Time for Big Change

It’s that time of the year again! Not just a time to enjoy toe-curling Iftar delicacies (we do love our haleem in Hyderabad) and shop at night bazaars, but also, and more importantly, a time to practice self-restraint, to let go of old grudges, to form new good habits, and to give to the needy.

Last Ramadan, we shared the story of a project that we’ve been working on for the upliftment of the community, a charity school in Golconda for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. We designed the Hilltop School on a tight budget and within constraints of heritage-zone bye-laws and a highly-contoured site, using economical local materials and planning a low-maintenance, sustainable and earth-friendly future for the building.

We’re honored that our design won the Telangana Young Architect 2016 award by the Indian Institute of Architects and was nominated for the Environmental Design category by the Grohe NDTV Design & Architecture Awards 2016. This project was also featured in Volume Zero Design Magazine.

Last Sunday, DesignAware led a guided urban walk through our project, the #HilltopSchool aka Bright Horizon Academy. We were thrilled to be joined by enthusiastic architecture students and professionals for the walk, which was a part of the Tracing Narratives: Indian Landscape Design travelling exhibition’s Hyderabad stop.

The school, being distributed over three levels on a highly contoured site, meets the ground at each level. Two separate entrances from the lower ground level and the upper ground level provide access to the school. The urban walk was divided into two groups (red and blue), and each group entered from a separate level. Each route reveals its own surprises, which can only be experienced the first time. The building is, thus, essentially experiential. Both groups met on the middle ground level. An interactive session, in which participants from each group described their two contrasting experiences, was followed by a presentation (crashed by a surprise guest!) about the design and construction process of the project, after which each group dispersed to opposite levels, completing the walk.

The walk studied the urban context of Bara Seedee, Golconda, in the foothills of the Golconda Fort, and the winding lanes of the area. The low-rise, high-density settlements on one side, as well as the wide expanse of the city on the other, form a framework from which to view the design. The peculiar terrain of the hill called for very specific on-site design solutions, the evidence of which is manifest in the school structure and its response to challenges arising during construction.

Further urban walks can be arranged upon request, please write to us at info@designaware.org with subject #UrbanWalk if you’d like to participate!

Bright Horizon Academy is now up and running! This is a non-profit co-educational charity school that follows the CBSE syllabus and runs mostly on zakat funds. Students’ books, uniforms and mid-day meals are provided free of cost. It is run by the Mohammadia Educational Trust. Through our #MakeProgressPossible campaign that resulted in generous contributions and donations the last two years, we were able to raise funds for the school infrastructure. If you would like to assist in the running of the school by:

  • donating old books, children’s clothes, educational games and stationery
  • buying new school supplies for the school or its students
  • arranging for student meals
  • making a monetary contribution that will go toward setting up and running the school

Write to us at info@designaware.org or tweet to us @designawareorg using #MakeProgressPossible and we’ll direct you to the registered trust, and you’ll be able to make a legitimate donation, wherever you are. There’s no time like this blessed month to make a difference and earn rewards manifold.

As Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) said,

“Charity never decreases wealth. Rather, it increases it, it increases it, it increases it.”

[Sahih Muslim]

We wish you a fruitful and peace-filled month, and hope that you will use this month to bring about significant, positive and lasting change in your life. May you be able to meet all your Ramadan goals!

“Who is it that would loan Allah a goodly loan so He will multiply it for him and he will have a noble reward?”

Quran 57:11

Answers to Questions You Shouldn’t Be Asked

It’s very common these days to run into people who aren’t being serious, but are just trying to pull you in to a frenzy of convoluted arguments, especially online. This not only wastes your time, but leaves you with a bitter aftertaste and maybe a migraine.

Trolls exist in real life, too, but aren’t as easy to identify.

Last year, I taught a workshop at the Annual NASA (National Architecture Students’ Association) Convention with an architect friend who teaches and practices architecture. On the last day of the five-day-long workshop, we had an exhibition displaying the processes, outcomes and student work. Since our workshop was an unconventional form of design research, and its connection to architecture was not immediately apparent, there were more than a few confused visitors. One elderly gentleman began asking a lot of questions, and my colleague, who is usually quite friendly and responsive, kept giving him smart-alecky retorts. Their conversation went something like this:

Visitor: “This is very good work, and I really appreciate you teaching this workshop. But what is the application of it?”

Colleague: “Nothing.”

Visitor: “I’m not saying it’s bad, it’s all very beautiful…”

Colleague: “It’s not beautiful.”

Visitor: “No, no, no. But what is the practical use of all this!?”

Colleague: “It’s useless.”

Hearing this from a distance, I joined the conversation, confounded by the sass and the lack of willingness to engage from my colleague. I felt that this visitor was genuinely trying to understand our work, and was being rebuffed for no reason. I stepped in to salvage the moment, and, after calming him down, explained to the visitor in detail about the premise of our research, how it was being applied by various architects internationally, and how the students would benefit from our workshop. Within minutes, I realized that this man was not interested in learning at all, he was only looking for an argument, and his aim seemed to be to prove us wrong and our research worthless. The conversation ended abruptly with him walking away mid-sentence. I was left with my jaw on the floor and my friend asking me with a smirk, “So, were you able to convince him?”




As  creative professionals, architects and designers rarely have a straightforward, step-by-step method of working, and there is no absolute right or wrong, no single solution to so many of our challenges. Our clients, however, may not always understand or accept this, especially if they work in a space where there is one clear-cut path to a single correct answer. We’ve had the opportunity to serve and work with all kinds of clients, and while there have been a few who grasp the creative process and know how messy things are inside a designer’s mind, and many who don’t fully comprehend what we do, but trust us to know our stuff, there are occasionally some who neither understand nor accept the process, our experience or unconventional methods of working.

Some of these clients may ask questions which don’t directly relate to their project, or aren’t relevant or even appropriate. Just as there are some questions that are off-limits in job interviews, there are some questions that aren’t asked in good faith, and don’t deserve to be answered when working independently. However, if you’ve landed a client or a potential client who asks you these unprofessional questions, you can’t just ignore them. Very few people have a penchant for declining to answer point-blank (like my friend), or may not wish to for many reasons, such as not wanting to sour the mood or risk having this interaction affect your reputation.

When you’re put in an uncomfortable position by being asked something inappropriate or irrelevant, it’s always a good idea to evaluate whether you really think this client is servable, will appreciate your work, and is worth your effort. No matter what you decide, there are multiple ways of handling these questions, and, to keep this interesting, I’ll give you two. One is the sassy reply (which you’d give in your head, or, if you’re brave and have little to lose, out loud), and then the reply I recommend. Take your pick.

Getting too personal (or Kidhar free horein?*)

How old are you? This is an inappropriate and unprofessional question for a client to ask, and it’s too personal to respond to.

Sassy reply: “Old enough to have successfully completed a wide range of projects, and to be sitting at this desk.” 🤓

Recommended reply: “I don’t think that’s relevant to our project. I have the qualifications and experience to handle your project, and I’d like to discuss more about it.”

Are you single? It’s one of those questions women get asked all the time.

This is completely inappropriate and not very nice to ask anyone, but especially to a professional who will be designing your bathroom, and may skew the tiles ever so slightly that you’d spend hours in there wondering if the alignment is off or if you’re going insane.

Even socially, such questions are off-limits. However, some clients may not ask you this point blank, and instead What does your husband do? which is tricky to dodge. You may not mind answering, but if you do, you can go with either of the following options.

Sassy reply: “If you think my husband is going to take over and design your house from behind the scenes, keep dreaming.” 😴

Recommended reply: “I don’t think that’s relevant to our project. Now let’s have a look at these floor tiles.”

Similar questions:

  • Are you married?
  • How come you’re not married yet?
  • Is your career keeping you from finding someone?
  • How come you don’t have any kids?

Money Matters


Do you accept cash payments?While there’s nothing wrong with being paid in cash as long as you pay your taxes, it’s always best for a professional, and especially for small business owners, to get paid by check, Paypal or online bank transfer. This creates a good record of doing business, keeps your payments on track, and becomes proof that you’re running a legitimate business that’s on the up and up.

Sassy reply: “Yes, but only in dollars. We also accept gold bullion.**” 🤑

Recommended reply: “It’s easier for us to keep a record of payments if you pay by check or online transfer. We also accept Paypal and Bitcoin.”

Can you give me a discount? This is a genuine request, and must be taken seriously. Asking for a discount is a part of negotiation, and does not mean the client doesn’t value your work. It’s always best to be prepared to offer a discount, or to decline gracefully, and prepared to let go of the project in either case.

Sassy reply: “Sure, I’ll bill you 50% of my fee and do 50% of the work. Sound fair?” 😏

Recommended reply (if you’re willing to give a discount): “We can give you a 5% discount, but anything beyond that would mean doing away with some of our services.”

Recommended reply (if you’re not willing to give a discount): “We’ve already offered a very reasonable fee, so there’s no scope for further reduction. You can engage our services and give us a chance to prove that our work is more than worth our fee. You won’t be disappointed.”

What is your profit margin? Let’s be clear. As in any business transaction, your profit margin is not something you should be asked to disclose. And as most architects and designers hardly make any profit, this question is sure to incite anger.

Sassy reply: “Oh it’s 0%. I just do this to avoid feeling useless.” 😒

Recommended reply: “We don’t really look at projects in terms of profit. Our fees are based on the guidelines set by the Council of Architecture, and the rates depend on multiple factors, like floor area, market rates and location.”

Similar questions:

  • How much did it cost for you to get this chair fabricated? (This may be a genuine query, and you may not think twice before answering, but it opens up your internal business processes and is a slippery slope.)

How much did you charge that other client for their project?

Sassy reply: “We were able to buy this office space with the fees from our previous client.” 😜

Recommended reply: “Each project is unique and has its own customized design, so the charges also reflect that. Our fees generally follow the COA guidelines, but we aren’t authorized to disclose them as per our agreement with each client.”

Why are you more expensive than that other architect/designer/firm?

Sassy reply: “I don’t know, maybe their work isn’t worth as much, or they don’t think it is.” 😬

Recommended reply: “I wouldn’t know, because we don’t have the details of their process or work. These are our fees, and we can assure you that you will love the design once it’s completed, and understand that it’s worth every penny. We make sure that we provide long-term solutions that will help you avoid expensive mistakes.”

How much did you pay to be featured in a magazine? This one is outrageous, of course. Though there’s nothing wrong with paid marketing, and there’s a fine line between advertising and promotion, it’s wrong of someone to assume that your work is being featured not for its merit but because you have connections or you paid for it.

Sassy reply: “We didn’t pay them, they paid us.” 😎

Recommended reply: “We didn’t pay this magazine to feature us, and they don’t do paid features. They select projects and firms they find interesting and want to write about, and they contacted us for a feature.”

Can you show me a concept before we sign the agreement? This shows that the client doesn’t attach much worth to your services. They’re trying to get you to work for free, and chances are high that if you agree (which you shouldn’t), you’ll never hear back from them after giving them the concept. They may even take your concept (while pretending not to like it) to a draftsman or builder or execute it themselves without paying you.

Sassy reply:

“Let’s go out for lunch, your treat. I’ll pay my half if I like the food.”

Recommended reply: See sassy reply.

Who’s the Boss?


How many hours did you spend on my design? This is again a left-brained question. While it may be easy to account for how many hours a carpenter spends in cutting and assembling a bookshelf, this is not the case for a designer or architect, who isn’t always making something, but spending considerable time thinking, reading or imagining. The act of thinking or being inspired may take days or it may just occur to you as you’re on your morning jog. In any case, unless you’re charging your client on an hourly basis, you are not answerable to them about your time. You may show your work process, but you shouldn’t have to account for your hours. You owe them the agreed upon work, not your time.

Sassy reply: “We spent all of one hour. Then we all went out for happy hour.” 😖

Recommended reply: “We’re not authorized to disclose that information. Anyway, design is not about the amount of time it takes, but the innovativeness of the idea that is customized for your particular project. If you’d like, I can show you our process, and the different iterations we went through before arriving at the final design.”

Similar questions:

  • What time do you usually go home?
  • Can we meet on Sunday morning?

Can I call you a few minutes before I drop by? This shows that the client or potential client doesn’t value your time, and wrongly believes you’re always available and free whenever they want to ‘drop by,’ based on their convenience. It’s best to discourage such expectations, as rewarding this entitlement will give out the signal that your other work isn’t as important, or that you’re always available. And making last-miute adjustments to your schedule is usually not worthwhile, because these people never show up on time, if at all, and you’ll be waiting all day.

Sassy reply: “Sure. Let me know about 15 minutes before you drop by so I have enough time to sneak out.” 🏃

Recommended reply: “No, today isn’t possible. I usually schedule my week in advance, and I have other commitments. Please let me know a day or two beforehand so I can schedule a meeting.”

Similar question:

  • What are your office timings?
  • Till what time will you be at work?

Would it take the same time to complete this if you were to work solely on my project? Again, a client is not entitled to know what other projects you’re working on (unless they’re interested in seeing your other designs), and how you’re prioritizing their project. This is an internal matter. Every client feels their project is the most important, but a design firm may have different qualifiers to prioritize their projects. As an architect or designer, it is important to make your client understand that their project is your priority, but not at the cost of compromising the internal workings of your firm.

Sassy reply: “Well, if we dropped all our other projects, we’d have to drop yours too, because we wouldn’t be able to pay our bills. 😰

The Saudi palace really helps us indulge in non-profit endeavors like yours.”

Recommended reply: “That is not a scenario we can imagine, as we always have multiple projects going on in parallel, and they’re each handled by different members. The time taken for design would remain the same in any case, as it’s based on the work and process, and not the number of ongoing projects.”

Can you collaborate with my niece who is also a designer? Unless she’s a top designer, you probably wouldn’t be interested in collaborating with someone whose work you don’t know. Either this client isn’t able to say no to his niece or doesn’t want to hurt her feelings, or he thinks she could learn from you. If you’re willing to take on an intern, you could agree, but think of all possible ways the arrangement could go wrong before you agree. If it’s not about learning for her, just decline in a straightforward way.

Sassy reply: “Sure, we’ll divide the work. She can do the project and I’ll collect the payments.” 😜

Recommended reply: “We usually don’t collaborate with other designers we don’t have an established rapport with. Every designer has a different style and way of working, so it may not be a good idea. Perhaps you’d like to give your niece this project, and we could work on any other one you have in the future.”

Similar questions:

My builder friend, who designed half the houses in Palm Jumeirah and most of Jubilee Hills, will be guiding you with the design of this project. Hope that’s OK with you?

Design Awareness: Questions you should definitely answer

It’s difficult to know right from the first interaction whether someone is being serious or if they’re just pulling your leg. It’s an art only experience can teach. What my friend was able to see at the exhibition, I had completely missed initially. Here are a few questions you should answer for the sake of setting the record straight.

You never know when someone is genuinely interested to know, so instead of getting irked, take it as an opportunity to educate.

What website do you generally get your designs from? Some clients may seriously not understand that each design is done from scratch.

Sassy reply: “Each of our designs is different, so we copy from whatever website each client picks for us.” 😑

Recommended reply: “We don’t get our designs from websites or books or anywhere else. We begin from scratch, understand your specific requirements, and work out a customized solution just for you. We believe that spaces aren’t replicable, and there’s no one-size-fits-all in architecture or interior design. We might come up with modular elements or parts, but they’re always original and designed by us, not copied from anywhere.”

Similar questions:

  • Can you design a building exactly like this one?
  • Can’t you just use one of your existing designs?



I’ve designed this apartment building myself along with my civil engineer friend. Can you stamp the approval drawings? Red Flag! We really hope no architect is agreeing to this, knowingly or unknowingly! But it is true that most of us receive such requests on an incredibly regular basis. It’s best to keep yourself informed about what’s legit and what’s not, and the legal ramifications of working the system. If you’re not careful, you could end up looking at a malpractice lawsuit. Moreover, such practices dilute the integrity of the profession and its respectability, and devalue our work.

Sassy reply #1: “I am going to own one of these apartments in exchange, right?” (Wink, wink.) 😉

Sassy reply #2: “I’ll tell you what. Let’s put those drawings in this round portfolio,*** and we’ll start from scratch.” 😅

Recommended reply: “We don’t sign or stamp any drawings which we haven’t designed entirely. It’s borderline illegal, and we would become liable if there were any issues with the building.”

Similar questions:

  • I’ll design the building, as I’ve done so many before. Can you do the decoration/ façade design?
  • Can you disregard the byelaws and prepare another design for municipal approval?

How much will it cost me to build this? Although this is a legitimate query, and every client would like to know how much they should plan to spend on a particular project, answering this would likely land you in trouble. Unless you’re administering the execution yourself, as a designer, it is very difficult to assess how much a project will cost. Not to mention most projects exceed their budget.

Sassy reply: Don’t be sassy about this.

Recommended reply: “It’s a little early to say, and difficult to calculate before the design is finalized. Since we won’t be executing the project, it would be best to ask your builder or contractor for their rates. Once you approve the final design, we can work out a tentative Bill of Quantities which you can take to your builder or contractor, and figure out the budget with them.”


*Hyderabadi slang

**I thought some advice about cash transactions was due in view of the current economic situation in India, where ₹500 and ₹1,000 notes have been devalued overnight in an effort to counter tax evasion.

***trash can

Looking to the Past for Answers to Present Urban Challenges

As the world becomes smaller, every large metropolis in the world seems to resemble every other. Cities, concrete jungles filled with glittering skyscrapers and artificial beaches, seem to open doors for globalization, and adopt a universal aesthetic language. What vocabulary, then, should the residential architecture of today use? The answer, we believe, lies in looking back at the roots of the prototypical vernacular dwelling unit.

In the absence of the technology of today, architects of the past developed certain elements to deal with aspects of culture, societal norms, climate, functionality and design. These can be seen in the vernacular dwellings that have been preserved for centuries. How are these elements relevant today?

Vernacular architecture comprises a series of architectural, structural, spatial and aesthetic archetypes, which were designed in response to social, functional, and climatic needs, and were born of locally-available materials, structural systems and skill. This vocabulary is still applicable today, and especially of relevance in the environment we inhabit. The current urban context, with its high density, vertical growth, and the excessive reliance on creature comforts such as air-conditioning and artificial lighting are wreaking havoc on natural resources, that are not unlimited. The language of vernacular answers the pressing challenges of today, and not surprisingly, can be used to address issues of climate change, as well.

Here, we present two residential projects as examples of an attempt to adaptively use vernacular archetypes within a contemporary design language.

Paradise House

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This is an independent, single-family duplex located in a new neighborhood in the city of Hyderabad, India, below the imposing Golconda Fort. Hyderabad has a rocky terrain, and this site is no exception. The site is abutted by roads on two sides and a 15′ high rock face on the third. The rock acts as a natural insulator and barrier for prevailing winds, which carry sand and dust. We saw this rock as an opportunity to create privacy within the site.


The site had the luxury of space, and a hierarchy of gardens and courtyards was carved out: front lawn, garden, inner courtyard. Reminiscent of the traditional sahn, the internal courtyard brings the outdoors right into the center of the house, enveloping it with glass, and making it visually accessible from all parts of the house, including the drawing room, guest bedroom, living/dining/kitchen, and the family room on the upper level.

The rock face shields one side of the courtyard, incidentally the south, and adds a sound and wind barrier, so that the private courtyard becomes the cool green oasis around which all activities revolve, just as in the homes of the past.

The residence has two floors: the ground floor containing the mother and sister’s spaces along with living, kitchen and dining, and the first floor for the brother and his wife and child. Each floor has been treated independently, and the first floor connects to the ground by creating a raised garden on the side adjoining a neighboring plot. The backyard has been raised by filling in earth to about 8′ height, which provides insulation to the hottest part of the house, the west face. It also gives the feeling of being at the ground level, even when sitting on the deck of the upper level. The raised garden not only cools and insulates the building, but also helps reduce the carbon footprint and retard storm-water runoff by 75%. This way, rainwater can also be collected for harvesting.

Click here for details about this project.

Vertical Villas

In the dense urban context, apartment dwelling is inevitable and unavoidable. As cities become hubs of all activity, new needs like parking and natural ventilation, which were taken for granted in the past decade, now become rare amenities. Generic dwelling units kill the feeling of a home, but rather create isolated, self-contained compartments for living. Terraces, open spaces, gardens and large windows in every room have slowly disappeared due to apartment culture. Density in the built environment and human population creates urban heat islands, which make the city warmer than its outskirts. We feel it is time to reclaim open terraces and convert them into green spaces.

The aim was to design a model for apartments that would integrate the spatial and cultural requirements of independent villas, which have now become an indulgence. The concept of Vertical Villas proposes that apartments want to be villas, and can be treated as such. To answer questions of programmatic requirements of apartments and fuse them with those of villas, we proposed an apartment complex with multiple voids and staggered spatial distribution, giving birth to opportunities for green spaces.


Following the guidelines of Le Corbusier’s, Five Points of Architecture, we incorporated pilotis, free plan, free façade, roof garden, and ribbon windows.

The selected site is an elongated one in the shape of a cross, with the road abutting the shorter edge. The site was divided into two parts, and the back was sunken in by 1.5m. This sunken part gets more privacy and acts as a ground floor villa, complete with a wraparound garden and deep porch. This plan is free of the typical levels above, and also has the luxury of floor-to-ceiling windows without the heat and exposure to dust or visual access.



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The entire building was raised up on pilotis (columns) to create a stilt floor dedicated to parking. The colonnade at the entrance reinterprets a riwaq from traditional architecture. The wall-free space brings in natural light and air to the lower level, thus separating the lower ground floor from the upper floors by 3m. The central core of the building houses the elevator and staircase. Between these is a tall atrium topped with a tower, that acts as a windcatcher or malqaf, which redirects air into the building, passively cooling common areas on all the floors, and combating diurnal temperature variation.

The two flanges are dedicated to additional amenities such as a banquet hall and guest quarters. The lower levels alternately house built blocks, and a bridge connects the main building to the roof of these blocks. Green roofs are created over these, which not only provide a feel of an independent villa to the first and second floors, but also provide insulation to the floors below them, shielding over 80% of solar radiation. These vegetal rooftops can be used to grow shallow-rooted plants that tolerate hot, dry, windy conditions.

The façade of the building has been treated independently from its structure. Deep terraces overlook the roof gardens on either side. These, and the balconies in front, are covered by vertical trellises, which create beautiful shadow patterns, and are inspired by the mashrabiya in traditional Arab architecture, or the vernacular jharokhas of northern India. The function of these is more than aesthetic: the provide views to the outside from within while protecting the residents inside from visibility from the street. The screens also filter heat and sunlight and reduce the requirement for air-conditioning.

Click here for details about this project.


Sahn Central courtyard in traditional Islamic architecture.

Riwaq Arcade.

Malqaf Wind-catcher or wind tower, used to ventilate the center of the building in arid climates.

Mashrabiya or Shanasheel A type of projecting oriel window enclosed with carved wood latticework located on the second storey of a building or higher, for ventilation and view, as well a privacy.

Jharokha A type of overhanging enclosed balcony used in architecture of Rajasthan, India, similar to the mashrabiya.

This article was quoted in the July 2016 issue of Gulf Construction magazine. Read it here.

#appReview :: RoomScan


Say goodbye to slaving over a site for hours taking back-breaking measurements and subsequent back-breaking CAD drafting: let your iPhone do all the work! Room Scan by Locometric is a brilliant new free app designed to create floor plans just by walking around a room.

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The app has a couple of easy-to-follow directions. All you do is touch your iPhone on each wall of the room you’re documenting, and Room Scan does the rest! Within minutes, you have a single-line floor plan created using your iPhone’s proximity sensor.

Room Scan Pro, which costs ₹300, completes the drawing with doors and windows. We’re still in the process of figuring out how to indicate openings correctly. The app also photographs you taking measurements, for future reference of where exactly you had touched your phone to a wall.




We tried Room Scan on both the iPhone and iPad mini, and it’s easier to use on the iPhone, because of the phone’s size and portability. We would recommend that this app, though fairly accurate, should not relied on exclusively. Instead, use it along with a tape measure to verify the measurements. In case of errors and discrepancies, the floor plan is quickly editable in the app itself.

The best part is that the output can be exported in many formats, including .dwf and .pdf files, emailed or sent to Dropbox, with or without detailed dimensions. At the moment, Room Scan is only available for iOS.

More than professionals, Room Scan would be relevant and useful to laypersons in creating floor plans with zero technical knowhow, providing a set of nearly-accurate existing conditions drawings for renovation or interior design projects. This way, even if an architect is remote and not physically around to survey the site, and blueprints of existing buildings are unavailable, homeowners can do a quick survey themselves and send the drawings to the architect, making everyone’s job much faster and easier.

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Join the DesignAware movement!

How to Apply for an Architectural Internship


Don’t be generic. Landing an internship is not a one-step act. It involves a process of elimination, and many sets of eyes will see your application. Though you may only be interviewed once, your application is going through multiple stages in the backend. The best way to avoid being eliminated is to stand out from the crowd. Don’t follow a cookie-cutter resume and portfolio format that everyone is doing. Show something that grabs the attention of potential employers, such as an independent project or a live installation or design that you’ve built.

Do your research. Instead of getting a list of architects and applying to all of them, take some time to do your own elimination. Don’t apply to a firm you know nothing about. Go through the websites of different firms and see their work. If it doesn’t inspire you, you shouldn’t be applying. Make sure you are a good fit to the firm you’re applying to. Try to find out about the team and work culture. You don’t want to be stuck at a place you don’t enjoy and that makes you miserable for 6-9 months.

Don’t underestimate the power of your network. Start early on and cultivate a network of people in your profession who would be genuinely interested in helping you. Many times, professors and visiting faculty will notice an exceptional student and recommend them to firms, which increases your chances of getting selected. Even if you apply on your own, most firms will not hire anyone new without speaking to their faculty or previous employer. Make sure you provide strong professional references who are familiar with your work and ethics (not your relatives or friends).

Don’t wait till the last minute to apply. Many candidates apply a good 2-3 months in advance. If you wait or put it off, chances are the firms you’re eyeing will already be full up.

Follow the application format. Many firms will not even consider applications that disregard the application guidelines they’ve given. Applying to the wrong address or sending multiple applications to all the email addresses on the website is a big turn-off.

Be professional and courteous. Email each firm individually, with a tailored cover letter. Applications without a cover letter will mostly likely be trashed. If you’re not bothered to even write to them, you probably won’t be going the extra mile in work. Show that you’ve done your research by talking about why you chose that particular firm, and what you like about them. This is a differentiator and will make you stand out from the piles of generic applicants. Don’t address the recipient by name if you don’t know them.

Be genuine and specific. Don’t use platitudes such as “You are the leader in the industry,” or “Your firm has a range of projects I would like to learn from.” It may sound flattering, but that doesn’t help you get an internship. Be concise and to the point. Don’t ramble on in your cover letter. Keep sentences short and simple, and share all relevant information, such as your location, your dates of availability for an interview, and duration and official dates of your internship, if you’re applying as a college requirement.

Have someone you trust look over your application before you send it. Have them check for typos and redundancies. Edit, edit, edit to make it to the point.

Don’t hesitate to apply if you don’t meet all the criteria. If your work is good, and you seem like a valuable candidate, the decision-maker will move things around and at least meet you for an interview. Once your foot is in the door, you can pitch why they should hire you.

Follow up, but don’t be a nuisance. If there’s a firm you’ve really set your heart on, you can call them a couple of weeks after you apply as a gentle reminder and to put your name in their ear. But don’t call incessantly and insist on an answer. If you do, the answer will be no, because they probably received a lot of applications that require time looking through. Don’t call to ask if there are vacancies, just check the website, most firms will have the information on there. If you do need to call, call on the landline so that someone can help you instead of dialling the chief architect’s personal number.


Portfolio Guidelines

Don’t forget to include a resume. And don’t make your resume look like a graphic explosion or a website. Keep it simple. Believe it, there’s a lot of graphic design you can do in black and white with text and without distracting logos. Learn it.

Don’t attach a compressed file. It’s a pain downloading a file and then unzipping it. It will also raise security issues, and may not be scannable for viruses. Send a Dropbox or Google Drive link if your file is too big. You can reuse the link for any number of applications.

Don’t use images and work that’s not yours. If your portfolio cover page shows an image of Louis Kahn’s Salk Institute, and a quote by Norman Foster, your own work inside is going to pale by comparison. Be genuine and original.

Do it yourself. Make sure your portfolio is done by you. If you’ve had help from a friend, be sure to mention it. If you’ve shown a rendering of a skyscraper than you designed and your friend modeled, and you neglect to mention it, next thing you know, you will be sitting in front of a computer in your new office, trying to take a sneak peek at 3Ds Max tutorials.

Mention your role. If you’re presenting group work, clearly mention your exact role in each sheet or drawing. The same goes for professional work. Your portfolio should focus more on your individual work rather than group work.

Show a range of work. Don’t limit yourself to a few of your best projects. Even if the presentation isn’t well done or it looks silly to you in hindsight, your Third Semester playschool says more about your design ability than a Birla White competition for a utopian city you worked on with a group of your friends. If you’re applying to an architecture firm, don’t include more than one urban design or masterplanning project. Most of the projects should be a range of architectural ones of different typologies, ranging from residential to commercial to a bit of interiors. Whatever showcases your design skills best should be shared, even if it’s outdated. Also include limited samples of working drawings, and related design work, such as furniture or lighting.

Know your audience. If you’re applying to a design-oriented architecture firm, include more architectural projects, and images of physical models showing your modeling skills. If you’re applying to an interior design firm, show interior views. Don’t pile on portrait sketches or pictures of your cat or the sunset if you’re not applying to an art studio or a photography practice.

Keep it concise. I usually stop scrolling after the fourth or fifth page, so make sure your first couple of pages are really good.


How to Ensure You Don’t Get an Internship 

Have your advisor or faculty apply on your behalf. If you’re old enough to get a job, you’re old enough to get it on your own.

Send the same email to 25 different firms, with all their emails in the CC field. Instant trash.

Write your entire cover letter in the subject field. Believe me, it has happened.

Send selfies. Or funny pictures of yourself. Or pictures which could be hashtagged #farawaylook or #fashionista or #swag or #iwokeuplikethis on your Instagram. To be on the safe side, don’t include a picture when in doubt. Continue reading “How to Apply for an Architectural Internship”

The Reality of Pedestrianization: A million chance encounters


As a child, you knew how best to use your body: to jump up to reach a box of cookies on a high shelf, to slide down a banister, to leap over a rain puddle, to contort to fit into the smallest of gaps, to run towards a moving ice-cream van, to run away from a chaser in the game of tag. You knew how much effort it would take to outrun a bully or to thrust a see-saw down when seated opposite the same bully, or, if you have grown up in the city, how long it would take to run across a street unattended through a green light before a speeding car reaches you. You knew how best to get across a crowded playground by taking shortcuts through broken walls and climbing over fences.

You never hesitated to try fitting into a tiny crevice. You did somersaults and spun around till you dropped from dizziness. You didn’t calculate the distance to the ground from atop a tree. You could beat an elevator going up the stairs to your sixth floor apartment. Your body was your vehicle; it was constantly taking you places, and it was the only vehicle you needed to master. You trusted your body blindly, and you were not afraid to push it as far as it could go.

As you grow older, you discover better vehicles outside your body: faster vehicles, more convenient ones, that do not require physical exertion to control. You ride a bicycle, glide over the street in a pair of skates. You take escalators and elevators instead of the stairs. You begin to take a rickshaw, the bus, ride in a car. You begin to rely on these modes of navigation, and you begin to think it necessary to own one, to learn to drive, to never travel on foot again. Once you have learned to drive and have access to a car, you never look back. Any conveyance that is less convenient, slower, less comfortable, is not a valid option.

Little do you realize that, over the years, you have lost all trust in your own body. You do not test your physical strength, you don’t take risks with your body, you cannot even climb two floors or walk a kilometer without losing your breath. When you do exert yourself, every muscle in your body seems to exact revenge.

Most new metropolitan cities are not designed for the pedestrian vehicle. They are designed for automated vehicles, that are made of steel and leather, are air-conditioned and run on fuel. That is why the most important infrastructure in city planning is the roads. Roads are forever being mended and maintained, widened and connected. Larger roads and flyovers are constantly constructed and inaugurated with great pomp. No attention is given to the upkeep of existing footpaths, or to the incorporation of new ones. No streets are vehicle-free or pedestrianized, as it is difficult for people even to park in a faraway space and walk across the lot to the mall. Because everyone aspires to be the anti-pedestrian.

When you have grown up in such a city, knowing how fast to run across a street is an inherent skill. But as an adult, you are only left with the skill of manipulating through traffic. When I moved from one such city (Hyderabad) to a city that was truly pedestrian (London), I realized just how dependent we are on transport, and how dependent we can be on our bodies. Even on the main roads of London, there are very few individual cars; people prefer to walk instead. This preference for walking is because London, especially Central London, is designed around the pedestrian. There are more traffic signs for pedestrians than there are for vehicles, and all architecture, no matter how imposing, from tube stations to museums, maintains a connection to the ground. Even as the built surface of the British Library is massive, its entry is reduced to human scale, just as all the other buildings around the city. Tube stations are located at close quarters. Everything is at walking distance. This makes the city permeable and navigable by pedestrians.

Living in London, a city designed around the human scale, I relearned the ways of my physical vehicle. It was difficult at first to digest that my body was my only vehicle, and my feet were all I could control to regulate my speed. I began to understand how far I could travel before I could walk no more, how much load I could carry, on my back or over my shoulder. I learned to gauge whether it was worth walking a certain distance to a cafe instead of eating at the deli down the street, in terms of time and energy versus taste and price. It became easier to know the length of five minutes in terms of walking distance.

I learned again how fast I must walk to reach a traffic light before it turned red, and how much faster I would need to walk on days I was late to school. Sometimes, I feel trapped. It is only my body that can carry me a certain distance, and I am limited by its ability. I cannot rest in between (whereas while driving I never needed to rest; driving itself was a relaxing act), neither can I afford to carry too much luggage. I can’t read on the way to someplace, and am resigned to bumping into people, dodging pets and shopping trolleys, stepping over cracks and around light poles.

In Hyderabad, I don’t underestimate my ability to walk a certain distance in the city. It maybe more difficult, as there are no footpaths or pedestrian crossings, and weaving through traffic of all sorts (cycles, motorbikes, rickshaws, carts, cars, buses) on foot is necessary. But it is doable. Where I once chose to take a U-turn and be engulfed in the traffic standstill for fifteen minutes rather than parking across the street from my favorite cafe, I now choose to park my car and walk, instead spending that fifteen minutes sipping a frappe. Walking down to the neighborhood ATM seems more rewarding than reversing my car, taking it out of the parking lot, gliding over the slope and out the gate, waiting each time an obstacle crosses my path, slowing down for others. Instead, I hop, skip, jump, jog. Sure, there is dust and pollution and smell. But there are also children hopping across the street in hoards after school, women weaving through traffic in an eternal race, old men gathering at the tea stall in the evening, music blasting from small shops, auto-rickshaws and scooters fighting for turf. When you walk, there are a million possibilities of chance encounters. There are a million different routes to take to and fro. There are a million stories to tell.

As I walk, I feel my feet plant and unplant themselves on the ground, I feel their weight and the feel of my shoes, which are worn down and rough around the edges for the first time in my life. There is so much to take in, the sounds, the smells, the sights. Walking makes me long for a certain street to be purely pedestrian, and realize the want of a footpath or an awning or a more accessible entrance to a building, and judge the comfort of a slope. Before, my only concern was parking. If anything, walking has not only made me more responsible, alert and physically fit, but also a conscientious designer.

The above post was written in 2010, when I moved from London to Hyderabad, and thus the role of technology is somewhat absent from the narrative. Another post should do better justice in speaking of how navigational tools have changed the exploration of a city.

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Is your kitchen boring you?

The kitchen is the heart of any home. Food is very significant in society and culture, it binds people together, and we constantly socialize over food. And it’s possible to do so only when the kitchen is active. An active and heavily-used kitchen deserves to be well-designed, and not just for utilitarian purposes. Kitchens are largely ignored, and a one-size-fits-all cookie cutter model is applied to kitchen design. It’s important to see your kitchen as a legitimate living space, where aesthetics and comfort matter just as much as functionality.


When should you go in for a kitchen remodel? 

The earlier the better. If you’ve lived in your home for a while, and your needs have evolved, you can go in for a kitchen remodel to suit your new requirements. You may also have changed your perception of the space and its usage after having lived there for a few years. For example, you may want to perhaps add some modern conveniences, or open up the kitchen to create more space. An interior designer would be able to understand your needs and translate them into the language of design.
Having said that, if you have a choice, the best time to consult an architect or interior designer is before construction, of course. I’d say you can involve an architect as early as when you’re going around to look at potential plots to buy! If you’ve bought a flat that is under construction or completed, you can bring in a designer before you move in, because it’s easier to design and execute a project from scratch as opposed to remodeling an existing space.

Here are some tips for instantly refreshing your kitchen if you can’t splurge on a complete remodel, but want a quick change right away:

  • Declutter. Try and keep counters cleared at all times. Use wall-mounted storage solutions instead, like pot racks.


  • Get rid of plastic containers. Immediately. Replace them with glass jars, which last longer, are not bad for health, are clear so you don’t have to label them, don’t get stained, and add class to the kitchen.


  • Add more lighting. It will make your space look bigger and cleaner. Cover exposed bulbs with shades or switch them out for pendant lights, to make the kitchen look and feel luxurious.


  • Use an old rug you or someone might throw away to make your kitchen feel like a room in your home rather than an ugly utility space.


  • Add seating, at least a chair or a stool.


  • Add a blackboard to leave notes for a personal touch, or to display recipes or the menu of the day.
  • Instead of just sticking your kids’ (or nieces’ or nephews’) paintings on the fridge with magnets, frame them and make them permanent art in your kitchen. Display mementos and knick-knacks that are dear to you and make you smile.


  • Hang a beautiful wall-clock. You should have a clock in the kitchen anyway, because you don’t want to burn your cake or miss your favorite show while cooking, so why not make it look good?


  • Understand your own usage. If you don’t like dusting, don’t display your dishes on open shelves. If you never bake, don’t buy a cooking range with a giant oven. If you like to take pictures of every meal you make, be sure your lighting is bright and focused.
  • For a bigger change, use wall-tiles just over the backsplash of the counter, or paint your cabinets a bright color.


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