25 Aug 2017 • Interview
A Day With: Doshi Levien
Nipa Doshi and Jonathan Levien orchestrate family, work and music to achieve a rhythmically balanced life.
JONATHAN LEVIEN: My day starts earlier than it used to. Combining work and family leaves very few hours in the day to do something for myself. So I get up at 5:30 and wander around a bit before beginning an hour of ashtanga yoga. It gets my mind in the right place, sets me up for the day. Nipa starts her day with singing. She’s studying Indian classical singing, and the morning is almost the only time she has to practise. Nipa often sings something suitable for a morning yoga session. We’re very compatible.
Afternoons are for working together – those moments are precious to us
Music is more than a hobby – it’s very much part of our life. So is theatre. We go to the opera and are intimately involved in the world of performance. In my opinion, there is absolutely a connection between music, rhythm and design. You can compare musical rhythm to visual rhythm. People who learn to play an instrument or who engage in other cultural activities develop an interesting sensibility. In our case, it feeds into our work, even though we’re not consciously trying to make that happen.
We live in the Barbican, which is at the heart of the City of London. Our studio is in Shoreditch, on Columbia Road, in an old furniture factory that’s about a ten-minute bicycle ride from our home. On Sundays, Columbia Road is an amazing place to buy flowers. The factory is flanked on either side by a school and a park. We have the pleasant sound of children playing during the day, and we also have some green. The studio is a big open space filled with natural light; it has wooden floors and a very industrial feel. Quite a contrast to where we live. The Barbican is a sort of utopian concrete building. But there are also connections between work and home, because a lot of the things we have in our home are prototypes of things we’ve made. What I love is the contrast between the highly designed, highly architectural Barbican and the rather uncoordinated arrangement of the objects we surround ourselves with at home. Those pieces came into our home over the years and simply found places for themselves.
Nipa never works at home. The act of going to work and sitting down at a desk is vital to her creativity. I sketch quite a bit at home, but for me work is a very physical thing. I make. I sculpt. I shape pieces in three dimensions. Those things have to be done in the studio.
We’ve had a scooter for 15 years now. That’s how we get around. Nipa hates the look of the thing, but she’s a faithful pillion rider. It’s a superb way to get around in London. We beat all the other traffic.
Most mornings at the studio we manage ongoing projects and brief the team. We also spend time with our staff developing new projects.
We are very fortunate to have a nice restaurant on the ground floor of our building. Brawn serves tapas-style food – very tempting around lunchtime. Sometimes we go home for a lunch prepared by our cook. We don’t like to eat out every day. Even when we go home, we’re back in the studio quickly. The period after lunch is usually intensively creative. It’s a time for drawing and for really getting into a project. Afternoons are for working together with Nipa. Those moments are precious. It’s when things really happen for us.
We finish work around 6:30. Leaving the studio is always a rush, and often as we’re closing up shop, we feel obligated to stay and finish one or more ‘urgent’ matters. It’s not easy to get Nipa out the door.
Switching off after work is not something we do. It’s something that happens to us. Home life takes over. We have an eight-year-old son, who’s fantastic. He demands our attention from the moment he sees us in the evening until the moment he goes to sleep. Having a child means separating your work life from your home life. There’s no other way.
Our daily routine disappears when we’re travelling. It’s difficult to get back into the normal swing of things when we get home. I have to make a conscious effort to do so.
I play the tabla, a pair of Indian drums. I like to practise in the evenings for an hour or so. And I do taekwondo twice a week, from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. I have plenty of time to pursue my interests, but to do that, you need to be able to focus.
Music is more than a hobby – it’s very much part of our life