My journey as a design student applying to this university begins in a house where the smell of varnish and oil paint permanently lingered in the air.

If I had to trace the origins of my decision to pursue the creative field, its roots can be found in the room where canvases were piled high and the likeness of our family members adorned the walls. My Grandfather is an artist, and his vibrancy and exuberance translates into the work he loves creating. In his own way he has brought colour into the lives of those around him. My Aunt picked up fashion design and works with eco-friendly materials sourced directly from weavers; using her creativity to change the consumer’s buying habits to more responsible ones. Growing up in this artistically inclined family is what ultimately led to my decision to take up design in college.

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My science background in High school provided a strong reason to pursue a diverse field like architecture. I wished to study in course that allowed both my pragmatic side to helm the design process while letting my creative streak to shine through.  Indeed, architecture provided me with an invaluable education that allowed me to look at things with a critical eye. To not just absorb a concept at face value but look at it deeper. To understand nuances in form, colour and scale and how they evoke certain emotions in the public.

The Urban Design studio in our penultimate year is one of the reasons I am applying to the MDes program in Art, Design and the Public Domain. The site was located within the Central Business District and posed a challenge in terms of the various interplaying contexts. The brief required us to cater to the rapidly developing urban context while respecting the decades of history it was steeped in .i.e. the primary metro link, a former water channel, a low-income residential cluster with a high-end shopping district on one side and an office complex on the other. Having to adhere to bye-laws added another layer of complexity.

I proposed taking the existing shops that lined the footpath underground, thus allowing for green spaces and a wider pedestrian walkway. This underground network of shops and pathways would emerge at site. Further, I divided the site into two, with the half facing the rejuvenated water channel comprising of a public square with enclosed market spaces and courtyards. It would be cast in the same stone as those of the local houses to give them a sense of inclusivity.

This choice was further cemented by my visit to the Kochi Muzuris-Biennale. It was a glimpse into what I envision the course at Harvard to be – an engaging social and artistic commentary woven into the cultural narrative; a visual representation of the questions that make people pause and think. The installation that impacted us most, with its powerful written visuals that struck a chord with the viewer, and its experiential quality that quite literally placed us in the shoes of the Syrian refugees who fought to flee their nation. Raul Zarita’s The Sea of Pain made me realize the potential of art that did not restrict itself to one definition or even dimension, but chose to break those boundaries and create something truly memorable.

To me the allure of the biennale lay in how it was accessible to everyone regardless of what their background was. This resulted in the interaction of people outside those we had been with for four years. It was a refreshing experience to meet like-minded individuals from design schools,  engineers, poets, film-makers, and other practicing architects from all over the globe; sharing their interpretations of the same piece of art. The very kind of microcosm that I hope to be a part of.

Architecture has always taught us to design with the end user in mind. Even though competitions call for innovative solutions for whatever cultural movement has captured the public’s psyche at the given time, the focus leans more toward the final architectural product. As a result, a lot of the time the intended message is lost or it engages with the mind at only a sub-conscious level, where the user doesn’t question why they feel a certain way about a space. Which is why I am applying to this specific course – wherein the issue itself will be brought to the forefront. The program will allow me to shape my ideas into tangible realities by providing me with the necessary skillsets and means to address the issues I feel deeply about.

At this point in my life, if I were to state a proposed area of research, it would have to be The issue of transgender discrimination. A topic which isn’t talked about enough yet in the Indian context. In this country we’ve grown up with our only exposure to the transgender community being witnessing them at streetlights; relegating them to the lowest rung of society. Our fear of them is so deeply ingrained we aren’t willing to acknowledge them as one of us. My first insight into their world began with a competition brief where we to acknowledge those who suffered from a disadvantage within society and address the issue with a structure. Through several discussions we as a group decided to interpret disadvantage as society not accepting a person. We concluded that the physically disabled were accepted to a degree, even those with mental disabilities as someone knew a family member or friend going through it. But no one wanted to associate themselves with Trans people, something we found out through weeks of research and speaking to activists from the community; how trans adolescents are kicked out of their homes. With no option they turn to established hierarchies where they are expected to pay back for the sanctuary provided.

The conversation is slowly changing with initiatives like the restaurant which hires only transgender employees or the move by a state govt. to start a taxi service run by them. It would be challenging to erase the stigma that surrounds them, but extremely rewarding to be a part of this growing movement.

As challenging and rewarding as being a part of this program.