billionBricks_My First Brick in Architecture
Originally from Chennai, presently studying at School of Planning and Architecture New Delhi. I applied for an internship to the Bb+Brio studio in Mumbai, and to my surprise I had received a positive e-mail for a skype interview from them the day after.
I reach Mumbai with new hope, expecting new possibilities. A new city for me, a city that is eager to change by each one of its new inhabitants. Having travelled by the local trains before, I had made up my mind to stay right nearby the office - Bandra it was. The hunt for a place to stay began and ended before it was too tiring. I settled for a dorm like space which had decent infrastructure.
I walked to the office, to the first floor (the old office) referring to the google map on a Sunday like a marksman just to make sure it existed, and schedule my walk to the office on Monday so that I reach on time.
I-THE FIRST DAY.
I knock gently, to be greeted by Mr. Vijay, busy dusting the computers and cleaning the space . I sat nervously on the chair. Robert Verrijt (principle architect) briefed me on the projects I will be working on for the coming 4 months. Content and excited I was, a new beginning. I met the rest of the team from Architecture Brio. A young team, it felt like college, a sense of bright vibrancy filled in the room.
I was assigned with the responsibility to handle the “Bb video”- a comprehensive 5-minute video which conveys what billionBricks stands for.
It was not like what my seniors had told in college. “You get to do only small work, taking print outs is the main job for interns” said many of my seniors jovially before I left for Mumbai.
I felt a sense of pride and fear too. Proud that I got to do something exciting to work on right away. Getting to handle sole responsibility on the project. Scared that I may not fulfil the studio’s expectation.
II- WORK MODE ON.
I woke up, grabbed something to eat on the way and set to research and understand what the studio was all about, the collaboration, the various projects etc… to get the essence on the edit. Simultaneously. I got to work on various presentations, those which were going to be presented to people who can fuel these ambitious designs. It gave me a sense of responsibility to make it on time and give my best. And yes! I worked on my weekends for it. Learning Adobe InDesign and asking occasional doubts later.
I worked with Madhura (architect) on most of the projects. She had a vast knowledge on the costing and the architecture field in general. I grasped many things I didn’t know about the field from her. She was very friendly and I never was afraid in asking doubts and other things. There never was a feeling that I was interning. Everyone in the office treated me like a professional. An equal. Completely contrary to what my seniors had shared to me regarding their internship experiences.
The numerous hours on calls with Prasoon (CEO) to understand where we were heading on the movie. We brainstormed quite a lot and I used to edit trying various combinations to make the edit interesting. Responsibilities were given, there is no spoon feeding. You learn when you are in the field. I learned most of the things that way. The fear of calling consultants was alleviated, the fear of e-mailing consultants too. I never knew how to edit a video before, I learned through Youtube and exploring it myself.
We were set to go to Konchur, a village in Karnataka. I had started sketching out a plan to finish documenting the whole village. Taking interviews and photographs of the people who live there, calculating the footage that would be necessary. I got to see some site work too, inspecting the 150 toilets built in the village. We were deciding on the location of the reedbeds which were to be constructed soon. I got to understand the workings of a reedbed too. I had to do a lot of translations, as the contractors were more fluent in Tamil. We used the tum-tums (auto rickshaws) to travel around in which I had occasional short interactions with the people to understand the routine and lifestyle too. The village experience had given me confidence to socialise with people, the courage to ask any random stranger questions and photograph them.
I understood the problem at its core, the problem of rural housing shortage and the reality behind it after interacting with the villagers.
As an intern for billionBricks it was a one-of-a-kind experience where I as an intern got to work with responsibilities and deadlines. And deadlines were not easy. My mind often spoke to me “Rare it is for an intern to get responsibilities and design” (birdman’s voice: p)
III - SKYPE CALL CONNECT.
The skype calls we had were a way to interact with the team even though we were working from different locations: Bali, Singapore, Germany, Mumbai, Delhi, U.S.A etc..
I always believed in collaborative models of working trying to learn from each other based on their expertise, the conference team meet always put things on track.
The meeting used to start at 10 am on Mondays, where everyone gets to know what is happening as a team. This was very motivating to me as an intern. Through Skype I knew everyone I was talking to, everyone pitched in whereever it was necessary, I used to do la lot of graphic works for the studio.
IV - THE FLAGSHIP BRICK.
During my intense sessions of editing and re-editing the video, I had always the love to conceptualise and do architecture. The core of architecture detailing. Many a time it occurred to me to talk to Robert and Prasoon regarding giving me more architecture projects to work on.
To my excitement within the next few days we discussed PowerHyde, a social modular rural housing project. A very ambitious one indeed. The Idea had intrigued me. I spent many extra hours trying to conceptualise a modular grid for the project. Designing the variations in design possible, more like democratic design where the people get to design according to their need using the materials available locally.
I had to research on solar policies in India. Calculations which induced a certain “non comfort zone” but soon I got into the game. I read many articles on housing and solar investments in India. Looking up case studies and projects and ways of presentations.
We had one month to design and present for the Holcim Lafarge competition. A competition which stressed on social and sustainability aspects.
Deeply motivated with the design proposal we discussed, we had several meetings with consultants to understand the prefabrication and solar panel market. Understanding where our project could fit in.
Those tiresome days figuring out the solar roof which we had designed. The clean and precise sketch Robert crafted on crisp butter sheets. The changes we had to incorporate in 3D. Understanding how the roof can be productised. How it can be fixed screw by screw. Rare it is as a college student to deal with so much detail. The learning I got from PowerHyde was a goldmine to me.
It never felt like a month. It sped fast. It was very engaging and addictive to a certain extent. I had talks with many of the office colleagues who kept encouraging Madhura and me in stressful situations. It was worth it in the end of the day. Everyone appreciated our work. The all-nighters, the love in the project got meaning and validation when Robert and Prasoon too had appreciated it.
I had a feeling of numbness after the competition entry was submitted. “An existential back to reality call” hit me where I had to take care of my laundry, hygiene and my biological clock.
It was an experience where I learned not only architecture, but got to sharpen my skills in photography and video editing. The result being the same – a presentation! Whatever effort you put in, it’s in that first few seconds your investor or client gets to be amazed. I tried various storyboard styles for PowerHyde imagining what the jury would need different in a presentation. Freezing every sheet with intense discussions with the team. I was mentored by Robert in this process where he shared a lot of projects as references to read on and convey what he had in mind. I asked doubts and he used to patiently sit and explain. (and yes it was quite hard in the beginning to grasp everything… I used to scribble ferociously to not miss any point but later I started trusting my memory).
V- THE DEADLINE MODEL.
We used to have team meetings in Mumbai when Prasoon Kumar (CEO) had come to Mumbai to have a discussion on design. Preparing presentations, cross checking if the solar calculations were right I was quite nervous for my first meeting, It was a very constructive discussion where everyone had equal say on the things discussed. If you have an idea you just say it out, no egos no senior junior lags. This really made me feel content, after hours of researching on solar tech, I had the opportunity to speak among experienced professionals.
I sometimes even had deadlines that were real tight but I personally really like challenging deadlines as it gives an idea into how much you can push to achieve greater efficiencies.
Such was the balsa wood model I had worked on for PowerHyde. For a presentation to happen in the U.S., I was assigned this task of making 1:50 and 1:1500 models of PowerHyde within a weeks’ time.
P.S: I had never worked on balsa wood before.
So there I was working night and day, getting the laser cut done, cutting patiently and re-cutting if the cut went wrong, staying still for minutes so that the fevicol dried on time, calling the laser cutting guy to share his location. (I forgot to mention that my phone stopped working a few days back.) (no google to help me) So yes, I had to coordinate all of this without a phone. Getting the materials on stock, finding the location of the acrylic store. It was quite stressful, at times I lost my patience as I knew my hands were too big to handle too small and delicate wood pieces. Thanks to Samridhi (another intern) the doors in the model could be completed. I had to also change the roof style 3 times. Crafted and Stuck with love but later ripped apart because the colour and the detail didn’t look that great. More like the cartoons we watch, “we never get them right in the first two goes but by the 3rd time, it's always right.”
The model was done on time for Prasoon to carry back to Singapore, It felt very rewarding when the team appreciated my effort.
VI – SUMMER.
It was April and god the city became hot. The nights were cool though. I was occupied most of the time but in times I wasn’t, I attempted cooking and yeah I was good at it but lazy too. I used to come back from office and go to darkness within a click. P.s: no dreams, too. Snap! I get up, no alarms, no wake up calls. My body knew exactly when to wake up and when to sleep. A routine was set. A routine at SPA Delhi was near to impossible.
Having coffee and lunch breaks at office were bliss. The talks after 7:30pm too. “Do you have friends in Mumbai?” asked Prasoon. “No, but I have made some new friends” I replied and yes they became friends I would never get out of touch. Friends that were not new anymore. We used to spend late nights discussing design, lifestyle and lots more. The brio team was always helpful, and I must mention we had competitions in who cracks the lamest jokes sometimes. (I used to win most of the time)
There is nothing that you don’t know working in the Bb studio. You get enough time to learn any software you own or with the help of your colleagues in the office. I personally didn’t know a couple of softwares but eventually after the internship have become much advanced in them.
While going to shoot within slums in Mumbai for the Bb video, I got to interact with many people regarding their thoughts on homelessness. One such incident was when the cab driver who was very helpful expressed his appraisal of the video I was doing to cause an impact. He also expressed his concern of how he always wanted to pitch in and contribute in some way but couldn’t as we human beings get caught up in our own problems.
He stopped wherever I asked to for the shoot. It was wrapped within 4 hours early in the morning. I used to feel helpless sometimes taking the video, scared that I am piercing through their privacy. But I understood this is for a greater good. Getting permission to shoot in Mumbai is also a very hard thing, so I had to bare that pressure too, of not getting caught by the cops, where so much time goes in making them understand what I am doing, showing identification proof etc..
This being my first professional office experience, I got to understand ‘the way an office works’. To plan accordingly so that you reach meetings on time, to plan accordingly to prepare research work or drawings or ideas before having a discussion. These may be a regular thing in an office environment but these were learning experiences for me. I gave my best in this internship with no regrets. It was one experience which had changed my approach to design, and changed my way of approaching deadlines - changes that will reflect me, the future me.
It was quite emotional leaving everything, but I had to go to become better to build more bricks. But this will always me my first brick. (More like a foundation.)
Thank you billionBricks + Architecture brio. Thank you for making me the person I am now.
About the author
Kiran is currently an undergraduate architecture student at School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi. He is a co-founder of a design startup, Sandbox.designs and also is a freelance photographer.
He has a great interest in design, ranging from graphic design to urban scale. He believes that, there is scope of design in everything and wants to have a holistic approach to it. Dynamic and Fluidic forms have always encapsulated him. Recently involved in projects with billionBricks as a part of his internship. Kiran is keen on expanding his knowledge on project detailing and conceptualisation.