Sandeep Bogadhi is an architect who is quietly radical. His contemporary design and building practices have created beautiful, sensitive sustainable structures in Ladakh
A five-year-old boy who’s playing in the field of his school on a hot summer day in the lazy city of Vishakapatman never would have imagined 35 years later he would be living and working next to a Himalayan creek with his dog Jerry. The story of architect Sandeep Bogadhi is a tough one to live and believe. We had a chat with him on our way driving from the city of Leh to Nubra valley in Diskit, Ladakh. He did his schooling in Vizag, which is a slow industrial city. He decided to study Architecture for his Bachelor’s degree and moved to Delhi, spending close to a decade there learning the tricks of making spaces at the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA). He spent more than five years trying to find the answer to how he wants to practice. Post his graduation he tried mingling with city architecture and its contrast but wasn't too happy about it. Soon he came across an opportunity to work and move to Nimmo village close to the city of Leh. He worked under the guidance of his teacher and slowly fell in love with the ways of building in the hills. The stone, soil, vegetation and food, all made a perfect place for him to call it home.
The process of finding a good site and a client was rather challenging as the villages don't subscribe to the modern idea of a formal profession called an ‘Architect’. The way was foggy but not too unclear. He spent many years educating, consulting and building slowly. He took a great amount of effort to communicate to people on the most sustainable way to build, on the ideology of building local and building less. One of the most ‘Bogadhi’ projects would be, ‘The Creek’. It was built with a friend and client called Thinley. The partnership of the two got the right results and appreciation for Bogadhi's language and efforts. He got to do many projects with other people and feels there is more to express in the Himalayan landscape than just hotels.
In an average week, he spends some time in Nubra and some in Leh. He says the city of Leh is changing and feels more like a city in the plains. Bogadhi and his dog Jerry drive around looking for good stones, cruising valleys and crossing high passes to go to work. The architect is also involved in many earth and stone construction workshops to employ locals and educate government officials about the benefits of the land and its resources. He and his team are experts at handling natural materials and often uses discarded bricks, stones and wood from demolished roads and buildings. With such reuse of materials and by building smartly on the land, the practice has become truly sustainable.
We asked Bogadhi a few questions during our drive from Leh to Nubra, stopping on our way at Khardungla pass at around 18,000 ft, writing the answers down with frozen fingers:
Sandeep Bogadhi (SB): Well, I don't know how to, to be honest. But I'll try my best. My name is Sandeep Bogadhi, and I am an architect. It’s too serious isn’t it ? (He laughs). I am learning how to build every day, because there is so much to learn from masters like Peter Zumthor, Geoffery Bawa, Bijoy Jain... I am just grateful to the people from Diskit and Nubra that they trust me with their homes.
SB: Simply put, by ‘bus’. I got an opportunity to restore a house in Nimmo village close to Leh and was working with a senior of mine. They left after the project was done, but I stuck around to explore the land and the culture.
SB: The practice is very informal, and I only have one architect working with me. It is mostly building out of intuition and understanding. There is no rigid format to what we do. The strength is with the craftsmen and masons. Without them the practice would not be possible.
SB: Well, I don't like to take on many projects at a time. Each project is unique and has new challenges. So one has to be mindful of what they are doing. I don't like making so many technical drawings and plans. It is done on site with people and real life discussion and resources. The way we work is very organic and intuitive.
SB: Clients are less; they are mostly friends and people we know. It is a small place and everyone knows everyone well. We try to work with different people and support each other. I like working with locals more because they understand me better, and I am able to build well.
SB: There is no underlying philosophy. I just try to navigate situations with honesty. The influence of Buddhist culture is something you cannot look away from. I do look at old monasteries and their intentions of life and building. It is very inspiring and whenever I feel lost , I go to the Diskit monastery with Jerry and spend some time there. It really gives me direction and calms me down.
SB: I try to always work with natural materials. There is a great variety of stone and colours available on our way from Diskit to Leh. A lot of blasting and road widening happened in the past few years, which gives good stones for building. Stabilized soil is also great material to work with. It is good to work with local wood and techniques which are suitable for summers and harsh winters.
SB: It has been close to 10 years for me, practicing and building in this landscape. I want to build more public projects and conduct workshops. The Studio and workshop we are sitting in allow for me to show and experiment all the techniques I have perfected over time. Every structure shows a new way of building a wall and a roof. This is a place of contemplation and experimentation. It allows me to be and think better.
SB: It is good to work with tested materials for such harsh landscape and weather. I borrow a lot from old forts and monasteries. They are not built but grown. In such buildings you cannot tell which parts came first. They just keep adding and subtracting as per their needs. It is good to adopt from master builders and something that has lasted centuries. But in most parts the language and requirements are very contemporary. So the idea is to strike a balance.
All images by Studio Suryan//Dang
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