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Follow the adventure of a (not so) typical Indian student.

Basic design: part 3 - to scale

Posted on: Jun 25, 2013

After the spider, everyone began to realize what we had gotten ourselves into by choosing to become architects. Many started having second thoughts as our abilities started being pushed to the limit. Most of our lives we had had it easy. There were formulas. There were "teachers." There were the answers behind the text book! Everything that gave us that inflated sense of importance had just sprung several leaks simultaneously! But not everything was dire. For the first time, many of us had started to "question" things. We started to see ourselves quite differently. We started to see ourselves for who we actually were and not what society (up until that point) made us out to be. It was frighteningly interesting!

Basic Design (together with Architectural Design) was changing our perception of education, of learning, of college and the profession that is architecture. People had come into architecture thinking of iconic structures and landmark buildings that were seen in science fiction movies. But here we were learning about lines, about curves, about psychology, about nature… Everything except buildings. It wasn't until the last project that all these things finally "started" clicking into place.

The last project that we had has been the most challenging project that I have been a part of. Not because of the design related issues and the strain on the mind (we were getting quite used to it). But because it was physically extremely taxing!

We were given a cube of 2.5 square meters each. This cube was made by stacking 250 corrugated sheets on top of each other. We then had to "scoop" it out in such a way that the interior became a comfortable resting place for people. There were no other materials used. It was only the corrugated paper and hence the scooping had to be such that the integrity of that structure was not compromised. This design exercise took about three months to actually finish (this was almost all of our second term/semester).

The first stage consisted of drawings and models that were scaled down. From the entire class, our faculty selected five designs that would go on to become full-scale models. We were then split into five groups that would build these "structures." They told us to coordinate between ourselves and get the sheets in bulk. Along with the sheets, we also needed a lot of other material. This first step rapidly became an exercise in logistics and project management more than design and execution, and our faculty had to get us back on track more than a few times.

The group for this project was more or less the same as that for the Spider project. There were only a few different members. Rishi was there once again. And there were two others who I had got acquainted with during the year. One was Swapnil and the other was Ninad. These names hold special significance for me not because they were better or smarter than others but because we became inseparable during the course of the project. From acquiring the material to erecting the frame to cladding it, we worked on everything together. For me, the other group members were a floating population. They were there for the stipulated time. After that, they left. We four used to stay in that model (it was supposed to be a relaxing space anyway). We came to college in the morning like everyone else. But after college we used to stay there until midnight (or until the watchman dragged us out of that place). It wasn't smooth sailing at all. Unlike any other group, we had started ahead of schedule. And as a result, we made a lot of mistakes that the others learnt from. We were the first to start, but we were also the last to finish.

For the first part, we had to get the material and as the college wasn't going to fund this project, we scoured the city in search of the best bargains. From the factory owners to the rag pickers, we went to everyone in search of the paper and corrugated sheets that we required. Once when we desperately needed materials, we saw this guy pushing a cart with rolls of corrugated sheets on it. We followed him to his destination and discovered that the material we were looking for was available very close to our college itself! Later we talked about how doing this exercise was also showing us sides of the city and our locality that we had overlooked before! The thing we also had to consider was that we were thinking about this project as we would any ordinary model we made for any of the other submissions. This was an actual scale model which would later be used. Technically, the way to make it was to actually go to a factory and order customized corrugated sheets (But that would cost us a lot! Or maybe more!). So we had to make a frame structure using cheaper materials and then clad it with corrugated sheets.

When it finally came down to the construction, we realized that none of us had actually ever done that kind of work for extended periods of time before. Just getting the frame up was enough to make us sleep through the next day of college! But one thing we gain in architecture above anything else is the ability to adapt. In just a few days, the manual labor became less of a major energy drain and just a bit of exhaustion that we could wash away with a cool bath.

By the end of the month, our models were finally done. There were a few minor details that we were always working, on but otherwise everyone had already started using it as the new "hangout" in our college. The last project of that year was finally and successfully completed.

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