Designing the Town RED! Ar. Rajini Itham Mahajan
“For an architect, a concept is like a good friend. It guides you, and sees you through the Design Process”.
Ar. Rajini Itham Mahajan
With interesting perspectives like this, Ar. Rajini Itham Mahajan, Senior Architect at VBT Consortium, Bengaluru and Professor & HOD, Aakar Academy of Architecture, caught up with team Unbind, and shared some insights on architecture. Excerpts from the interview:
Unbind: You are an academician and a practicing architect. Tell us about your journey.
Ar. Rajini Itham: I graduated from School of Architecture and Planning, Anna University, Chennai. After completing my Master’s Specialization in Landscape Architecture from C.E.P.T., Ahmedabad, I have worked with some of the most reputed architectural firms in the country. I have also been associated with various schools of Architecture and Design as a design educator for Undergraduate and Postgraduate programmes.
Windsor Troika; Image Courtesy: Architect
Unbind: What drew you to the field of teaching?
Ar. Rajini Itham: I have been involved in active architectural practice for many years now. But when I started my practice nearly 20 years ago, I realized that apart from the prescribed curriculum, a practical approach to Architecture is equally essential. Though surely, it is applicable to all fields, all the more in a practice oriented sector, entrepreneurship skills are of paramount importance. It may be difficult to include this as a formal subject; it can only happen through sharing tacit knowledge with the students. This is one of the primary reasons I try to integrate my architectural practice with my teaching and vice –versa.
ND Plumeria Row Housing: Image Courtesy: Architect
Unbind: A perspective we’d really like to understand better: What is architecture?
Ar. Rajini Itham: Architecture is neither solely about contemplating art nor can it be a purely technical arena. It is a techno-creative discipline. Architecture is about imparting aesthetic value with due thought to functional considerations. Though we have to work in tandem with varied disciplines, the architect is responsible for the collaborative design and construction process of any project. This is the professional role of the architect in the social fabric.
Architecture can never be understood in isolation.
For example, even the compound wall is not just a part of your house; it is a component of the streetscape of the city. Understanding and acknowledging this, is one of the key aspects of comprehending architecture.
Altius Ardour Club View: Image Courtesy: Architect
Unbind: Do you see sustainability as the way to go ahead for the building industry?
Ar. Rajini Itham: Sustainable architecture is definitely important, but here I would like to emphasize on the scale of a project as well; at a larger level, the focus would be more on energy efficient architecture. This is the way we really are headed. In urban high rises and master planning projects, ultimately it is energy efficiency that decides the net carbon footprint of the building.
Altius Ardour; Image Courtesy: Architect
Unbind: What do you think students of architecture really need to focus on during their time at college?
Ar. Rajini Itham: Irrespective of whatever design approach or methodology you adopt, it is important for you, as a budding architect to see the design reach its logical conclusion; you are a techno-creative professional; you began the process with something in mind. Abandoning the process midway for any reason wouldn’t be fair to the design.
Remember that any representation technique that you may employ, manual or digital are simply aids or tools. They are intended to support and express your thought process, not dictate them. Do not allow the creative to be dictated by anything other than your natural instinct.
Unbind: Our most favourite question. Do you believe in the concept of a concept?
Ar. Rajini Itham: I believe in the idea of a concept being your friend. It sees you through, it guides you and it gives justification to what you are doing. Every student sub-consciously works with a concept. Sometimes, they are not aware of it, that’s all.
Unbind: As an academician, how do you encourage out of the box thinking? It certainly must be a tough process.
Ar. Rajini Itham: Among all the 5 years of architectural education, the first year can be the trickiest. Prior to this, your mind has been through 14 to 15 years of formal schooling which is imperative for discipline and time management, but sometimes we can get into the habit of taking the path of least resistance. The first year of architectural curriculum is designed to break this and condition your mind to get out of the ‘box thinking’; that is the only way you can break free. Do not perceive spatial forms as mere extrusions of two dimensional plans, start exploring, start being you. You’ll find ways to support your creative self.
ND Plumeria Villa; Image Courtesy: Architect
Unbind: At a student level, how much focus should be given to conceptual designs vs. the practicality side of it?
Ar. Rajini Itham: As you progress to the higher semesters, the complexity of the studio design problem increases. From a mono functional space to mixed use developments, there are many external parameters that will influence the design brief at every stage. At this point, it’s equally important to start thinking about practicality.
In the higher semester design studios, as remarkable the concept maybe, also of equal relevance is the pragmatic aspect of the project. Integration of structural systems, incorporating services and adherence to building regulations will become major influencing parameters in the design solution. Without due consideration to these aspects, the design can never be termed absolute. The studio pedagogy should include discussions on these topics to acquaint the students with real life scenarios in the architecture and construction industry.
Students today are very well informed and keen to learn. This is what really engages them; applying logical thought to a creative process & ultimately arriving at a buildable solution.
Bhuvaneshwari Vilas; Image Courtesy: Architect
Unbind: In your own firm, you receive so many internship applications. So many students don’t know how this process works; please tell us what you think interns reading this should know?
Ar. Rajini Itham: Today, we use a word called ‘employability skills.’ This is a concept that students applying for internships should really familiarize themselves with. My advice to students is to be aware of what you are competing against, know that there are many others trying to achieve the same goals as you; keep yourself updated, and network with students of other institutions. Be conscious of national and global trends in the academia and industry. It is only then that you will really understand what your strengths are, and you can then build on them. Without this, you are merely groping in the dark. Students today are very enterprising. The possibilities for you are endless when you put your mind to it.
Unbind: As a teacher, you have touched so many lives, mentored and continue to mentor so many. How do you manage to constantly do this?
Ar. Rajini Itham: There is a different level of contentment you experience when you see someone you have mentored, become accomplished in their own right. To develop and maintain a rapport with your ward or protégé makes one feel elated. This is my take away from so many years of teaching. We live in a world where it is important to bequeath not only our wealth, but our experiences and our knowledge. I am privileged to have been mentored by some wonderful people, and I have seen the impact of this in my professional growth. Today, when I do the same for someone else, I hope that they will carry this legacy forward. And in this lies the beauty of architecture, this is the purpose of human existence; to touch other’s lives.