Every young architect is on a continual quest to find their voice – to design with an architectural language that is uniquely theirs. This language is usually a culmination of all that has influenced said architect’s life – education, family, travel, philosophy, beliefs, and mentors – to name a few. It is incredibly exciting to watch the growth of an architect through their projects, as one can often see their understanding of architecture reflect in their work.
In this 40-minute keynote presentation for the 7th VELUX Daylight Symposium in Berlin in 2017, titled “Using Natural Light as a Tool for Creating a strong Architectural narrative”, Omar Gandhi, of ‘Omar Gandhi Architect’, talks about his introduction to the field of architecture, his projects through the years, and his guiding principles for the design process of his projects.
With a young practice of about ten years, Gandhi has already made a place for himself in the architecture field, and won several prominent accolades – he has been recognized as one of 2016’s ‘Emerging Voices’ by the Architectural League of New York, and the world’s top 20 young architects by Wallpaper* Magazine.
The Design Process of Omar Gandhi
Gandhi takes the audience through his years in Architecture school, where ‘making by hand’ – drawings, models, anything – was the norm and encouraged, and has been a great influence in how he practices today. His practice, which started out of an attic in Nova Scotia, over the years grew into two thriving studios in Nova Scotia and Toronto. As Gandhi talks about his projects, he explains the different principles that came into play in his designing process. The idea of having a specific design narrative or a ‘story’ about each project is one of the most important principles that his projects are rooted in – which becomes the project’s North Star in a way. The project’s particular site, context, and the people inhabiting or using the project play an equally important role in the design for Gandhi. All these principles in combination with his focus on the specific use of light and shadows are what brings his projects together.
Projects Through the Years
The studio has primarily worked on residential homes, with a few public projects, all located in Nova Scotia and Toronto. The clientele, however, is very diverse, yet Gandhi’s design language has been adapted to suit the various sites and client requirements in a remarkable manner. Gandhi explains that adaptation of a local precedent to the site context and conditions is how the studio’s design process basically starts.
Out of all the projects presented to the audience in the talk, some notable ones that immediately stood out were – Shantih, Sluice Point, and Float. All residential projects, and all uniquely exquisite. ‘Shantih’ was only his second project, but Gandhi was open to taking risks in suggesting demolition of the existing home to rebuild an entirely new one – an idea that the clients loved. The project’s concept of a mother’s loving arms nestling the family within its confines was followed through till the end, resulting in a family home that fulfilled both the needs, wants, and aspirations of the client. ‘Sluice Point’, built for a Swiss client, took precedent from ‘salt bales’ that were part of the region’s history and used it to develop a cottage that looked like it grew out from the surrounding landscape. ‘Float’ took Gandhi’s experimentation of building forms that looked completely part of their natural environment further, where the residence was designed to have varying levels within the interiors, to mimic the natural topography of the surroundings.
Takeaways From the Talk
There is a lot to learn from Omar Gandhi’s talk about his practice and his outlook towards design and architecture in this day and age. His designs are modest, simple, and honest – in terms of their concept, design, and materiality. However, in Norman Foster‘s words, “It takes a lot of effort to make a building look effortless.” Gandhi’s design process of starting with a precedent, and then exploring design strategies and developing it further through parti diagrams and simple model studies, is clearly effective and helps them to stay true to their original narrative for the project.
Gandhi’s work is rooted strongly in its site and region, which results in projects that would not work anywhere else except that very site. The interplay of light and shadows and the choreography of light and views in the projects are thoughtful and carefully planned for specific purposes – like to highlight spaces or incite particular emotions. The meticulous labor of creating something unique with every project is truly admirable, and a quality that has had an immensely positive impact on his practice.
Gandhi’s works are essentially in Nova Scotia and Toronto and have followed a similar design language adapted from the local regions. It will be exciting to see Gandhi’s work in different locations like New York, Mumbai, or Brisbane, and how his design ideologies would translate to those environments.