Architecture BRIO Create beautiful environments that are current and locally sensitive

Inspired by the words of noted architect Geoffrey Bawa who once said, “Architecture should play to all the senses – the smell of vegetation after rain, the sound of birds and the wind in the trees, the texture of clay floor tiles and rough plaster,” Architecture BRIO, a design agency in Mumbai has many-a-feather on its cap for the work they have done towards sustainable designing. From running a successful firm to bagging numerous awards to working with communities on designing eco-friendly abodes, the team has come a long way…

WORDS: RINKU B

ARCHITECTURE BRIO was set up in Mumbai in 2006. Led by an energetic team of architects led by Shefali Balwani (C.E.P.T, India) and Robert Verrijt (TUDelft, the Netherlands).
Over the years the studio has thrived by being actively engaged in the creation of contextually appropriate, sustainable design solutions within an increasingly changing world. The work of the studio addresses new ways of understanding the often contradictory interrelations between the city, architecture, landscape, and the world of interiors. There is a growing need for our built environment to re-establish healthy relationships with the natural world. Similarly there is an urgency to address the never before seen growth in urban and rural areas in India and globally. Within this context the work searches for a delicate balance between architecture as the act of disappearance, and creating characterful, responsive and experiential environments.
The seed of Architecture BRIO was planted in Sri Lanka, where the founders met in the early start of their life as architects. They immersed themselves in the tremendous body of work by the late architect Geoffrey Bawa. His work is often situated in the most breath-taking, but sensitive environmental settings. His interventions are nonetheless bold and often extreme.
Contradictorily, this does not lead to a domination and submission of its surroundings. This duality, explored within the context of a drastically changing world, has become one of the main themes in the work of the practice. The studio strongly believes that architecture should remain a backdrop to life rather than taking centre stage.

THE FOUNDERS:
Born in Mumbai, she studied at the renowned School of Architecture C.E.P.T. in Ahmedabad. After graduating she worked with Rahul Mehrotra Architects in Mumbai. At his studio she worked on a variety of projects such as the first phase of the Magic Bus campus in Karjat. Hereafter she joined the office of Channa Daswatte in Sri Lanka, where she worked on some of the office’s prestigious hospitality projects. In 2006, she established Architecture BRIO together with Robert Verrijt in her hometown Mumbai.
Born in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, Robert Verrijt received a Master of Science in Architecture at the TUDelft in 2003. His Master’s thesis was accoladed with the Dutch Archiprix award. Being fascinated by Geoffrey Bawa’s architecture, he moved to Sri Lanka shortly after graduating. He joined the office of Channa Daswatte where he assisted on a retrospective exhibition of Geoffrey Bawa’s work. The office gave him the opportunity to work on various residential and hospitality projects, located in a wide variety of landscapes and contexts, such as the Kurulu Bedda Boutique Resort.

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rec-room
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Struck by the increasing disparities in the Indian subcontinent and the opportunities it offered to achieve impact, he decided to move to Mumbai in 2006. Shortly thereafter, he set up the practice Architecture BRIO together with Shefali.

Shefali has a keen interest in practising in a wide variety and scales of projects. She is committed to exemplary planning, design and execution of the projects at Architecture BRIO. Shefali has participated in lectures and forums both in India and abroad.

She lectured at the KVD forum at CEPT in Ahmedabad, the Landscape Architecture conference in Sydney, Australia and the MASA conference in Bangalore.
Robert is fascinated with the diversity of the Indian landscape. The diverse climates and geographies of India encourage truly specific architecture with unique experiential qualities.

Their design philosophy is that “we create beautiful environments that are current and locally sensitive,” says Robert.

“Each project is an unwinding story in which a series of spaces unfold, evoking different responses through light and darkness, textures and rhythm,” adds Shefali.

An interesting aspect of BRIO’s designs is the integration of water which is a common feature, however the manner in which these bodies seamlessly amalgamate themselves to the structure allows the water bodies to breathe life into their work.

DIVERSITY IN DESIGN:
Over ten years later, Architecture BRIO’s work field spans a vast variety of cultures, climates and landscapes across the Indian Subcontinent and South East Asia. Each project is seen as a challenge. But it also is an opportunity to uncover the unique characteristics of these specific conditions. It becomes an opportunity to investigate which intervention has a potential for positive change.
We often ask ourselves which approach can have an impact on the way we deal with our natural and built. Appropriateness is not necessarily the most self-evident. Often an inherent conflict between the context and climate of a project and its chosen typological and functional approach generates solutions that unexpectedly turn out to be favourable solutions.
The practice works with a thorough understanding of Architecture and its related fields. It seeks to develop design as its core strength and primary focus. An energetic team of between 15 to 20 architects works intensively with engineers, consultants, designers and the client. In this multidisciplinary approach it welcomes new insights that can lead to specific innovative solutions. It believes strongly in design as a process with an intensive dialogue.
It uses models, both physical and virtual, as tools for communication between clients, engineers and architects. This encourages programmatic and engineering concepts to be fully integrated into the design right from the conception.
An interesting aspect of BRIO’s designs is the integration of water which is a common feature, however the manner in which these bodies seamlessly amalgamate themselves to the structure allows the water bodies to breathe life into their work. Robert explains that water bodies are beneficial to their vision, especially when building more rural homes, yet highlights the fact that the incorporation of a water body is not a ‘must’ in their work. He directs my attention to their Alibaug construction, House on a Stream. “The stream bifurcates the house, into two parts, (thus) the stream becomes the centre point of the house. Usually, a house will look into or over the landscape, but here that focal point of nature is instead a part of the house.”
Robert fleshes out that there are a lot of ‘obvious impulses’ when working with a certain type of landscape. For example, he points out a house atop a hill may seem like the best direction to go in. Yet he counters that capitalizing on far-reaching vistas, does not necessarily guarantee that this direction is the appropriate approach for the structure.

Robert scaffolds this argument by looking to The Riparian House in Karjat. “In this landscape of undulating hills, there was one slightly larger hill, which is where we decided to locate the house.” However, according to Robert, they decided to curb the obvious impulse of placing the home upon the hill, and instead “decided to place it at a point where the roof of the house was in line with the apex of the hill, so that the silhouette of the house merges with the hill and become one.” This process actually entailed excavating the mound of rock that made up the hill, ultimately embedding the structure into the rock.

SCALE & PRACTICE:
Architecture BRIO works on a broad range of projects both in the public and private realm. We enthral in jumping from the extreme of the tiny scale of an architectural dollhouse to designing masterplans or thinking on complex issues such as homelessness.
The studio thrives in this wide variety and scales of its projects. Regardless of a projects scale, a common basis of the practice is its commitment to exemplary planning, design and execution. We approach a design brief in an open and explorative manner. We start by asking the right questions, before arriving at a common standpoint. This common point of departure then acts as a clear concept, which guides the design process.
Architecture BRIO actively engages with research and seeks out collaborations with institutes and organisations. The principles lecture regularly in India and abroad and have thought at the KRVIA school of Architecture, and the Balwant Sheth School of Architecture in Mumbai.
With billionBricks, an NGO committed to eradicate homelessness, they set up a dedicated studio called Bb-Studio. The innovation design studio is dedicated to eradicate homelessness. The studio also consults with communities, NGOs and governments to provide scalable high-quality buildings and infrastructure solutions. As part of the Bandra Collective, the firm is involved with research and design of public space in the city. The group of architects, all living or working in Bandra share design resources and ideas that could benefit life in their neighbourhood.

SMART SOLUTIONS & SUSTAINABILITY:
Architecture BRIO works on a broad range of projects both in the public and private realm. We enthral in jumping from the extreme of the tiny scale of an architectural dollhouse to designing masterplans or thinking on complex issues such as homelessness.
The studio thrives in this wide variety and scales of its projects. Regardless of a projects scale, a common basis of the practice is its commitment to exemplary planning, design and execution. We approach a design brief in an open and explorative manner. We start by asking the right questions, before arriving at a common standpoint. This common point of departure then acts as a clear concept, which guides the design process.
Architecture BRIO actively engages with research and seeks out collaborations with institutes and organisations. The principles lecture regularly in India and abroad and have thought at the KRVIA school of Architecture, and the Balwant Sheth School of Architecture in Mumbai.
With billionBricks, an NGO committed to eradicate homelessness, they set up a dedicated studio called Bb-Studio. The innovation design studio is dedicated to eradicate homelessness. The studio also consults with communities, NGOs and governments to provide scalable high-quality buildings and infrastructure solutions. As part of the Bandra Collective, the firm is involved with research and design of public space in the city.

bathroom
elevation-evening

The group of architects, all living or working in Bandra share design resources and ideas that could benefit life in their neighbourhood.
AWARDS & ACCOLADES:
Over the past decade Architecture BRIO has been the recipient of numerous national and international awards, such as Archiprix, Europan 2008, World Architecture Community Awards. In 2014, they were awarded the “Best Practice in India” at the Trends Excellence Awards 2014. The studio was selected amongst the “AD50“, the Architectural Digest India list of the most influential designers in India and South Asia in 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2018.
Their project ‘House on a Stream’ won the award for the best residential design at the NDTV Home Design of the Year Awards 2013.
house-by-architecture
The citation of the award read as: “The weekend residence project by Architecture BRIO is a unique example of how sophisticated architectural language that uses well-crafted and bold sculptural forms becomes instrumental in creating a genuine dialogue with the site and the natural setting in which it is located. For this private residence, the architecture of the project is informed by the site and the resultant work has considerable emphasis on the way it is situated.
This seamless integration with the landscape is combined with restrained use of space and material as the strength of the original idea in this case is not diminished by an often messy construction process. The architects present a deep understanding of the process of making. While there is great attention to elemental details, there is no compromise on the eloquence of the scheme.

Although the palette of materials is familiar and follows a safe, contemporary ‘template’, there is finesse in the efficacy, execution and integrity in the sculptural forms that represent boulders on the river-bed. The concrete shells create interesting spatial compositions from within and the openings frame parts of architecture and landscape that prompts the user to experience the site to its greatest potential.”
They also bagged ‘The Trends Excellence Awards 2014’ – and the ‘JKC Architecture of the Year Award 2015’. “The firm and its projects stand out for clarity of language. They have an unbearable lightness of being.” comments jury member Sen Kapadia on the work of Architecture BRIO at the Trends Excellence Awards. Another project, Casa Brio received the award for the Best Residential Interior at the NDTV Architecture & Design Awards of 2015, and the IIID Awards 2017. The Riparian House was awarded the JK Architecture of the Year Award 2017. The JK Architect of the Year Award is India’s longest running architecture award. It also featured on the Merit List 2016-2017 and received the Institute of Indian Interior Designers Awards in 2017.
Shefali appeared in the BBC documentary, “World’s Most Extraordinary Homes” together with Robert Verrijt. The program featured their project the “Riparian House” in Karjat.
Robert has taught at various colleges of Architecture in Mumbai and lectures extensively in India and abroad. Since 2006 he is a member of the Bandra Collective and leads the bB design Studio, dedicated to eradicating homelessness.brio-2