Architect Ashiesh Shah speaks about his love for Art Deco and the underlying spirituality in his designs

His recent showcase at Kala Bhoomi in Bhubhaneshwar for the G20 exhibit was one to treasure.

Harper's Bazaar India

Architect Ashiesh Sharma doesn't have to think much when he has to talk about what's been the highlight of his career so far. Being nominated by the Government of India to present an exhibit for the G20 Summit is certainly no mean feat. At the CWG in Bhubaneswar, Odisha, he showcased 21 columns in a three-day exhibition aptly christened STAMBH (a part of Sustain 2023 curated by the G20 Culture Working Group). Celebrating the philosophies of geometry, sustainability, and empowerment, the presentation witnessed a host of artists join hands to narrate tales of their evolving aesthetics and craftsmanship

The architect, in an exclusive chat with Bazaar India, speaks about what inspired him to become an architect, what he did at the G20 summit, his thoughts on the conservation of monuments in the country, and more. 

Nandini Bhalla: Tell me your earliest memory of architecture...

Ashiesh Shah: I grew up in a simple family of mostly doctors. Having spent my childhood at Marine Drive (Mumbai), my first recollection of architecture is Art Deco—it is also where my obsession with lines stems from.

NB: What inspired you to become an architect?

AS: Now that I look back, it is hilarious because whilst practising dentistry, I decided to attend architecture classes with my friends (who studied the subject), and my family was unaware about this. I took the exams, and I excelled in them! Later, I decided to follow my life would have been unfulfilled without architecture.

Karan Johar’s restaurant, Neuma

NB: In many of your designs, there exists an underlying spirituality. What does spirituality mean to you?

AS: I believe spirituality comes to me because of the strong influence of doctors in my family...they are healers. I heal multiple things when working on a space. Bringing spirituality to architecture does not need to stop at temples or mosques; it is also about correcting a space with negative energy. The Japanese philosophy of Wabi Sabi is embodied in my personal practice. The cleanliness of lines, spaces, and aesthetics creates an aura of beauty that makes certain things classic. I want to believe that I will make classics.

A shot of Shreyasi Goenka’s home

NB: How have you infused Wabi Sabi into your designs? 

AS: My induction into Wabi Sabi took place when I travelled to the Venice Art Biennale, and saw this incredible exhibition by Axel Vervoordt (Belgian antique dealer). For the first time, I witnessed the physical manifestation of a philosophy that was meant to give me direction in life. I decided to bring that to India because all of us live a Wabi Sabi life! From looking at Danish architecture and exhibitions, and creating spaces (for brands) like Raw Mango and Masque, my philosophy evolved.

NB: You recently showcased 21 pillars at the G20 exhibit. What was the story behind them?

AS: The 21 pillars took almost a decade to create, and it’s an ongoing process, which began six years ago with a Jaipur Blue pillar that I created for an Architectural Digest feature. Then, I created another pillar featuring craft traditions from Karnataka’s Channapatna. When you visit any Indian temple—especially in South India—you witness Garud Stambhs and other tall creations and wonder how they’re still surviving the test of time. Then you learn that people such as Constantin Brâncusi (Romanian sculptor) were looking for pillars in India. I want to refer to them as pillars and not totems because the latter are used for shipping, and over the years, pillars became so important for me because we wanted to give them a new meaning and functionality for our generation. 

NB: What’s your take on the conservation of monuments across India?

AS: India is going through an interesting renaissance period. I feel the past five to 10 years have been about conservation of heritage. The fact that the government is allowing all of that today makes me think we are in the golden era of culture, crafts, and traditions.

NB: How would you define the power of collaboration? 

AS: I believe creative minds like us can’t do everything. When I visit someone’s home for dinner, I feel humbled to see my pieces there because it’s like I’ve touched someone’s life in a small way I’d never be able to do so without the power of collaboration.

The Naga chair

NB: There’s an interesting blend of sharpness and softness in your work. What is your take on the masculine and 

AS: It has to do with the idea of equality. We, as a company, believe in inclusivity and equality, therefore, you will always find an ethos of masculinity in my pieces through scale and power. But there’s softness and a feminine touch to it as well.

NB: What do you hope will happen next?

AS: I hope, wish, and pray that there’s a bigger give back to this country through education. I want to blend craft and design so that a bond is created for life through educational systems and programmes.