Designing the Town RED! Ar. Rohan Patankar

“Humanity isn’t a thought, it is a way of life.”

Ar. Rohan Patankar defines this example by some of the wonderful work he has done, and a unique way in which he has helped Nepal. In this interview, Rohan converses with Unbind, and leaves us with some wonderful food for thought. Read on!

Unbind: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey so far.

Rohan: I graduated from SPA, Delhi in 2013 and worked with an architecture and design research platform, arch i for a year and a half. Since Feb, 2015 I have been working at a young architecture studio, Co.LabDesign. In 2011, two friends and I started Delhi Dallying, a forum where we have been engaging with the many layers of the city of Delhi through conducting guided walks, workshops, writing and other collaborative events. In May, 2015 I initiated Art for Nepal to help build transitional homes in rural Nepal through the sale of limited edition art prints and postcards with original travel drawings on them.

Unbind: .As an architect, how do you choose principles that guide your design?

Rohan: The act of initiating conversation with and between people has been at the centre of most of my work. Aligned to this approach, I find myself working with strategies instead of philosophies/principles.

Unbind:At a student level, people are idealistic, and often some beliefs stick. Are design philosophies something that change with each project?

Rohan: Depending on the context, the site, the users and the intervention, the strategies may keep changing with each project. At an early age, sticking too closely to a set of principals may come in the way of learning through re-evaluation and discovery, I feel. With time, the frameworks can develop into a philosophy; a way of looking at things carefully.

Unbind: Your work has surpassed boundaries of mundane architecture. You have given back to Nepal through your own work in the most wonderful way. Like you, there are many young architects who are artists as well. What is your advice to them?

Rohan: My advice to all enthusiasts would be to keep going at what they enjoy doing without thinking too much about its success or failure.

” Dots connect and paths emerge if you keep faith in the journey with your eyes and ears open. “

My parallel engagements often inform my architectural thought and action in surprising ways. While making my travel drawings in Kathmandu in 2014, I had honestly never imagined that they would end up as anything, let alone as this fundraiser to help build homes. After the earthquake, I looked at how I could help with what I had and put the project together with help from several people. So, I’ve been fortunate that my work could bring about some tangible benefit. Additionally, my collaboration with architects Lakshmi Nair and Sarojini Dantapalli on the Art for Nepal notebooks took the project to the next level.

Unbind:How do students take their talent to a level where they are able to use it to give back to society?

Rohan: Just by putting oneself out there and learning from as many diverse people as one can. From my early years in architecture school, I’ve worked through summers with people in various different fields. The opportunities helped me in not only assessing the broader context of our work as architects but also in understanding the importance of the various facets of design; its positioning, articulation and execution.

Unbind: As an architect, do you believe in the concept of a concept? Where do you stop with a concept and begin to look into the practical aspects of architecture? A lot of people have trouble merging the two, so please could you share some insights on these?

Rohan: While a concept can be used to compare the essence of things across projects, it becomes meaningful only after development and articulation. It’s great to be idealistic in the design studio, but the real world is the playground where these ideas are tested out, unmade, remade and evolved constantly. To escape getting stuck into ‘stopping with a concept and beginning to look into the practical aspects’, it could be useful to think of this process as developing different design routes. In this way, the flow from idea to details could be more seamless.

Unbind: Many students are keen on beginning their own practice, but have no idea how to go about it. What’s your advice to such students?

Rohan: Students should begin doing small independent projects by all means, as soon as they can. But I don’t think this necessarily means that they must start their own design studio practice. I think the want to begin one’s practice usually comes from the need to have design autonomy and control. But what most young students don’t realise is that with one’s own practice, a significant amount of the time goes into strategic, logistical, financial management, client servicing, coordination. It is liberating indeed, but it is useful to remember that it is the actual application or use of an idea, belief, or method.

Unbind: When is a good time to start? Prior to graduation? Is that too early?

Rohan: I have friends who are already heading their architecture businesses with great promise and they tell me that people entering the arena must be aware of that the time one can afford to spend on the design is much lesser that what they desire. Alternatively, I found an interesting balance working at a small young practice where I could spend time on design, details and execution under my boss’ guidance while simultaneously internalising the workings of a small studio before I go about it myself. I take up independent work parallel to the day job.

Unbind: Is architecture for humanity a concept that we are giving enough importance to? How do we make the student community more conscious of sensitive architecture?

Rohan: I realize our education at SPA was based on the broad intention of giving to the community more than what we take from it. Conceptually, almost all our college projects mandated us to be thinking towards improving the quality of life for many rather than facilitating economic benefit for a few. There are several architecture studios and organisations invested in humanitarian/developmental work. Additionally, I see that presently there are several workshops, masterclasses and events that are organised throughout the country where interested students/architects can volunteer and participate to learn on-ground outside the studio. This is invaluable learning for developing consciousness in thought and action towards more sensitive and responsible architecture.

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