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Designing dream habitats

If you have the passion for it, this career will keep you constantly on a high, says Vandana Ramnani

education Updated: Sep 22, 2011 11:42 IST
Vandana Ramnani

She grew up in picturesque Gangtok, day dreaming about creating beautiful structures which would stand tall before her, braving the chiaroscuro of sun and light. In her free time, she would observe her architect neighbour’s nimble fingers sketching on the drawing board for hours. Maps, T scale, compass and precision tools were her friends.

Today, Debashree Pal, 25, is an architect with a leading architect firm. A plot of land for her is the canvas onto which she pours her imagination, a drawing board which comes alive with a dream habitat for the less fortunate. She loves to design sustainable buildings that don’t take kindly to high-end materials.

Bamboo and sun-dried bricks are her favourites. And her dream project is to construct a sustainable orphanage in a far-flung village....

Pal studied at Gangtok’s Tashi Nangyal Academy (one of its famous alumni being football player Baichung Bhutia). In Class 11, she took up science with chemistry and physics as her mains and geometrical and building drawing as her elective.

As luck would have it, she topped the All India Engineering Entrance Examination (AIEEE) in her state. That brought her to Delhi for the five-year BArch programme at School of Planning and Architecture. She did her internship at the Centre for Science and Technologies for Rural Development led by legendary architect Laurie Baker where she got a chance to work on a low-cost housing project in Tamil Nadu.

Ask her about skill sets prospective architects should possess and she says: They should excel in day dreaming.

And how is the work? “An architect is the central figure for any construction project. He/she has to design a building keeping in mind the local ecology and keep an eye on aesthetics,” she says, and goes on to add, “Every project is different. It’s the variety that I love,” says Pal.

Agrees Vidur Bharadwaj, director, 3C Company, “Architecture is more of a passion than a career. It’s not only about designing habitats but an individual’s effort to create a balance between his dreams and reality.”

What's it about?
Architecture is the study which deals with planning and designing of building and structures. Architects are involved in designing a variety of structures such as houses, apartments and colonies, offices and industrial complexes, hospitals, hotels, airport terminals, stadiums, shopping and commercial complexes, schools, etc.

They provide professional services to individuals and organisations not only regarding new constructions but also for alterations and renovations. Further specialisation in the field can be in industrial design, urban design, landscape architecture, town planning, environmental planning, and transport planning, etc. Postgraduate courses in these areas are open to BArch degree/diploma holders

Clock Work
9.30am: Reach office using the car pool
11am: Discuss status of a project with colleagues
Noon: At the drawing board. Sketch out ideas
2pm: On the computer; transfer paper sketches onto the computer
5pm: Discuss outcome with seniors; re-do or finalise sketches
7pm: Leave for home if work is complete

The Payoff
Pay packages depend on the type of employment taken up. Private consultancy in architecture can fetch the highest returns. As a starter, you can expect a salary of Rs20,000 and in two to three years, about Rs40,000

Understanding people’s needs is at the core of the work
. An aspirant should be a creative artist with an interest in designing
. Ability to sketch free-hand plan – though not of utmost importance – is beneficial while explaining intricate details of the structure to clients
. Imaginative outlook
. Awareness of social and environmental factors
. Apart from being technically sound, good mathematical ability is important as the work involves working out cost estimations
. Good communication skills; physical stamina to work on the desk as well as on site

How do i get there?
. Anybody who has studied physics, maths and chemistry at the 10+2 level can apply for admission. BArch is a five-year programme. Most schools and colleges
select students through a written test. On completion of the bachelor’s programme, you can study architecture at the postgraduate level also.
. Entrance test for BArch programmes: The Central Board of Secondary Education conducts a nationwide test - All India Engineering Entrance Examina
(AIEEE). Most colleges also accept the National Aptitude Test for Architecture (NATA) score
. National Aptitude Test is conducted by the National Institute of Advanced Studies in Architecture (NIASA), Pune and the Academic Unit of the Council of
Architecture (COA)

Institutes & urls
. School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi
. Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology, CEPT University, Ahmedabad
. Sushant School of Art and Architecture, Gurgaon
. Amity School of Architecture and Planning
. The Bartlett (University College London, London)
. Cooper Union School of Architecture, United States of America
. Sci-Arc (Southern California Institute of Architecture), USA
. Cornell University, USA

Pros & cons

Allows you to stay young as every project is a new learning


You can live your dreams through designs


Get to travel a lot


Profession does not really allow for flexibility or part-time work from home options


Not a regular nine-to-five job; takes over life in its entirety


Less paying than jobs in related fields

The work is all-consuming

An architect talks about the demands of the profession

What’s a career in architecture all about?
There are two main aspects. One is the actual job description of an architect which is all about conceiving the built form and actualising it right to the final detail, and the other aspect is that it is a profession of choice for those who are extremely passionate about it.

Above everything, once you have selected architecture as a profession, you must realise that you are responsible for the entire human race’s built environment and everything that will become a part of history. Within architecture, there are various levels of interest that cater to built form for the lowest strata of society to the high-end of the spectrum. Architecture varies and there is enough to keep one going.

What’s the pay off (in terms of salary at different levels)?
It is an extremely ill-defined market which hugely depends on demand, skill and reputation. The starting pay is around R3 lakh a year and goes up as per your skills and experience. It also varies from company to company.

What skills must students desirous of taking up architecture as a career have?
Passion for design, perseverance, long-term goals and a keen interest in technology, sociology, science and computation.

What are the high and lows points of the profession?
On the brighter side, it allows you to stay young as every project has a new learning and lets you to live your dreams through design. It’s not a regular nine-to-five job and instead takes over life in its entirety and becomes an integral part of your life.

On the other side, it offers less remuneration as compared to finance-related fields maybe, although it involves the same hard work and rigour. Also, the profession does not really allow for flexibility, part-time work or work from home options due to the nature of the work.

What’s your advice to youngsters keen on becoming architects?
Persistence, hard work, initiative, enthusiasm and interest towards design and the built environment.

Sonali Rastogi, director, Morphogenesis interviewed by Vandana Ramnani