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‘I believe in creating meaningful architecture rather than using technologies just for the sake of it’

From construction 3D printing to waste management, architect Abhimanyu Goel, alumnus of AIT-SAP, takes us through his repertoire of work in urban design

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Abhimanyu Goel and Aakanksha Jain

An alumnus of Apeejay Institute of Technology-School of Architecture and Planning (AITSAP), Abhimanyu Goel is an architect and senior research associate working with the National University of Singapore. As part of his work, he has been involved in various projects including construction 3D printing, adaptive reuse building of future schools in Singapore, and more. Goel’s fiancée Aakanksha Jain is also an AIT-SAP alumna, who is working as an urban designer in the same city. In an interview, Goel tells us more about his research projects. Edited excerpts:

How did your interest in architecture develop and what made you pursue it at AIT-SAP?

After class 10, I was in Kota, preparing for IIT. I always loved exploring old cities, their alleys, to quench my curiosity about their history. When I came back home during class 11-12, I came to know about architecture as something that was a combination of art and science. I started researching more about the subject and what it entails. I got in touch with some of my seniors who were AIT alumni and were doing well in their respective fields. Initially, I was planning on doing my graduation abroad but then I got to know about AIT-SAP and decided to apply there.

I felt a sense of warmth when I visited the college campus. There were highs and lows throughout the term, but I enjoyed my time at AIT-SAP. Not just classroom lessons, there were site visits, site discussions, case studies, etc. I was also interested in a lot of extra-curricular competitions and conferences. I felt lucky to have found architecture as a career path. The fourth year of college was a turning point for me when I went to work with Bhardwaj Architects which gave me a new direction. In my fifth year, I got selected for one of the MIT workshops in India, where I learned about sustainability and related aspects of architecture design. It was my curiosity that was a driving factor in my career choices.

Tell us about your journey from AIT-SAP to Singapore.

I worked briefly in Delhi with a construction firm for Taj Shimla as the design manager. I have always been motivated to go beyond academics and at this firm, I got an amazing first-hand experience. Besides, our family would go on international trips every year, where I enjoyed looking at a place’s architecture. Around that time, I had only heard about sustainable design and was keen to know more. After some research, I got to know about projects happening around Singapore with respect to sustainable design and green buildings. In fact, my projects prior to the final-year thesis were related to the same. After my fifth year, I also got the opportunity to go to Auroville for a workshop where we had to make a bamboo pavilion, which was a great learning experience. Eventually, I applied at some international colleges for a master’s degree, got rejected initially but finally got selected at the National University of Singapore (NUS) in 2015.

What can you tell us about your research work?

Once I was in NUS, my life changed completely. I have been in Singapore for nearly seven years now. As a senior research associate, I have a big team and together, we are working on five projects with respect to construction 3D printing. As part of my work, I develop bricks and building modules. My interest in 3D printing developed around 2017-18, when I started research because I have always been passionate about inventive work—learning and unlearning things and redoing them.

Now, I regularly speak at conferences. One of my major contributions was at Marina Bay Sands recently. Last year, I was involved as an architect with the National Research Foundation (NRF), which is part of the Prime Minister’s Office in Singapore. My topic was ‘Urban Metabolism Analysis’ (2019-20), where I was looking at the flow of materials with respect to waste management and adopting renewable technologies. I also published a research paper last year with Gardens by the Bay, Singapore, where we launched a pilot gasification project to manage all the green waste. I have also worked on projects on Changi Airport, some national parks in Singapore, and so on.

With all the experience I gained, I returned to the School of Architecture (NUS) in 2021. One of the projects I am currently working on is using green waste in building construction materials, along with which comes 3D printing. How we do it is, we try to change the density or design of bricks, for instance. A lot of my work is based on microstructures—studying molecular structures of diamond or carbon, etc. Two months ago, there was an article in the local newspaper about one of my projects on urban gardening using 3D printing.

Overall, I am quite happy that I have come so far in my journey. It has been a learning experience and I am here to explore and research more.

Internationally, how are stakeholders achieving sustainable goals in architecture? How would you compare it with the conversation around sustainability in India?

It depends a lot on political will and the applicability of the design, which can sometimes be a challenge. Coming to sustainability, it is a world in itself whether you are talking about mud architecture or zero-energy buildings, etc. Sustainability is based on the applicability and relevance to a certain space or location, be it in rural or urban areas.

Are private stakeholders taking enough interest in creating sustainable structures?

That is something we have been debating for some time now. When it comes to private developers, the situation has to be analysed on a case-to-case basis. However, a lot of them are dedicated to taking the sustainability conversation ahead and changing the way they look at architecture in India. With a civilisation that is so many years old, India has its own set of local problems for which we need local solutions keeping in mind the cultural fabric, society, climate, and so on.  

What do you think of the future of architecture? What trends do you see?

I have had one-on-one conversations with architects around the world like BV Doshi, Fumihiko Maki, Daniel Lebiskind, to name a few, who are doing great futuristic work. Based on the insights I have gathered from them, these days, people are running behind trends like developing structures through AI or parametric softwares. Personally, I strongly believe in meaningful architecture that has some use for the people, rather than using technologies just for the sake of it. I believe more in striking a balance, without going overboard. It is important to understand where to apply what technique.

Disha Roy Choudhury is a Senior Correspondent at Apeejay Newsroom. She has worked as a journalist at different media organisations. She is also passionate about music and has participated in reality shows.

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