Architecture and urban design

SCIENCE OF DESIGN: Buildings are not isolated elements, but building blocks of the city.  

If you have ever been excited about rearranging the furniture in your room, loved the look of your phone while adding a few accessories to make it your own or had conversations with your friends about one product being better than another because it is well made, you can be certain that you have a flair for design. You would spot an admirable house, enjoy a well designed coffee shop and appreciate a well planned city. The disciplines of architecture and urban design deal with all this and more.

Architecture is the art and science of designing and constructing buildings. Architecture affects life at an individual level. A sensitively designed house is an important constituent of a good life and in fact is the good life itself. Architects have a dual responsibility- addressing the client who is the immediate concern as well as the society which reposes trust in us that we work in its best interest. The architectural scale of projects range from residential to office buildings, public buildings such as libraries, museums, temples and schools to name a few.

Urban Design, the next step, builds on architecture. When it began as a discipline 50 years ago, it was seen as an extension of architecture and planning, which dealt with the design of civic spaces and streets. However, because of the holistic perspective it developed over the years and the complex challenges of the city it addressed, Urban Design has now become a field in itself. Urban design deals with, but is not limited to designing large-scale projects such as parks, public infrastructure, waterfronts, mixed-use communities (having residential, office and recreational components). It views buildings not as isolated elements, but instead as building blocks of the city, develops regulatory frameworks for city growth and addresses a myriad of forces from the ecological to the aesthetic. For example, the design of a waterfront involves several components- its need arises from a vision for the city; its feasibility is dictated by economic factors and its design is developed keeping in mind cultural, aesthetic and environmental considerations.

Obtaining an architecture degree

Architecture is a five-year professional course (B.Arch- Bachelors of Architecture), offered in public and private universities both in India and abroad. Most notable programmes in India include those offered by Center for Environmental Planning and Technology, Ahmedabad; School of Architecture and Planning, Chennai; School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi as well as private universities including MEASI, SRM, Hindustan College of Engineering in Chennai. The majority of the course-load comprises of eight semesters of design studio, one year of practical training and a final semester culminating in a design thesis.

Design involves both visual and verbal thinking. It taps the power of multiple modes of learning- observation, reflection, abstraction and creation. Learning through peer criticism is a key component of design education. In this sense, it is different from standard lecture based courses.

A wide variety of theory courses such as History of Architecture, Materials and Construction, Design of Structures, Acoustics, Interior Design and Urban Sociology supplement the design studio enabling students to develop a well-rounded perspective of the field. Some universities mandate a North and South India tour as part of the curriculum allowing students to explore and understand the impact of their profession in real life.

The eligibility criterion for enrolment is based on High school examination scores, relevant state/nationwide entrance examination scores, in addition to the National Aptitude Test in Architecture scores. Thus, to a large extent, a student's skill set in mathematics, art/drawing dictate the chances of securing a seat. The Council for Architecture (COA) is the Indian governing body that regulates the standards of education and practice. It is important for prospective students to enroll in COA approved colleges. Upon graduation, in order to practice architecture, one must register with the COA.

Pursuing urban design

Urban Design is a post-graduate programme requiring a five-year architecture degree or its equivalent as a precondition for enrollment. This can be a one to two year programme depending on the university's structure. Institutions mentioned above offer urban design programmes as well, although the particular focus/concentration of the programme may vary. The opportunities to pursue an urban design degree abroad are plenty. Specifically, graduate education in the US and UK have rich and invigorating academic settings that provide flexibility and opportunity to shape individual pursuits. Harvard University's Graduate School of Design is credited with introducing this programme first and offers the MAUD (Master of Architecture in Urban Design) degree. Other key institutions include Columbia University, University of California Berkeley, University of Texas Austin in the US to name a few.

Qualifying criteria include a combination of an architecture degree, competitive examination scores (state/national exams/ GRE/TOEFL as the case maybe) and one's resume, portfolio and statement of purpose.

Opportunities and challenges

Completing the architecture degree opens up many career possibilities. Apprenticeship is crucial to becoming a knowledgeable professional. Young graduates can choose to train in small or big private firms which will equip them well to take on their own projects. Some graduates choose to open their own firms, often in partnership with colleagues possessing complimentary skill sets- this journey can be challenging yet satisfying.

Several career pursuits await a post-graduate student of urban design. The public sector offers interesting possibilities to explore policy, infrastructure development, public housing etc., Large private firms are usually the ones with urban design departments given the need for access to capital and the scale of the projects. Teams are typically small and there are numerous opportunities to learn and grow in these environments.

The most valuable reward one can get from creative professions such as these is job satisfaction and the day-to-day excitement of conceiving new ideas. The fields of study are vast and the opportunities to explore are limitless. Unlike many other professions which peak at 40, the art of building and planning is so complex that life truly begins after 30 and continues till ones decides to retire.

Architecture and urban design are subject to real estate fluctuations, thus job security is a concern. The long-term nature of projects, difficult on-site working conditions, the responsibility of coordinating multiple consultants and long working hours both as a student and professional are some of the challenges to keep in mind. In addition, remuneration (starting salary as well as growth in compensation) is relatively low compared to other mainstream professions.

All things considered, the benefits of a lasting impact on people and our lived environment far outweigh the costs making this a fulfilling and rewarding career choice. If you want to be a part of shaping history, sculpting the urban environment, impacting everyday spaces you inhabit and be remembered beyond your time, architecture and urban design are the perfect professions for you. For, awe-inspiring buildings and plans form a part of our enduring legacy- whether it be the great Vijayanagara ruins at Hampi, or our ancient temples and palaces. Unfortunately, the past few decades have witnessed haphazard development due to misplaced prioritization and misguided goals. So, consider channelizing your creative mind to bring India back to its past architectural glory. This, in its own way is a service to the country.

(The author is a New York-based architect specializing in urban design.)

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Nov 26, 2020 3:31:34 PM |

Next Story