Tuesday, April 17, 2018

(Ego) Booster shot.

Unexpected things happened over the last couple of weeks professionally.

1. Slight ego boost: 

My students had their final university thesis viva last week and I got feedback saying it went well and their project selection and design solutions were appreciated. I did not expect that considering the state they were in a few weeks ago. I suppose I expected more than what the university requires, but shouldn't we all? After their juries were over, a few of my students texted me excitedly. I suppose my first experience at guiding thesis students wasn't a complete disaster afterall.
And they don't want me back in second year. Apparently I'm going be the dissertation and thesis guide for students from the upcoming academic year. Exciting times... Maybe I'll thrive. Maybe I'll give up teaching entirely. Who knows.

2. This one is nothing short of a full blown ego boost: 
The periodical 'Architect and Interiors India' publishes a list of 50 young upcoming architects and interior designers in their yearly anniversary issue. We (M+P architects collaborative) were included in this year's list of 50. Received a lot of love and appreciation for it on social media from family and friends and architects we know, but I doubt it's going to result into any new work for us. I'll be surprised if it did. Hey... Every little bit of publicity helps.

And for the first time I shall, on this blog- plug my work website!

Monday, April 2, 2018

Summer is coming.

Not only are urban heat islands increasing the temperature of our cities, that in combination with our technology fueled lifestyle and explosion of urban areas has increased human discomfort in more ways than one. Unfortunately, we equate it all in terms of how hot it is.
My 25 year old house used to be fairly comfortable throughout the year till 2016 when the small bungalow in a large plot next door was demolished to make way for a five storeyed apartment building. The trees were intact and there was sufficient space for air flow between the two buildings. Then why was I suddenly feeling hotter than usual? It's because our new neighbours installed air conditioners in their house and the outdoor units were facing the small window of my room which throw out hot air all the way into my room.

I don't have an air conditioner at my house. And I don't want to ever get one. I believe in cooling the natural way by respecting the climate and building spaces which makes a person comfortable if not supercooled (That's what being comfortable has become.) During summers, I sleep on the terrace at night under the stars (and a mosquito net obviously) where I need an extra blanket as it gets quite cold before dawn. One can say I am privileged to have a terrace and a house surrounded by trees and I would agree with them. Then Why do I complain about my neighbours and their air conditioning?
Say I got fed up of my neighbour's hot air throwing air handling unit, shut off the window and installed an air conditioner in my house... Then I will have installed an air conditioner since the air conditioner installed by my neighbour because it's too hot is making it even hotter.

AC ki Taisi by Bakarmax 
But that's easier said than done. So if push comes to shove and you don't hire me to design an energy efficient house and want to install an air conditioner... What do you do?

I have a recommendation:

Most ACs these days use R410A or R32 (Freon) refrigerants- both hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)rather than the Ozone destroying hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCHC)R22 refrigerant which was used earlier.  We're not even talking about CFCs which were banned much before.
Scientists have come up with a very complicated term to compare gases based on their potential to cause global warming. 
It's called GWP (Global Warming potential.) read about it here
Let us compare the GWP for different refrigerants: 
For reference, the GWP of CO2 is 1
1. Isobutane (R600A) = 3 
2. Propane (R290) = 3
3. Freon (R32) = 675
4. R22 = 1810
5. R410A = 2088
Why, you may ask are R32 and R410A still used in ACs then? Because unlike R22, they do not have any Ozone depletion potential.

So let's talk about Propane: The first thing that came to my mind when I heard it can be used as a refrigerant is it's high degree of flammability. But one company in India has been able to develop an air conditioning system using Propane and has been manufacturing AC units using this since 2012. It's Godrej. The NXW series. As per their statistics, they have sold more than 1,00,000 units in India. So why don't more international brands going the Godrej way? 
Ans: Difference in safety standards. 
International brands have to follow stringent standards for their ACs which are American and European mostly (I'm guessing First world Asia i.e. Japan and South Korea follow those same standards)
Godrej operates a quality database that includes service feedback and where complaints and faults are systematically recorded. From this database Mr. Godrej has calculated that their R290 AC has a really tiny fault rate which sounds great unless you're part of the tiny bit.
Obviously as more people start using it, the tech and safety does gets better. There'll be more regulation in place for it and more companies can port to R290 in the future.
Chinese companies too have gotten support from their government to develop R290 Air conditioning systems.

On the other hand, maybe I'm missing something and there's still a case for not using Propane based Air conditioners because we still haven't explored all possible scenarios and materials yet. But some self-research for an informed decision is the way to go ahead. 

P.S.: In case you're wondering... Godrej hasn't paid me to write this post. In fact, no one has.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Zen and the art of online irrelevance.

Looking at my recent drafts on blogger, I realised I was going a bit overboard ranting about a lot of things, people and their behaviour that frustrated me. And I felt unnecessarily irritated with the sudden increase in advertising and aggression on my  social media feeds.

I am an aspirational zen person and till recently, I felt like I was achieving my zen goals. So what went wrong?
Then it struck me: Most of the advertising and content I see on these feeds is in reality targeted towards, and created by people who are younger than I am by at least five to eight years if not more. And while in an ideal scenario I would love to go back to ad-free days with less social media, I can’t without deleting my accounts permanently. I realise that I now possibly fit into the grumpy aunt category (I should ask a young person.) Meanwhile, just the realisation that the ads and the content don’t speak to me and the act of reducing the count of people and topics I actually read about on my social media feeds makes me feel lighter, better, less angry at the world and more zen again. I am being random on purpose so I know that people who I engage with online are really worth engaging with.
Sometimes, personal progress is all about taking a few steps back and being absolutely irrelevant to and on some parts of the internet and the people on it.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Key bored.

I took up many activities during the gap between my 12th exams and college admissions. I had all the time on my hands so I taught 10th std. maths, took lifeguard/life saving lessons and did a short course to become a swimming instructor and spent a good 4-5 hours in the pool daily. Those were the highlights of the summer. But there is a suppressed memory of an activity I took up and it was a traumatic one- synthesizer lessons.
Traumatic because those lessons were boring as hell. The teacher- talented as he was just couldn’t make the lessons engaging or fun. It was so bad that after a month, I gave up playing the keyboard entirely! And what a tragedy it was as before this, I loved playing the harmonium and a small synth I had... without any lessons!
A few months later, I borrowed my uncle’s old acoustic to take some guitar lessons and I’ve been playing ever since. I’m not very good at playing the guitar even now, but really enjoy it.
Then the other day I realised there was an old synth lying around at home. My cousin needed it for practice whenever she visited us during her summer vacations and had since graduated to a bigger one. All the suppressed memories of those traumatic hours spent trying to learn to play the keyboard came back to me, but it was going to be different now. I wasn’t going to take lessons. At least not immediately, and not from that teacher!
I took it out of hiding, cleaned it and plugged it in... The moment I played the first note after
a decade and a half, I realise how much I missed playing the synth.
I’m still pretty bad at it. I can practice and become marginally better. The guitar lessons come in handy and there’s always the Internet for help. But what I really love is how happy it makes me feel... As happy as the times I enjoyed playing the keyboard as a kid so many years ago!
Key bored no more!

Friday, February 23, 2018

Chivalry is not dead. But it's highly overrated.

A couple of years ago, I had a classy Parsi man hold the car door open for me as I got in. And because I was the one driving, he also chided his friend- my male co passanger (and these are his words not mine) 'for getting a lady to drive you around everywhere'. I was impressed by this man. Chivalry was not dead indeed. But while it is overrated, I believe a simpler version of it needs to be ingrained in our everyday lives irrespective of gender or age: common courtesy.
Being polite to everyone, acknowledging the opinion of others, disposing one's own trays in fast food restaurants, letting children voice their opinions in every day decision making, holding the door for someone with their hands full... Small things that make the lives of our fellow human beings just that little bit easier. Often I find people with means not doing something as simple as segregating their wet and dry garbage at home because "What do we pay the cleaning staff for?" But one doesn't realise that just a tiny amount of extra effort by everyone can make someone else's work and life all the more efficient. Especially of those less privileged than us.
It's not easy since being aggressively self centred is often seen as an asset for an individual. On the other hand a courteous attitude is often misused by others. We need to break the militant compartmentalisation we have created. In the larger scheme of things it's what makes the world a better place.

One can't be courteous enough!

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Words and phrases that are overused and annoy me.

1.  "Invite" only when used as a noun instead of "Invitation"
2.  "Juxtapose", "juxtaposition".
3.  "Problematic"
4.  "Here's the thing"
5.  "That's the thing"
6.  "Technically"
7.  "Right(?)" (Used at the end of random statements, mostly rhetorically.)
8.  "Basically"
9.  "Travel" especially when 'Vacation' will do.
10. "Anyways" (It's just wrong!)
11. "Sort of"
12. "So, ya"
13. "Really" Pronounced as 'Reely'
14. "Kind of”
15. "Like"
16. "Here’s the deal"
17. "Interesting"
18. "Shenanigans"
19. "Take care"
20. "Thoughts and prayers"

Monday, January 29, 2018

Walk like an Egyptian.

I have an absurd theory: That we’re going back to the ways of the ancient Egyptian civilisation.
All right, stay with me for a bit. It all started when I was having a rather cheerful day when suddenly I opened Instagram and saw my feed with the first four out of five posts being cat photos. Including one by my BFF (who till now has claimed she really wasn’t a cat person because cats were cunning and dogs were the real loveable creatures)
My love (read disdain) for cats is well known among my friends. I’m not what they call- a pet person. Although I’m not against pets but I wouldn’t like to have any around me. Especially cats. Yes, they’re photogenic but I don’t know why human being like them so much. So that day it suddenly dawned on me that humankind (really and virtually) collectively loves cats to the point of almost worshipping them. Cats are all over the Internet. Guess which culture worshipped cats? Egyptians.

Exlibris the Egyptian scribe- Asterix and Cleopatra by Goscinni and Uderzo

Second hypothesis: emojis. Yes. Egyptians were the true inventors of emojis in the form of hieroglyphs. Sure their system might be quite departed from emojis as Hieroglyphics are picture symbols used to represent ideas and sounds (just like the Latin alphabet) from the expressive non verbal but feeling based emoji system (which is a bit too too complex for anyone to fully comprehend as of now.) But it proves than we’re moving towards the more pictographic way of thinking. I for one register and process graphically conveyed information easier than the written word. And I’m sure it’s the same for more and more people around the world. Just to give an example: I associate people’s content online with their display pictures. So while scrolling through my social media feeds, I don’t read their names but see their DPs to understand who’s content it is. So whenever someone changes their DP, I have to rewire my brain accordingly.
Thirdly: Popular leaders with personality quirks and an incessant need to build infrastructure especially for dead people.

So who wants to be Pharaoh?

Thursday, January 18, 2018

A rather long reflective post about some partially irrelevant stuff full of parenthesis.

I call my blog experiments in life, love architecture and photography. I have all but given up photography and experimenting with equipment and images. As far as architecture goes, that's something I do experiment in, but don't write about (at least not here) and I've been somewhat unlucky in the love (of all kinds department) so hardly any scope for experimenting there. 
So I've been writing about life in general. No experiments.
Which is okay. I'll keep doing something or the other and that will surely get documented in many of my other blogs (I am a prolific writer. Well, not quite. Just that I wear my writing and content thin over many blogs. Yes it gets diluted and it does eat into my already packed schedule but I must get out of this parenthesis otherwise I'll get stuck in it forever)

But today, I want to write about something significant that happened towards the end of the last year in my professional life. I started teaching in an architecture school as a visiting faculty in 2011. All because De sir cajoled (nay coaxed) me into it. I always wanted to teach but I felt it was too soon and I had nothing to share with the students. But his argument was that no body is really ready for it. One has to start somewhere and evolve. Right. I started off with first year Architectural design and Quickly moved to Second year Architectural design. Architectural education being what it is, and design studio sessions being  what they are, my job was never giving lectures, but giving design gyaan and being a guide to the students. Well, not entirely. These do include an occasional lecture or two, but no standard stuff. It could even be a strong opinion monolog, or a presentation (with lots of graphics and one liners) one has to give to inspire students to design better.
So after almost five years of guiding second year students with their design projects, I finally thought of taking a semester off. Which doesn't mean much because I visit college for four hours only twice a week. and that too only a grand total of about 7-8 months in a year. The remaining work time, I have a busy work schedule as an architect.
Coming back to taking a semester off... Well that didn't happen. What happened instead was this: I was ambushed by the senior faculty and found myself retracting my request for a semester off and agreeing to guide students for their fifth year final design thesis. In my mind I was swearing and you must know that I hardly swear. When I swear I really mean it. So here I was, swearing in my mind, armpits sweating profusely, brain spiralling and my imagination working overtime with numerous scenarios showing me failing each and every one of my students whom I might possibly guide. What... Oh what made such senior, qualified and experienced faculty of one of the better college in town think that I- the unconventional, under-qualified and frankly a bit too casual for school rookie was fit enough to be a thesis guide for the final year students (Incidentally all of whom I had taught in second year.)
I could only think of one thing. Lack of qualified faculty. It's a real thing and they admitted to it too, but also felt that I would be able to guide my students not too shabbily.

Now, here's the irony: My own fifth year thesis was a disaster. I took things too casually. Sure, I had lost my father recently but that honestly isn't an excuse. The fact of the matter is, I am not a hard working person. From the time I remember all my teachers had only one thing to say about me: Can do better if I apply myself. (Well, what am I, fevicol?). My college academic co-ordinator (after repeated warnings and attempted inspirational one on one talks) had given up on his ambitions for me by the time I was in fourth year. And for whatever reason, I don't write exams well despite knowing stuff. AND I HATE STUDYING. It's only after so many years that I realised that I've effectively and systematically obliterated any chance of ever qualifying for a masters course in a good university. And I would expect that the students deserve some guidance by someone who has had a bit more formal education than me. Also, the second reason I was surprised that they asked me to guide students with their thesis is that the academic co-ordinator who had give up on me in college, is the Director of the college I teach at now and is very much involved with the design thesis decisions in the college.
I was already shitting bricks at the prospect of guiding Thesis students, but De sir had suggested the same to me a few months. If my mentor and other sensible senior faculty members had confidence in me, I had (a la sound of music) confidence in sunshine, I had confidence in rain, I had confidence that spring will come again, besides which you see I have confidence in me.
And I had De sir.
And then I didn't.
Gingerly, I have been learning to tread the rather tepid waters that is the all consuming fifth year design thesis. All this while, I thought the second year design discussion with individual students used to overheat my brain. That, in hindsight seems like a walk in the park. What helps is I love to talk design philosophy and construction technology. Quite passionately too. What I lack in experience I'm trying to make up with more reading and exposure. I sometimes do feel I have a bit more experience about some stuff through my travels and all the experiments and interaction with so many professionals from different fields. I'm enjoying the ride, stumbling occasionally and getting guidance from others.
Oh and since I'm a visiting faculty, I don't get paid more for teaching fifth year students. That's a bummer.
So what started off in my mind as a short blog post about me being pseudo-promoted to guiding fifth year students has turned into a rather long pseudo-semi-rant about... well... I don't know what exactly. And since it has been typed in a flow, I'm sure there are many errors. So I'll publish it for now and keep editing as and when I notice them. (I am my worst proof reader, you see.)
I think I overuse/misuse parenthesis. (Also, I love saying parenthesis)

Friday, January 5, 2018

Eulogy for a mentor.

It’s impossible to sum up how we feel about De Sir in a few short sentences. I'm sure every one has had their own stories with him as he has been such a strong presence in our lives personally and professionally. My first real interaction with him was during our second year Study tour to Auroville back in 2003. We chatted over several hours of rummy on the train (the card game in case anyone was wondering). And what a trip is has been since. Working with him, travelling with him, spending time in his company and learning so much from him. The generosity with which he shared knowledge from the vast repository of his experiences, reading and work has enriched our lives tremendously. Nandini Ma'm and Aparajita have been a very important part of those experiences and our lives too. We shall always be here with you and look up to your future experiences and share our lives with you.
Obi as his friends affectionately called him, was the Obi-wan Kenobi to my Luke sky walker. My mentor, friend and guide. Not just to me alone, to so many of us here. 
I shall continue to be curious and keep learning. To continue encouraging students and sharing my own experiences with them. To enjoy life to the fullest and taking every challenge head on just like you did.
Ever energetic, enthusiastic and cheerful, one of the last things he said to me was: "I have never been good at taking it easy. Haven't learned to do that. Don't want to either"

Thank you sir, for always seeing the best in us and inspiring us to be better!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Loss - II

I thought it was going to be the end of the year. But it was more than just that. The end of an era. My mentor Abhijit De passed away early morning on the last day of the year. He was more than just my mentor. He was my teacher, my friend and academic guide. His death was totally unexpected and untimely. Now is the time I needed his guidance more than ever. And I'm not the only one who does. We're all going to miss him terribly. It's not too easy to write about him as it probably hasn't sunk in yet. Seeing him for the last time that day felt like a huge void had just appeared out of nowhere in my life... and a tremendous weight on my shoulders that he had only just started preparing me for.

This all feels just a bit too familiar...