Nov - Dec 2018
Festival of Architecture and Interior Design (FOAID)
December 28, 2018
“In a gentle way, we can shake the world.”
These were the opening lines from Brinda Somaya, the keynote speaker at the fifth edition of the Festival of Architecture and Interior Design (FOAID) in New Delhi on 21 and 22 September 2018. FOAID is conceived as a networking platform for the design fraternity, where heavyweights of the industry mark their presence.
Women in architecture
Somaya, one of the most accomplished architects of India, started the event by launching her book, Works and Continuities and went on to speak about her four-decade-long journey from the time when it was unheard of for women in India to excel in a male-dominated field like architecture. She showed a few of her selected works that ranged from heritage conservation and community development to high-end commercial projects. “Each project is not just limited to its physical form. When we decide to take up anything new, we ask ourselves what impact will it have on the built environment and society, and how do we set holistic goals in order to achieve that. The motivation for inclusion and diversity should come not only from the desire to create a just society but also because it leads to better and more powerful creative processes and solutions,” she shared.
The most important aspect of Somaya’s keynote address was her multidisciplinary view of architecture, which does not isolate the architect from her surroundings as an individual with the power to change everything, but sees herself as part of a larger collaborative force, focusing on issues that are usually absent in conversations around architecture and design. Women labourers and their conditions on construction sites in India was one such issue that Somaya spoke at length about.
“We can’t take credit as creators of these beautiful buildings if the on-site labourers continue to suffer in miserable conditions. Our job as an architect is also to make sure that these people are well taken care of,” she added, while explaining the on-site policy of having a crèche and a mobile school for the children of the labourers on all of their construction sites. She reinstated the need to adopt a humane and sensitive approach to architecture, in the face of multiple social and environmental crisis that the world is facing today.
Time to Re:Imagine
Various presentations, panel discussions and competitions were aligned with the theme of the event Time to Re:Imagine. Though these covered a wide range of topics, which ranged from effects of social media on practices and the impact of reduction in government patronage to projects to creativity in finance and management, the conversation around sustainability remained absent throughout both days of the event.
Christian Precht, co-founder of Penda Architects based in Austria and China, was the keynote speaker on the second day. He touched briefly on the subject of sustainability in his talk, “We architects are the biggest polluters of our planet. Designers can make the best use of the resources at their disposal.” Precht also spoke about getting inspiration from different cultures, to create contextually rooted solutions. He noted that architecture is a craft where everything comes together, where self-sufficiency is possible.
It was impressive to see many architects and interior designers that are involved with different kinds of architecture practices sharing the stage to talk on different issues. The event was attended by more than 2,000 individuals that included engineers, young architects and architecture students, who came in large numbers for the two-day event.
However, there was a lack of serious enquiry into the state of architecture in India, which became evident after the end of both keynote addresses. The entire event was planned around the idea of architecture as individualist professions, coming from the Ayn Rand school of thought, where all discussions and presentations were focused on the individual triumphs and struggles of architects trying to make their creations come to life. This is a standard template followed by architecture conferences that are organised in India.
KT Ravindran, a well-known academician and architect, commented that it is high time we also reimagine how we talk about architecture. “I think it’s good that many practitioners are coming together and talking about a myriad of issues, but it is not enough. The architectural fraternity needs to take the leap of faith and understand that we do not exist in a vacuum.” FOAID, though grand and expansive in its scale and inception, was organised within this vacuum.
Apart from the presentations, talks and panel discussions, an exhibition arena was set up for the display of more than 250 unbuilt and ongoing national and international projects by architects and interior designers from across the country. Various design competitions were also organised for students and young architects and selected entries were presented. “The competition is a way to test our limits when there are none in the brief. It is challenging and yet satisfying. How do we push ourselves without getting bogged down by the physical limitations of clients or site?” The architecture students of Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, spoke briefly after their presentation. A unique design competition meant only for principal architects, it called for submissions of unbuilt projects that could not see the light of day. The organisers informed that this competition saw the most number of entries, where participants not only explained their designs but also delved into what came in the way of implementation.
The two-day event concluded on a congratulatory note, where all the speakers, panelists and winners of various competitions were felicitated. In the recent years, FOAID has emerged as the only architectural event of this big a scale, and holds a lot of potential to be a cross-disciplinary platform where architects and designers not only present their works as individuals but also start a dialogue with other professionals, within and outside architecture, on larger pressing issues of our times.
The next installment of the event is in the city of Mumbai, on 7 and 8 December 2018.