A clubhouse in Madhya Pradesh as the first project. A garage that could fit in all of three desks as the first office. Sonali Bhagwati, president of Design Plus Architecture, involved in projects across India and in six countries, has certainly come a long way. “We always wanted to build a design firm which explored out-of-the-box concepts and successfully integrated global trends with the Indian ethos,” says the architect who first set up shop with Sohrab Dalal (subsequently her husband) and another partner, Khushroo Kalyanwala.
Spazzio Design was formed after a restructuring, with Dalal and she as partners.“To work with honesty and integrity was the foundation of our practice,” says the architecture graduate (with honours) from CEPT. “We took whatever came our way as long as we were in sync with the aspirations of the client,” recalls Bhagwati of those early days. “Each project was viewed as a design opportunity. The time and effort invested in a project is directly proportionate to the quality of the end product. This was a learning that made our firm stand apart in the professional world.”
The liberalisation of the Indian economy in the early ‘90s marked a major shift in the nature of projects, and also in how the firm responded to them. “We started to integrate with the world. However, we never lost sight of the ethos of the Indian user. We became a sort of multi-disciplinary firm doing a wide variety of projects, including residential, commercial, industrial, corporate, retail, mixed use, hospitality, etc.”
In 2010, Spazzio Design merged with Mohit Gujral’s Designplus to create the present entity. In the backdrop of such sweeping changes, the fundamental principles continued to be the same. What changed, however, was the approach to a project. “We do not live in the era of master builders, where one architect was singularly responsible for a project. We live in the age of teamwork, where various disciplines contribute to the design process,” she says.
Bhagwati dreams of fixing cities and contributing to nation-building. “The quality of a city is always described by the quality of the pedestrian experience. Regrettably, the pedestrian is completely ignored as the public spaces in our cities are occupied by city services, squatters, garbage dumps, street vendors or parked vehicles. We need to…bring back the pedestrian and reclaim our public spaces,” she concludes.

Looking Back

Rather than a project, Bhagwati attributes the evolution of her firm to a series of events such as the opening up of the Indian economy in the ’90s; the growth of the IT sector; the formulation of SEZs…These events marked a quantum shift in the way they thought, in the way they designed and what the user aspired to.

Looking forward

They are currently involved in the expansion of a large university where, on the interior front, the firm is exploring new and innovative work environments that stimulate the mind and increase productivity. However, the project she is personally looking forward to, is unique and has no commercial implications: re-pedestrianising her city.

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