“Architecture begin where engineering ends.” - Walter Gropius
Architecture is a beautiful profession. An architect gets to design, and create spaces and places where humans spend all of their living hours. Spaces we call home. Places we go to for work, for recreation, to study, to rest, to buy, to eat and to live. Winston Churchill once famously said, “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” Modern society has entrusted architects with this exclusive privilege.
In India, the profession in general is guided and regulated by the Council of Architecture (COA) and legalized through the Architects Act, 1972. Every student, upon completion of a 5 year course is required to formally register with the council and obtain statutory right to practise as Architects, just like doctors and lawyers. Although, the subject (till now) is grouped under the engineering section of most colleges, many western countries classify architecture differently. This makes Architecture a unique discipline. A motley collection of subjects from science, art, engineering and technology. And business too.
Architecture broadens the horizons and mind of every student, to choose from a plethora of professions from an urban planner to a project manager to a product designer and even an artist. The course entails basic understanding of a variety of subjects from mathematics to theory of design, from sociology to ergonomics.
Excursions and tours are mandatory to the course structure of every architectural curriculum in India. Once or twice every year (varies from college to college), students are expected to journey through a tour together as a cohesive group “exploring the architecture” of regions they trail.
Having drilled through five long (but also the best) years of architectural college, I can endorse that the tours are a vital part of training to be an architect. Not because, it gives students an opportunity to visit places of architectural significance, but much more. Way much more. The excursions help the student
Learn how to Design - Designing is not a mechanical process of drafting walls, windows, staircases and doors. It is a sub-conscious experience. A visit to the beautifully crafted buildings and structures provide just the right opportunity to learn how these spaces feel and interact.
Why do buildings in Rajasthan have small windows, while houses in West Bengal have bigger and wider ones? Climate. Even the tiniest building element design corresponds to its geography, climate, topography, altitude, culture, local building materials etc. And books and pictures can never sensitize young architects to all this. Some of the buildings we visit as young students have the greatest impact on us and shape us as the architects we become!
Understand architectural structures be it buildings or stupas or temples or obelisks. Every state has its own heritage and history and with that its own architecture. An Uttar Pradesh circuit through Banaras and Lucknow would be very different from a temple trail in Karnataka. Indian education is traditionally extremely theoretical. Likewise in architecture. Hence the tours are an excellent means of witnessing for real the buildings the students see in books. Learning about the various practising architects and designers in those regions, interacting with them (this however was not that common in our times, due to a multitude of reasons) is a huge opportunity for the young minds.
Be a team player and a team leader - Something MBA aspirants pay lakhs to learn - Good Leadership and Managerial skills. The job of an architect begins with an idea in his/her head but ultimately translates to managing many experts (from mechanical and HVAC engineers to civil engineers to carpenters) to actualize his design into livable spaces.The profession demands effective communication, leadership and managerial skills. The tours provide excellent scope for the students to learn to manage, survive and sometimes lead. The duration of the trips tend to vary anywhere between a weekend to three weeks!
Experience freedom and responsibility together - For many, the first year tour in college is the first proper trip of their lives without the safety net of parents. With that comes the joy of freedom. With that also comes responsibility and an opportunity to learn to be independent.
Beyond these major reasons are many many smaller yet significant reasons why tours are vital to architectural education. I learned to effectively keep accounts in the trip (for myself and partially for others); learned to be confident and self-sufficient; learned the various scopes of engagement for “an aspiring architect”; I learnt to make friends and know them better; I developed the best rapports with my professors and so so many other things. Most significantly the trips were fun fun fun! The most memorable journeys.
In various ways, I learnt quite a bit about life through these tours. In small yet powerful ways, they shaped me as a person and prepared me for life. I’m sure, all fellow architects will second me on this one. :-)