Submitted by Pappal Suneja

Lucid talk with BS Keshav exploring about architecture as an option for undergraduate study in India

India Architecture News - Jun 6, 2019 - 03:10   1720 views

Lucid talk with BS Keshav exploring about architecture as an option for undergraduate study in India

This is a lucid talk with architect BS Keshav trying to find out about architecture as an option for undergraduate study in India. Prof Keshav is an Architect, Interior Designer, Project Manager, and a Teacher. His thirty plus years of professional experience spans Designing, Project Management, Administration and Teaching in the field of Architecture & Interior Design. He has been at various points in his career, a proprietor of a small design firm, part of senior management in a large design firm, head of a department in an IT major, Professor, Dean and then Principal of an architectural school. Apart from this he also manages to squeeze in time for bird-watching and writing.

Pappal SunejaWhat is it like being an undergraduate architecture student in India? Anything the students should know before joining an architecture school? 

BS KeshavActually, these are two questions, but I’ll try to answer in the simplest terms. Once you join an Architectural school, you will realize that this course is unlike any other course.

First of all, be clear in your mind about the difference between Art and Architecture. If you have a flair for art, it is a good thing, but it does not necessarily mean that architecture is the only option. Art and Architecture are like pure science and applied science, the difference between a scientist and an engineer. Architecture has a sizeable content of engineering woven into it

Further, the years one has spent in the Indian education system will not prepare you for what one shall undergo. First of all, most students come through the State boards, CBSE or ICSE boards. Till the 10 + 2 stage, all students are made to undergo the same set of subjects. Each subject is in a self-contained box, like language, Mathematics, Science, History, Geography, Civics, etc. Nothing links these subjects together, except the medium of instruction, that is English or any regional language

The Architecture syllabus, however, is heliocentric, i.e. it is like the solar system, where the planets orbit around the sun. Here, the sun is the subject of Architectural Design, while the planets are the other subjects like Building construction & materials, structural engineering, Climatology, Environmental science, History of Architecture, etc. Unlike the solar system, where the sun (Architectural Design) derives sustenance from the planets (the theory subjects). Whatever is taught in the theory subjects has to be applied in the Architectural Design studio.

Further, the theory subjects make up just 35% of the course, while the studio or practical subjects make up the remaining 65%. This means that unlike other courses like BE, BA, B.Sc, B.Com, etc, where the bulk of learning is done through lectures, here it is the reverse. The bulk of learning is by making drawings and models. And these are not the freehand drawings made in Art class but drafted using tools like T-squares & Set-squares in the first two years and CAD (Computer-aided Drafting) in the remaining three years. So, both physically and mentally it is a very challenging course indeed.

Therefore, before opting for Architecture, one should do some review about what is the difference between Art, Architecture, Design & Civil Engineering

Pappal Suneja: How would Architecture students describe their experience with the National Association of Students of Architecture (NASA)?

BS Keshav: NASA is a national level body, where students of architectural schools come together and compete for curricular, co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. Earlier, this was done only at the national level, but in the last 15 to 20 years there has been an exponential growth in the number of architectural schools, so the country has been divided into several zones. Now the schools registered with NASA can compete on a zonal level and then go on to the national level

The major advantage that it gives a student besides the healthy competition is that it provides a national benchmark. An apt analogy is that of a sportsperson or athlete. An athlete or sportsperson competes at the school level, college level, university level, district level, state level, national level and finally international level and his/her performance gets benchmarked against an increasing level of competition and improves.

Similarly, architecture students get an opportunity through NASA to pit their skills & creative abilities against their contemporaries in other schools and gain much-needed exposure. This can make all the difference between being a big fish in a small pond and a small fish in a large pond.  Apart from the academic content, it also provides an excellent opportunity to imbibe diverse cultures. In a culturally diverse country like India, this aspect is also very important to round off the personality of a budding architect, who ultimately has to serve the interests of the population of the country as a whole rather than just one state or region

Pappal Suneja: What are some really good advice for an Architecture student? Why should students study Architecture? 

BS Keshav: Strictly speaking, this is a very personal issue, but I’ll attempt to throw focus on the advantages and challenges of choosing this profession:

Advantages: 

- It gives an outlet to your creativity while assuring you of a professional education

- There is no fixed path after completing the course. You can choose to do a Post Graduation and opt for a job in the private or Government sector. For a private sector job, you don’t even need a Post Graduation. You can also choose to be an entrepreneur and set up a private practice. You can use the Post Graduation to set yourself up as an expert or consultant to other architectural firms. If you have other passions like writing, photography, animation, movie-making, an architectural degree is an excellent springboard to go where your passion leads you. After a few years in the field, a career in teaching is also an option

-The fact that there is no fixed career path is an advantage in itself as the sky is the limit for you to grow

Challenges:

- Physically, it is a very challenging course. 65% of the studies are done through the making of drawings on a drafting board or a computer/laptop. Attending lectures and learning by rote makes up the remaining 35%

- It is a five-year course as opposed to four years for an engineering degree

- The entire architectural sector is quite disorganized and things like placement do not happen, at least not till now

Pappal Suneja: Is Architecture as a course really in demand in India?

BS Keshav: There is no pat answer to this, like a yes or no

Today, in India, architecture is flourishing in the metros like Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata & Chennai. The next rungs of cities like Bangalore, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Pune, Jaipur, etc are also a good destination for a fresh architect. Then we come to the smaller cities. It is possible to establish oneself with a good practice there too. Essentially it is confined to the urban areas

Overall, as long as the population is growing, the three basic needs have to be met: Food, clothing & shelter (Roti, Kapda Aur Makaan) Architecture figures in the third part. You can live without seeing a movie or buying a Smartphone, but you cannot survive without these three basic requirements

Why I say that there is no pat answer to this question is that skills and talent play a large part in the making of an architect. Skills can be learned in an architectural school, but talent has to come from within. If you are talented, acquire the skills, are disciplined and determined, success will come your way

Pappal Suneja: Is studying Architecture tough?

BS Keshav: There are two aspects to this:

Physically, yes it is a tough course, because. 65% of the studies are done through the making of drawings on a drafting board or a computer/laptop. Attending lectures and learning makes up the remaining 35%

Apart from this, it will be tough if you do not have the aptitude for architecture. That is why NATA (National Aptitude Test for Architecture) is conducted at a national level by the Council of Architecture. This is not an entrance exam like NEET, JEE, etc. Instead of testing your memory or analytical skills, your aptitude is tested and evaluated. The higher your score at NATA, the easier it will be to tackle this course

Pappal Suneja: I believe that the new entrants would be also interested to know the details of the subjects that they have to study in Architecture?

BS Keshav: To get a comprehensive reply to this, one must access the website of the college/university that you are planning to join. A detailed syllabus will be put up there and updated regularly when changes are made. This is because the syllabus, though approved by the Council of Architecture, varies from one university to the other

To give one a broad idea of the pattern followed at one of the universities of India, for instance, Anna University, Chennai:

- 65% of the studies are done through the making of drawings on a drafting board or a computer/laptop. Attending lectures and learning makes up the remaining 35%

- In the first semester, the practical (studio) subjects will be related to design, but not actually architectural design. These are Art, Basic Design, Model making & Architectural drawing. The theory subjects are History of Architecture, Mathematics, and English

- In the second semester, studio subjects are Architectural design and Architectural drawing. The theory subjects are, Structures, Building construction & Materials and Theory of Architecture

- In the third semester, the studio subjects are Architectural Design, Building Construction & Materials, and Site Analysis & Planning. The theory subjects are Structures, History of Architecture and Climatology

- In the fourth semester, the studio subjects are Architectural design, CAD (Computer Aided Drafting) and Building Construction & Materials. The theory subjects are Structures, Building Services, and Environmental Science

- In the Fifth semester, the studio subjects are Architectural design and Building Construction & Materials. The theory subjects are History of Architecture, Structures and Building Services

- In the sixth semester, studio subjects are Architectural design and Building Construction & Materials. The theory subjects are History of Architecture, Structures and Building Services

- In the seventh semester, the studio subjects are Architectural design and Architecture Design detailing. The theory subjects are Landscape Design, Urban Design, and Estimation

- In the eighth semester, there is just Architectural Design as the studio subject. The theory subjects are Settlement Planning, Urban Housing, and Professional Practice & Ethics. In this semester there is a compulsory educational tour

- The Ninth semester is set aside for Internship (Professional Training), which is to be done at an architectural firm

- The Tenth semester  has the Thesis as the major subject

-Apart from these, each semester will have an Elective subject that the student can choose. In addition to all of the above subjects, the student can take up Value-added courses to gain additional credits and boost his CGPA score

Pappal Suneja: Which discipline is tougher to study, Architecture or Medicine?

BS Keshav: This is like comparing apples to oranges. The two courses are totally different and can be equally tough if you do not have the aptitude for it.

As far as Architecture is concerned, that is why NATA (National Aptitude Test for Architecture) is conducted at a national level by the Council of Architecture. This is not an entrance exam like NEET, JEE, etc. Instead of testing your memory or analytical skills, your aptitude is tested and evaluated. The higher your score at NATA, the easier it will be to tackle this course

Physically, architecture is a tough course, because 65% of the studies are done through the making of drawings on a drafting board or a computer/laptop. Attending lectures and learning makes up the remaining 35%

As far as Medicine (MBBS) is concerned, the focus is more on theory subjects and this involves a lot of learning by rote. They do have practical subjects too, like Obstetrics, Gynaecology, Paediatrics, etc, but those are taken up in greater detail when they go for postgraduate specialization or further super specialization

Pappal Suneja: Why students study History of Architecture?

BS Keshav:  This is a very good question and it is one that has plagued many a student of Architecture for decades. I will attempt to unravel this mystery about the history

Before going into the history of architecture in specific, let us zoom out to the subject of history in general. Why do we need to record the history of mankind and then study it? The simple answer is that we need to know and understand our roots as a part of a complex society. Man is a social animal and can only function as a part of society. The social groups begin with the family and move outwards to villages, urban neighborhoods, cities, states, nations, continents, and the world. Each of these is a social group that only varies in size or scale. It is vital that they work together or chaos will result. To work together, they need to understand each other. To understand each other they need to know each other. This brings us to the necessity of studying history and finding out how things evolved and how we got here

When this logic is applied to architecture, let us first examine what is the profession of architecture. First of all, it is a service industry like doctors, lawyers, chartered accountants, etc. Architects have a purpose to provide design services to those in need of buildings or campuses. These could be residences, commercial property, hospitals, institutions and so on. Whatever they may be, there will be an end user. His needs have to be fulfilled. These needs are not restricted to just functional needs. Aesthetics, comfort, and pride are also some of the unmentioned needs that have to be understood and addressed by the architect before he sets out to design the project. These can only be understood by studying the end user

This brings us to the subject of the History of Architecture. The actual name of the subject is History of Architecture and Culture. For too long, the latter part has been misunderstood or ignored by both, students as well as the teachers who taught them. As a result, students look at the subject as a collection of empty buildings/monuments/ruins, etc that seem soulless. They wonder why they are being forced to study them.

What is left unsaid is the people for whom they were built and the people who actually built them. What were their motives? Why did they build them? Why did they build them in that particular manner? What did they achieve by doing so? Are these buildings or methods relevant today in the current socio-economic-political milieu? If not, what is the present situation?

When we address these questions, we will understand the psyche of the occupants of the structures.  We will be in a better position to understand their needs, both stated and unstated. Only then can we cater to these needs through our architectural designs

Hence the need to study History of Architecture and Culture

Pappal Suneja: Why would one want to be an architect/study architecture? Why did you want to study architecture? What motivated you to do so?

BS Keshav:  I can only share my personal experience in answering this question.

I opted for architecture in the year 1982. At that point, parents of most students would force/persuade their children to take up courses for the following reasons:

- A businessman’s son would want his son to pursue the commerce stream so that in due time he could inherit the family business

- An industrialist’s son would pursue engineering

- A doctor or lawyer or chartered accountant would do the same

- Others would just opt for either Engineering or Medicine streams as they were professional streams and had a better chance of job opportunities

I grew up in a small town and was not really aware of a profession called Architecture. Those were the days before the internet, cable TV and the information explosion. I only got to know about it when a senior in my school joined the Sir J J College of Architecture in Mumbai. On a visit to Mumbai for some competitive exam, I dropped in to meet him and see the college. What I saw and learned from him made me want to do the same. I didn’t feel any passion for either Engineering or Medicine. I wanted to do a professional course that also had a large element of creativity. So it was merely a stroke of luck that brought me to this profession, but I have not regretted for a minute since then

So my advice to anybody seeking to enter this profession is to first read about it and if possible consult career guidance counselors or even an architect if you know one. Find out about your talents and aptitude. Only then take a decision

Pappal Suneja: Is Architecture profession a good career? 

BS Keshav: Yes, Architecture is definitely worth it and is a good career. One statistic can prove this. In the last thirty years, the number of colleges offering architectural education in India has gone up from around 50 to over 500. So definitely there is a demand for architects. Another indicator is the growing economy and growing population, which means just one sector, the housing sector will need more buildings. Consequently, architects will get more projects and this will generate more employment. There are other sectors too that will need the services of architects like Hospitals, Hospitality, IT and ITES, Educational institutions and commercial complexes.

Overall, to sum it up; as long as the population is growing, the three basic needs have to be met: Food, clothing & shelter (Roti, Kapda Aur Makaan) Architecture figures in the third part. You can live without seeing a movie or buying a Smartphone, but you cannot survive without these three basic requirements

Pappal Suneja: Is Architecture as a profession good for women?

BS Keshav: Definitely yes, architecture is good for women. As a matter of fact, more than 50% of seats in architectural colleges have been taken up by girls. India is a secular and progressive country, there are absolutely no barriers for girls to get employment, grow in their careers or even set up individual or partnership firms after they graduate. There are several firms running successfully in India that have been set up by women. Interestingly, Mumbai’s new International Airport is being designed by an international firm established by the late Zaha Hadid, a lady.  After gaining some experience in the field, teaching can also be a productive field, which has its own advantages of work to life balance and a way of giving back to society what one has received.

Pappal Suneja: What are the best books to learn architectural concepts?

BS Keshav: This cannot be answered so simply. Any good college which has been in existence for ten years or more will have more than 5000 books in their library. This is a rule that is enforced by the Council of Architecture. These books are by Indian as well as international authors. They cover architecture holistically as well as the various aspects of architecture like interior design, landscape, history of architecture, color, lighting, etc and are too numerous to mention. Each year, new books are purchased. In addition, there are several journals, magazines, and e-zines that are published on a monthly basis. Further today, libraries in architectural schools have access to e-libraries that have thousands of internationally published books, essays, journals, and research papers.

For all this, one will need to join a college of architecture first. There is a whole new world awaiting you in the library. If one wants to know about a book that will give you an idea of what an architect’s professional life is like, you can read “Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand. It is a fiction novel and the main character is an architect called Howard Roark. It’s an old book and things have changed since then, but it is a good read.

Top image © wallpaperup.com

> via Inputs from Prof BS Keshav