Editor's Pick, Education
Beyond structures: Architecture as a field of study and profession
DIMAPUR — Choosing architecture was a result of curiosity for Japfüo Kayina after his 12th exams. Torn between studying engineering and more creative fields like fashion or photography, he discovered architecture while reading a book about career opportunities. The blend of science and creativity in the subject intrigued him.
Kayina, a native of Tadubi, Senapati district in Manipur, is a licensed architect who graduated from Jawaharlal Nehru Architecture and Fine Arts University, Hyderabad in 2009. Holding a first class Master’s degree in Environmental Design from the University of Bath, UK, and a recipient of the Faculty of Engineering and Design MSc Elite Scholarships 11/12, he began as a trainee in a small Hyderabad-based firm and currently working as a senior associate architect at Populous, a global design firm.
Initially, he faced resistance, especially from his dad, who doubted the prospect of obtaining a government job with this choice – architecture. “It was disheartening initially but I think that pushed me to prove him wrong as well. I think he is okay now,” he shared.
Beyond his professional pursuits, Kayina has a passion for music and enjoys playing the guitar. He has been actively involved with several bands and continues to perform gigs.
In an exclusive interview with Eastern Mirror, he gave insights into architecture, as a field of study and a profession.
For students considering this field, could you share your experience navigating through your Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees?
For anyone interested in pursuing architecture, the most common way is to go through JEE or NATA exams after the 12th standard. Few things to consider while making a choice of colleges and universities are: college reputation, location, fees and industry connections. I personally would say studying in a location where one can be exposed to good examples of architecture, typically in a Tier-1 city in the country, would be a good starting point. Beyond a certain point, it boils down to personal curiosity and interest in learning and gaining new knowledge and skills that enhances one’s chances of becoming successful.
Pursuing Master’s degree is not a necessity to pursue a successful career in architecture but it helps in strengthening your core interests which can further be explored as a specialization, so I would highly suggest spending some time in researching and finding the right subject. Having a Master’s degree does offer a little extra edge in enhancing employability.
Can you give some insights into various career paths available in architecture?
Architecture is known as the mother of all arts. During the course of studying architecture, one will be exposed to various forms of art, directly or indirectly, even though briefly – be it drawing, model making, carpentry, graphic design, photography, painting, industrial design, etc. Based on one’s interest and skill, one can pursue the further development of that skill either by self-learning or through additional courses. Typically, architecture degree holders go on to pursue an active career in architecture itself. However, it is quite common to get into purely interior design, landscape architecture, urban design, urban planning, housing design, etc. Furthermore, one can get into construction management, façade design, environmental design specialists, lighting design, project management, etc. The possibilities are quite broad. Lately, there also seems to be quite some movement onto the digital design realm, UI/UX, website/app design field.
Apart from these, there is also the good old route to becoming academicians and researchers in the field to pursue professional teaching in colleges and universities. Additionally, there are government positions that do come by every once in a while, state to state. Central government organisations such as CPWD (Central Public Works Department) or organisations in the Public Sector such as NBCC (National Buildings Construction Corporation) also offer positions for architects, urban designers and the like.
What types of internships or early career experiences do you recommend to gain valuable skills?
I believe finding a good mentor early on to steer you in the right direction and thought process is really important. The mentor may come in the form of a senior from college, a teacher or a leader at work. Building such strong relationships can really go a long way. There are a lot of great designers around the world and locally. However, there are also a lot of bad designers. Therefore, it is highly crucial who one chooses to be inspired by. I would also recommend working with an architect or firm which involves all the way into the execution phases of the project. Learning from the project site is invaluable in the field of architecture.
Can you describe the typical responsibilities and tasks of an architect in various stages of a project?
In an ideal scenario, once an architect is commissioned for a project, the first and foremost responsibility of the architect is to understand the client’s aspirations and requirements. The next step is to physically visit the site of the project to get a better understanding of the existing conditions where the visioning of the project starts. The next phase is followed by an intense but fun process where various creative ideas are tested in terms of functional and spatial planning and overall aesthetic of the design as well. The next stage is followed by a more detail-oriented approach of finalising design ideas and translating them onto buildable building parts. The same are all detailed out down to the tee on drawings of discernable quality.
Any specific challenges and opportunities that architects face in the Northeast region?
In the context of India, the challenges of an architect from the Northeast region based outside of the region may be similar to a lot of other professions. The most common (challenge) may be the language barrier as one may come across people from various trades and backgrounds who may not be conversant with English. The specific construction related words and terms used in various parts of the country may vary from place to place and it can prove to be quite challenging at times. This, in the larger picture, can also become a slight hindrance when dealing with clients who may also not be very conversant in English. Learning Hindi or the local language, whichever prevails in the location of work, is highly recommended.
On the brighter side, the practice of architecture and the demand for it in the Northeast region still seems quite nascent and growing and often it appears the gap between the demand and supply still seems wide, so it can be used to good advantage. Strategic policies such as the Government of India’s Look East policy may also boost infrastructure development in the Northeast and thereby a need for expertise in the region.
The hard reality of practicing architecture is that, in the end, it is a certain form of business in which you offer a client a service. Sometimes, the project constraints will mean that your vision and ideas don’t always get executed. It is not about drawing pretty pictures and sketches; it is about meeting deadlines; it is about making tough decisions, making positive profit in the business, and a tough work-life balance. However, the feeling of finishing a project and seeing it built as envisioned, is a very rewarding and satisfying one.
How does one maintain momentum and navigate challenges in architectural journey?
The stresses and pressure in the profession of architecture can often be high and for many different reasons. For someone, working within a company, it can be broadly distilled down to one of the following reasons – a negative work environment, business/monetary reasons, lack of work life balance, dissatisfaction in the type of work done, and in many cases a combination of a few. In most cases, it can be navigated by taking a pause and reassessing which factors are the worst affected and negotiating your way out of it. If within the same work environment, the same cannot be addressed, perhaps, a fresh start at a new workplace is the best thing to do. This also means you can always reset and start afresh, explore new project typologies, negotiate new salaries and job titles, relocate to a new city etc. The options are open.
However, the architecture fraternity is a small one and it is never a good idea to burn bridges even when you make a shift to a different workplace for whatever reasons it may be. An old colleague may sometimes prove vital in connecting you to new leads and opportunities. For other challenges not related to a certain workplace, learning new skills and self-upgrade with learning new software and tools for work optimisation can help improve productivity and reduce pressure. The challenges faced by an architect running his or her own practice full time will be very different from those I have mentioned; however some of this would still apply.
How can a budding architect convince parents unfamiliar with architecture, especially compared to more common courses?
There is still a common prevailing attitude among parents from the Northeast, who feel that government jobs are the only way forward. While there are a lot of positives with holding a government job, the challenge is also that it completely relies on an “Employer” to provide you the job and more often than not, a lot of people from other commonly known courses and subjects spend a lot of time attempting to get through the most coveted jobs and end up in other careers not by choice but as a result of lack of options/direction. We also often see a lot of youngsters losing direction along the way without having learned skills for self-employment. Architecture, on the other hand, opens up various avenues and opportunities to be self-reliant (if desired), not completely bound by posting/location and really the sky is the limit, depending on how much effort one is willing to put in. A certain kind of commitment, sincerity, dedication, promise and follow-through is required to persuade parents, in this case.
Can you throw some light on valuable scholarships, including your experience with the Faculty of Engineering and Design MSc Elite Scholarships 11/12?
As an awardee of this scholarship, it helped a great deal financially during my Master’s studies abroad. Various universities abroad offer different kinds of scholarships in order to attract international students and the intending candidates need to be on the lookout for these. Certain scholarships can be very subject-specific, so it may require a deep dive into finding out what suits best for you. Particularly for postgraduate studies in the UK, there are also a number of non-subject, non-university specific scholarships that candidates can apply and compete for. British Chevening Scholarships and the Commonwealth Scholarships are two common ones. These are highly competitive scholarships, so they require consistent academic record and planning in advance, at least a year before course start dates.
Share us a key moment in your architectural journey that affirmed your decision to pursue this path.
I don’t think I was ever in doubt about my decision to pursue this path once I started my architecture degree course. I particularly enjoyed the Design Studio sessions and the Architectural drawing and graphics classes in the first year of Architecture. I enjoyed the process of drawing lines on paper and breaking down spatial ideas into parts on paper, knowing all of it plays a part into creating a larger whole. Perhaps, this process really cemented my choice. In today’s time, a lot of the drawing process happens more digitally, however, the purpose of it all remains the same.
Kayina’s notable projects
- IIT Mandi Project in Himachal Pradesh – Project Architect: Various Buildings in the campus including IIT Takshila Primary School, Guest House, Institute Hospital, Gymnasium, Sports Hall
- Covent Garden Market, London, UK
- Fallowfield Student Village, Manchester, UK
- SCCC (Specialist and Critical Care Centre) Hospital, Wales, UK
- Project Architect: NLAG Community Church, Chennai (Biggest Arena building in India with a capacity of 20000)
- Kai Tak Sports Park, Hong Kong
- Project Architect: Timber Café, Imphal, Manipur
How would a good friend of yours describe your work?
Detail-oriented, clean, aesthetic, no-nonsense, functional, easy on the eyes.
Given the opportunity, you would?
Travel around the world and work remotely while absorbing the best the world has to offer, in terms of experience and inspiration and eventually use all the learnings to give back to the society at home.
Influence of guitar playing on your architectural design philosophy
I found a quote from one of my favourite guitarists, John Petrucci of Dream Theater: “Practice, practice, practice.” I think the same goes for learning anything in architecture. Just like breaking down tricky guitar passages, I apply a similar approach to solving architectural design problems – breaking them into parts, practicing each, and then putting it all together.