FX Magazine - Anshu Srivastava



MRA are excited to announce that MRA Director, Anshu Srivastava, features in the October edition of FX. Here's the article in full: "He’s a well-travelled man, and one with several interests that don’t involve architecture and interior design... From Manchester, London, Paris, to India and back to London, the head of MRA Architecture and Interior Design tells Jamie Mitchell he finds that theatre directing and psychoanalysis stretch him after he’s done with the day job... Architects and designers can be pretty single-minded – but some of them have other interests too. Take David Rockwell who loves the theatre, Enzo Appicella who has enjoyed a successful double career as a restaurant designer and satirical cartoonist, and architect Chris Brandon, of Pringle Brandon, who is a marine archaeologist in his spare time. Following in this tradition is Anshu Srivastava. When he isn’t busy at MRA Architecture and Interior Design, the specialist retail design and architecture practice that he and his wife Stephanie Srivastava run, he’s often found reading up on psychoanalysis – a subject in which he also has an MA. Like Rockwell, Srivastava is also a lover of theatre and hopes to make his directorial debut soon with the Tamasha Theatre Company in Shoreditch. When I meet him at one of his latest projects – the first store for wallpaper, homeware and fashion label House of Hackney in Shoreditch – I can’t wait to ask him about his ancillary interests. ‘Although my design and architecture work is very creative, it’s also bound up with lots of other things, like making a living and other responsibilities,’ he tells me. ‘When you’re doing something you know how to do, even though you’re always learning, it just doesn’t stretch you enough. Every so often it’s good to reassess and say, “I’m going to do something I have absolutely no idea how to do.” Nevertheless, designing the store for House of Hackney was no mean feat. The budget was small but the store had to feel generous and luxurious, which it does. Luxury retail has become a speciality for MRA Architecture and Interior Design, especially since Srivastava, who was born in India and grew up in Manchester, took over the practice in 2002 from its founder Mark Roche. The House of Hackney project fits into a glittering portfolio of interiors, which includes stores for lingerie brand Agent Provocateur in New York and Londonand Jimmy Choo boutiques around the world. Despite his other interests, Srivastava admits that there was something inevitable in his choice of architecture as a career: ‘My mother’s an artist and my father was an engineer, and the family joke is that architecture is the sum of those two things; I think there is some truth in that.’ He studied in London at what was then the North London Polytechnic, now the University of North London. His diploma followed at South Bank University, then he went to work at the practice of modernist architect Denys Lasdun. But the recession of the Nineties hit soon after, and finding work scarce in London Srivastava was encouraged by a friend to move to Paris. It was a bit of a gamble, as he says that at that time his French vocabulary extended to ‘Bonjour and au revoir’, but he found the architecture scene in Paris far more dynamic than London’s. ‘It was the time of François Mitterrand’s Grands Projets, and apart from those five or six major projects (including the Pyramid at the Louvre) and the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the whole sense of public architecture was very vibrant at the time in Paris,’ he says. He found work with the Paris office of BDP, which allowed him to go to French classes once a week. The job with BDP was a freelance position, but he ended up staying in Paris for two years and worked in several offices, but his main experience in the city was with Ricardo Bofill. ‘That was interesting,’ he says, ‘because while Bofill’s postmodernist style was the absolute antithesis of my own personal style, his studio practice reminded me to respect my conceptual ideas and not allow them to be lost within other demands of the project’. After leaving Paris, he took some time out and went to India to build a house for his extended family ‘literally with my own hands’. Then it was back to London. Mark Roche, founder of MRA Architecture and Interior Design, was looking for a French-speaking architect to work on some projects in Europe and Srivastava landed the job, going on to work on stores for Nike across Europe. Working alongside Roche, Srivastava honed his style and developed a passion for retail design, and by 2002 felt it was time to set up on his own. What actually happened was a bit more unusual than that: ‘I said to Mark that I was leaving to set up my own business and he surprised me because he basically turned around and said that he was ready to sell me his business. So we came to a really amicable agreement: he didn’t in the end sell me the business – I started my own – but he sold me the portfolio and the name and he continued to work with me as a consultant over the next five years. He was a key mentor and influence in my life and career.’ Srivastava’s architect wife Stephanie joined the practice in 2006 and has been integral to its direction, he says. ‘It really transformed the fortunes of the business when she joined, because she not only brought her talents to bear on it. It’s very tough to run a business on your own, so that fact that there were two of us made a big difference.’ For some, mixing family and business is a no-no, but for Srivastava it’s quite natural: ‘I think there’s a false line that people sometimes try to draw between work and family life and they beat themselves up for crossing it, but I think we’re fortunate. We can have this journey in our personal and professional lives and raising our kids and taking care of our families and friends. I think what really works is that we’re creating this whole thing together. It’s very intimate. I think the people we work with respond to that as well because it’s very genuine.’