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‘My pursuit is to bridge the gap between architectural education and practice’

AIT-SAP alumna Meghna Chatterji has a passion for architectural conservation

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Meghna Chatterji is a proud alumnus of the Apeejay Institute of Technology-School of Architecture and Planning (AIT-SAP). She is a registered Council of Architecture architect with a specialisation in Architectural Conservation. “I graduated from AIT-SAP in 2013 and during my bachelors I interned with C-Earth, Kerala. After my graduation, I had the clarity of the work that I wanted to do. And so, I waited for a good opportunity in the field of Architectural Conservation,” she added. At present, Meghna is an Assistant Professor with DIT University, Dehradun and is also the co-founder of the multidisciplinary firm, Kaarkhana. In an interview, the Conservation Architect talks about her professional journey and more. Edited excerpts:

Please tell us about your professional journey?

When the search was on to find the best job in the field of Architectural Conservation,  I worked as a chorus singer with a Delhi-based NGO Manzil. In true sense, my career kick-started when I got the opportunity to work as a volunteer for the International Council on Monuments and Sites on the project –  “Post Disaster Cultural Assessment of Uttarakhand”, funded by UNESCO. I then worked as a project architect for Aishwarya Tipnis Architects till 2015 on renowned projects like Dutch in Chinsurah funded by the Embassy of Netherlands which laid the foundation for me. 

Subsequently, I started working as an Architectural Consultant for INTACH Sawai Madhopur Chapter and travelled and listed the built and the natural heritage of more than 2000 villages in the district of Sawai Madhopur and Dausa in Rajasthan. Thereafter, I completed my masters from SPA-Delhi in Architectural Conservation in 2019 where I interned with INTACH Uttarakhand Chapter and got placed as a faculty in DIT University, Dehradun. Within a short span of my teaching career, I was awarded as the “Teacher of the Year 2021” Uttarakhand by the Chief Minister of the state. 

In addition, I am also the co-founder of the firm Kaarkhana. I continue volunteering with NGOs focusing on environmental or heritage awareness. I also happen to be a vocalist and an admirer of all art forms.

What drew you to pursue architecture as a career? What kind of exposure did AIT-SAP provide?

I remember back then it was the only course whose entrance test had both Mathematics and an Aptitude-Drawing test. Hence, I saw a potential that it will be able to fulfil both my creative as well as logical side.

I owe a lot to AIT-SAP to whatever I am today. Apeejay had a very strong senior-junior culture along with the National Association of Students of Architecture culture which facilitated in an overall personality development. We worked and thrived as a community. My strongest memories are of working day and night for the LIK trophy, the site visits, the hands-on workshops and being the lead vocalist of the college band. I was also one of the editors of the college Newsletter “Archway”. We felt a lot of ownership and took initiatives as a student.

It was never about just being in the classroom or studios. In fact, it was about the conversations, the debates we had in the canteen or in the hostel. Also, our batch was fortunate to have the senior-most faculties who mentored us in a way that we become the best versions of ourselves. It’s very important for young minds to identify themselves, who they are, and their purpose. Apeejay gave that space to us. I am extremely grateful to all of them. I can write a book on my experiences in Apeejay. Probably one day I will (laughs).

You were a conservation architect and then you switched to teaching. What was the inspiration behind this transition?

Teaching is not a transition but an addition to knowledge dissemination. I continue my practice and as well as I am the co-founder of the firm, Kaarkhana, along with my partner and batchmate from Apeejay, Sachin Sharma, who is also an architect and urban planner. My pursuit is to bridge the gap between architectural education and practice.

The protection of nature and leveraging “nature-based solutions” is increasingly a global priority. Your views on the same.

That’s the only way to be. 

We sometimes talk about adaptive reuse – adapting heritage buildings for new purposes. In such scenarios, what are those key things an architect must keep in mind?

Minimal intervention is the key in such projects. The authenticity and the integrity of the building should not be compromised at any cost. The character and the soul of the building must be kept intact. One must remember the difference between conservation and the so-called process of beautification/renovation. 

Do you think there is an increasing demand for Conservation Architects in India?

Looking at the number of threatened heritage structures – yes. Although, having said that, in the Indian context, it’s a niche field and is meant for the people who believe in the cause.

Any tips for students who would be keen to pursue conservation architecture? 

Always be a student. This is a ‘gurumantra’ for not just the students who are keen to pursue conservation architecture but for everyone. No matter whatever you do, or wherever you go, always be open to learning and reinventing yourself. Reflect and learn from your mistakes and never ever give up. That’s the only way to grow.

Harshita is Assistant Editor at Apeejay newsroom. With experience in both the Media and Public Relations (PR) world, she has worked with Careers360, India Today and Value360 Communications. A learner by nature, she is a foodie, traveller and believes in having a healthy work-life balance.

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