities of design.
SEEMA SREEDHARAN

We met architect and designer Siddharth Bathla at the magnificent corridors of the National Museum of Red Fort. Working with spaces that come with a legacy brings with it the burden of expectations. But for Bathla, whose oeuvre includes museums, places with historical value and other public projects, this is not new. His impressive repertoire includes the Museum of Socialism, Subhash Chandra Bose Museum, the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind Museum, among many others. “The contemporary design strategy of the Red Fort Visitor Centre had to live up to the fortress’s multi-layered history while being valid for today’s function,” explains Bathla. The design intervention is subtle; it navigates the building’s legacy with ease. In the process, it enhances the human experience and creates a new legacy for the country to cherish and remember. It’s a challenging narrative to articulate; create something for the present, talk about the past, and stay relevant in the future. Bathla executes this deftly. For someone who is rewriting a little piece of history with every project he takes on, Bathla is rather unpretentious. His work is eloquent enough. We were curious about his creative journey, and he was willing to oblige. Here, we give you an insight into Bathla’s life in design.

THE BIRTH OF AN ARCHITECT

Ask him about his first tryst with design, and he says, “Life through design has been a journey for me. As a designer I don’t restrain myself from getting into a silo of being an architect, product designer, or scenographer. It was intuitive to be able to associate with all the creative things happening around me during childhood, be it art class, extracurricular events, or travelling extensively. As I remember, I always wanted to be a designer designing everything and anything. This took me to pursue an architecture course at Uttar Pradesh Technical University, then to Industrial Design from IIT Kanpur and to the Product Programme at Aalto University, Finland.”

“The architecture course made me realise that I was at the right place, gave me the rigour to create and the perseverance to take them along. Industrial design taught me the design process and how design is multidisciplinary. Aalto University taught me the power of teamwork and collaboration. Design is an intuitive yet a process-driven, non-linear, non-silo and collaborative process—an awakening leading to a designer’s birth in me.”

INFLUENCES AND INSPIRATIONS: THE ADVENT OF HIS DESIGN ODYSSEY

Bathla was always drawn towards the multidisciplinary aspect of design. “Observing the works of Charles and Ray Eames brought me closer to the nuances of design. I am highly inspired by the duo, known for their disruptive contributions to architecture, furniture design, industrial design, graphic design, manufacturing, and the photographic arts,” says the architect as he talks about this approach evident in the various projects including the Museum of Socialism, where he designed the elements of the building to exhibits to furniture to graphics to films.

Designers like Achille Castiglioni and Massimo Vignelli too left a deep impression on Bathla. “They designed everything — from buildings to housewares and furniture to public signage systems. A significant part of learning comes from the Bauhaus movement, which corresponds to a logical and contemporary way of life. It was a ‘thought’ and not a place that is so valid even after 100 years.”

“Influences in later years came from studios like Archohm and Fabrique. Architect Sourabh Gupta’s approach to design in practical lines and Indian context, with an approach of designing cities to chairs has been deeply inspiring. Designer Jeroen Van Erp’s approach to mixing intuition with the process says that process is to free you, not fix you. What I have adapted with time is the sense of storytelling—storytelling in space. The works of practices like Atelier Bruckner and Kossmann Dejong too are very engaging.”

DESIGNING MUSEUMS: CHALLENGES AND COMPLEXITIES

Talking about some of his most intellectually stimulating work, he says, “I cannot pick a particular project but a lot of parts of different projects and at varying scales.” With his work, he intends to understand and solve the complexities of a system ranging from urban space to joining detail.

“Museums are far more than what we perceive—they can be a piece of furniture telling a story to an urban space like the ghats of Varanasi. They all have layers of function, and they are all a work of art. When it comes to museums in the actual scenario, storytelling takes a giant leap.”

With projects like the ghats of Varanasi, Taj Ganj redevelopment or the Hussainabad project, Bathla illustrates his nuanced approach to social architecture. Or the museums—the recently completed Red Fort Center and the Subhash Chandra Bose Museums, where he navigates the intersection of legacy, contemporary architecture, the art of storytelling, and the science of human experience and engagement deftly. “With the Museum of Socialism, we have acquired the most ambitious aspirations in terms of visual language, scenography, lighting design, and installations. From the nest of details, everything critically preserves the character of Jayaprakash Narayan and slyly takes the visitors back in time to deliberate, act, or retreat with the eternal messages by him.”

“With every museum, one needs to focus on the basics of context, services, materials, colour, scale and proportions as the first layer. The second layer comes with a vision of what the content is and who will perceive it. It gets more and more complex as we go deeper into the project.”

DESIGN SIGNATURE AND MATERIAL OBSESSION

Design is a process of self-satisfaction and user satisfaction. For him, both are varied but go hand in hand. He insists that one needs to understand the user experience before designing anything. “The design signature is the outcome, and it is constantly evolving. In our design, we believe that content is the king and everything else takes a secondary stage. This defines our choice of materials too—the materials come with a narrative.”

“For instance, the porous lime plaster that breathes. One needs to make it by hand using age-old sustainable materials. It includes lime, surkhi (powdered bricks), stalls of jute, bail water and Badarpur sand. It ages with the changing weather to provide a robust, archaic yet beautiful contemporary appearance. We have used it at the Red Fort Center and national museum extensively.

Corten steel is resilient in nature. It changes in appearance and narrative every year, every hour, every second. The whole Varanasi Ghats redevelopment is done with Corten steel. With atmospheric corrosion, it forms a protective and rustic layer on its surface that ages with time.

Mild steel is as raw as one can get with internal strength to support structures, installations, and mechanics. We use it to make kinetic sculptures to CNC cut dioramas to furniture.

Glass is preferred for its play of reflections, refractions and visibility. We used it for various installations with depth; this material provides another visual space inside an existing one. This can be experienced at the Nirbhik Subhas, Victoria Memorial Calcutta. Here, the experience commences with a mirror installation housing the statue of Queen Victoria at the central dome. The mirror acts as a metaphor for the visitors to ‘withdraw with the reflective perspectives, look back again, and rearm Bose’s views’.”

ARCHITECTURE: AS AN ANTIDOTE TO THE POST-PANDEMIC WORLD

Disorder and determination. Exhaustion and extensibility. Variants and vaccines. The pandemic has challenged every aspect of our lives. Can design save the world? To this oft-asked question, he responds, “More than anything else, the pandemic has also given rise to an unstoppable spirit of unity and resilience, perhaps more in the design and architecture industry, the primary building blocks of society and our future. This opportunity has risen from the need; we should look at it with a sense of pragmatism and derive solutions that rise to the challenge of this new paradigm.” He concedes that architects and designers can best meet the search for optimism by creating cities and spaces that meet our most fundamental needs: Reconnection, responsiveness, and responsibility.

It is a process-based approach undergoing research and analysis, conceptualization, detail design, and execution. I believe that getting to the root of issues, analyzing problems from all possible angles, and applying systematic design thinking approaches that are refreshingly creative yet rational, seek to create meaningful design experiences for the end-users. These experiences may be registered consciously through actual usage or subconsciously through emotional responses; the intent eventually should be to shape a better world.”

THE ‘FORM FOLLOWS CONTENT’ NARRATIVE

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM ARCHITECTURE + DESIGNView All

A World-Class Hospital With Hotel-Like Looks

Project: Waldkliniken Eisenberg, Germany, Architects: Matteo Thun & Partners, Italy The largest orthopedic facility in Germany, the Waldkliniken Eisenberg has a design language scripted by Italian architect Matteo Thun that combines the aesthetics of hospitality with the requirements of healthcare

3 mins read
Architecture + Design
September 2021

Fluidity in Design

Project: House by the Bailucchi, Genoa, Italy Architects: llabb, Genoa, Italy Designed by the young studio llabb, this apartment for a young couple reflects the dynamics of contemporary art intertwined with everyday life

4 mins read
Architecture + Design
September 2021

A Visual Reconnection of the Old with the New

Project: Corten Ribbon Architects: Form4 Architecture, San Francisco A sculptural gateway to social exchange, the Corten Ribbon along with other renovations by Form4 Architecture breathe new life into a half-century old commercial structure

3 mins read
Architecture + Design
September 2021

PRASHASTI CHANDRA: ON DESIGNING FOR EVERYDAY

The designer seeks inspiration from everything around her, and creates objects that add a layer of storytelling to your everyday life.

5 mins read
Architecture + Design
September 2021

SIDDHARTH BATHLA: A DESIGN ODYSSEY

Architect Siddharth Bathla hopes that his oeuvre will expand the compositional repertoire available to future designers to cope with the increasing complexities of design.

10+ mins read
Architecture + Design
September 2021

An Abstract Space with Subtle Elements of Uncertainty

Project: Yoga Garden and Art Gallery, Brno, Czech Republic; Architects: RO_AR Szymon Rozwalka architects, Czech Republic An open dialogue in which the new and old coexist, this project is a conscious attempt to defy the expectations from a yoga studio and an art gallery in the conventional design sense

3 mins read
Architecture + Design
September 2021

A sanctuary amidst an urban jungle

Project: The Red Oasis, Pune Architects: PMA Madhushala, Pune Showcasing the versatility of the local brick, the Red Oasis by PMA madhushala is a transformative space of interaction and wellbeing in a packed neighbourhood

3 mins read
Architecture + Design
September 2021

Carved into Contours

Project: Art & Innovation Hub at Agastya International Foundation, Guddivanka, Andhra Pradesh Architects: Mistry Architects, Karnataka With this project, the architects make an attempt to understand the ‘language of the land’ and built an ensemble that effortlessly merges with its context.

3 mins read
Architecture + Design
September 2021

A Smart Transit Transformation

Project: Re-Development of Tirupati Railway Station Architects: GPM Architects & Planners, New Delhi The architectural style of the project is inspired by the Dravidian style of architecture creating a sense of belongingness.

3 mins read
Architecture + Design
September 2021

A Prototype for Affordable Healthcare

Project: Mohalla Clinics, Delhi Architects: Architecture Discipline, Delhi Architect Akshat Bhatt proposes a cost-effective solution to bring affordable medical services to vulnerable communities.

3 mins read
Architecture + Design
September 2021
RELATED STORIES

E8 Caste and the Indian Tech Ivies

IIT grads are highly sought after in Silicon Valley. Are they bringing deep-rooted prejudices with them?

10+ mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
March 15, 2021

Purvanchal key to BJP poll strategy after farm unrest, Lakhimpur row

PM Modi’s second trip to the region within five days shows its importance in UP elections

2 mins read
The New Indian Express Chennai
October 26, 2021

PM Launches ₹64k-cr Health Infra Mission

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday launched the Ayushman Bharat Health Infrastructure Mission worth ₹64,000 crore in his parliamentary constituency Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, to address gaps and strengthen the critical health care network from village and block to the district and national level in the next four to five years.

1 min read
Business Standard
October 26, 2021

The DAWN is NIGH

Varanasi may be best known for its ethereal ghats and boat rides on the River Ganga, but its svelte lanes are brimming with culinary specialties and unique silk saris. Set out on a fine morning to sample these and discover just how much the pandemic has affected local businesses.

5 mins read
Discover India
September - October 2021

What the nose knows not

Losing my sense of smell makes me appreciate how essential it was

4 mins read
The Times of India Mumbai
October 10, 2021

आध्यात्मिक-सांस्कृतिक विरासत का केन्द्र बनेगा काशी

प्रधानमंत्री नरेन्द्र मोदी और उत्तर-प्रदेश के मुख्यमंत्री योगी आदित्यनाथ ने धर्मिक पर्यटन का जो स्वरूप बदला है, उससे अयोध्या के बाद बनारस में भी पर्यटन बढ़ेगा। वैसे भी काशी विश्वनाथ के मन्दिर की गिनती बारह ज्योतिलिंगों में शामिल है।

1 min read
Kendra Bharati - केन्द्र भारती
September 2021

THE TIMELESSNESS OF BLACK & WHITE STREET PHOTOGRAPHY

If you go through the pictures of the greats like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Vivian Maier, Robert Doisneau, Elliott Erwitt and others, you’ll realise there is an inimitable, classic quality to their pictures. And what’s the common thread linking them? The pictures clicked by these greats exude the timeless quality that comes through the black & white medium. When you extend the power of B&W to street photography, you can create impactful images that transport the viewer onto a cloud of nostalgia. You draw their eye directly to your subject, without letting them get misled by any kind of distractions. If you too want to click timeless, classic pictures, it is time you tried your hand at black & white street photography!

4 mins read
Asian Photography
August 2021

The Acrobatic Line

Ganesh Haloi’s new work explores calligraphic flourishes and draws from the deep rhythms of the natural world, finds Anirudh Chari.

2 mins read
Art India
July 2021

VIKRAM GOYAL

A TREASURE TROVE OF ART, ANTIQUES AND HEIRLOOMS. ROOMS PAINTED IN BURGUNDY AND MINT GREEN, LAYERED IN BROCADES AND SILKS, DOTTED WITH FINIALS AND PEDESTALS. THIS CONTEMPORARY HAVELI IN LUTYENS’ DELHI HAS BEEN RESTORED BY VIKRAM GOYAL IN A SUMPTUOUS CELEBRATION OF CRAFTSMANSHIP.

4 mins read
AD Architectural Digest India
July - August 2021

मोदी की काशी होगी सेफ सिटी रात में भी बेखौफ रहें महिलाएं

वाराणसी में महिला सुरक्षा के खास इंतजाम किए जाएंगे। 50 करोड़ की लागत से वाराणसी में महिलाओं की सुरक्षा के लिए सड़क से गंगा की लहरों तक पिंक पेट्रोलिंग से महिलाओं को सुरक्षा देगी। शहर में पिंक बूथ भी बनेंगे।

1 min read
Haribhoomi Delhi
June 17, 2021