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Can you give us a glimpse into your background and how you ended up in such an offbeat, unconventional and unique career?
Sorabh Raina was confident that he wanted to become an architect right from school. This was to do with the environment that he was brought up in – both his father and mother were artists and since childhood he was fascinated with 3D forms. “Imagining and conceptualising spaces fascinated me,” says Raina, adding “whenever I drew something, I wondered what it would look like in a three dimensional space. When I grew up, I realised that this was my calling.”
A plot of land for him is the canvas on to which he pours his imagination, a drawing board which comes alive with a dream habitat for the less fortunate
After school, he enrolled in the School for Planning and Architecture (SPA), Delhi, and in his fourth year, did an internship with well-known master architect Ram Sharma and Associates. “He was a hard taskmaster and taught us the importance of making building models with our hands, how to transform sketches into 3D reality. It was an enlightening experience,” Raina adds.
Can you describe your learning experiences after graduation?
While he was training he learnt that designing cities was not just about constructing beautiful buildings but also about humanising them. A building is designed not in isolation but is a function of the entire neighbourhood, a district and a city. Raina also got a chance to work on a research paper on how to make Delhi car free and present it in the Delhi Secretariat.
Subsequently, he worked on the Master Plan for Naya Raipur. “As part of designing the capital city of Chhattisgarh, I travelled extensively. When we got down to doing the fine print, our endeavour was to preserve the water bodies and the forests in the area. The idea was to design a city and still live with your ecology,” he says.
The focus of the Master Plan was to ensure that the entire city was integrated with a bus rapid system wherein nobody was more than 500 m walking distance from the transportation system. Later, he got a chance to work on a transport city in Qatar, Doha.
And the job? “It’s extremely challenging. An architect is the central figure for any construction project. He has to design a building keeping in mind the local ecology and at the same time keep an eye on what looks aesthetically pleasing. The greatest challenge perhaps is to retain the local identity and yet be global.”
Why did you decide to start your own firm?
Despite the varied experience and the interesting projects that fell on his lap, Raina always felt that he was doing projects that appealed to his clients.”They were more about the wow factor than touching on the real aspects of architecture. In 2011, I therefore set up my own studio called Setu Design. Setu in Hindi means a bridge. Metaphorically my company was to be a bridge between something which is possible and something that cannot be achieved. I wanted to focus on sustainable architecture,” he says.
His first project involved landscaping a farmhouse. “Though I was not paid much, I got to learn a lot about plants that required less water. I also designed a few schools wherein I to design a learning environment and ensure that young minds are inspired to study in the same classroom for over six hours,” he says, adding that while contractors looked at hotel and school projects as a 9 to 6 job, “I thought it was an extremely challenging task because I had to create an environment where students could actually enjoy the experience of being inside a classroom for hours.”
what were the challenges?
Setting up a niche architectural ­enterprise was no easy task. There were three main challenges that Raina had to face. The first had to do with convincing clients that he was the right architect for them despite not having the experience of designing 2 lakh sq ft buildings.
“The requirements for architects was generally very high – they often ask for people with over 20 years of experience and a turnover of Rs. 2 crore. How could an architect who had just started out make sure that he is judged by his creativity rather than the size and the scale of operations. The second challenge was to do with how you sustain your work. One obviously requires more than one project to run the entire show. The third challenge was to get the right talent who shared your passion,” he says.
“It’s extremely difficult if you are doing focussed work. You often do not get clients who would appreciate your kind of work,” he explains.
At the end of the day, architecture is more than just constructing buildings — it’s an art and a passion. The profession is all about giving you a creative high and immortality through your creations.
As far as hiring the right talent is considered, it is an extremely challenging task. Today, the country has too many architecture schools but there is a shortage of good faculty. Yet another challenge is to regulate the quality of teaching that is imparted, especially in small towns. The biggest lacunae today is getting professionals who can manage architectural projects. This is an emerging skillset that will be increasingly required in the times to come, he says.
Ask him about the number of hours he puts in at his work table, he tells you that there are no fixed hours if one is working in the creative space.” It is difficult to say that an architect works for a certain number of hours. It is a creative field and ideas can strike you any time, there is no process to it, it is to do with hand and eye coordination,” he says.
Come what may, he makes sure that despite the hours he puts in, the work-life balance is maintained. “I make sure I go for a morning jog regularly, come what may. Also, visiting the project site enlightens me. It widens my experience, no matter how sharp my deadlines are,” he adds.
For students wanting to take up architecture as a profession, his advice is that they should be passionate about drawing and creating spaces. Usually, it’s people who don’t make it to engineering colleges, who enroll in schools of architecture but this often backfires as not everybody has the skillsets required, he says.
As far as money is concerned, ­students should not expect to earn a lot of money as initially “it involves a lot of struggle, especially if you’re starting out. You may earn as less as Rs. 20,000 a month initially but you earn more as you grow and gain more experience,” he says. Last but not the least, keep travelling to get inspiration from different build forms, he adds.
Day begins at: 9 am
Day ends at: 7.30 pm
Work hours: Not definite social responsibilities: Meeting clients and understanding their requirements and visiting sites
Family: Try and spend time with them over the weekends
Vacations: Once a year for three to four days
When not at work: Listen to music and read books
Getting to know you
Urban architect Sorabh Raina’s blog describes him as a “very simple­ ­person on a mission to change the world and born to be an architect.” He completed his architecture ­studies from the School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi. Before starting his own venture, Setu Design Studio whose tagline is ‘I live to be a bridge,’ he undertook various landscaping and school projects across the country besides the ­master planning of Naya Raipur city. His advice to those passionate about urban design is to keep drawing, thinking new ideas and travel the world. “Travel infuses new ideas and inspires architects,” he says.
A green makeover
Sustainable design is often referred to as green architecture. Its focus is on constructing green buildings and being responsible to the environment. The entire construction process depends on environmental sources, starting from the design, construction methods, materials used etc.
Sustainable buildings cost slightly higher than normal buildings but green designs, upgrades and operations create savings that almost always pay for the added costs, reduce the use of other resources and enhance productivity.
In India, Indian Green Building Council has licensed the LEED Green Building Standard from the US Green Building Council, which is responsible for certifying LEED buildings in India. Localised rating systems include TERI GRIHA. The Bureau of Energy Efficiency has a star rating system for the energy efficiency of buildings.
CEPT University or the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology (CEPT) in Ahmedabad, offers a Masters programme in architecture with a specialisations in sustainable architecture.
The balancing act
Landscape architecture seeks to integrate the buildings with their surroundings and achieve a balance between the built and the natural environments.
A landscape architect designs public outdoor spaces such as parks, town squares, hotel and farmhouse exteriors and even golf courses. The discipline requires a multidisciplinary approach involving environmental science, art and ecology.
A landscape architect is the professional that is responsible for planning and designing these outdoor spaces.
Factors that a landscape artist should keep in mind include types of plants that will grow in the area, based on climate and soil.
“While designing a university in Bikaner, we had to look at planting trees that required less water and also those that provided natural shade and protection from the harsh climate,” says Sorabh Raina.
“We discovered that kejri trees, that grow in the area, were the only ones that required less water. Landscape architects, therefore, get to learn a lot from the site and the history of the place,” he adds.
Changing with the times
Conservation is a multi-disciplinary profession. One can be involved in conservation even if one is an architect, a planner, an art conservator or a historian. Conservation is a specialised study and, therefore, usually an MA level course. The scope for conservation professionals is phenomenal because of the sheer magnitude of the heritage in India. There is lot of demand for consultants and professionals who understand the value of heritage. There are 50,000 sites in India and each needs lots of people and professional teams to manage the sites. While a conventional architect has many options for design, a conservation architect has to have an understanding of the style, history, construction methods, availability of materials and artists to ensure that the building is preserved.