Our Alma Mater is an important part of our life. It is not the name or the location, but rather the experiences we gain in that time. The time that we spend in our college is pivotal to our growth and it is the period of transition wherein we grow from kids to adults. It is when we gain more independence, a sense of responsibility, and the development of skills that shall help us grow and which we can apply when we step out into the professional world.
Architecture Schools are a world of their own. We spend 5 years of our life, and we go through all levels of experiences during that time. A rollercoaster filled with late nights, bouts of stress, and a continual state of catharsis which we undergo while working. Architecture students probably go through a host of experiences in their academic life, we all have stories about our respective teachers, juries, and the perils we face while producing work. However, architecture as a field is understanding and learning about life itself.
The studios shape our perception, sometimes one may realize it, sometimes they won’t; but it does shape the way we start looking at things and perceiving them, consciously or subconsciously. In my own particular time in the architecture school, I have faced the same bouts of anxiety, disappointment, and catharsis as any student may have at some point in time or are yet to experience. However, looking back at it; All I remember are the good parts.
The Balwant Sheth School of Architecture; which goes by BSSA in abbreviation; is a private school located in the city of Mumbai, Maharashtra, India. Although young due to its year of inception being as old as 2007. The college is a growing entity, in terms of its quantity of students, quality of learning, and opportunities.
Since 2007, the college has been providing the 5-year Bachelor of Architecture Degree; with a pedagogical approach that is more to deal with shaping the design thinking skills of students. Great emphasis is given towards the development of a strong and rich design process, compared to the main end product. The course and faculty encourage the development of unique, innovative, and eclectic design concepts; and push students to think differently on those terms. 2018 onwards, the institution has also started to offer a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interior and Environmental Design, which is under the Centre of Environment and Interior Design of the Balwant Sheth School of Architecture; along with a Masters of Architecture Degree in Advanced Architecture. Therefore, the institution is growing at a steadfast pace towards developing an academic paradigm that is reflective of the existing trends in Architecture and has more forward-minded thinking for creating relevant designs.
A wise person has very well stated, that ‘All work and no play makes a person dull.’ Architecture being one of the most advanced and toughest professional bachelor degrees; the work output required academically is extremely high. Especially given the college’s particular approach, the majority of the time for design concept development is allocated to creating a strong process consisting of experimentations and iterations. Hence, students in the institution do not get the needed time to develop a social circuit with other institutions, given that most of the time is allocated towards working and networking with people of the same discipline.
So, to provide a much-needed buffer, the college holds an annual event called Freescape; during which 2 days are given: one in which activities and games will occur on campus; and the second in which sports-related events occur at a venue outside the campus. Freescape is organized at the end of each year by the Students of 3rd Year Architecture and is an event where the entire college participates in activities, thereby strengthening the student connections across each year.
The events are customized specifically to the college environment and experiences, thereby creating a common ground in which the students bond, and connect with their respective juniors and seniors. This subconsciously stimulates creative thinking while inducing the idea of enjoyment when participating in these events.
The student council headed by 4th Year Students also establishes committees that facilitate co-curricular development. Given that the institution has a comparatively smaller number of students, each student is bound to be given the opportunity towards being part of a particular committee. Although each council is given the autonomy to induce additional committees, the primary groups which are present revolve around Editorial, Cultural, Sports, and Multimedia. Each committee provides a great platform for students to showcase their ideas, develop relations with professionals, spread academic work done by the students, and create co-curricular opportunities as well.
The editorial explores the idea of developing content that is visual and written, relaying ideas, perceptions, and information via articles. The cultural group intends on coordinating and bringing speakers who are accomplished professionals in their specific field, thereby linking a dialogue between students and professionals. The multimedia creates outreach and develops social media handles of the university; and the sports committee scouts for opportunities that can facilitate the college sports teams.
The Work Scenario in the institution is highly stimulating and invigorating. The curriculum that the institution has developed is responsive towards an international architecture education approach. The subjects in each semester are far more qualitative than quantitative; therefore, in the electives; students have options that may not be directly concerning architecture, but can greatly facilitate the development of required skillsets.
The institution has flexible hours post daily lectures, during which they can continue working in the classrooms as well as libraries; the institute encourages the students to spend more time on campus to learn and work according to their requirements. The work rate starts gradually, slowly increasing as it nears the semester-end examinations. Due to the hours spent by students in their classrooms working on their projects and post-production stages, the working environment is extremely motivating, this assists in keeping high levels of productivity while working, and keeping an enjoyable atmosphere despite the high levels of work output required.
Installation or the Design Workshop Exhibition is an innovative element in the Balwant Sheth School of Architecture’s academic curriculum, in the 3rd semester, students are given the brief of developing life-size experiential installations, and given a certain budget to complete said projects. This studio helps in shaping the allied skillsets of students, which is required when working on actual projects.
Students learn to experiment with material, stability, and working out projects in teams to have a complete project given the budget. The projects mainly consist of biomimetic inferences and concepts, given that it is an increasingly growing trend towards developing architectural styles that are organic and naturally responsive. Hence, the collaborative effort that is undertaken in this studio gives a great exposure to students, especially given their coordination with contractor and sub-contractor groups, who assists in the physical making of the project.
Someone once said: “Put good out into the world, and it will come back to you.” In Architecture Institutions, the tenet that works is “You give help, you get help.” This applies to senior students and their relationship with the juniors during their academic tenure. As seniors, helping out our juniors, guiding them, and giving tips on how to deal with faculty; is how we help them out, and in return, the juniors help out to a great extent in assisting with work deliverables during design dissertation and other design projects.
The help juniors provide not only develops their learning and design thinking but also stimulates better relationships with seniors which can benefit greatly when the same juniors start applying for jobs and masters at a later stage in their life.
Thesis Season, as I like to call it, occurs from early November to early February, depending on the University’s schedule for the particular year. It is when work deliverables regarding academic subjects are comparatively relaxed, as the faculty acknowledges the fact that the majority of students across all years are assisting 5th Year Students with their Design Dissertation Thesis Projects. This helps in the development of team-working skills and also assists in broadening the design perspective of students.
The work done by juniors for their seniors is also pivotal in strengthening the design representation and software skills of students, which will ultimately benefit them in the longer run.
The student environment throughout the institution is that of support, learning, and collaborating across all levels, to develop stronger skillsets, subsidiary, and design-oriented. The senior students are ever-present to help out juniors and guide them in their design projects, discussions that can help in strengthening the design approach and perspective of students.
Thus, in The Balwant Sheth School of Architecture, the focus is not just on developing architectural design projects, but towards creating skillsets that can stimulate creative thinking of the students. In the words of the founding Dean, “In this college, you will do architecture too”; among many other creative pursuits. Therefore, the institution’s innovative approach towards architectural teaching will help in developing creative and innovative thinkers in architecture. In this institution, you will learn; “To be Future Friendly.”