Peter-Philipp Schmitt: Mr. Jain, this year you are participating in the exhibition “Where Architects Live” held during the Milan Furniture Fair. How did that link come to be?
Bijoy Jain: Francesca Molteni, who is curating the exhibition for Cosmit, contacted me last December, saying she wanted to make a film about our home.
How would you describe your home?
Jain: I think it’s best described as a space that is completely open to the air, light, the weather, people, animals.
You live in the countryside, don’t you?
Jain: Yes, in the middle of the woods. The house is situated outside of Mumbai on the west coast not far from the small sea-side town of Alibag in the state of Maharashtra. It’s 45 minutes by boat from Mumbai plus another 45 minutes by car. Mind you, the area is densely populated, which is typical of rural areas in India, even if they are still predominately agricultural in character.
Do you work there, too?
Jain: Yes. I founded Studio Mumbai here in 2005. We are a collective of about 60 architects, including tradespeople from the region as well. We meet up to bounce and refine our ideas and advance projects.
There is a large swimming pool in your garden.
Jain: Working is part of my home. I am talking here about the notion of domesticity, a new form of being at home. In my home everything is interconnected – working, living, having fun.
But you also get to enjoy privacy in your home…
Jain: Essentially everyone is welcome. There is no strict division made between inside and outside. Depending on the circumstances, public spaces in our home can be used privately at certain times.
You are saying you don’t have your own private space?
Jain: No, it’s everybody’s home. Including you, if you are open to engage.
Francesca Molteni came to visit you to make a documentary about you, your home and how you live there. Can you describe the experience?
Jain: It was very relaxed and informal. We were having friends round to celebrate the New Year. I was off for a few days, and Francesca was simply around, taking part in everything I did. Her documentation came about as a kind of a by-product of us spending time together.
The “Salone del Mobile” is primarily about furniture. The main incentive is to sell products. Is that another reason why you participated in the project?
Jain: I am probably not your ideal customer for a trade show touting innovations. Of course I also buy new things, when I like something and when it makes sense. Nonetheless we are in a position to make our own furniture. Meaning we are self-sufficient in this regard.
So your furniture is not on offer at the “Salone”?
Jain: No. As I see it, it’s the intention behind a piece of furniture that is important, why is it made, and for whom, and is it really necessary? Making an item of furniture requires a lot of careful thought. And I’m not only talking about the function here. Of course you need to be able to sit on a chair, write at a desk and lie on a bed. However, my expectations are higher. Sure, a chair here in Milan should be made for sitting on it, but in may be a whole different story in India.
Well, people do sit down in India, and the country is a huge market. I expect that the influence of the West when it comes to furniture, is massive.
Jain: That is certainly right. The director Roberto Rossellini once described India as a gigantic stomach. What he meant, of course, was that the country has the capacity to absorb enormous amounts. At the same time India has its own independent culture. I am not so much interested in what is introduced from the outside, but what is present in the country itself. Large numbers of the population need to be content with just that. We must not forget that a large part of the population does not sit on chairs but on the floor: We Indians eat on the floor, we write on the floor, we sleep on the floor. For Indians the floor constitutes a piece of furniture.
What is the implication for an architect, a designer in India?
Jain: It means that I don’t simply design an object, but that I consider the space in its own right, whether I work as an architect or a designer. So my job is to define this space, to see what I can do with it. In order to be able to do this I need to be an observer and take my cue from the actual conditions surrounding me. I have no interest in mass-production; what is important for me are individual solutions that are perfectly tailored to the room in which they will be. That’s what I do.
Where Architects Live
Salone Internazionale del Mobile, Hall 9
Rho Trade-Fair Grounds
April 8 to 13, 2014