JW: An aspect of your work that fascinates me is the rich sense of texture and craft.
AK: I love that you use the word texture, it's a very conscious thing. Samskara is an interesting project for this. Up to that point people had associated me with low cost, and all those social and green kinds of labels. But the client for Samskara chose me because they found my work conveyed luxury. Their idea was that the crafts are dying out, and they wanted it to be targeted as a highly luxurious thing so that they could get people like Prada or Hermès to see the kind of things you can do with hand craft, with leather, with terracotta, or whatever. Only when the big guys with big budgets invest in craftsmen, will craftsmanship make it to the next generation. This was their philosophy.
I was so happy because there was a good budget, but the question I had to address was: 'How do I redefine luxury without it being obscene for the country in which it is located?' That's when I first used the idea of time. A lot of people who are poor, cringe when they hear the word luxury so I wanted to find a common definition where the rich and the poor, the people who make, and the people who use could all feel at ease. So, I said, 'If you have time, it's luxurious.' If you have a whole day to cook a biryani or make a brick, neither the user nor the maker feels that they wasted time, but on the contrary finds the object created beautiful and valuable. Being able to invest time is luxury. It is not the cost of the material that makes it expensive, but the cultivated human engagement and that makes the product feel luxurious. Time is the luxury.
Coming back to texture, I was trying to understand the common qualities in architecture that make us feel well, and I noticed that texture is a very neglected area, but it always used to be there. If you look at ornamentation it was all done to deliberately bring in a certain texture so that it is palatable for our senses. Similarly with light quality. When you entered a building, there was a passage from dark to light. It was a gentle transition, not abrupt. And that was part of the journey. I realised this is something that bothered me about modern architecture. All these glass towers or granite floors in modern hotels, everything is shiny, nothing has texture. It's convenient for machines to make but not for humans to live with. Modernism rejected a lot of things in a hurry, and I think they did have functional purpose.
Fundamentally, I feel that we are humans. In 100 years we have not changed so much that we don't need those things anymore. The needs of wellbeing are pretty much similar. And I realise when I travel that those needs that I have are common to other people.