Architect Henri Fanthome, born in Bhutan and settled in India, designs spaces with love and respect. We speak to him about his inspirations, aspirations and more.
Henri Fanthome Office for Architecture, HFOA, is a young design practice located in New Delhi, India. ´We work on projects as small as single furniture pieces and as large as urban design and everything in between,´ says the young architect Henri Fanthome, who spearheads the firm that has received the IAB Young Designers´ Citation in 2013. With projects currently in Almora, Uttarakhand and New Delhi, the firm is working on proposals for projects in Haryana and Bhutan. Fanthome believes in creating spaces that allow for human experience and spatial quality. He likes to call it carefully crafted minimalism that is characteristically low-tech. Sumisha Gilotra has a chat with him to know more about him and his Bhutanese roots that inspired him to be an architect.
Tell us about yourself and your firm.
As a design practice we believe every project is unique, and each one must be approached with that understanding. We believe that design must be well-made and well-crafted, and most of all must be appropriate. We enjoy tackling difficult briefs, and a lot of time is spent on design conceptualization and analysis. Sustainability and a responsible approach to the environment play a very important part in our design process. Also the principles of bio-climatic design and the optimization of material and resource figure in our decision making process. A deep understanding of material and its tactile quality is integral to how we conceptualize and develop design. We are rather old school, relying on paper, sketching, physical handmade study-models, and multiple iterations to refine work.
How has Bhutanese architecture influenced your work?
I grew up in a Bhutanese village called Kanglung, and my family moved to India in 1996, when I was 17. I consider myself from Bhutan, although I hold an Indian passport. I spent a lot of my childhood actually playing at construction sites. But buildings, be they traditional Bhutanese houses, the mammoth Dzongs (fortresses) or the more contemporary college buildings on the campus at Sherubtse College, fascinated me, and still do.
The lessons I took from Bhutanese architecture are the use of resources, especially wood, and a strong response to climate and locally available materials. Also, the overall lightness of material and building techniques that ensured response to both seismic activity and cold climate. The buildings in Kinnaur area of Himachal or Garhwal in Uttarakhand are examples of this.
Why did you choose to settle in India?
I came to study at SPA in 1998. After college I worked with a few firms and then decided to stay on. Also the other reason to work and live here is the opportunity. Delhi being notionally the centre of the subcontinent allows you access to India, Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka with well-developed connectivity.
As a city Delhi is a great mix with history, culture and contemporary life co-existing with each other. It provides an inspiring space to live and work in.
What inspires you to create something that stands out from the rest?
As architects we have always maintained one thought, that good design does not cost more, however, it does take a lot more effort, and a certain belief in the possibility that it can and does offer a better future. That maxim guides our work. We keep challenging ourselves to do more and create impactful designs.
When we were asked to do La Leona, we set out to design a space that was unlike any we had seen so far in Delhi. Of course a challenging brief always helps, and in this case the need for a flexible and versatile interior environment really pushed us to develop a design that allowed the space to be reconfigured for a variety of uses while retaining the spatial experience.
How do you incorporate sustainability in your design?
Sustainability is the key to our design process and work. We understand that climate, and the use of natural resources has a direct impact on the environments we inhabit. We also extend the idea of sustainability to the overall lifecycle of projects. Sustainability to us also translates into not using resources unnecessarily and minimising the use of energy and materials.
La Leona Salon´s Zen-like and uncluttered space is an example, which has a simple palette of materials and a feeling of space and calm pervades the entire design. We wanted a warm, tactile space that was bright and airy.
The entire space is made of one kind of wood, used in various ways. It is reused/ re-purposed wood, sourced from junkyards of the Maruti factory in Gurgaon. We developed a palette that would allow us to use this wood. The savings in terms of material cost helped convince the clients. This is sustainable design for us. In our ongoing work in Almora, we are building with local masons and locally available material. Thus building in methods and with materials they are familiar with ensures future upkeep. We have also ensured that the main house faces south and is designed for solar gain in the winter and cool breezes in summer. The stone for the masonry work is sourced from the old structure, thus saving both material, and energy cost involved in transportation.
In the Walkway Canopy in Sunder Nagar, Himachal Pradesh, sustainability translated into the use of sophisticated and high-end material that allowed us to eliminate the need for mechanised retraction of the canopy when it would not be used in winter.
What about India inspires you the most?
India inspires with its availability of craft and skills, and the willingness to adapt and modify as well as the opportunity to work with local masons or fabricators. Also the mix of colours, aesthetics and cultures is inspiring.
What is your favourite project so far?
I am not sure if I have a favourite, each project is special. Each one takes us to a new discovery or a new understanding. But If I had to choose one, it would be a small outdoor room I had built in Khelgaon with a movable roof over a small courtyard, on a shoestring budget.
What is your dream project?
That is a very tough question to answer. One day it is a school in the mountains somewhere, the next it is a private house for a client in Dehradoon on a 35 degree sloped hillside overlooking a quiet valley. At other times it is a small cluster of projects that are completely off the grid, sustainable and self-sufficient. But I guess any project where you manage to achieve a creative expression that is true to your design intentions would be the dream project. On another level, a museum for motorcycles and bicycles would truly be a dream project.
Henri Fanthome Office for Architecture, 309, Qutab Green Apartments, 1064/B, Ward No 7, Mehrauli,
New Delhi - 110 030.
Tel: 011-6565 2283.