Words with Ar. Abin Chowdhury


I was sitting in the small entrance foyer of Abin Design Studio, patiently waiting for Abin sir to call me for his interview when I found gifts arriving at his office from his clients and suppliers! There were sweets and flowers nicely gift-wrapped, which were being sent to his office. The Diwali mood had set in, and it was time for celebrations. I was thinking about my plans when I got a call for the interview. I had known Abin sir for some time then (he was an external jury in our design reviews), and I wasn’t feeling much tensed. Our dialogue was a short and crisp one, and he answered my questions briefly, and to the point! 

1.In this era of C.A.D.D., what significance do you feel remains of the butter paper, and pencil? 

The pen, pencil and butter paper and architecture, go hand in hand. The touch and feel of butter paper, gives you the satisfaction in the designing process as a whole. There’s a must read among the best of books on architecture, called the “Thinking Hand”. In the book, one can find the relationship between the mind, the hand and the butter paper, thereby one realises the importance of the touch and feel factor involved in the olden ways of designing.

2.What do you feel about the present architectural education scenario of the country?

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A delicate question, indeed. India produces something more than 20,000 architects annually. A share of these architects have their degree without proper knowledge owing to the lack of proper guidance. So things aren’t really looking up for architecture, and the education scenario altogether. However, if the authorities look into the screening process, to produce talent, India might be on the forefront of the world’s architectural scene. Bangladesh has only seven colleges, Sri Lanka has only two. You see, quality there, not quantity.

3. How do you feel has architectural practice revolutionized over time in India?

Post-independence, when Nehru asked Le Corbusier to plan Chandigarh, we see a touch of brutalism. However, if you look at Charles Correa and B.V. Doshi, they have taken to modernism. Then again, there are maestros and there are rest, who progress over time. The scene is such that, in architecture, in India, sab kuch bikta hai. Design nowadays, has a new practice – that is copying from Google images. In this way, the understanding of material, conceptuality, is being lost. Innovation is being derailed, but all in all you do get to see some good work, once in a while. In Latin America, the courses are well structured- they are producing some excellent work. We need to change the way budding architects are being trained. A 20,000 strong architectural fraternity, having inferior architects can prove disastrous to the architectural scene of India, as a whole.

4. What is the most definable relationship between art and architecture?

To define art, you need a lot of parameters- time, experience, etc. To define architecture you need practicality. You can’t expect Indian architecture to find its place in the States. Architecture is an abode of potential, unlike art. Interestingly, art can be adopted into architecture. Art tells you about a time, its feel.

5. Architectural criticism is an important part of the science of buildings, and its absence in this country is a negative. Your opinion on this.

Of course, it is so. People who understand architecture, are nowhere to be found as far as architectural criticism is concerned. Commercializing this practice as a whole might be a solution. For example, instead of narrating architecture, there should be criticism of the same, by an architectural critic.  Workshops, conferences, get-togethers might be a way to get the word for constructive architectural criticism out. Architectural journalism however is completely different from architectural criticism.

6. Architecture acts a valid standpoint of authority and subordination in our society. Agree?

If we talk about public buildings, then we will see, that in European countries, they have public voting, for reviewing of how successful the building is in terms of public usage. But that is not the case in India. Here, it is dictated by bureaucrats or non-technical people in power. Hence, mostly, the public cannot relate to such existing buildings and there is always a gap between the built environment and the user even though they are termed as ‘public’ buildings. The scale or size or other physical attributes of public buildings should be in tandem to their usage and user groups. The architecture should hence maintain that balance, I believe, and not tilt towards any one extremity.

7. What exact role does the architect perform, once he works hand in hand with the builders, and local expertise? Does he modify his role accordingly?

I believe it is the architect’s responsibility to work hand in hand with the local craftsmen and be present with them as much as possible. Just designing a building on paper does not do away with the architect’s responsibilities.

8. The architectural data codes we use are mostly from the west, and at times, a misfit to the local context. Why aren’t we developing our own set of anthropometric regulations?

They are references… not absolute laws. So, I feel, we can always bend them according to our needs. Books like Neufert’s, Time Saver’s are given so that we have a rough idea… They are not to be treated like the Bible. It is important to know the difference between a code and a standard… like NBC is a code, a set of rules to be followed; but the standards are not mandatory. What we should do is, merge the two as per our design requirements…

9. For the benefit of the students, what do you feel should be present in the portfolio of a student, applying for an internship, or job? How to make it optimum?

For me, personally, a 6 page portfolio of one’s best work is enough. But what most of the portfolios we see here lack, is a sense of graphic design. The basics of design fundamentals we study in our course, is simply not enough. Hence I feel, it should be introduced as a separate subject in architectural education.The architect who will look through the portfolio, does not have enough time to go through page after page. It should be short, crisp and powerful.

10. Within two sentences, your views on the following:

  • Your inspiration to take up architecture: Charles Correa.
  • What is design for you: Everything is design, for me.
  • Not being able to sketch-is it a drawback for an architect? Yes. Have you ever heard of a music director, who can’t sing?
  • On the observation power of an architect: Really important. Architecture is an investigation.
  • The different mind-set/vision that architecture has given us: A holistic understanding of the society.
  • Students getting roasted in design vivas: People taking the viva should at least go through the designs, first. There’s always the less-expressive student. Also, the examiner must be honest in his/her evaluation. Aesthetics must be judged with an open mind, so as to not impose ones feelings on to the student, since aesthetics is one issue that differs from one man to another.
  • The usefulness of deadlines: Absolutely, 100%.

11. On your favourites:

  • Indian city: Mumbai
  • Colour: Black
  • Cuisine: Bengali (There’s nothing like Aloo Bhaja)
  • Travel destination: Goa, Thailand
  • Architect: Charles Correa
  • Artist: Piet Mondrian
  • Genre of music: I love all kinds of music. Folk-Jazz
  • Singer/Musician: A.R. Rahman, Yanni
  • Travel companion: Sketch Pad
  • Your prized possession: Nothing as such.
  • Place to unwind yourself: My football club.
  • You are in love with: Any sort of design, task of designing.
  • Brand of accessories: Nothing really… I’m not a brand person.
  • One thing you hate about architecture: It is agonizing, when the design given by the architect, is not executed properly, for whatever reasons.

12. What has been your experience in all these years of practice?

Fabulous. Absolutely.

13. A word of advice for our readers sir.

Students should deeply analyse the cause and effect relation in whatever design he/she is implementing or even when studying the work of architectural greats who serve as inspirations.

This interview was conducted by Shubhayan Modak for the Indian Arch ’16 magazine. It has been officially published in IA ’16, the annual student’s journal of NASA India. Read the issue here: https://issuu.com/nasaindia6/docs/indian_arch__16_nasa_india_60_mb

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  1. Dolon Ghosh says

    opened a new vista for me…this article as well as this page…thnq