“We caught up with the founder of Studio Momo, a firm whose work primarily involves restoration of old beautiful houses in Goa, Meetu Akali. In a detailed interview, she answered our questions about her approach to sustainability, the inception of Studio Momo and how she came up with her own range of non-toxic and eco friendly materials.” - Editor
Tell us about Studio Momo. How did it happen, the derivation of its name and its early days?
How did the partnership between you and Benjamin happen?
Studio Momo was conceived in 2011 after the completion of my Masters in Advanced
Architectural Design. It was a very interesting and amusing course which was led by
Andrew Homes and David Green who always pushed me to think outside the box.
When we were thinking of a name for our firm, we didn’t want it to be named after
ourselves. We wanted something simple and fun. The name Studio Momo was named
after my masters in Mobile Architecture. So, the syllable ‘Mo” came from Mobile
Architecture. Also, when we had gone to eat momos outside, an idea struck upon me as
to how fascinating it would be to have a structure made looking like a Momo on wheels.
This was inspired by the Archi gram walk in city concept. Hence the name Studio Momo
was shot forth.
Restoration based architecture or design for that matter isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It is not as
flexible and requires a lot of making do and poses a lot of constraints. However, that doesn’t
seem to be a problem for your studio. Could you tell us how you approach restoration
projects? especially in terms of sensitivity? What are the major markets or vendors you get
your material from, whether it is furniture, lighting or any other material that encompasses
Restoration was never a conscious decision, it happened over time when we started our
practice in Goa and if one had to look around in Goa you could see that there are many
beautiful houses which are detoriating over time and turning into ruins and this was the
time when restoration came as a great opportunity for us. We were approached by Ms.
Nyrika Crishna and Ms. Smitha Godrej to restore an old beautiful house in Choroa Island,
Goa. It was something that we had to learn as we went on with the process of restoring
the house. There were a lot of complications and challenges throughout the renovation,
but we slowly overcame all of it step by step and found solutions for all of them. For any
restoration project the base idea is to conserve the original language, beauty and
sensibility of the old house which is also a very conscious decision to be able to do.
The importance of restoration projects is that it does have to speak also of today’s time.
What is interesting of a restoration project is the juxta positioning of the old era and
today’s lifestyle and functionality and design sensibility which becomes a very
challenging task but also very exciting. And this makes it very interesting to take up a
In restoration projects the existing site actually has a story of its own and its really
interesting to walk into that space and tap into that story, then to weave it with your
own design sensibility along with the client requirements, which also makes it a very
unplanned and organic process. This makes it interesting because not everything in the
house can be designed by you and the existing house and site has a lot to still offer so
the final product is never certain and you still keep on discovering things as you go and
you create something very beautiful which makes it very different from an already
thought and planned architectural project designed from scratch.
The approach is usually to walk into the space and feel it. Many a times the existing
building tells you what it really needs. When you walk into an Old Portuguese house or
an old project the space calls for more light, ventilation or structural modifications.
These are few of the things that one must feel when you walk into the space. When I
walk into the space, I sit down and take a minute to feel what the house wants and what
it wants to tell me. Light and ventilation is a very important factor in any space hence so
many old structures need that addition. We also work with a lot of light and ventilation
When touching an old structure, one must study the original composition of the roofs,
walls and foundation to understand its strength, the composition of materials etc. Also,
the approach towards modifications must be extremely sensitive without damaging the
structure in anyway. For this one can use modern technology with the old one so that
one can add strength to the buildings and puncture walls to create more openings and
create other modifications. Obviously, the entire process in the project should be done
sensitively, one step at a time as it cannot be approached in the same way a new
structure would be. One must be patient with the structure and give it its time.
The material always comes from what is available locally. Since we are environment
conscious, we like to work with things such as natural stones, terracotta tiles depending
on its availability in the neighborhood. Also, we work a lot with upcycled furniture. So,
we buy old antiques which we upcycle in our firm and then use it for the projects.
Lightings we normally try to scout around in different markets, we also get some of our
lightings from Chor Bazaar in Mumbai that goes well with the old-world charm looks.
Sometimes we also get our lights fabricated from vendors locally.
We also like to work with a lot of natural fabrics available in each area for the upholstery
of the furniture and, we like to customize our furniture and all our soft furnishings as
much as we can. So, we work with a lot of natural and locally available fabrics.
Could you comment on the techniques you adopt to be environmentally conscious? How
come you came up with your own range of non-toxic and eco – friendly material finishes? For
our readers, especially emerging architects and designers, how can they do the same? Are you
planning to launch more?
When I had come back from Oxford the biggest concern I had was, when a painter who
used to work with us was diagnosed with lung cancer and that was the stage when I
realized that all the craftsman and local laborers who worked on our architectural
projects were subjected to a lot of toxic fumes and materials. When we looked around
in the Indian market to find more environmental conscious, human friendly, non-
carcinogenic products there were few available in the market. That’s when we decided
to create our own range of paints, polishes and oil so that they are not subjected to
these fumes. We tried working with gas masks but given the Indian weather conditions
the laborers would refuse to wear them saying they used to feel very hot and
suffocated. So that’s how the idea came in about to create our own products.
Is an ideal (in terms of sustainability) and completely sustainable and modern home possible?
Especially with current trends in contemporary architecture and design? How do you sell
sustainability to a client who isn’t aware and probably would want the opposite?
Sustainability and contemporary design can go hand in hand as long as one is mindful
and conscious about the choice of material, micro climate, cross ventilation,
conservation of water at the planning stage itself. It doesn’t matter whether a home
looks traditional or modern, I feel it is more important to keep sustainability factors with
the choice of design, planning, materials etc.
The only way to sell sustainability to any client is to make them aware about the climate
changes, effects of choice of material, effects of any decision you make while building
the house, effects on personal health and family and the ill effects of synthetic
materials, side effects of toxic fumes on the planet and your homes. Climate change is
being spoken about more, commonly and people are becoming more aware on their
own. It’s become easier to convince them about sustainable design over others. Also, I
feel when you do step into a conscious sustainable designing you have an example to
show to your client which makes them more aware about things and all the options
available. So, I think since people are anyways becoming more and more educated, if
you could just hold their hands and guide them in the right direction while building their
homes you can create something better together.
What projects are you working on currently?
Currently we are working on a few interesting projects. We in fact are just completing
the restoration of a 200 year old Indo – Portuguese house in Canca Verla, Goa. It’s been
a very interesting juxta positioning between the old house and what we had created for
the client keeping in mind his masculine tastes. The final product has come out to be
very interesting and beautiful.
We are also restoring a 250-year-old ancestral house on Divar island, Goa. This is a very
We are building 4 villas in Goa using mud blocks and load bearing techniques. This is
something we are experimenting with and we haven’t done it yet. We are consulting
with someone based in Bangalore who specializes in mud architecture to be able to
learn ourselves and create something interesting for our clients. So, for our every
project we are learning something interesting on the go and new as much as our clients
What are your thoughts on green building certifications?
Green building certification is a good benchmark to have, to make people more aware.
But I also feel that other than green building certification it is very important to keep in
mind the materials that your choosing maybe good for the environment but also, if they
are chemical based and if they are toxic and carcinogenic to humans one must not use
them. So, it’s important to not just achieve the ticks in the boxes for green building
certification but is also important to be aware of the side effects and the hazardous
impacts the choice of material has on the yours and your family’s health.
It is more important to create a home which is more natural and good for the person
living in it keeping it real and honest to the environmental condition and ecosystem and
the composition of the house than the green building certification.
Your projects seem to find a blend between the traditional Indo – Portuguese style house and
contemporary modern-day spaces. What measures do you adapt in order to achieve this?
The simple approach is to keep the client’s requirements, functionality and lifestyle in
mind while designing the house. The Indo – Portuguese houses were built in an era of a
different lifestyle and functionality. So, one cannot just replicate the house the way it is.
It is also important to keep in mind todays’ lifestyle, the wear and tear, the availability of
materials and craftsmen skills when you are designing the house. So, the blend of the
two must be done very sensitively keeping everything in mind.
How would you compare between practicing in Oxford and India?
Practicing in both countries is equally exciting and very different as well. Obviously,
Oxford being a heritage town had its building regulations and zoning considerations and
on the other hand in India there is a lot more flexibility and it’s more exciting when it
comes to weather conditions, soil types and different client briefs.
Goa is particularly very amusing because it is a holiday destination and people over here
want a more relaxed lifestyle. They want to integrate their houses with nature, they
want to explore and create something unique and different, so each client brief is also
very interesting which I find exciting and I also enjoy the balance between work and life
What does the future hold for Studio Momo?
As a firm, of now, we are trying to make our houses more eco-friendly and environment
The next project we are doing is a mud house, something we haven’t done before. We
had completed a structure made out of rammed earth in Thailand before but this is our
first time we are using mud blocks on a large scale gated villa complex. We are very
excited about that. Hopefully, Studio Momo will do better with the environment with
each upcoming projects and that’s what we are aiming for. We are currently working
with natural filter pools, Eco landscaping, rain water harvesting and better environment
friendly materials. So we learn something new with each project and that makes it very
A: Meetu Akali