Manushi Jain believes designers and planners bring insights to India’s urban challenges Image: Selvaprakash Lakshmanan for Forbes India Stylists: Vaybhav Acharya And Geethanjali Manjunath; Hair & Make Up: Glossnglass; Clothes: Rareism; Production: Ovez Bakshi (Studio O Productions) Conscious Creator Manushi Ashok Jain, 29 Co-founder and director (design & operations), Sponge Collaborative
I have always been interested in problem-solving and wanted to do something that would give back to the community,” says architect and urban designer Manushi Ashok Jain, 29. She is the co-founder and director (design and operations) at Sponge Collaborative, a multi-disciplinary strategic planning and design firm that specializes in urban design, landscape architecture, urban planning, spatial analytics and social development.
“The understanding of the profession of urban design or the value of an urban designer is very limited in India”,” says Jain. “Our practice is driven by the belief that designers and planners bring valuable insights and solutions to India’s urban challenges.”
A gold medalist and topper in B.Arch with a master’s in architecture and urban design from the Pratt Institute, New York, Jain dabbled in architecture before transitioning to urban design. She worked in Bengaluru, Mumbai, Singapore and New York City as an architect before moving to Boston, US, where she was part of Sasaki Associates.
Her experience as an urban designer grew in Sasaki, where she had the opportunity to directly work on the strategic development framework for five cities in war-torn Afghanistan. “It was exceptional for me, understanding the real issues the world is facing,” says Jain. Here is where the idea of Sponge Collaborative emerged along with two of her colleagues at Sasaki.
In 2020, Jain formed a consortium of nine teammates to participate in EnteKochi, a national-level urban design competition aiming to find sustainable solutions to design the future city of Kochi. The team presented a solution emphasising the potential of blue-green infrastructure as a relatively low-cost alternative to grey infrastructure to prevent flooding. Their entry was placed first among 121 participants. Following the competition win, Jain moved to India and incorporated Sponge Collaborative in September 2020.
In 2021, the collaborative was chosen for an initiative by Greater Chennai Corporation to propose Chennai’s first sponge park, an urban space constructed to collect, filter and store the run-off during heavy rainfall and serve as a recreation area during dry months.
Jain—along with partners Praveen Raj, Sourav Kumar Biswas and Shreya Krishnan—has collectively helped realise integrated housing, mobility and infrastructure solutions that are environmentally and socioeconomically relevant in over 60 cities around the world.
“Manushi cares about the world around her,” says Einat Rosenkrantz, senior associate, Sasaki, and visiting faculty at Harvard University. “With a sincere and passionate approach, this talented architect constantly pushes the boundaries of her discipline and is always ready to tackle big challenges like the repercussions of climate change in cities.”
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(This story appears in the 11 February, 2022 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)
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