A few key aspects define the approach of Studio MADe. Given that every other project is situated in a different country—because the studio-style architecture firm, based in Hyderabad and Spain, works primarily on international competitions—what is the commonality that can tie every approach? It is an approach to a sense of place. Every project, in some way or the other, is an exploration of what the place wants to be. Every idea seeks to negotiate the site. It seeks to explore how the shaping of empty space by built form can leave something for the larger community beyond the project. Therefore, Studio MADe’s projects are often more about the unbuilt than about the built. They are about emptiness, rather than form. In them, movement determines the form, rather than the visual form determining movement.

Sometimes, form wants to slip away into invisibility leaving only traces on the land. The international competition-winning and under-construction Suncheon Art Platform in South Korea is more of an architecture of the void than of the built. The intervention sinks below ground, leaving only two light pavilions as markers that indicate the presence of architecture. A void carved out of the site creates a much-needed breathing space in the dense old city of Suncheon, therefore opening up new linkages in the neighbourhood. Just as the emptiness witnessed on an ocean horizon can be stirring, MADe’s architecture strives to work around emptiness as the emotional centre of its projects.

In the finalist proposals for the Bamiyan Cultural Centre in Afghanistan and the WHO extension in Switzerland, the interventions seek to merge into the landscape to respect the significant markers on the site—the monumental Buddha statues in the Bamiyan cliff and Jean Tschumi’s design for the WHO. The architecture defers to the site, and to nature. In the Losbates School proposal, the architecture defines an edge between the village and the forest to embrace the view.

At other times, projects may want to boldly assert themselves, but again through emptiness—through empty spaces that funnel movement and create linkages that may not have existed before to the surrounds. While the Delhi War Memorial proposal is a massive monolith that lifts itself off the ground, even in this proposal, the main concept is emptiness. A vast empty public space extends under the floating built canopy and internally, the built form disintegrates into a matrix of courtyards.

The courtyard is again a recurring concept that weaves itself in as a maker of emptiness in MADe’s projects—the courtyard is emptiness around which the built form defines itself. In the School and Community Centre at Jharkhand, a simple interplay of grid and walls gives way to classrooms that spill out onto intimate courts.

There is a constant pursuit of contrast between the inner and outer worlds in MADe’s projects. Sometimes, we might see the projects as places of refuge, like the Walled Oasis at Porto that wraps around an abandoned site to create an oasis. Or the Retreat House, which creates for itself a mini-fortress in the thickly populated neighbourhood it finds itself in. Sometimes, the only opening to the outer world is through the vertical dimension of the sky. At other times, the projects negotiate conversation between the ‘open’ and the ‘closed’ by creating thresholds between the two. In the proposal for the Great Kemeri Bog Visitor Center, we see a ‘place of passage’ mark a threshold between the world of man and of nature. Like this, architecture is often the ‘inhabitable wall’ in MADe’s projects. The ‘wall’ serves to define an emptiness.

And finally, MADe’s architecture strives to be about collective memory. Besides approaching material expression as a form of memory, the architecture explores the memory of empty space and sculpts itself around the collective memory of the court, the void, the landscape, the horizon and the sky.

Like in Lao Tzu’s famous quote, the ‘vessel’ is as much about the space it contains as it is about the form—“usefulness [comes] from what is not there.”

Between idea and site, lies an emptiness waiting to be made.

Studio MADe (studiomade.org)