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Well-known landscape designer Aniket Bhagwat shares some invaluable nuggets of wisdom that can help one choose Landscape Design as a vocation.

Qualified from and practicing successfully in his homeland, India, Aniket Bhagwat is more a landscape designer than a building architect. His firm is considered as amongst the top 50 landscape design firms in the world and is one amongst the ten founding members of ISOLA (Indian Society of Landscape Architecture). He has to his credit the prestigious IFLA (International Federation of Landscape Architecture) Awards, which he won for the first 2 consecutive years since their inception in India, after which he quit participating in them.

What prompted you to pursue an unconventional, offbeat and interesting career such as this? 

As a child, I spent every summer vacation in Pune. A distinct memory that I have is of sometimes accompanying my grandfather Bhalchandra Bhagwat to the Saakal newspaper office, where he would conduct a sort of citizens’ forum called “bhaaji palaa saakal samiti”; here, he would answer questions about growing vegetables or flowers. I must have been 10 or 12 years old.

I knew that my grandfather was somehow involved with gardens; it was much later that I learnt that he was the Superintendent of the Empress Botanical Gardens in Pune. My father was India’s first qualified landscape architect. There are memories of visiting sites with him.

The Harivallbhdas gardens, for a house that Ar. Charles Correa had built in Ahmedabad remain imprinted in my mind till date. They were perfect, immaculate gardens; beautifully laid out and maintained.  I must have been 13 or 14 years old; and even today remember thinking that the house was lucky to have a garden like that.

Often, I would accompany my father when he had to plant a garden. This was pure theatre and I marvel at it till date. At dawn, he would reach the site, where a team of labourers and supervisors would be waiting for him. Then he would pace up and down the garden with a stick, taking large and rapid strides, tapping the ground where he wanted a certain pod to be planted. He used no drawings. Just a mental map he had created. And these would be large gardens.

I would often wonder how these gardens would ever turn out right- but years later when I saw them they were always a delight. Gentle, sensitive, and comprising of a careful selection of many plants.

So in some sense, I grew up with these images in my head – landscape design was a logical part of me.

What did you study?

Joining architecture seemed en route to qualify as a landscape architect. After completing architecture at CEPT Ahmedabad, I joined SPA Delhi, for a post graduation, to qualify as a landscape architect. Though, I must confess most of the learning happened on site, and in the office; very little in the college.

After 26 years in the field, what is that one thing you wish you could have learnt as a student, which should have been part of your syllabus?

It’s not so much what I would have liked to learn as much as it’s what kind of teachers I would have felt blessed with while learning. The problem with design is that it can only be transmitted, never taught. For this, you need passionate teachers who have a large view of the world, the profession, a great sense of humour and a fantastic work ethic. I am afraid, that this is one commodity that was in short supply then, and almost extinct today. So while I had my father, or the office environment and the love for books to make up what was not being talked about in the class room, I am afraid that the way landscape was taught then, and in most places even today, does not excite the senses, does not paint the wondrous world that this profession explores.

So in retrospect, I would say that it would be wonderful if students got to learn in the classrooms, the many ways of looking and understanding our world, along with the fullest exploration of what this profession can comprise of and how much it can bring value to the idea of life. The other, and this because I taught the subject for 15 odd years, is to teach the history and theory of the profession in a manner in which the interconnectedness of life and the relevance of the way things  that happened, have in shaping us today was taught  in a vivid manner.

Two don’ts that you could share with a student aspiring to pursue landscape design?

Do not believe that landscape design is only about making gardens. Instead, try and fathom that it’s about making a world- and influencing it since all space outside the building is the theatre of the landscape architect. It includes the streets, the play grounds, the gardens and also the country side, the forest and the hills.
Do not believe that landscape design is not intellectually challenging. In fact, the best works are those that are philosophical, delve in the abstract, border on the realm of the arts, and are lucid and structured so that people can occupy them and use them. In many parts of the world in history, it’s good to remember that landscape architecture was considered the mother of all arts- above architecture and the other arts.

Two do’s that you could share with a student aspiring to pursue landscape design?

Before joining the landscape programme, work for at least one year with a good landscape office; and I stress that it should be one that has the idea of academics embedded in its practice and also does a varied portfolio of work. There are very few offices in the country that do this, so choose carefully and wisely.
Read a lot about the profession; read books – on landscape history, Indian landscapes, plant material; see the works of some landscape architects you like and try and make a picture in your mind about the profession-  a picture that excites you; one that you like. This will help you to calibrate your thoughts while learning the profession in college.