For someone who views school as a place that offers a formal framework and architecture as a means of expression, learning is a lifelong endeavour. “School is for life. You don't have to go to school to be an architect. That's just technique. Sure, there is some importance in technique, but not quite fully,” says Jain, who is known to encourage exploration among his students. “There are no limits to how we can express ourselves. That's the most important part of being in school.”
Miniature models flourish in the workspace of Studio Mumbai Architects, the 30-40 member studio, led by Jain, which keeps more carpenters and masons than it does architects. The story goes that following his early years of practice in the US and UK, Jain decided to work with mock-ups upon his return to India as workers and contractors failed to comprehend technical drawings. But the journey of a new project doesn't start with a drawing or a form, he says. “The site already inhabits you,” he says. “Much like a barren ground sprouts blossoms after the first rains, it latently sits. I keep that close to the centre such that when the work is finally conceived, it contains the experience that provoked it in the first place.” Refer just two of the studio's buildings — the Ahmedabad House and the Palmyra House (Nandgaon), shortlisted for the Aga Khan Award for Architecture — both of which imbibe their respective immediate resources.
For Jain, architecture stems from relationships, from spaces that are inclusive and full of possibilities, those that are not limited to the amount of water or light they conserve but are sensitive to the environment. “The idea that we can do things with care, with the greatest amount of empathy, that's really our work,” he stresses. “Empathy is what is sustainable. Love is what is sustainable. Being in love requires a lot of work, it's not easy.”