Please tell us about yourself

After studying Architecture in NIT Calicut, Nishan seemed skeptical about how the profession didn’t reach much into rural India. He then decided to figure out how he could contribute. That’s when his fellowship introduced NGO Gram Vikas, a pioneer in rural sanitation and education support. An environmental conservation and climate change enthusiast, Nishan had been left inspired for more after experiencing designing for social goodwill in Odisha.

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After a degree in architecture from National Institute of Technology, Calicut, Nishan Nazer had just one question: Why don’t more architects work in rural India? Moreover, he was frustrated with the idea of beautification at the cost of the environment.

“Few architects suggest for a glass wall and then ask to install AC inside that room. They talk about how they are using a glass which can resist upto 60% of heat but they forget to tell the client that 40% of heat is still going to come into the room making it impossible to stay there without an air conditioner,” he says.

According to Nishan, in an architecture course, you are taught about sustainability in all the five years.  Whenever a student designs something he has to prove how sustainable it is, but only handful of architects work towards sustainability.

How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and fascinating career?

Nishan’s desire to work in rural areas with the idea of sustainability led him to register for the SBI Youth of India fellowship in 2016.

Nishan was selected for the fellowship where he chose to work in the housing sector and joined the NGO Gram Vikas.

He was sent to Rudhapadhar village located in Gajapati district of Odisha to check how he could help the tribal community there. When Nishan visited the first government school in this village, he was shocked.

“Students of Class 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 were sitting in the same shed and the teachers were taking classes for all of them in this cramped condition,” he tells TBI from Odisha.

When Nishan filed an RTI query, he came to know that 45,000 schools in the state lacked basic infrastructure. This was because under RTE, there was no condition to have proper infrastructure for the schools.

“The government failed to understand that infrastructure is an important factor for overall development of a child,” says Nishan.

Though Nishan knew that the solution was as easy as providing infrastructure, the next challenge was the availability of space. So he came up with the idea of multi-utility furniture and named it SURFACE.

The multi-utility furniture, SURFACE

Tell us about you work

“Since education is in its state of novelty in rural India, people are generally unaware of the built environment and infrastructure required for education. Lack of infrastructure is actually creating severe health problems as students sit in wrong postures while learning. Both houses and schools must have some furniture for learning that is multi-functional and affordable, as families are generally below the poverty line and most of the houses are very small to keep furniture like study table. I accepted this challenge with pleasure as the solution to this problem will directly benefit rural houses, students, education and on a long-term – overall development of the village. I designed a product that can serve multiple functions of a student like reading, sleeping and drawing,” explains Nishan.

As the cost to make this furniture was coming upto Rs. 1,400 each, Nishan started raising funds through friends and family.

Once the design and prototype was made, Nishan connected with few local welders to manufacture Surface. His next step will be to train the local rural youth in metal work and carpentry to manufacture Surface for their community.

Nishan has manufactured over 30-40 Surface pieces and has distributed it to schools run by Gram Vikas. The response has been amazing, as the kids treat it like their priced possession.

Nishan has also learnt the native language and now teaches the kids about sustainability and global warming and how they can help. He feels that students from rural areas can sense the need for sustainability more than city folks as they are the ones experiencing the adverse effects of global warming like shortage of water and the increasing heat. Giving them awareness and knowledge to work for a better world is worth an investment.

“I have learnt a lot as an architect and more as a human here. I am amazed to see the receptive power of these children. They are so confident even with so many problems. I had everything that they lack and still was not confident to take up any risk in life. Many of these kids are orphans, they rely on the NGOs or government for their basic education, and still they take up odd jobs and support their higher education and are determined to become something in their life. I realise that architecture is not just about building houses. If architects can divert some of their attention to rural India where the majority of our population lives, simple and powerful innovations from creative minds will definitely help in transforming rural life,” he concludes

Your future plans?

“Students here will have a difficult time entering professions because as they’ll compete with students from cities,” says Nishan. “Many volunteers across the country are replicating ‘Surface’ in their respective areas. The marketing potential of ‘Surface’ is yet to be defined. But I am working on introducing surface into slums with similar problems.”

On his future endeavors, Nishan says “urban poor is a new domain where I think architects would be able to contribute significantly. I foresee a grim future where people will migrate due to climate change and socio-political instabilities, which would demand housing solutions. I wish to work for the refugees and slum dwellers with the knowledge that I acquire on social housing.”