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Renowned Architect Pankaj Pukhan Urges Young Architects: Explore Outside the Office, Turn Off Social Media (Part-3)

Welcome to Samvaad, where art meets conversation, and inspiration knows no bounds. Here we engage in insightful conversations with eminent personalities from the art fraternity. Through Samvaad, Abir Pothi aims to create a platform for thought-provoking discussions, providing readers with an exclusive glimpse into the creative processes, inspirations, and experiences of these creative individuals. From curating groundbreaking exhibitions to pushing the boundaries of artistic expression, our interviews shed light on the diverse perspectives and contributions of these art luminaries. Samvaad is your ticket to connect with the visionaries who breathe life into the art world, offering unique insights and behind-the-scenes glimpses into their fascinating journeys.

In this Samvaad Ruby Jagrut, the esteemed founder of Abir India Charitable Trust and an accomplished artist, engages in a conversation with Pankaj Pukhan, a prominent architect at Pankaj Phukan & Associates in Ulubari, Guwahati. With a legacy spanning back to 1995, Pankaj’s firm has earned a sterling reputation for delivering exceptional experiences to its clientele, rooted in a steadfast commitment to customer satisfaction. Throughout this engaging discussion, we look into Pankaj’s remarkable journey, from his family background to his illustrious career experiences in the northeastern city of Guwahati. We will discover the intricacies of studying clients and Pankaj’s unique work process as he shares invaluable insights garnered from his extensive experience in the industry. We will also look into the deep bond between Pankaj and his work as he shares heartfelt experiences, such as the endearing “Dadaji story,” that demonstrate the significant impact of art on his life. Examine Pankaj’s viewpoint on the mutually beneficial interaction between the people of Assam and the art world as well as his motivational advice for ambitious young designers.

Ruby: So, art binds, by the way, you know? And I was listening to a beautiful song this morning, and I said, ‘I don’t understand the language, but it feels good.’ So, it is like that; art has its language and can bind people. And you work with the government so closely, and you see the potential of having such art installations and art presence in our state. That’s very good and very welcoming news, which we hear today. The other thing which I wanted to ask is, see, I know in architecture, there are a lot of young aspiring architects who come for office training and they look up to you. So, what would be your advice to these young architects? Because what has happened is everybody wants — it’s a very cliché thing to say — but everybody wants to be successful, and they want to be successful a little faster than what we used to. We used to have patience, maybe. They want to do it faster. There is the internet available to all — Instagram, YouTube, Facebook — and all these big practices worldwide, it opens the world to them. The information available is at the tap of a finger. Your journey might have been very different from what mine — your son, who’s in the process of becoming an architect — his journey would be. Of course, he’s going to be a second-generation practice. So, he has a lot of things ready for him, but still, he will have to find himself, his calling.

PP: He is a third-generation artist. I am an architect, as well as an artist. He also does a lot of painting works, art works; he does some exhibitions also. Okay, then he must, so he has again got that direct blood from my Dadaji.

Ruby: Okay, so to your interns who must be coming to your office, what will you tell them? What is your message to these young designers who look up to you and want to be like you, you know, successful and a prominent figure in the field of architecture? What would you tell them?

PP: They have to be practical. First, they should turn off social media, number one suggestion. And they should go and explore it out. They should go and meet the local people, mhm, whenever they get some assignments, rather than sitting back at the office and designing and creating something for us. This is what they should do: that after office hours, they should go to the site on their own, which we shouldn’t know later on; we should know, okay? They should prepare sketches everywhere they go, take data, and keep them at an archive. That will go to help them in the long run. Today, at the same time, if the same assignment we used to give to two, or three architects of the same district, the person who does these practices, they will come out of that box, okay? So, these additional exercises they should do on their own. This is my suggestion.

Ruby: So, work hard, go to the site, do the drawings, learn the drill. Yes, okay, so this is your advice to young designers.

PP: This is what I did.

Ruby: Okay! And what will you tell the young designer of today?

PP: Same thing.

Ruby: So, like, this is the drill you went through. I mean, you had gone through and you learned your own, you found your calling and your own path. But is there anything, something which remained with you, who was your mentor or your sir, Mr Chandra Shekhar? Is there something, some element of his practice or his philosophy which remained with you and you took it to the next level, which you feel that, ‘Oh, I learned this from him.’ Anything you can point your finger to?

PP: We didn’t have any bosses in our office. He ruled out the concept of bosses at our office, which I learned a lot from. I internalised it, and even today, you will never find me in my cabin. You will always see me at a separate table from my coworkers. When I don’t term, I use this term as ‘staff.’ We are all coworkers, we work together as a team. Even I feel like dining with them. I don’t take my lunch in my room; I always try to have my lunch with my team, the team. So, if you see in my Facebook posts also, it’s always ‘Team PP,’ not ‘Pankaj Pukhan.

Ruby: When you give them space to grow when you give them space to be with you at ease, they would also learn, and eventually, I feel, you also learn something from them, right? From young studs, you think you learned something from them, a lot of things because they are very tech-savvy and the social media, and they’re very sharp in certain things, yes, yes. Because I keep learning all this from my daughters, and they’re like, ‘Okay, you can’t be doing this on Instagram.’ I said, ‘Okay, I don’t know how to do this.’ So, I think that’s what you must be experiencing, that change?

PP: The main learning I could get from them is this: 3D modelling, the software. And what I studied during my time, the expertise they have today, is truly admirable. We didn’t have that expertise at that time.

Ruby: Maybe the time has changed, the exposure is at a very different level. So, you are such a senior architect who’s also working closely with a lot of government projects, very closely with the government, and you also see a lot of potential in creating artistic spaces and maybe open spaces. But when we talk about development, when we talk about the growth of the city, you know, it grows from everywhere and then it is sometimes very haphazard, sometimes very systematic. What would you like to see? Do you have any ideal situation where you think that growth should be like this or development should be like this? We shouldn’t do this, we should do this. We also talk about sustainability. We also have a huge rainfall in Guwahati. What is your take on rainwater harvesting? What is your take on green building? What is your take on development as far as if we sum up as a new approach to development? What would it be for you?

PP: My suggestion is to make the public amenities stronger. The communication should be good. For example, you should have good street lights. At least you should have wider pathways. If you are driving comfortably or not, that should be your second priority, but if you are walking comfortably or not, that should be the main priority.

Ruby: Yes, so the amenities come first as a priority, yes, because it’s important to create an experience of a city while you are walking, you know? Yes, you can only experience a space if you are walking; you cannot experience space if you’re going in a car. Yes, so as you rightly mentioned, the pathways are very important. You also mentioned that you work with a lot of young contemporary artists and you also worked with very senior artists. So today, if you’re working with some young contemporary artist, what would you tell him? What would you seek in their artwork? What would you like to see in that artwork? And if you had to say something to them, what would you say?

PP: In India, art, I think again this might vary from work to work, but as a generalization, the artists prepare the real canvas of the city. So, in a place like Assam, they should create those artistic things which bring the society closer and make them emotionally attached because we have a lot of different languages, customs, and traditions in Assam. So, I think artists and architects should work together, and this should be a message to the common people that these artists and architects can be strong social warriors.

Ruby: Yes, the important part is what I think between an architect and an artist, there is a difference and there is a similarity. Both architects and artists fall in love with their work. This is one similarity. Another similarity is that they are very, very stubborn when it comes to their work. Are you stubborn as a designer?

PP: Not at all, I’m not stubborn at all. I’m open to all ideas because I don’t fix something in stone. As I’ve already told you, when I go to a site, I visualise my end product. I keep the team in check. I’m stubborn with my team, okay? But when it comes to other things like facades and all, I always go with the flow with the requirements because, you see, normally civil works, and architectural works, take at least 3 to 5 years to get completed. Today, what I’m thinking, is if I go to fix something right on today, then after 5 years at the time of delivery, the whole concept might change. People might not accept that concept at that moment. So, I think that’s why we should try to create something.

Ruby: There is always space for change; you always keep some space for change. One question which I forgot to ask, but I want to ask you because you are in Guwahati, which is a very, very heavy rain region and also an earthquake-prone zone, right? Do you think as an architect, you have to have a different take when you are designing in Guwahati? What is your approach when designing in Guwahati, and there is a lot of flooding that happened yesterday because of rain. So, do you believe in sustainability? Do you believe in rainwater harvesting, and do you think one should do it? Have you done any of this kind of implementation in any of your projects?

PP: Yeah, actually, see, this rain harvesting has become a mandatory thing as per NBC guidelines also. The next thing is that while designing and conceptualizing the architectural part of the building, we should normally try to give less overhang of the building. That means the cantilever part should be less. See, in places like Delhi or Bombay, you can see my last pillar is beyond that you can have 10 ft, 12 ft, and in some areas, you can have a 15 ft cantilever also you can design that. But here, this is a challenge. You can always design that, but that will take a huge cost. So, budget is another thing, and by doing that, what you are achieving, is also important.

Ruby: Because whenever you go to any architectural forum or wherever we are talking to any architects, the minimalistic rainwater harvesting, sustainability, they are all green buildings, they’re all very fancy concepts. Is it viable for you to do such things in a professional practice? Are your clients willing to do that?

PP: Yes, clients are willing to do that because they are now aware of all these things. Even I believe in minimalistic designs. You will see most of my designs are compositions of simple straight lines. I no doubt do volumetric analysis, even if I’m giving a curve to the building, but that curve is very minimal, such that the building gets more plain surface. That makes my artist more comfortable. If I add too many curves or ups and downs, then how can an artist or architect work there? They need space to express themselves rather than just painting it or adding some cladding. So, you have to give space to your partners.

Ruby: That’s a great and noble thought. Thank you so much. You have been lucky to find your own expression in a field which is very professional and demanding, and you could create a niche for Pankaj. They said, “Oh, that’s Pankajs design,” and you were lucky that you are passionate about something that’s your profession. You have had some amazing journeys which we have gone through, and I want to congratulate you for such an amazing journey. Of course, on your birthday, happy birthday to you once more, one more time. And we would like to thank you for giving us time. We are excited and very curious to see your forthcoming projects, and we’ll keep a close watch on your new coming project. We’ll come and see where is the art in this project, and we’ll find art. Hopefully, you’ll find some amazing art in your project. So, thank you so much for joining us today, and have a great day ahead. Thank you so much.

PP: Thank you.

Architects Must Understand at Least 50% of Service Designs, Advises Pankaj Pukhan in Samvaad (Part-1)

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