Of Dreams, Sweat, and Tears

Chennai’s architecture students seem to gravitate to Mumbai and Ahmedabad, both home to a number of distinguished architectural firms. A trend?

Chennai: With stars in her eyes, Tara (incidentally, the name means a ‘star’), a budding Mumbai-based architect heads off to Ahmedabad for a week, for what she terms as an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity — being mentored by B.V. Joshi, a leading name in South Asian architecture. She spends an enjoyable week traipsing around iconic architectural marvels in Ahmedabad, sketching designs and learning to hone her eye for detail each day, in the strenuous week. 
Like the reel Tara (the lead female protagonist of the 2015 hit Tamil film ‘OK Kanmani’), many Taras in the real world have been making their way to cities like Ahmedabad and Mumbai with dreams of making it big in the world of architecture and design.

B.V. Doshi on the set of 2015 Tamil film ‘OK Kanmani’ at Ahmedabad with actor Nithya Menen, who played an architect mentoring under Doshi, in the film. [Source:]

Ankita Bob Alexander, an architecture student from Chennai, who interned at Design nidukaan, a multidisciplinary design studio in Ahmedabad couldn’t agree more. “Ahmedabad has a very laid back and peaceful atmosphere. Most of all, people here are quite tasteful so, they let you explore as a designer.”

Few samples from Design niDukaan’snew restored antique and antique inspired furniture collection. []

It’s easy to see why, considering the fact that Ahmedabad is home to several renowned institutes like the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology (CEPT) and the Vastu-Shilpa Foundation for Studies and Research in Environmental Design (both of whom were founded by B.V. Joshi). Siddhesh Raut, who studied architecture and planning at Nagpur’s Visvesvaraya National Institute of Technology adds, “Ahmedabad is the holy ground for the work of pioneers in modern Indian architecture. Doshi’s firm operates from Ahmedabad, and sensitivity towards the design process is taken up in earnest.”
Then, you have Bombay. Or, Mumbai, as some would insist on calling the former colonial port-city. The big bad world of Bombay where young hopefuls arrive. Talent. Ambition. Two words almost synonymous with the city.
Aman Anees, a final year student at Chennai’s MEASI Academy of Architecture who interned at Padma Bhushan Hafeez Contractor’s firm in Mumbai says, “Bombay is lovely. A beautiful city — it’s big and different. But you can feel lost sometimes.”
Tarana, another MEASI student who got a chance to intern at the prestigious Architect Hafeez Contractor (AHC) adds, “The kind of exposure I got at AHC was incomparable. With the scale of projects he designs, the kind of clients… everything about the place oozed ambition.”
Also, Mumbai’s urban development is interesting to trace, with its large population density dearth of open spaces, owing to restrictive government rules, as experts claim. Ankita Bob feels it is fascinating to experience it first hand as you learn more about the city.

Mumbai’s Abraham John architects constructed a pavilion under a tropical scene, one of their experimental designs. [Source:]

Besides the large glamorous projects, even when it comes to the small projects,these firms are sensitive to design and do more tasteful work, says Aman. “In Chennai, you see very few beautiful buildings. That’s not the case in Mumbai or Ahmedabad.”
And that may well be why these students from Chennai flock northwards for internship opportunities. 
Tarana feels,” Chennai as a city is very conservative and people prefer following the conventional methods, here. We don’t experiment much. We don’t have many firms that want to do something new or different.”
It isn’t merely about leaving the comfort of your familiar in this context. The students all concur on the fact that working in a city where architecture is practiced in an innovative and stylized manner is an absolute must if one wanted to broaden one’s horizons. 
Tarana describes her learning experience: “It was less of an architectural internship and had to do more with real estate development at AHC…” She adds that it was really taxing to work at ‘unearthly hours.’
“But, I got to meet a lot of interesting people from all over India. People who you know will be THE architects of the next generation. Talent was all over the place.”
She adds, “Although I didn’t really explore the creative aspect of architecture, I got to learn so much about how to tackle different on-site problems.” 
Aman says, “In Bombay, everyone was away from home and ambitious.” Hence, the drive to strive in a big city. 
When Aman did her second half of internship in Chennai, she says she could spot “…a drastic difference in the work environment.” 
“It was less hectic, but there was no drive”, she felt. 
SiddheshRaut who interned at Mumbai’s Carbonspace Architecture & Design couple of years ago explains how internships, a necessary requirement for any architecture course, were real eye-openers. “While we were taught how to design in college in the confines of the studio, the constraints of time, budget and structural capabilities (to name a few) were factors that we now had to weigh in, during our design process. And not to forget, dealing with the client.”
“Living alone and working hard was a different and good experience…I’d do it all over again”, declares Aman.

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