“Architecture is not only about building…”

“…but about how to take care of society.” Prof. Gaurish Chandawarkar, Principal, IES College of Architecture, Bandra, talks to Shraddha Kamdar about the sensibilities needed for this profession and much more

One email to his official address got the ball rolling. He called me back and we set up the appointment, which led me to his office on an early weekday morning to share a variety of thoughts over a hot cuppa. As warm and engaging he was, he was one to look out for the students, since he had several years of professional experience under his belt before he entered academics. Even after he became a teacher, it took him a while to understand the system, but once he had that covered, there was no looking back. Not for him, not for his students. Prof. Gaurish Chandawarkar, Principal, IES College of Architecture, Bandra, shared many thoughts on many topics, but the underlying theme was the same – how to make architecture education better for the students.

“You see, I entered the field of education and teaching because I wanted to be part of the ring rather than be external to it and then complain about the quality of the students that the system churned out every year. As educators, we have a lot to do. Even if we feel bound, it is important to stand up and take charge. I have been here for about six years, and we are consistently trying to consolidate the programme by brining in the teachers’ views towards the benefit of the students,” he says.

Prof. Chandawarkar feels that architecture education is not taken very seriously by the university because perhaps it is a relatively smaller stream as compared to science, commerce or arts. He feels that the field needs better recognition and the governance council in doing a lot towards promoting it. Another aspect that he feels strongly about is the fact that teachers are not respected enough, and that they deserve a better say in the system. Another aspect of the teaching community he shares is that there is a need for training the teachers to impart knowledge effective to the students.

“If we provide impetus, things will turn around. After all, architecture is a confluence of arts, science and economics in which students have to be very sensitive towards design. Architecture is not only about building, but about how you take care of society – geography, geology, value and building is the by-product,” is Prof. Chandawarkar’s opinion.

That’s why, he informs me that during the 15-day orientation programme, the first year students are told to forget algebra, geometry, differentials and just allowed to play with materials like clay and bamboo. According to Prof. Chandawarkar, the understanding of materials has to come around as a process. In this process, experimentation with the material helps, and the childlike behaviour helps in instigating imagination, which is an integral part.

Within this entire process, Prof. Chandawarkar feels that the students are not aware of their strengths. Once they would be aware of their strengths, they would be able to get through the process of admission for the architecture programme. “Often, the preparation for the entrance test eliminates the students who lack talent. And it will also open up the students’ minds on their own aptitudes. “Students should not be mistaken, apart from talent, you also have to be able to express yourself in this field, and to interpret what the client says and what the client wants. I have clients who are well travelled and know of certain materials, and insist that they want to use them. At that point, the architect needs to be able to interpret it all. And that is the rigorous process they go through in the five years they work for this programme. I would also like to add that it is not a game of tension. But play it the way you enjoy, and you should be fine!”

Prof. Chandawarkar says that at present educators need to do things that will help the future generations. “We need to ensure that the next generation of architects learn to work with design rather than a calculator.” By calculator, he means that constant struggle for gaining extra FSI in construction.

I ask him if this is directly connected with the fact that the students are so competitive within the education system, and so they are constantly struggling to gain more marks. “I feel we should not take the students away from the marks, because marks represent the measure of their work. Marks are important with the way you treat them. They could be positive motivators. If anything needs to be checked, it is the quality control on the evaluation system,” Prof. Chandawarkar says.

So if marks provide the motivation, where can design and architecture go is sometimes they are looking for creative inspiration for their work? “There are many ways. Often, teachers can help with that if students can approach them without hesitation. Teachers can help bring back the students’ focus back to the task at hand even if sometimes it seems like a punitive measure,” he says.

To explain the second way, Prof. Chandawarkar offers his own experience when he was in college. He was struggling with a certain submission, when his senior suggested something with a colour scheme, and he had his solution! “The idea of a senior mentor is very important. At that point, I understood what my senior was trying to say and didn’t dilute my strengths, or my idea, but I found my way. I feel that sometimes, there is no better mentor than a senior, especially in architecture.” Apart from that, he feels that there is no harm in falling back on the internet to look for inspiration as well, as it can be a goldmine of resources if used well.

Along with all of this focus on design and creativity, Prof. Chandawarkar mentions that any activity that will build the personality of the student should be promoted, be it sports, meditation or anything else. “I believe that if you have skills, you are positioning yourself better, so there is no duality in the way you express your thoughts and ideas to your clients,” he concludes.

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