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WE ARE L’OEUF: 5 lessons learned ... By an Architect in training, in India.

5 Lessons Learned…By an Architect in training, in India.

This week in our “5 Lessons Learned” series, Aradhana looks back on her experience of work in India, twenty-five years ago. As a world traveler, Aradhana has worked in many different places over the years among which the UK and Italy. However, she began her adventures in 1998 when she moved from Montreal to Ahmedabad, fifth largest city in India. During her time there she had the chance to be trained under the tutelage for Balkrishna Vithaldas Doshi, a leading figure in architecture, recipient of a Pritzker Prize and collaborator of Louis Kahn. Today, as an experienced Architect, Aradhana reflects on her formative time in India.

Aradhana has now worked at L’OEUF for several years, notably on the C40 Montreal competition and project (won by the office in 2019), Place Griffintown, which just received the CCU’s green light, also previously on CCNDG, Co-op Bois-Ellen and Maison Bronfman. With her 18 years of experience in architecture and urban planning around the world Aradhana is one of L’OEUF most precious ally.

Here what she had to say.

First lesson: Landmarks matter
“When I went [to Ahmedabad], the addresses were not real addresses [as we understand them]. I mean they were, but they were more like a description of where the place is. The way you get around [in Ahmedabad] is purely through recognizing landmarks and I think that’s an extremely different way of what most of us are used to, definitely those of us living in North America and Europe. Anyone who is used to living in a gridded city, it’s just totally different. The first time that you visit anywhere, for example the first time I went to the office, or the first time I went to a particular shop, there was a lot of asking people for directions. Asking strangers ‘hey do you know where this is?’ or ‘Do you know where so-and-so lives?’ Where I stayed at first, at my uncle’s house, there was the name of the building (Like house names in the UK.) and then a description that was something like ‘behind, the wedding plot, next to the temple…’. Just a description of how you would find the place. So whenever you go somewhere for the first time, you are kind of wandering around a little bit and so you have to factor in at least an extra half hour of just looking for the place. I think it’s similar to moving around a city like London. Even though London has street names and numbered addresses, when you are learning your way around, you have to remember your way and recognize landmarks, as opposed to how you might find your way in a city on a grid.”

Second lesson: Sometimes, hierarchy matters too
“I was the most junior person at the office. I received what they called a stipend. I could pay for my travels in a three-wheeler to the office every day, or pay for my meals every day, or I could pay for my accommodations. But I wouldn’t be able to pay for all of those things. It was just enough money to say I wasn’t a volunteer. (laughter) It was recognized that if you were working there as an undergraduate, which was my case, you had to have other means of support. I was so SO junior. (laughter) I remember we had to call our bosses ‘mam’ or ‘sir’. It was a more formal environment than here, where you can be more casual and call your boss by their first name.

Third lesson: Design for spontaneous human moments
“The workspace of the studio, the way it was designed, was very thoughtful and very inspirational. It offered a really nice place to work in terms of human comfort. When it rained, the water ran down from the rounded roofs to canals and it would be then be used to cool down the building. Also, the name of the office is called Sangath, which can be translated in different ways but basically means ‘togetherness’, or ‘Fellowship’ and more formally ‘move together through participation’. I think the way Doshi’s office was designed really allowed for comfortable moments where small or larger groups could gather. At least a hundred people could have gathered there comfortably. So the architecture itself played a role in comfort, but they also had an office policy in place that would force you to take breaks. At 10 am someone would come around with tea and cookies and then at 3pm, people were forced to leave their workstations and go outside. I think it’s really important to just have a little bit of balance in your work-life. Having times when you can talk to your colleagues and get to know them. I’m pretty sure that photo was taken during one of those breaks.”

Fourth lesson: Look out for Rumaali Roti
“My family Is actually from the state of Uttar Pradesh, which is very different from Gujarat, where Ahmedabad is situated. Gujarat is a ‘dry state’, meaning alcohol is not allowed and it is also a vegan state. There is a huge taboo on ordering meat, but you could still do it if you knew how to ask for the secret menu in restaurants. (laughter) I didn’t mind the ban on meat because, the food was so delicious and so affordable! At my favourite restaurant, there was something called Rumaali Rotis, which were like regular rotis but really really thin. The name translates to ‘handkerchief bread’. I’m still on the lookout for those since I haven’t come across them in restaurants around here. I’m getting so hungry just remembering those meals!”

Fifth lesson: Appreciate the paradoxes in your encounters
“Ahmedabad is a very modern city. There are a lot of young people and educated people living in Ahmedabad. I wouldn’t say there is a specific way to prepare to work or visit there. Simply be aware of the paradoxes you might encounter, because like many metropolises, there is an older local culture that is co-existing with the modern global culture. I can honestly say I have never felt more free than when I was living there…but at the same time, I wasn’t always free to do what I wanted. I definitely dressed more conservatively than I would in Canada. On the other hand I was free to stay out as late as I wanted, so not that different from home. Actually, one funny memory I have : after midnight the night watchman would lock the gate to our house. Sometimes he would fall asleep, and I had to throw pebbles in his direction to wake him up. (laughter) One night, maybe twice, I had to climb over the wall because he wouldn’t wake up. I can honestly say I enjoyed my time over there!”

Credit: Aradhana, second from the left, with her colleagues on a break in the gardens on the grounds of Doshi’s office, 1998.