Interviews

Buildings cannot be called beautiful, if they are not functional and energy-efficient: Professor Vivek Sabherwal

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Season 3 of the Apeejay Festival of Ideas Ignited Minds organized by the Apeejay Institute of Technology – School of Architecture & Planning (AITSAP) promises to be an exciting feast for the mind and the senses.
This year the theme for the festival is ‘climate change’ and the chief guest is Dr Rajiv Kumar, Vice Chairman of Niti Aayog and the key note speaker Srijan Pal Singh, the erstwhile advisor to former president of India APJ Abdul Kalam and founder of Kalam Centre. In an exclusive interview with Aasheesh Sharma, Professor Vivek Sabherwal, Director, Apeejay Institute of Technology School of Architecture and Planning, talks about the special features of this year’s festival, its Kalam connection, the threat of extreme weather and climate change and the social responsibilities of architecture graduates. Edited excerpts:

Why did you choose the theme of climate change for the ‘Apeejay Festival of Ideas by Ignited Minds’ this year?
We know that climate change is a very important aspect that touches everybody’s lives. For several years our endeavour has been to touch upon pertinent issues that the society is facing. As architect faculty and students, we have a role to play in that regard. We have always taken up important issues and the most critical one today is the issue of climate change.  We have come to realise that there are far-reaching consequences of climate change not just in India but around the globe. For instance, there are people dying of record-breaking heat wave in Canada, we have the Dead Sea shrinking and wildfires in Alaska and closer home, three million people dying near the Mumbai coastline. This is an alarming situation for all of us. We have to ask ourselves: Can we do something collectively or at an individual level and I believe we can. The starting point should be from students because they are the ones who will have to grapple with the situation in the coming years. So they have to be made to be sensitive to this.

How was the response to season 1 and season 2 of the ‘Apeejay Festival of Ideas by Ignited Minds? How do you expect this year to compare with the other two seasons?Fundamentally, the difference is that we are doing it online. Season 1 in 2019 was offline and season 2 was again offline early last year before the pandemic. We got a tremendous response as far as architecture students are concerned. The major difference between this year’s Apeejay Festival of Ideas by Ignited Minds or AFIIM as we call it, is that it is an online event. Second, this time we are targeting senior school students. In the first two seasons we were targeting only architecture students. When you talk about the issue of climate change, you cannot restrict the discourse to just architecture students. That is why we roped in school students. The unique thing about the event is that is its festival-like vibe. You have eminent speakers come and talk about technical aspects, along with some cultural programmes. Of course, since we have a beautiful campus, in the offline format, we were hosting many parallel different events at the same time. People could choose between attending a workshop, listening to a talk in the seminar room, or any other activity. In the online event this year, we will begin with a technical talk by an expert and move on to workshops and student competitions, all this with the theme of climate change in mind. So we won’t deviate from the main theme.

Please tell us a little about the esteemed speakers and chief guest at the ‘Apeejay Festival of Ideas by Ignited Minds’ for 2021?
In earlier times, the speakers were from technical and professional fields. Since this time the base is wider including school students, we invited Dr Rajiv Kumar who is the vice chairman of Niti Aayog to be our chief guest. He will give the inaugural talk to all the young minds on Friday morning. We are really looking forward to hear nuggets of wisdom from him. Of course, we have a key note speaker in Srijan Pal Singh, a former advisor to former President Dr APJ Kalam and the founder of Kalam Centre. He is a motivational speaker. Our students have heard him before and I was compelled to call him again. Followed by the eminent speakers, we will kickstart the other competitions and events.

How are the concepts of sustainability and green thinking encouraged at the Apeejay Institute of Technology – School of Architecture & Planning (AITSAP)?
Sustainability is a very important aspect in architecture education and we always believe at Apeejay that we have a certain responsibility towards society and we want to inculcate these habits and the idea among the students right at the beginning. If we don’t incorporate these aspects early on, they will never be sensitive to them. We try and bring that sensitivity in our course, in our curriculum, the kind of assignments we give, the group work that students do and also opportunities for hands-on experience in the campus. Right from first year till final year, the emphasis is on sustainability.  

Does the festival have a strong Kalam connection?
We are affiliated to the Dr APJ Kalam Technical University. That is where we picked up the phrase ‘ignited minds.’ Dr Kalam, the people’s President was so involved with younger minds. Now that we have made it more broad-based with school students, we will continue in the same direction in the years to come.      

Could you tell us a little about the curriculum at the architecture school and what can students who enroll here expect?
We are affiliated to the Dr APJ Kalam Technical University based in Uttar Pradesh. Their curriculum is largely set by the university. Fortunately, I am one of the members of the board of studies so I do get an opportunity to give my suggestions.  Our focus is always on providing holistic development. Of course, while on one hand, we want sustainability to be an important aspect. On the other hand we want our students to be exposed to state-of-the-art technology. This is the major thrust in the curriculum for five years. The basic ethos of Apeejay is to develop good human beings. Of course, they need to be good professionally and they are expected to meet the responsibilities expected of architecture graduates, but at the same time we want them to be good human beings.

 Thanks to the direction provided by the patron Mrs Sushma Paul Berlia, AITSAP has always been synonymous with human values, inclusive education and social commitment ever since its inception. How do you envision its growth, going forward?
Because of our ethos at Apeejay Education, we need to incorporate all the things. The students need to work with integrity, have good moral values and universal human values. This is given the highest priority in the entire framework. We emphasise on the overall development of the personality of an architect. Architects as a professional have a huge responsibility when they step out of college. We lay the foundation at Apeejay and we see the results when they go out in the field. I am so happy our alumni are doing so well in the different spheres of life, whether they are working in some government institution or doing their own practice. The results are there to see.

You have spoken about the responsibilities of an architect in society. How does an architect strike a balance between creating aesthetic, good-looking buildings, along with social responsibility and thinking green?
The very essence of architecture — which is the art and science of buildings – is that on one hand an architect needs to ensure the buildings are aesthetic and pleasing to the end-user, yet they have to be functional. The objective is to strike a fine balance. The buildings should look beautiful to the client and also improve the quality of life. They should be beautiful, functional and also not put any additional burden on the planet. So they should be energy-friendly. All this has to come together. For this the architect must be well equipped with different disciplines in the profession. A beautiful building cannot be called beautiful if it is non-functional, if it doesn’t respect the environment and is not energy friendly. I won’t call it beautiful. A beautiful building is beautiful in all aspects. The students are exposed to that at a very early stage.

How important is to build in sustainability and environment-friendly features into our architecture, particularly in India?
India itself is a diverse country with different climatic zones. I have always believed that we don’t need to ape the west. We have a wise tradition of reusing and recycling, along with sharing our resources and recreating from waste. The ‘circular economy’ was part of our Asian ethos all along. The whole concept of courtyard planning, where you don’t need all the modern technology by understanding the wind direction and sunlight, is ours. We are very rich in that. We have so much of rich history to fall back upon that we don’t need to ape the west or borrow their technology, it is all there.

What can you promise the participants in the festival tomorrow?
The entries have come and the external jury has been finalised. The kind of work shared by the young minds promises to be very innovative and exciting.  We will be issuing prizes to the winners, but what matters is participation. We want to make the event even better next year whether it is online or offline. We may pick up another theme related to the environment. It is our endeavor to continue the process of awakening and igniting. After all, it is a festival. Beyond talks and workshops we are combining it with some light competitions that will ignite the mind. On a lighter note, we want to intoxicate them with Apeejay Festival of Ideas by Ignited Minds’ or AFIIM.

Aasheesh Sharma is a seasoned journalist with an experience of more than 25 years spread over newspapers, news agencies, magazines and television. He has worked in leadership positions in media groups such as Hindustan Times, India Today, Times of India, NDTV, UNI and IANS. He is a published author and his essay on the longest train journey in India was included in an anthology of writings on the railways, brought out by Rupa Publications. As the Editor of Apeejay Newsroom, he is responsible for coverage of the latest news and developments in the Apeejay institutions. He can be reached at [email protected]

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