Creating architectural excellence by designing sustainable forms & spaces

Sonali Rastogi , Founder Partner – Morphogenesis

Coming from a family of architects, drawings and models are what Sonali saw ever since she was a child. Her parents worked out of home for the early part of her childhood and hence she literally grew up among architects. Add to it – a serious interest in reading, model making as well as observing buildings when travelling – all put together incited her interest in architecture, supporting why Sonali Rastogi defined her choice to be an architect.

A Graduate from the School of Planning and Architecture (New Delhi) and The Architectural Association (London) with a graduate diploma in Housing and Urbanism and a second graduate diploma in Graduate Design, Sonali Rastogi is Founder Partner of Morphogenesis. Morphogenesis is one of India’s leading award-winning Architecture and Urban Design practices with offices in New Delhi and Bengaluru, India. Their approach to creativity is inspired by the evolutionary processes in nature and their belief in sustainability shapes all their projects and forms the consistent theme in their designs.

Sonali has recently been awarded Laureate of the SIA Getz Award for Emergent Architecture in Asia, Singapore 2014, which seeks to bring recognition to Asian architects, who through their vision and commitment have made a significant contribution in shaping the changing landscape of Asia.

Sonali is member of the Delhi Urban Arts Commission (DUAC), a Fellow of the IIA (Indian Institute of Architects) and the RSA (Royal Society of Arts, UK). She has been responsible for a number of nationally and internationally acclaimed projects.

Issues related to the environment and sustainability are at the core of Sonali’s design attitude and her experience and expertise in Architecture/ Interior Design has been recognized by way of numerous awards and accolades including the YFLO Woman Achiever of the Year Award, and as one of the 10 leading women architects in India by A+D. Sonali lectures extensively throughout the country, has been a part of various academic and design juries and has been a speaker at various events such as India Design ID 2013 Symposium, Women Leaders in India Conference & Awards, Pecha Kucha, etc. Sonali is also a founder member of Manthan; a cross-cultural platform for creative exchange, aiming to be the voice of the Indian creative community.

High point in career

“Winning the Singapore Institute of Architects SIA-Getz Award in 2014. The SIA Getz award is a hugely significant award for any Architect to be honoured with. Based on an entire body of work, reviewed by peers, it brings Emergent Asian architecture to the forefront of global discourse. To us, this recognition has converted our lifetime of commitment into a conviction, a conviction which we hope will go a long way towards our vision of ‘Building Brand India’.”

Most challenging assignment

“Every project come with its challenges and if it doesn’t, then we create them, because at Morphogenesis there is a philosophy of trying to do something innovative and new with everything you work with. And it happens at different levels, sometimes it happens at all the way up to the master planning stage or all the way down to a singular detail. So if a project was not a challenge then it would just be bread and butter. I cannot answer what is the biggest challenge but I can say that everyday must have a challenge, and if it doesn’t then we find it.”

Greatest inspiration

“Our inspiration and mentor has always been nature. And here, I mean the processes that exist in nature, rather than the built form. All that we wanted to create in Architecture already existed in the processes of Nature — adaptability, sustainability, diversity, interactivity, connectivity etc. — from the design of ant hills, morphology of trees to formation of mountains. This led to the genesis of our architecture where we examine the process of design from first principles, and in doing so, turn to nature for its analogies from the concept of biodiversity. The final form is hence, not the result of a stylistic application, but the end-product of a process that finds clues from that of natural selection.”

Most important milestone in life

“The one memory that always makes me look back and smile, a significant milestone in my life, and for Morphogenesis too, when we won a World Architecture Festival award for Best Learning Building in 2009.  The significance of it being the first Indian project to win a WAF Award is one thing, but our project Pearl Academy of Fashion marked a turning point in our own approach to design and truly made us consider sustainability in its widest sense from then on; not just of energy and water but of craft, of detail, of tectonic perfection.”

“Women are the better halves”- Have we moved beyond this?

“This is not something I have ever even considered or allowed to get in the way of my work, for better or for worse. My identity as an architect has nothing to do with my gender. And this is an attitude that percolates throughout Morphogenesis, for both the women and men that work there. Is that the reason why as of today, 53% of our firm’s architects are women, when the global figure of women architects at the workplace averages about 25-30%? I certainly hope so.”

Experiences on being a woman entrepreneur

“How are working women doing in the economically productive industry?’ I come from a nation, where women do everything from toil on farms and in homes to lead the nation, and from a country where discriminations of various sorts have been practiced on women, yet from a country where women are also worshipped. I think of the lifecycle of women as being very different from that of men, and predominately related to family and natural maternal instincts; that sort of pastoral responsibility naturally comes to women. In that sense, balancing that with a working life, with an ambition, with a dream, is a difficult task but there are enough examples in my country where women manage that to perfection. I would like to focus on those, and hope that everybody gets to live that dream.”       

How do you / did you believe in making dreams come true?

“By putting my head down and working hard, day in and day out. My partner Manit and I returned to India after studying at the Architectural Association in London and started Morphogenesis with a vision to define ‘Brand India’ for architecture, seeing the complete lack of discourse on Indian architecture during our time there. Had we not had that vision to focus on, Morphogenesis as it is today, may not have existed.”

Challenges faced

“For me, the career of an architect is less about a career and more about a lifestyle. Architecture is all encompassing, for me. As an architect running a practice, there are design challenges and there are business challenges. Architectural challenges are what I thrive on, so in that sense there are no bottlenecks as an architect. There could be bottlenecks as a businesswoman, for financial reasons, and we have seen our fair share of those in these 20 years. The way you get through those times is to just be a more immersive architect. It provides you with little more time, to explore a little more, all that has yet not been explored. It truly builds resilience for the future.”     

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