The Art and Craft of Writing in Architecture, Apurva Bose Dutta

Ar. Apurva Bose Dutta

Ar. Apurva Bose Dutta

The association of writing and architecture remains unexplored to its full potential. This is attributed to the relatively less awareness that the integration of these two disciplines can yield, which is not to stay oblivious to the fact that the awareness today is hugely more than in the past. Having walked the path of architectural writing, I have invariably felt the responsibility to raise its awareness, train interested minds, and persuade the architectural profession to embrace it. Invigorating discourses are imperative in creative fields, and writing can be a significant contributor towards driving these discourses. - Text : Ar. Apurva Bose Dutta

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Guiding inquisitive, interested, and passionate minds

The association of writing and architecture remains unexplored to its full potential. This is attributed to the relatively less awareness that the integration of these two disciplines can yield, which is not to stay oblivious to the fact that awareness today is hugely more than in the past. Having walked the path of architectural writing, I have invariably felt the responsibility to raise its awareness, train interested minds, and persuade the architectural profession to embrace it. Invigorating discourses are imperative in creative fields, and writing can be a significant contributor towards driving these discourses.

Lack of optimal training in architectural writing is one of the foremost reasons why the subject has not gained greater stature, especially in India. Barring a few architectural institutions who have bestowed recognition on the subject, for most, the subject is not a part of the curriculum.  For others, the lack of skilled faculty for the same has produced not only dejected students who are unable to take forward their interest in architectural writing but has also led to generations of architects who hesitate to write!

In the past ten years, I have had significant conversations with the important bodies in architecture-design in India on architectural writing, concerning its recognition and training.  Though the need for the subject has been acknowledged ubiquitously, what has emerged especially during the pandemic are a plethora of essay-writing competitions. As far as training goes, at a large scale, nothing substantial has been achieved – the vacuum exists! My experience of judging a lot of these competitions and curating a national essay writing competition in 2019, make me believe that competitions can only recognise the existent talent – efforts need to be directed for those in search for guidance and proper training in the subject.

 

Delivering a talk on architectural writing at CAAD LECTURE SERIES, Chennai Academy of Architecture and Design, Chennai; Sep 2019 (Picture credit: CAAD)

 

I have been associated with architectural writing training for almost eleven years in my career of fifteen years. I started with delivering lectures on academic and professional platforms and then conducting workshops of varying lengths at architectural institutions and professional architectural events. At all these places, I witnessed the tremendous interest and enthusiasm of students, faculty members and practising architects towards these sessions. For years, I had been getting requests to introduce training that was accessible to everyone, and I realised the pandemic was the ideal time to conceptualise and curate a certified digital course on architectural writing. This would ensure that geographical locations would not have any binding, and those interested would not have to depend on institutions or firms to arrange training for them.

 

Conducting a workshop for faculty from architectural institutions at a FDP organised by COA-TRC in collaboration with Ramaiah Institute of Technology – School of Architecture (RIT-SOA) at Bengaluru, Jan 2020 (Picture credit: RIT-SOA)

 

 

I decided to call the course Writing/s in Architecture because the various terminologies that are used today, whether architectural journalism, criticism, communications, or appreciation have writing as the underlying thread. The course runs over six weeks with 15+ contact hours. I always knew the interest that architectural writing has stimulated globally, but I have been gratified to see the level of seriousness that has been indicated in the three batches conducted till now. The learners ask thought-provoking questions, sit in rapt attention, and do not mind sitting for extended hours too. The batches have had a group of eclectic learners- students (undergrad, postgrad, PhDs) to faculty members to young and established architects to professionals from allied fields to content writers. Apart from the theoretical and practical sessions, the interactive sessions lead to deliberations on architecture and architectural writing where we address different perceptions and interpretations and build and preserve knowledge.

The course is presently being hosted by ACEDGE and ETHOS, the pioneering platforms for online architectural education in India. I have always admired Ar. Gita Balakrishnan’s deep commitment to architectural education. I am delighted that she and her extremely efficient team allowed me to design, curate, detail and conduct the course exactly the way I wanted to and offered complete support for the same.

Not everyone who joins the course wants to pursue architectural writing as a full-time profession. From wanting to integrate writing into their practice, working on books, writing to link architecture and society, starting a blog, polishing Instagram handles to communicate architecture, to structuring content, architectural photography, content writing, design interpretation, writing research papers—there are so many interests that the learners convey. Most students say that they miss writing in their curriculum and many faculty members include those who are themselves teaching architectural writing in their respective institutions. There have been a few international learners too who have joined in from Italy, Argentina, Spain, South Africa, UAE, Singapore, and the US and they have brought in many distinct observations regarding the subject. This diversity in experience, nationalities and interests in the subject cultivates an environment where we can together expand the scope of architectural writing.

These varied inclinations to the course have outlined that writing has a multi-faceted impact on architecture-design. Besides scanning and cleansing the minds and thoughts of the writer, the art of writing ensures that those who attempt it should be able to live in dual worlds—one that everyone can see, and the other which the writers can visualise. In architecture, writing has many agendas—documenting, celebrating, reading, interpreting architecture, design and buildings, educating people, sharing information, addressing issues, steering conversations, and offering solutions.

 

A reading session during a workshop on architectural writing conducted for DESIGNURU – Bengaluru Festival of Art Architecture and Design, Bengaluru, Oct 2019

 

The course runs through various modules of architectural writings, including its global history, avenues, genres, styles, mandates, structures, methodology, and mediums. Additionally, the learners spend individual hours reading, researching, and culminating their understanding in the form of an assignment. The course is exploratory, where the learners through a step-by-step process align themselves to make an informed choice of how they want to integrate writing and architecture. It is a course where writing is not bounded by defined definitions and dimensions and does not restrict itself to only project writing; it goes much beyond elucidating the role of various genres of architectural writing. It also attempts to bring about the realisation that writing is a whole lot more—neither does it start with the introduction, nor does it end with the conclusion!

Where are the women in architecture – that is everyone’s pet question! However, my journey in architectural writing makes me ask – where are the men in architectural writing? Why is the fraction of men so less in comparison to women, whether in writing competitions or training? It is a topic that needs research, analysis and a way to get more of them into it!

In the conclusion of my first oration on architectural writing in 2010, I emphasised that one of the most crucial ways to increase the visibility of architectural writing in India is by getting architectural writers together who could connect and discourse on their shared interests. With this course, I have come to realise that every batch transforms into a small group with like-minded people sharing a special camaraderie. Most of them are taken by surprise that there are so many people out there who share their passion for the subject. These batches become small communities, and I am sure these communities will, in their way, ensure and reinstate how the synergy of writing and design can become an excellent resource for architecture and building.

In architecture, we always revere the concept of space and time; writing about architecture too crosses the boundaries of space and time and ensures that the ‘wordprints’ that interpret, define, and seek a future for architecture, stay and live for eternity.

 

Quote from Ar. Gita Balakrishnan, Founder, ETHOS and ACEDGE

“Architecture is a story waiting to be told. The designers weave the story, but how do we ensure that it is heard? Having curated competitions since the last 19 years, at Ethos, we realised that many storytellers need guidance in their narrations. We could not think of anyone better than Ar. Apurva Bose Dutta, one of the pioneers of architectural writing in India, to mentor young and eager minds in a course titled Writing/s in Architecture on Acedge.  More than 165 young perspectives have already been directed by Apurva through the first three batches, and in the months to come, we are confident that bridges of words and ink will bind the world of Architecture together.”

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