In Mumbai, come last fortnight of April 2023 and the graduating student of Architecture presents an individual design project to a jury for assessment. This jury comprises of practicing and teaching professionals, with a reputed background into the criteria and evaluation of such project work. The student designs a project in an individual capacity, with an internally appointed, able guide from the teaching faculty. This is the subject of “Design Dissertation” which is pursued through the last 2 semesters in the fifth & final year for the B. Arch. Degree course.
A selected project is generally directed towards its relevance and design input in the context of time for each batch of students. It is not new to find that some students select a subject first and then arrive at the site location in an appropriate manner known as ‘site selection’. It is also possible that many students have specific redevelopment projects, which focus on an existing site like a Railway Station and its surroundings and deal with the situation of resolving conflicts in the urban environment.
The process of such an important subject stretching over a period of one year, includes an intense involvement in the project and is similar to a Thesis. The seriousness with which each student attempts his design is evident in the presentation before the jury. Every year, on the fateful day of decision by the jury, the work is laid out in the college building in its most public spaces like corridors strewn with models and studios being occupied with the drawing sheets. Though the viva voce is a closed door examination, this day of an “external jury”, as it is called, is a major internal event for the institution.
However, it is also a day when one can see the creative future potential in terms of design ability and expression. It is a moment of awe and envy for many when the work is displayed in the form of models of contemporary designs of buildings, landscapes, sites and details. From Airport terminals, cultural complexes, promotional centers, commercial node redevelopment, archaeological site protection and restoration schemes and so on to prisons, orphanages, homes for the aged and such projects, the gamut of a public project is visible in one glance.
For example, is a public building to speak its language of expression or just resemble another multi-story residential apartment in the far off suburb of Mumbai? Or vice versa? Why is it that the creativity unleashed by these young minds terminates after the graduation level?
As a matter of fact, none of the projects undergoing the rigorous jury are displayed for the public eye later. Rarely does a work get a mention in the popular press or other media, thereby shutting its future from the city’s sight. Do the people, the citizens’ even know what the possibilities of design in today’s environment are?
How frequently can it be retrieved for view if required when kept in such a location? A center for displaying and viewing such work has to be setup in the city. Is it asking for too much in metropolitan Mumbai, which has maximum colleges of architecture (for any city in India), to provide a place for contemporary creative design? Open for view to all.
If only the city-based projects are selected, the space required would be less. The MMRDA, MCGM, CIDCO and other such local bodies should provide such galleries within their large public buildings. In the context of the work, it should be seen, irrespective of the merits of assessment, in sheer quantum of the different types and complexity of projects in an urban milieu and their quality to better the environment. The need for such exposure of architectural design to the people is absolute. Walk in to an institution during the jury date and delight in a miniature settlement of sorts spreading out with architectural models in its corridors and verandahs.
Citing examples of student’s projects, if Andheri, Borivli and Kalyan Railway Stations have to be redeveloped, then the dissertation schemes can be relied upon to formulate the program of requirements and the design possibilities. Likewise, new schemes such as the Babasaheb Ambedkar memorial on the west coast, or a proposal to develop a toll plaza, an intermodal transport terminus are also types of dissertation projects that can benefit with global case studies and arriving at design options in the local context.
Another interesting aspect that these dissertation projects delve into is the urban realm. Students are not restrained to conventionally begin with tangible approaches. In the growing awareness of an architect’s role with social responsibility, there are projects which look at current affairs, climate change, new technology, waste management, conservation, community welfare and such traits in a primary sense. Awareness of these for public is vital if we are to set our priorities towards an inevitably sustainable and social development in times to come.
Lest we forget, those graduating in 2023 would have been born in the 21st century. They shall live most of it, more than the 20th century born citizens. In this era of rapid change and dependency on the new technology, with parametric design, BIM, augmented reality, 3D printing etc already influencing the construction industry, and AI making inroads, their time is come. This will be the first batch of 21st century born graduating as architects. It is astute for the local bodies to give space and showcase their academic potential. Else, the city of Mumbai, which has a Regulation to protect its past will forsake awareness of the present and therefore be lost of the today that Mumbai needs to express to the future generations.