Bijoy Jain is and Indian US-trained architect who spent the early years of his career in Los Angeles and London. He recalls those years as a time of personal pain, when he began to see everything that was possible but as yet remained beyond his ability to realize.
Upon returning to India to practice architecture, Jain found he needed a better way to communicate with the stone masons and carpenters, who often could not read an architectural plan. He added the construction of large-scale mockups to the design-build process, creating an inclusive, collaborative way for workers in different trades to handle materials, sketch out ideas and negotiate obstacles together.
Jain opened Studio Mumbai in 1995 and quickly gained attention, receiving the Global Award for Sustainable Architecture from L’Institut Francais D’Architecture in 2009 and the third BSI Swiss Architectural Award in 2012.
Presenting the Swiss award, noted Swiss architect Mario Botta praised the elevation of craft skills within Studio Mumbai at a time when the forces of globalization are so often interpreted as “a form of standardization rather than an opportunity for interaction and enrichment”.
In fact, it is just this elevation of those skills, using traditional labor pools and methods, that may best showcase Jain’s commitment to sustainability by avoiding the carbon cost of shipping in experts from abroad or even from across the country.
Jain has told the Wall Street Journal that architecture must be ethical and display empathy, but what that means in practical terms isn’t easily prescribed. Each individual must discover their own “unit of measure”, he says.
“It’s not just a technical measure, it’s also an emotional measure. To find that, you sort of set certain frames that you can then operate within and these have to be carefully adjusted. It’s more of a way of life.”
Jain dismisses questions about what message architects working in the West can take away from his ideas and designs, however, whether its about social justice or the response to climate change. “The only thing one can do is do the work,” he said. “Whether the change occurs or not is not in one’s hands. One does the work just because it needs to be done.”
See also: Betsy Burnham and Burnham Design