mayaPRAXIS and Its Gentle Magic of Design

Dimple Mittal and Vijay Narnapatti run a partnership that weaves the threads of work, family, finance, education, research and social existence into their fabric of life.  Their partnership began as collegemates at the School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi and blossomed into more than 25 years of work-life engagement with shared experiences, actions and aspirations.  While this is not rare in the design discipline, they have charted an interesting journey along the way. Their firm, mayaPRAXIS, an architecture + design firm, has been nurtured into a thoughtful and critical design practice.

Founded in 2001 in Bangalore, mayaPRAXIS has located itself in the realm where design is responsive to client and context; and remains principled, honest and strong. 

The team’s works have been recognized nationally and internationally for a creative, sustainable and practical approach.  This approach is crafted specifically for each project, be it an alternative school in mud brick in bangalore, 4- star hotel inspired by the sea in Baharian, a hill resort that sits lightly in the middle of the forest in Shillong, a public street market in old Bangalore or a cool footbridge on a busy road. 

One need not be part of the rat race. We need to have our place in the world doing what we love, with people whose company we enjoy.

Dimple Mittal

Dimple and Vijay moved to Bangalore after 5 years in the USA, in September 2001, the year when 9/11 crash happened.  New to Bangalore, they setup mayaPRAXIS in deeply challenging times – starting afresh with a new life and business in an unfamiliar city, making new friends and professional relationships.  A slow beginning for the design practice was complemented by an active teaching role in the Bangalore’s Schools of Architecture in the first few years.  A landscape architect friend, a chartered accountant uncle and a businessman cousin from Delhi set off the trickle of early projects and widening of relationships, helping find a slow but firm foot in their journey.

Business grew slowly by word of mouth, from project to project, starting off in a shared office space with the friend and moving onto a small but separate office in a ‘barsati’.  Early efforts of aiming high with proposals to potential clients, participating in design competitions, etc. met with limited success. From a 2 person ‘partnership’ it slowly grew to a 10 person firm, enabling the team to win some bigger projects, competitions and recognition along the way.

mayaPraxis got Young Architect of the Year [JK Cements] award in 2007, a Young Designer recognition in the popular Indian Architect and Builder magazine,  a winning entry in the Lighting museum design competition organised by KPTCL for its 150th anniversary gave the firm recognition amongst peers in the design community.  Events like this gave confidence to the partners and regard for mayaPRAXIS in the Design community. But they did not necessarily result in a windfall in the business of architectural projects.  That met with a slow and steady growth more because of business development initiatives of the partners.

After graduating from the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi in ‘92-’93, Dimple and Vijay started a firm in Delhi, just 2 years after graduating, with a friend [Anamika]. They called the firm Dialect Architecture.  This enterprising move came after a stint of a couple of years of work at eminent architectural practices in Delhi, with diverse job profiles. Vijay was Assistant Editor to an upcoming Architecture Magazine edited by Architect Gautam Bhatia. And Dimple worked in the eclectic design studio of Revathi & Vasanth Kamath, rethinking modern architecture with an indigenous awakening.  

But Dialect Architecture had a short life, when all three decided to venture for higher education in the US. After higher studies in the the US, recharged with an MS in History and Theory of Architecture, they worked at firms in the San Francisco Bay Area from 1998-2001. This gave them a global exposure.  Vijay worked on the design of perhaps the first large office space leased by Infosys in the Bay Area in 1998-99 as part of an established firm AP+I Design the Bay Area. And Dimple worked on office projects for a wide range Bay Area IT firms, with the new, funky innovative and cheerful workspace design ideas for clients like Sun Microsystems, etc.

The experience of  structured but ‘casual’ work environment in the Bay Area, run very professionally but with a space for innovation, discussion, critique and feedback helped Vijay and Dimple structure their own practice as a new generation practice in the similarly energetic and inclusive Bangalore.

Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.

Jalaludin Rumi

A culture of creative, modern and thoughtful work can be seen in the portfolio and the work environment at mayaPRAXIS.  A free and open office culture led to a young but energetic design practice, eager to prove themselves.  The big transition was initiated when the firm moved into its own premises in 2013, a work of art and architecture that exemplified the driving principles of the firm.  Modern and innovative in it architectural character, the new building for mayaPRAXIS had walls that were made using blocks from the earth from the same site.  Steel, concrete, reused wood and earth were brought together cleverly and innovatively to create an artful and warm space for the office. 

This bigger, innovative office impressed clients, and well-wishers and gave the firm impetus to grow.  Strategic decisions to diversify the portfolio of works from a dominantly residential one towards more institutional, hospitality, public and Masterplanning projects worked in its favor.   

This diversification was followed by enlarging the team to include more senior architects with a team structure that enabled better accountability and efficiency.  A Yoga retreat in Hosur, a 145 room 4-star hotel in Bahrain, a large 150 upscale villament development and a 100-acre masterplan triggered a growth of business for the firm. The firm grew to a 15-20 person strength over the 2013-2020 period. This was coupled with some well-deserved recognition – awards, articles in journals, interviews, exhibitions and lectures, etc. 

The design studio attracted a better quality of younger architects seeking to be part of the team which helped realize better delivery of good design.  The active marketing strategy of the Directors led to a notable new projects and to the recognition of their abilities amongst a select client pool.  In a slow and steady manner, the growth was aided by a drive to do things in an appropriate and sustainable manner.  

Keeping an ethical practice and a positive attitude the firm is known for being receptive to the client and other stakeholder’s requirements but the work is executed with a strong vision and logic. The quality and recognition of the works demonstrated a translation of creative ideas to reality, in a way that few design firms manage to do in the Indian industry.

For international projects, the firm used a different strategy where all drawings were made before construction as a one complete package, while for the Indian environment the production of work was synchronized into corresponding stages. This and other strategic, type specific understanding kept expenses in check and balanced revenues between lucrative and low fee projects. 

Dimple and Vijay see the potential of combining the high tech with the crafted in India, resulting in a character that is unique and sensible in modern India. The availability of ancient craftsmanship and the latest technology makes the design a lot more interesting and powerful. This is a key aspect of their successful approach of “Feel good, look good and work good at appropriate cost.”

Their designs remain strongly relevant to context, – climate context, material context, social context making them modern and forward thinking. This is especially important in a social media influenced world that is bombarded with visuals in the internet from all over, where contexts and content dissolve quickly into only visual delight and titillation.  It is important to balance the necessary and appropriate with the client aspirations that are now international and fluid.

Early inspirations for Vijay and Dimple were the Italian architect Renzo Piano and his ‘Workshop’ in Genoa, Sri Lankan Architect Geoffrey Bawa’s earthy modern and artful work across Sri Lanka, the social concern about the city and landscape of people and spaces in the works of Charles Correa. The cutting edge is woven with the craft-ness of the Indian cultural landscape in the works of mayaPRAXIS.

As the works grew in complexity, the design studio has shifted to a more collaborative approach enabled by technology and network. The Gandhi Bazaar project, a diverse set of consultants from different disciplines collaborated on redesigning a heritage market street in Bangalore. For a complex form for footbridge a computation expert from Ahmedabad was engaged to develop the framework. A large residence in Shillong, the online collaboration tools help in keeping track and coordinating work at site.  This structured and forward-thinking approach has enable the firm to continue its care for detail, professionalism and appropriateness in varied contexts with different challenges. 

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