Alumni Speak

‘I’ve worked hard to carve out my niche in architecture’

Apeejay Institute of Technology – School of Architecture & Planning alumna Surbhi Jindal is among a handful of architects in the country who specialise in Lighting Design

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Surbhi Jindal is the founder and CEO of the multi-faceted lighting design firm DaLightHub. The Apeejay Institute of Technology – School of Architecture & Planning alumna boasts more than a decade of experience in lighting design application, project execution and training. Having worked on national and international projects across areas such as Office Space, Hospitality, Residential and Façade lighting across India, Middle East, Sri Lanka, South Africa and the US, she is also a certified training professional by Philips Lighting Academy. A regular speaker at leading design events and conferences, as an influencer, Surbhi’s repertoire includes technology, interiors, infrastructure, social development, networking, construction and creative sustainable design, among other areas. In an interview, she talks about the life lessons she learnt at AIT-SAP and provides valuable tips for aspiring architects, including being detail-oriented and well-networked. Edited excerpts:  

Did you always want to be in the field of architecture when you were young?

 Well, as a young kid coming from a small town of Roorkee, Uttar Pradesh (at that time), studying in a girls convent, I had great inclination towards art and architecture. At a young age of 12, I was fortunate to win a national-level art competition organised by Indian Airlines. This made me more passionate and curious about the field of design and then there was no looking back. From that moment, I decided to explore this unconventional, yet creative field, come what may. I gave entrance exams along with others like IIT-JEE, SPA and cracked UPTU. Then I got admission at the Apeejay Institute of Technology – School of Architecture & Planning (AIT-SAP) with a rank of 149 all India. That was my starting point.

Is it tough to pursue a career path as an architect focusing on lighting design? Please give 5 tips for aspiring students to become successful in this niche discipline.

There are actually only a handful of architects in the country today who specialise in Lighting Design or purely run Lighting Design practices. Since it is a very niche field, it requires an amalgam of science, creativity and technical knowledge. Trained as an architect with lighting expertise has always helped me in my live projects and on-field.  It is a challenging career though. After spending five years in architecture school, the field of lighting design is still very nascent in comparison to construction, architecture or interior design in our country.

 Here are a few tips for those who want to pursue it:

1) Focus on the overall personality development and growth.

2)  Be detail-oriented in your design offerings

3)  Hone your skills and share your knowledge

4)  Don’t be awestruck by the millennial buzzwords of ‘start-ups and funding.’ It takes real hard work from ground level to own and run a successful start-up or your own practice.

5)  While studying, we seek the best design approaches, best software etc. We forget to ask a simple question, how does the business of architecture work?

 How was your experience in architecture school? Please share some memories of your student life from the time when you were at Apeejay?

 Architecture school was a memorable experience for me. So many memories are still fresh and alive, even as we speak now. Not to forget, there was a huge support from my grandparents and parents, while I was pursuing my course.

At AIT-SAP, there were around 100 students in my class of 2007, all from different states and diverse cultures. We learnt a lot from each other, especially when it comes to leadership style, supporting each other or working in groups as well as building teams. Travelling together for educational trips around the country helped create bonding and understand each other well, that also reflected in our work and presentations.

How did the Covid-19 pandemic affect your profession, especially with the advent of WFH and how did you overcome these challenges?
These are very unprecedented times, because of the Covid-19 pandemic. None of the present generations and a couple of generations before us have seen such times where a majority of countries across the globe announce a lockdown because of which we saw massive challenges both economically and socially.   There was a big slowdown in the entire real estate and construction industry: the projects that we were expecting to materialise by the month of March or April 2020 went on hold completely both nationally as well as internationally. However, if we look at the brighter side of it, we were connected virtually not only with our teams, but also with the clients, our associates, and industry professionals. We retrospected our previous projects in detail as well as reskilled ourselves with digital courses, journals, etc. We were spending more time on understanding and exploring how we can integrate the newest technologies such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality or the Internet of Things in our lighting design concepts and details. Apart from that, we launched “The Lockdown Series”, aimed at interviewing eminent personalities of the country such as Ar. Prem Nath, Nisha JamVwal, Former Union Minister Suresh Prabhu, Shweta Shalini, etc. for industry professionals. On a different note, we also won many prestigious Awards such as the Times of India and 40Under40 by The Lighting Magazine, London during the pandemic that kept all of us motivated throughout this tough period.

What are the life lessons that you picked up at architecture school?
Life lessons, the most important ones include – how to develop your skill, your own personal as well as leadership style, how to live outside your comfort zone and how to face criticism that gets the best out of you.

Take every chance to go to and be part of networking events. It is important for one’s progress to collect new contacts. Take every opportunity to make new friends, from all walks of life. You never know who is next to you. Learn therefore how to communicate to peers, superiors, and most importantly, clients. In meetings, be confident: where you believe your input can create, enhance or elevate a solution, find the right manner of voicing them. Do not be timid but rather a part of the conversations within and outside your own world.

What is the secret of becoming a successful lighting design consultant with an eclectic national and international clientele?

Well, in my 14 years of career with national and international brands like Philips India, Future Group, John Cullen, I have not only worked in design, but equally in sales, marketing, business development, manufacturing and training. I got an opportunity to work with very experienced leaders, CXOs and CEOs both nationally and internationally in this span of time.

This is what helped me give a holistic approach to many aspects of business, overcome challenges, become an entrepreneur and run a successful design practice.

I started my practice after 11 good years of experience and not just jumped guns to start on my own immediately after finishing college, though I would have started my own enterprise much earlier.

I also believe that being a subject matter expert, industry thought leader and sharing that knowledge has helped us to become a successful design practice. We spend close to 25% of time to grow our knowledge base and share it with others by contributing to the profession. There is no substitute to building great teams, networking and real hard work.

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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