What Works For Vishaan Chakrabarti

Where do you find inspiration for your work?

Travel. I’m on planes constantly for projects and speaking engagements, but I always try to carve out time to see new things. I’m writing these responses from Athens, where I saw sunshades on a balcony that I thought could work well for our project in Newark, New Jersey. Whether it is the way the marine layer engulfs Los Angeles, or the cobalt light of Copenhagen, I’m always finding inspiration in the new, in the different, and in the strange.

What trend are you seeing in architecture & design that you believe is working?

Ethics. To call ethical behavior a trend is appalling, but it has been so absent in my profession for so long that its reemergence has to be celebrated. For years now brilliance was pitted against ethics in design…so to be a brilliant designer was to be a “bad boy” (usually male) that happily worked for dictators and the wealthiest among us. But there is a tectonic shift taking place in the field as witnessed by newly premiated practitioners like Alejandro Aravena and Tatiana Bilbao. At PAU we are always focused on great design and social impact simultaneously, and hopefully we will be judged not by the number of our “likes” but by the content of our character. 

What place have you visited recently that is doing something truly distinctive?

Berlin. What I love about Berlin is the way they deal with the past. Everywhere there are purposefully uncomfortable reminders of the Holocaust, including an extraordinary new project called the “Topography of Terror” by the Swiss architect Peter Zumthor. Furthermore, in Berlin historic buildings are not preserved by cleaning them to the point of sterilization, but rather are left to age gracefully as is, graffiti and all, like the telling layers of wrinkles on the face of the beautiful Dame Judi Dench. 

What brand do you love and why?

Leica. I have been a photographer since I was a boy, and there is no feeling like shooting with a Leica film M-series rangefinder. It is not just because the design is physically beautiful. It is because the design is so compelling, so revolutionary, that it literally changed photography, much the way Chanel changed the way women live and work, not just look.

What are you reading or listening to currently?

An Era of Darkness, which is a history of the British looting of India by Shashi Tharoor. There is a myth that colonialization modernized India.  When the British arrived on India’s shores in 1600, India’s economy was 23% of the world’s GDP, and had the world’s largest shipbuilding and textile industries. When they left seventy years ago, India’s economy was 3% of the world’s GDP, had a subsistence agrarian economy, and had lost 35 million people to the horrors of the Raj. It’s inspired me to try to create some type of a remembrance project around it, so both the Indians and the British can learn and heal.

And what’s you favourite colour?

As an architect it will always be black, to avoid ink stains, but I am also learning to like the deep brown color of my own complexion.