The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Know our bricks ’n’mortars

A special quiz conceptualised by a city-based NGO promises to build a bridge between the general public and the architectural fraternity of Calcutta, touching issues “pertaining to architects, architecture and environment”. Archumen (testing one’s architectural acumen), with Barry O’ Brien as quizmaster, will be held at the Town Hall on November 9.

Organised by Ethos, it will have two legs, one on architecture for students of architecture from the eastern region, and a general quiz for corporate teams with a few rounds bearing relevance to the field of architecture.

“We expect at least 15 student teams and 20 from the corporate world. Besides, we are inviting celebrities from various fields, who will be requested to conduct one of the rounds,” explains Gita Balakrishnan, an architect with Ethos and the main mover behind Archumen.

Gita, who has been working with the urban poor and their problems of land and shelter for the past decade, hopes this novel exercise will provide a significant forum for raising awareness.

Four educational institutions — BE College Deemed University, Shibpur, Jadavpur University, IIT Kharagpur and BIT Mesra — have already confirmed participation. Corporate houses like Tata Steel, Pidilite Industries, ITC, Shapoorji Pallonji, Fosroc and Siemens have come forward to support the event.

“We plan to take Archumen to all the four zones and sponsors permitting, round things off with a grand, national final. This could well become the ‘Brand Equity’ of architecture,” says Gita, who studied building performance and diagnostics at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburg, after graduating from the Delhi School of Planning and Architecture.

On her return to India, Gita did a course on low-cost methods of construction and mud-block technology jointly conducted by the Karnataka State Council for Science and Technology and ASTRA (Application of Science and Technology in Rural Areas). “I realised I wasn’t cut out for regular practice,” she smiles.

The young architect then worked on shelter projects with Bangalore-based NGO AVAS (Association for Voluntary Action and Services) and is keen to follow in the footsteps of Laurie Baker, exploring indigenous methods of construction, for instance, exposed brick buildings in Calcutta.

“I believe alternative technologies and eco-friendly methods of construction are my forte. One of my dreams is to train youngsters in construction skills with the idea of reviving traditional methods that are relevant today. We don’t really need to import expertise at an exorbitant cost to maintain structures once they are up. We have those skills in our own backyard,” she says.

Ethos is laying great store by the success of the quiz which, she feels, can serve to “sensitise” students of architecture. “Considering the milieu that they are expected to function in once they are out on their own, architecture students need to be made sensitive to the culture and ethos that their designs would need to respond to. So, there is a need to equip students to be agents of change,” says Gita, who was part of the Children’s Movement in Civic Affairs (CMCA) in Bangalore.

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