From Chennai to Sharjah and Now Tokyo: The Beginnings of Sahil Singh Rattha’s Architectural Voyage
By Mehar Maini
Published on June 8th, 2023
While he was back in Sharjah, I met young architect Sahil Singh Rattha as he was ready to set sail on his new voyage to Tokyo, to intern under the mentorship of master Kengo Kuma. Born and brought up in Chennai, South India, Rattha has always aspired to become an architect.
Hailing from a small town and from a completely different cultural background, the emerging architect has well-established himself in the UAE. He relocated to the UAE in 2017 to study at the College of Architecture, Art and Design (CAAD) at the American University of Sharjah. With ambition from day one, Rattha has won twenty design awards including the 2022 Abu Dhabi Art Pavilion Prize, the 2020 Christo and Jeanne Claude Award, and the Abu Dhabi Art and Sharjah Suitability Award. He also received recognition from the Royal Institute of British Architects ( RIBA) and the American Society of Architectural Illustrators.
In Rattha’s words,“If I can do it, so can you. If I can do it, I believe I should also inspire someone else to take that risk.”
Certain principles he likes to keep in mind is keeping society and environment as paramount elements. I sat down with Rattha ahead of his journey to Kuma’s studio in Japan and talked about his most recent Abu Dhabi Art Pavillion, Zaman, and the process behind making this structure happen in a short time frame.
Mehar Maini: Where are you from?
Sahil Singh Rattha: I was born and brought up in Chennai, a city in Tamil Nadu, south of India.
If I can do it, so can you. If I can do it, I believe I should also inspire someone else to take that risk.
- Sahil Singh Rattha
M.M.: When did you first get into architecture?
S.S.R.: I aspired to become an architect since childhood. I moved to the UAE especially to study architecture at the American University of Sharjah’s, College of Architecture, Art and Design (CAAD).
M.M.: What would you define your architectural style as?
S.S.R.: I have not practiced enough to have a definite architectural style, however, my work is supposed to be contextual with an inclination to be environmentally sensitive. Pavilion Zaman is completely environmentally friendly for example. The idea of sustainable architecture came way before the Christo award however. Growing up in Chennai, I noticed that we lacked housing spaces and sustainable forms of architecture. I think the whole idea of the sustainable narrative comes from me growing up in Chennei and exploring Delhi and Mumbai. When I looked around at buildings, I could tell that they could be designed in a completely different manner, if we take a different approach.
I think the whole idea of the sustainable narrative comes from me growing up in Chennei and exploring Delhi and Mumbai.
M.M.: Can you describe the process of making your 2020 Christo and Jeanne-Claude Prize and Abu Dhabi Art 2022 pavilion in partnership with the American University of Sharjah and NYU Abu Dhabi?
S.S.R.: I was in my second year of university when I won the 2020 Christo and Jeanne-Claude Prize. It started off by me finding a mentor which was professor Jason Carlow. Professor Carlow very graciously agreed to mentor me even though the professor never taught me a studio. I was competing with his seniors for this very prize. I teamed up with a friend and started working on an art installation together called Haweia.
The goal behind making Haweia was to create something ‘iconic’ that plays with the narrative of identity. The meaning of the Arabic word ‘Haweia’ is identity. We first came up with initial sketches, something that was monumental, but basically went into experience and that's how the whole process came to life. We were trying to create the need for self-reflection. After experimenting with the design process, we put together a form and tried to create something multifaceted where modules are attached together to create a screen or later system and finally one can see the final product.
The goal behind making Haweia was to create something ‘iconic’ that plays with the narrative of identity.
Since my team and I hailed from diverse backgrounds, Haweia as the name of our pavilion seemed like a perfect fit. I thought the Pavillion could be a point of self-reflection where people from all walks of life and diverse backgrounds could come together. It’s as if they would be looking together in a mirror.
Pavilion Zaman was designed for the Abu Dhabi Pavillion 2022. It is an annual architecture competition that encourages university students from around the UAE to submit proposals for an entrance pavilion for the Abu Dhabi Art fair. Pavilion Zaman, designed by me and two other architecture students, Lara Zareeni and AIZaina Lootha, was awarded the 2022 prize. We had to figure out how to build the 200 square meter pavilion with a very tight budget, also keeping in mind the foot traffic, the materiality, and the structure. I think the hardest part was the timeline because we had such a short time for the competition, from actualisation to build, construct and dismantle the pavilion. Keeping the tight budget in mind, my team and I came up with some creative solutions under the guidance of Professor Carlow. We had this idea to rent the structures from a concert stage. We rented a structural system for a week, hence we did not spend any money on the fabrication. We used wooden panels as walls so there was no construction as such for the structure of the Pavillion.
We rented a structural system for a week, hence we did not spend any money on the fabrication. We used wooden panels as walls so there was no construction as such for the structure of the Pavillion.
The Arabic word Zaman translates to time in English, a temporary pavilion that exhibits a transcendent, tactile and visceral experience for its visitors. We made it a point that no material would go to waste and everything was recycled. The pavilion can be repurposed in many settings, requires only a small amount of energy to construct and is durable. Zaman creates a contrast between the organic and inorganic through the use of vegetation and natural light. The pavilion’s visual and environmental characteristics are enhanced by the flora which also lets in natural light from the courtyard.
The pavilion can be repurposed in many settings, requires only a small amount of energy to construct and is durable.
M.M.: Could you tell us more about your upcoming internship at Kengo Kuma’s architectural studio?
S.S.R.: It is a great opportunity to be working in such a prestigious firm. This opportunity is going to be extremely beneficial for me considering as an architect my work needs to have subsistence. What better way to learn from master Kengo Kuma? I’m excited, but I’m also going to be ready for whatever the world has to throw at me, be it good or bad. While I am looking forward to a new journey, I also have to be cautious and readily adapt to new situations.
M.M.: Can you draw any similarities between architecture styles you have seen so far in the UAE, Japan, and India?
S.S.R.: I think that each country has something different to offer, with significantly different cultures, styles and design approaches. The commonality from my perspective would be to design and construct sustainable cities that tackle environmental issues.
Rattha Studio is a new Dubai-based architecture and integrated design firm founded by architect and artist Sahil Rattha Singh, whose work 'Haweia' was awarded the 2020 Christo and Jeanne-Claude prize, which seeks to encourage the creation of new artworks in the UAE and serve as a launch pad for visual artists throughout the Emirates Rattha Studio aims to improve the lives of people and societies through architecture and environment design. Based on close communication and collaboration with its clients, the studio seeks to challenge the limits of architecture, searching for new, unique and inspiring solutions.
Harmehar Maini is an aspiring curator and art writer. She was born in Jammu, Jammu and Kashmir, however moved from her home town to study in a boarding school in fourth grade. After completing her bachelors from OP Jindal Global University, in Global Affairs , she shortly shifted to UAE to pursue arts and real estate. She has worked with Indian Art Fair , Art Dubai and Devi Art Foundation. She is an avid believer that art can connect to any and every element on the face of the earth be it , real estate or politics.
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