SPA, New Delhi

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By GET THE LOWDOWN ON THE INSTITUTE OF THE WEEK Arundhati Roy, author, on her love-hate relationship with SPA As told to Amrita Johri & Neha Kumar
  • Published 15.06.05
Vital Statistics
WHAT IS IT? An institute for planning and architectural studies with BA and MA courses.
WHO’S THE BOSS? Prof. J.H.Ansari is the director.
HOW CHEAP IS IT? The annual fee for the masters programme is Rs 24,000 (for day scholars) and for the undergraduate programme, Rs 27,000.
WHAT ABOUT JOBS? The school does not have a placement cell. But most students are hired even before they have graduated.
WHERE TO STAY? At the boys’ and girls’ hostels.
WHERE IS IT? 4-Block-B, Indraprastha Estate, New Delhi – 110002. Phone: (011) 23702382;

Don?t be too surprised if you see a group of young girls and boys looking a little sleep-deprived and walking down Ring Road in central Delhi, carrying king-sized T-squares and rolled-up drawing sheets. For if you?re near the Income Tax Office, or ITO, you can be sure that these are budding architects, on their way to college ? the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA).

SPA is regarded as the premier institute for planning and architecture in the country. As one student aptly put it ? ?SPA is the IIT of architecture?. With a distinguished faculty and a reputation for excellence, SPA attracts the cream of student population from India and abroad.

Brand name

In 1979, the Government of India conferred the status of a deemed University on the institute, entitling it to grant its own degrees. It has several bilateral partnerships with foreign universities and organisations to pursue research and organise seminars and exhibitions. ?The institute has built a great brand name for itself,? says Frank Amrit, currently pursuing his masters in urban planning,

College authorities say that one out of two architects in the country is from SPA. The alumni list is a distinguished one. Quite a few of the old students work for reputed agencies such as the World Bank, UNDP and Swiss Bank. ?As our name is known all over the world, most of our students get placed even before they graduate,? says the dean, T.M. Vinod Kumar. But, he says, there are things that scream for improvement. Kumar points out that the buildings are old and there is a need to upgrade the infrastructure. A new campus is being built at Maharani Bagh, but the project has been delayed because of bureaucratic hassles.

Faculty woes

?Right now, the college has only one-third of its required faculty, with the visiting faculty filling the gap. Also, we have not been able to introduce new courses such as urban management and interior designing due to the inadequate infrastructure,? says Kumar.

SPA offers two five-year undergraduate programmes leading to a bachelors degree in planning and architecture. It also offers 10 postgraduate programmes including courses in architectural conservation, industrial design, landscape architecture, environmental planning and urban planning.

The school also offers PhDs in regional planning, transport planning and housing, among other subjects.

Stress on theory

?The courses at SPA stress on theory and offer a strong grounding in design and structure,? says Amrit. ?There is also an emphasis on hands-on experience through internships.? Amrit says that eminent architects and visiting faculty from universities such as Boston and Columbia conduct workshops at SPA.

Extra-curricular activities are a major component of life at SPA. Spandan, Sankalp, Spakriti are the dramatics, music and photographic clubs respectively ? all run by students. Utopia and Expressions are cultural festivals held every year.

For the students of SPA, though, life is a mix of work and play. Ex-student Hema Aggarwal says, ?The library was very well equipped and in all my years at the college, I never had to buy a book,? adding, ?I thoroughly enjoyed my time in college.?


Old memories

Arundhati Roy likes to be known as a writer — and not as an ex-student of SPA. Roy graduated from SPA in 1981. The Booker prize winner says she applied to SPA as she’d heard that it was the best in architecture in India. But Roy — known as Suzie during her college days because of her first name, Suzanna — found the environment stifling.

“It’s a mediocre place with mediocre faculty, the infrastructure was terrible and it’s quite paradoxical that it is called the school of planning and architecture and is considered to be the premier institute in India,” says Roy now. The students were bright, Roy stresses, but insists that the faculty killed their enthusiasm for the subject. “I hold the SPA solely responsible for the way modern Delhi looks. It’s almost as though plastic bags have been put over people’s heads. There is absolutely no planning or real architecture in the city,” says an irate Roy.