Ar. Apurva Bose Dutta, a renowned architectural journalist from Bengaluru with published works in several Architecture magazines in the world patiently responds to our queries through a correspondence interview, as she speaks about her journey into architectural journalism and the challenges she faced in the same.
Apurva Bose Dutta (middle) representing the Indian delegation for an International Media Visit of Architectural Writers, Melbourne.
Tell us a little about yourself, who is Apurva Bose Dutta?
I am a Bengali, born and brought up in Chandigarh, and I have spent a major part of my life there, having completed my schooling and architecture from the city. I come from a family that has been academically-inclined, yet has always emphasized on all-round development in diverse fields such as literary, cultural, sports etc.
How, and when, did you join Architecture school?
I pursued architecture from the Chandigarh College of Architecture between 2000–2005. For most of my life, wanting to follow in my father’s footsteps, I wanted to get into the field of medicine. Architecture was a field that I was initially inclined to because it was “creative”; since I had to make a choice between a field that was “creative”, and a branch of engineering that was less appealing to me, I chose architecture instead.
How did you get into Architecture journalism, especially when it was not a well-established profession in the country? Can you tell us some of the initial challenges you faced?
Writing as a hobby has been running throughout my family. My father and elder sister were never writers professionally, yet they exhibited an extreme inclination towards writing. My father has been regularly writing on medicine and other themes and has innumerable articles in periodicals, scientific journals and national newspapers, plus a book published in eight regional languages, to his credit. I believe, there has been a ‘writing gene’ in our family that has been passed onto me. Writing came to me as early as a six-year-old. I used to write poems, articles and stories, many of which were published in newspapers. I used to religiously maintain my little ‘notebook’ with all my articles, which I later converted into a decorated scrapbook. Writing was my medium of expressing my thoughts because fundamentally I was an extremely shy kid. For me, it would always rejuvenate me and give me a sense of happiness.
I came to know about the existence of a subject called “Architectural Journalism” in my eighth semester of architecture when I was browsing through the electives I wished to pursue in my final year. It excited me, and I took it up. What followed the next six months during the elective was unforeseen; a passion that I felt which I had not felt in any of the other fifty subjects in the architecture curriculum. It was also coupled with a lot of encouragement and appreciation that was coming from my professor who was teaching me that subject.
I feel happy sharing a certain incident here. During my elective, we were supposed to do a book review as one of our assignments, and I chose “Reinventing the Skyscraper: A Vertical Theory of Urban Design” by Dr. Ken Yeang, the iconic architect and ecologist from Malaysia. My professor was so happy with my assignment that he got it published in the college magazine, and I was elated by what I had achieved. A month ago, in Dec 2016, I was in Mumbai for an architectural event, and I was interviewing Dr. Ken Yeang. I told him about this connect of my interest in architectural writing to him and later shared my assignment with him. He was extremely happy to read it and complimented me on my writing. For me, it was nostalgic remembering my initial steps into the profession and the encouragement that motivated me further into it.
“When you have achieved something in life, it is important to remember those incidents and acknowledge the people who made it happen.”
What I want to essentially say here is that when one is pursuing a field that is still trying to gain some ground, if one gets some encouragement in some form, which might have been generated by the caliber he/she has exemplified, it goes a long way in making one feel confident. When you have achieved something in life, it is important to remember those incidents and acknowledge the people who made it happen.
I wouldn’t like to term any of my efforts as ‘struggles’, but rather challenges that were there because architectural journalism was hardly a known profession way back in 2005. For me, it has been the journey of rising above the barriers and taking up a profession that existed, but was not explored before in India, rising above preconceived notions that every person with a five-year degree in architecture must practice architecture only, and showing the perseverance to take up a field that I wanted to and believed in.
Having risen above the feelings that one goes through when one pursues a path where there has been no prior example, today when I look back, for me it has been a stimulating journey that’s given me an immense sense of gratification and happiness. That is precisely the reason I have actively been advocating the subject at all platforms so that there are many other students who get motivated, to rise above preset notions and openly embrace the subject. For me, it has been heartening to see the number of students/architects who are following the path of architectural journalism now.
How many years has it been since you started practicing Architecture Journalism? Could you tell us the best and worst things about Architecture Journalism?
I joined Architecture+Design, one of India’s leading architectural magazines, in August 2005, within two months of my graduation. The best thing about the subject is that you get exposed to diverse facets of architecture and get to study and talk about everything and anything in architecture; one celebrates architecture through the subject. Also, this profession is such that one is always observing. So, for me, I might be sitting on my desk and ‘working’ on my work days, but the rest of the time, even if I am on a holiday, I tend to keep on relating things to what I want to write or speak on. In a sense, my profession is nicely entangled in my life, it’s a part of my life which can never be set aside. And well, that’s its beauty! Most of the times the topics that I have addressed in my articles, have not come to me sitting and googling on my desk, but observing what is happening around me because architecture is a field that routinely affects us.
I can’t see any ‘worse’ things; I can just cite the challenges here that I mentioned before, that accompany every profession that is not a mainstream profession.
How do you think Architecture journalism is received in India, by the common man and architecture professionals? How different is this reception, in comparison with outside India?
I have always found the common man very excited about the subject of architectural journalism because this subject acts as a bridge between the common man and the profession too. The architectural fraternity vouches for the subject and feels that there is utmost need for it to become a regular subject in the curriculum. I meet tons of faculties and students from schools of architecture who want to know the way to pursue it.
Overseas, architectural writing is an integral part of architecture and features in most schools of architecture. In fact, in subjects of theory and history, writing is by default an important part of the subjects.
How has the study of Architecture helped you in your profession, apart from writing and design?
My degree in architecture has helped me in forming my discretion on what is good or bad architecture, and hence, it has helped me to decide what I would like to write about. Anyone can study a building, but there is a lot of difference in the way a building is perceived by a person with a background in architecture vis-à-vis others. It is like how you can ask me to do a sports review and I might do it; but only if I have a background in sports will I understand the technicalities that take place on the field.
Also, when I study architects and their works, I relate a lot to what we were being made to study during our B.Arch. days, whether that was in history of architecture, theory of design, structures, building construction, and the innumerable subjects we were taught. I deliver a lot of lectures at conventions and at schools of architecture where I interact with a lot of students too. Since I have been in their place before, it is easier for me to understand and relate to their space, and guide them accordingly.
Interviewing Dr. Ken Yeang at the Smart Green Summit in Mumbai, December 2016.
What is an average day of your life like? Are you a freelance journalist now?
I work independently with publishing houses, magazines, journals, portals and write for them. I also collaborate with architects, architectural organizations and organizations and firms related to the building industry to spread the awareness of architecture; it could be through writing, moderating and conceptualizing events, by being on the juries, conducting workshops, delivering lectures etc. An important component of my career path has been aimed at increasing the visibility of the profession of architectural journalism in India, and there are a lot of initiatives that I keep on regularly taking for the same.
While I have worked in the core teams of architectural magazines, I have also worked in the core teams of national festivals of architecture. Architectural journalists are armed with a good sense of networking and a lot of knowledge about various aspects in architecture. There are different ways of putting those capabilities of ours into action. We go as far as helping in brand developments, offering our inputs in design reviews etc.
Recently in November 2016, I was invited by the Australian Government to represent the Indian delegation of architectural writers for their International Media Visit to Melbourne. I was there with the delegations from the other countries studying the Australian architecture and exchanging notes about the architecture of their countries. Hence, one notices that architectural writing has wonderful avenues in bringing about a difference to architecture. I like to tap into all those avenues and explore newer ones too.
My average day is how it is for generally all working girls who are married, trying to manage home and work and achieving a balance that can instill a sense of fulfillment in them. Working independently needs a lot of discipline; it can be tough, but not if one is serious about it.
Where do you see yourself in the future?
While I would like to plan what my future should look like, my experiences tell me that your future is not only dependent on ‘you’ alone, but a host of other aspects of your lives. I can only say that I would continue doing work that is going to offer reverence to the subject of architectural journalism and bring it up on a pedestal, higher than where it figures now and where it deserves to be.
Do you see yourself returning to practice Architecture?
The desire to return to something only happens, when one is not happy with where one is. Thankfully, I am quite happy with my profession of architectural journalism, and I plan to stick to it.
Awarded for ‘Excellence in Architectural Journalism’ in 2015, felicitated by Architect Prem Nath
You have won several awards, and written for eminent Architecture magazines; what would be your words of advice to young aspiring students and professionals?
Always choose a career listening to your heart, not to the world! A large part of what defines us is the work we do, and if we are not passionate about it and are thrown into a vortex where we are working what ‘others’ have forced us into, we can never be happy. And, if you have decided to choose something that no one else is doing, have the courage to stand up for it, and the gumption to get up when you have fallen.
There is no substitute for hard work. Be aware of opportunities knocking on your door; and if they are not knocking, step ahead and create them for yourselves. Believe in yourself and always analyze criticism and brickbats – maybe there’s something in them from which you can learn and improve yourselves!
Architect Apurva Bose Dutta works as an architectural journalist. With a degree in architecture (India) and a diploma in freelance journalism (UK), Apurva’s professional experience includes her decade-long work and collaborations with multiple national and international design publications, publishing houses, building & design firms and organizations, and web portals. Apurva has been a pioneer in increasing the visibility of the subject of architectural journalism in the country and has been awarded for Excellence in Architectural Journalism (2015); Creative Excellence in Architectural Journalism (2010) and A3F award in Architectural Journalism (2009). In 2016, she represented the Indian delegation as a part of an international media visit of architectural writers in Melbourne.