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‘The key skills of entrepreneurship are diligence, experimentation and perseverance’

AIT-SAP alumna Astha Malhotra says architects must not limit their imagination

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Alumna of Apeejay Institute of Technology – School of Architecture & Planning (AIT-SAP), Astha Malhotra currently manages her own studio with the name ‘PlanNet Studio’. The startup works on a social enterprise business model that strives to bring about small changes at the neighbourhood level by creating a network of like-minded passionate people from all walks of life. Prior to becoming an independent consultant, Astha had worked on several local and international master planning projects ranging in scale from regional plans to neighbourhood design, parks and spaces design to promote active play and smart cities focusing on technology as an enabler in creating liveable communities. The graduate from AIT-SAP has also co-authored a proposal for the Bhubaneswar Smart City Strategic Plan, which was ranked first nationally. Further, it won the American Planning Association 2017 National Planning Award for Best Planning Study in the International Category and Canadian Institute of Planners 2016 Award for Planning Excellence (International). In an interview, she talks about her professional journey and experiences she has gained. Edited excerpts:  

Tell us briefly about your professional journey 

I worked as a short-term consultant with the World Bank. As a key expert, I was supporting the World Bank in providing technical assistance to the municipality of Makkah. Its objective was to introduce the concept of Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) to the municipality of Makkah. In September 2021, I joined as an Urban Designer at the UN-Habitat. The role was to provide technical support related to strategic urban planning, formulating sustainable city strategies and area-based transformative projects for Vijayawada city.

In addition to these, I have also worked as a Consultant with Odisha Bridge and Construction Corporation, Odisha Government PSU, supporting the conception and design of heritage projects and so on. I was also the Programme Lead at the transit branding, communication and marketing cell of Capital Region Urban Transport (CRUT) in Bhubaneswar. I have also worked as an Urban Planner with IBI Group after I had completed my Master’s from School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi in Urban Planning.

Did you always want to be a creative person or an architect when you were young? How did you choose this career?

Honestly, I had a creative side but unknowingly applied for B Arch instead of B Tech. While filling up the forms, there was an option to fill the preferences, and architecture was one of them. I gave the exams and scored a good merit rank. And hence, AIT-SAP happened. 

Why did you choose AIT-SAP and how was your journey? 

The institute was among the top three colleges in Uttar Pradesh at that time, and being closer to home was the best preferred option. When I entered architecture school, it was the first step towards a life full of excitement and elation. It all started from learning the basics of design and construction to arranging shapes and drawing patterns in arts and graphics class which felt like a piece of cake. And then came history and structures which gave us some sleepless nights memorising it.

But this preliminary learning at my graduation exposed me to the extensive vocabulary of architecture and planning and helped perform extensive design drills to get the designer’s mind working.

When it comes to learning, the college gave us so much exposure to the experiences. One of them was to work for the National Association of Students of Architecture (NASA), India. I was part of the Nari Gandhi trophy – as a team member that helped me to expand my thinking about architecture and reconsider the preconceived notions of why things are as they are and helped me to lead it the next year.

Any interesting anecdotes from your college days?

It’s quite a funny incident to think about. It was a digital submission that year and we worked straight with three sleepless nights. We submitted our documents and went off to get some rest. And when I was about to crash, I got a call saying that our pen drive is corrupted and would require us to resubmit in one hour. And then starts the learning part. I first managed to find a new hard drive and then resubmitted my document. In fact, I was the only person present when our submission was reviewed. But we created the best memories from that incident that also somewhere prepped me to be my own person.

 What is the design philosophy that you follow?

As designers, we are constantly reflecting on the ingredients and elements required to make different buildings. For me, the diverse mix is to think about the bigger picture and make a statement. Being an architect and planner will most likely constrain you to numerous things – budgeting, the physical space, and so on. However, one thing that should not constrain us is our imagination. One must be able to comprehend a more holistic view taking socio-cultural, economic, and environmental elements into consideration. In fact, one of my favourite things that I have read is that nothing sells in the market if it’s not marketed well and the same applies to the cities and architecture. The city/project/building always requires a consistent recognisable image through branding and identity.

Being a part of renowned organisations, you have worked on several important projects.  What is the strategy for successfully managing such  projects?

Well, it’s said that the strength of a building lies in its foundation. Key skills of entrepreneurship are diligence, experimentation and perseverance – with all our group exercises. Moreover, reworking the assignments, participating in NASA activities, sharing a good bond with your seniors along with being guided by the experienced visiting faculty consciously or unconsciously prepared me for today.

Today,  eco-friendly practices and sustainability are an integral part of designing spaces. What is your take on it?

I believe that sustainability should no longer be a choice but the norm and is striving to make it more accessible to the common man. Determined to reach a zero-carbon footprint in our projects, at my studio we collaborate with various organisations and focus on research and development in the use and innovation of natural materials and techniques in construction.

Any quick tips for the aspirants to upskill their traits?

As architects and designers, we are always learning – throughout our lifetime, from projects already built to the ones we are building, the answers are always brand new. The learning and unlearning of concepts and techniques keep us going in our fields.

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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