The snowy white sculptures inside the dimly lit gallery of Delhi’s Pulp Society invite the visitor with its tower-like appearance. Coming too close has its consequences though. The paper installation, called Khôral, is all bright and blue when at a distance, but loses colour at the first sign of approach. “It is like what happened during the lockdown,” says the Delhi-based Rajat Sodhi, who has created Khôral with his colleague and fellow architect Christoph Klemmt. “The squirrels were back, there was good air and the hills were visible,” he adds, recalling how nature responded to the shutdown during the coronavirus pandemic.
Sodhi and Klemmt’s Khôral, an idea that lies at the intersection of technology, art, environment and architecture, too was made during the first lockdown in 2020. The root of the project related to the catastrophic effects of unsustainable development on coral reefs, a vital building block clog in the ecosystem. “The first time anyone talked about climate change was how the Great Barrier Reef was disappearing,” says Sodhi about the reefs turning white due to environmental stress. The two-metre physical distancing requirement imposed during the pandemic gave him and Klemmt a window to their work. Shut inside his studio in Gurugram near Delhi, Sodhi soon worked with Klemmt to write an algorithm, the same used to study how coral reefs grow, to create a minimum distance between two points. Khôra, a Greek word chosen to name the project, means the space between utterance of a word and understanding.
In the next one-and-half months, they made strips of paper (ivory paper used by architects to make models) and flaps to create a sculptural installation that resonated with the life of coral reefs. Both the strips and flaps were cut using a laser cutting machine to achieve precision. The algorithm of distance allowed the paper strips to be stuck into the flaps, a whopping 14,000 of them, in a serial order so that the paper bends to create a shape, specifically, the shape of a coral reef. “We wrote the computer codes that helped us evolve these forms,” says Sodhi. The work, which started in early April 2020, ended in June. In the end, the installation measured two-and-half feet tall. The computer-generated form helped divide the sculpture into three parts, which are shown for the first time at the Khôral exhibition (April 14 – May 13).
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“It is important to return to the learning from the lockdown and find meaning. We can’t go back to business. We can’t continue to threaten the environment,” says Sodhi, who along with Klemmt founded Orproject, their architecture and design practice, in 2006 to explore ideas at the intersection of architecture, computer codes, environment and art. Seventeen years later, the Orproject has offices in Delhi, London and Beijing and plans to open another in Cincinnati, United States, where Klemmt lives. The arrival of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has made their work exciting for the architects. “We are also looking at AI to create new designs and ideas. I find AI limiting originality and creativity, but there is an exciting space in architecture these days,” says Sodhi, who was born in Delhi. Khôral’s philosophy is imbued with a sense of contemporary history too, drawing from the pandemic’s focal symbol of breathing for the exhibition’s creative expression.
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“Orproject is an architecture practice set up in 2006 in London between four friends who studied at the Architectural Association School of Architecture,” says Klemmt. “Each of us set up offices in various corners of the world and decided to work together to create projects that range from experimental installations to large scale real-estate developments. During the lockdown, Rajat and I collaborated on various computational design ideas that resulted in the Khôral project. Over the years, we have designed and built projects across eight countries and had a chance to work with some wonderful clients and team mates with whom we continue to grow our architectural practice,” he adds.
Architecture, Sodhi believes, is a field not disrupted by technology “too much”. Sodhi studied architecture at the Architectural Association School of Architecture, London, considered the first “old school” of architecture. Art, however, has allowed him to approach design with an open mind. “We experience art on a subjective level. Art allows us to view technology also subjectively. Then you see a different side of the binary system,” he adds. One of the research components of Orproject’s innovation hub is 3D printing biocomposites (wood and other natural material) in construction, aimed at using natural and renewable material instead of concrete. One of Sodhi and Klemmt’s previous art projects is Sahya, which used recyclable panels to create a 3D jali (window) system for buildings. The advantages of such a system are manifold—in cooling, shading, shade control and guiding views from outside. A contemporary art gallery and workshop, Pulp Society, founded by the prominent paper company, Sona Papers, focuses on exhibitions based on experimental work on paper.