In conversation with Niels Schoenfelder

The principal architect at Mancini Enterprises tells us how India continues to inspire him, and why dams and large scale bridges are markers of civilisation for him

Niels Schoenfelder came to India more than a decade ago for a short project and decided to stay back and set up his base here. The country seemed like a wealth of inspiration to him, and he eventually founded Mancini Enterprises with other partners. The award -winning Chennai based firm has worked for clients like the TVS Group and The Park Group of hotels among many others. We spoke to him about making India his home and what keeps him busy these days.

What is your earliest memory of looking at architecture as a profession?
I was about to enrol at university to study mathematics but applied last minute for architecture instead.  

Is there an architect whose work you have followed intently through the years?
Many. Brunelleschi, Alberti, Borromini, Bernini, Ledoux, Schinkel to name a few. But there are also often just building typologies through time (that are) more important than individual architects.

What do you believe is the first project that defined your practise, a turning point, if you may?
We had built a house with three feet thick load-bearing walls,that reconfirmed what we suspected: that for us the idea - the spirit of a project - has to get into the bones of a building to become a worthwhile piece of architecture. No matter what the bones are made of.

When it comes to the ideation process, what is the starting point - hand drawn sketches or the computer?
Lots of sitting in a corner and thinking, then a couple of sketches and then it usually develops in a diverse team process.

One architectural structure in India or the world that makes you say, “I wish I had designed that…” 
Communication towers, bridges, dams-Big things usually are very fascinating markers of civilisations.  

What is your favourite part of the design process?
At the time the spaces emerge just as they were drawn  - before finishes or windows is usually very magical. Then again when the lights go on much later in the project.

How does the ideal work day begin for you?
With anticipation of 8 - 10 hours of un interrupted work on one project alone.

What is keeping you busy right now?
Several private houses, an equestrian estate, an office building; it’s very diverse.

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