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Winners Announced: Essay Writing Contest, 3rd Cycle: ‘Travel & Photography’

Theme described for the Competition was – ‘Travel & Photography’

Brief - To travel is to make a journey; but what would a journey be, if the traveler doesn’t grow through it? Wouldn’t that equal just moving from one place to the other, without really gathering a thing? It certainly would. And when we are talking about traveling to explore architecture, it becomes imperative that designers must learn that traveling becomes analogous to growing in their world. In the following call, we ask entrants to discuss more about why it is necessary to travel if you are an architectural enthusiast and how to make your travel count in the simplest of ways.

We know that every architectural masterpiece has an innate essence and an aura, that a person can feel while standing among its chambers or while absorbing the magnificence in person. For aspiring designers, it is necessary that they understand what it is to observe the intricacies of a work, which might easily get overlooked if we try to explore the same through a video or some photographs. Traveling, for them, is much more than just an experience; it is more like understanding the transition of spaces: how one space segues into the other. In the jargon, traveling corresponds to understanding the outlook of the building, be it any façade treatment that has been done, because of the orientation that has been taken for the particular building. – Pappal Suneja

The 'Citation Award' goes to Georgina Chappel, University of Cape Town, South Africa

“Travelling with Vitruvius”

Like human beings, architecture also speaks different languages, yet buildings within a settlement speak the same dialect of design.

As architects, we learn to speak the mother language of our urban fabric. Since architecture is ‘people-centric’, architectural language is borne out of culture, and architects are therefore obliged to speak to this culture, to appease and appeal to those for whom we are designing. Today, however, the bounds of this language are not so easily defined. It has become necessary to borrow design elements from different architectural languages to respond to global shifts, such as in environmental patterns, against which some design languages are better equipped. In this quest to broaden our architectural linguistics, we turn to travel: the opportunity to experience an untold variety of design first-hand, and to meet new buildings with an enriched vocabulary and depth of design methods and influence. Our loyal friend, ancient Roman architect and engineer Vitruvius, has only a single suitcase of architectural considerations with which to take on-board, to make your travel count.

A strong case could be made that architecture still ought to be founded on Vitruvius’s simple statement: that buildings “must be built with due reference to durability, convenience, and beauty” to be considered wholly “architectural”. I propose that, as architects, we allow ourselves the freedom to borrow successful aspects of any of the three ideals from whomsoever and wherever they emanate, thereby creatively merging the most effective version of each ideal. Potential shortcomings in a particular architectural language­­–in respect of stability, function, or aesthetics–perhaps may be solved through referencing another architectural dialect.

Stability: an essential lens through which to digest one’s surroundings

“Are the buildings largely tectonic (read: of the air) or stereotomic (read: of the Earth), and why?”. Simple questions of structural stability and engineering performance can help explain local construction techniques. Considering the rapid densification of cities, and our ever-changing environmental conditions, the assumptions of structural requirements associated with a specific locus should always be addressed: there is always a range of options to render a building more robust. Perhaps we examine how skyscrapers in Dubai can handle the considerate forces which act upon them, in order to aid the structural failures of high-rise buildings in densely populated urban conglomerates such as Lagos and Hong Kong?

Function: architecture doesn’t just speak, it gestures

Indeed, architecture is dynamic: it doesn’t just speak a design language, but it shows one around. This is an ideal for which one has to ‘peep through openings’, both literally and figuratively: one can grasp the function of a building through understanding or imagining how different people engage with their spaces. The red epoxy-coated wrap-around front stoep of South African homes is the home to spilt morning coffee and Sunday afternoon braais­, and Friday fish-day lunch wrapped in newspaper. The azure-tiled Moroccan doorways are thresholds between the earthly and the heavenly: a symbol of respite from the heat and dust within the tight and interlocked derbs of ancient ksars. Moreover, in a Dutch town, one could hardly forget to allocate space for bicycles; in New York, for coat racks at the neatly face-bricked entrances to radiator-heated apartments. An acute awareness of architectural function can enhance an understanding of architecture for social cohesion in our communities.

Aesthetics: not just a pretty faç-ade

When one considers an ‘architectural trip’, per se, one thinks of the Pantheon in Rome or Gaudí’s marvellous delights in Barcelona. These are architectural masterpieces, but perhaps aesthetics can also be interpreted differently: try “seeing a World in a Grain of Sand and Heaven in a Wild Flower” as suggested by William Blake in his Auguries of Innocence. One can apply this to architecture: a sliver of delicate wrought-iron ‘brookie lace’ or an inch of plaster detail on structural columns, tells us about the hands who made it, opening an imaginative realm of possibility… and so, an ‘architectural trip’ can take one anywhere! This attitude invites one to look beyond the tourists, the cacophony, and cosmopolitan chaos; rather delve into the micro-aesthetics of those spaces around us. As our architectural linguistics develop, we are more likely to find beauty in everyday design and unexpected places.

Travel is essential to becoming an architectural polyglot: being able to access a diverse range of architectural languages to inform new designs. Through travel, lessons in Vitruvius’s three ideals can afford us a multi-faceted approach to design, which is paramount to solving, for example, environmental design issues. Therefore, we need no longer speak only one architectural language and suffer its inadequacies when merely a flight or a train away lies the possibility of developing this bank of architectural languages: an opportunity to augment our design minds towards designing for a better collective future.

Peeping through openings: windows of opportunity

The 'Special Mention Award goes to B.R. Mohan Shiva, Anhalt University of Applied Sciences, Bernburg, Germany.

“Can’t unravel ’til you feel the gravel”

Architecture speaks; would anyone ever disagree? But as it holds true for any form of ‘conversation’, a dialogue can only be fully complete when the listener is closely listening. And to fully listen, it is indispensable that every one of your senses, including that of your cognitive ability is called in for action.

As an observer standing beneath or amongst a built-form, there are simply too many elements or emotions that are constantly trying to communicate with you, be it the ever-changing play of light that guides your feet as much as your eyes, the easing or awing influence of the relative-scale of a structure, the use of colors that make you engage or disengage, or perhaps sometimes it goes beyond the physical, of that longing of the artisan who breathes from beneath the stuccowork, still waiting to be heard and acknowledged by none other than you.

It is no doubt a fact that today ‘seeing a place’ has become way easier than ‘being in that place’. One might argue surely this isn’t a bad thing? But for those who also look at the other side, that ‘being’ at any place you want to be has equally become more affordable today, it immediately opens up a whole new realm of discovery and learning that no form of media nor book can offer; particularly so for a student or yearner for building-science. It is probably fair to go as far as to say that your intellect can only gather as much tangible information as you choose to move about in this vast world of markedly distinct contexts!

Interestingly however, the art of building is as old as the human race and this serves as a significant reminder when you are on the country roads, for you realize that deep down within every villager you come across lies an innate architect. Although on the one hand you clearly notice the differences in construction styles between different geographical regions, on the other lies the strikingly common and human-need for a shelter, anywhere across the globe. As students of architecture and eventually practitioners, this realization that there exists an infinite array of wisdom that we must tap into even before hitting the books on the relatively recent phenomenon of institutionalized architecture can contribute immensely to one’s outlook while traveling. For instance, this very cognizance can completely alter the transition speed of your chosen journeys, spicing up your mood for inquiry. All of a sudden, every little hut or even a simple open-well catches your eye, becoming an object of study and inspection. You begin to get away from the sealed enclosure of your car, you get comfortable talking to strangers as you are more curious now to know the why(s) and the how(s) and in turn learn to value the simple yet efficient use of materials. Exposing oneself to the local context in this manner can go a far distance in appreciating the subtleties in architectural marvels that you subsequently visit.

One of the most fascinating qualities that this domain of design rewards us with is the necessity and hence the ability to correlate ecology, geography, history and sociology through this all-encompassing lens that is architecture. Add to this the ever-mutating layer of technology and you are brought up against a full-course meal of contrasting flavors, and yet remarkably these co-exist in a harmonious equilibrium. Tasting each of them, one after the other, slowly and steadily, leaves you with a high degree of insight and upliftment. The critic within you becomes more sensitive to situational constraints and limitations while new perspectives to one’s own design philosophies also start to surface. Most often, architectural education leaves us with an illusive image of what designers must stand for. However, traveling helps in reinforcing the truth that design is purely a site-specific response to the people involved and the contextual demands. The more places or countries that you pay a visit to, the more you unlearn and relearn the design details that hold good only in unison with its context, which is critical for one’s growth as a professional in this industry.

Traveling and only traveling can let you feel what the digital screen forbids you from experiencing, which is the building in the act of conversation, with the people and its surroundings. So, pick up your sketchbooks and ramp up your time outdoors with your feet on the gravel, for there maybe something right around the corner that was always waiting to spark up that conversation with you; all you need to do is spare that little time and become the listener!

Certificate of Appreciation_1: Mahima Jagadeesh, Reva University, Bengaluru, India

“Architectural expeditions & expressions”

Memories. We form memories in diverse ways, through our actions, words with the people we meet and most significantly, the places we visit. Travel is closely associated with memory. The advancements in technology have paved way to capture travel journeys through various methods such as pictures, photos, videos, sketches, paintings, doodling, writing a journal etc. However, travel experiences are widely captured through a Camera. The pictures are a beautiful reflection of the places we see through our eye. Quite often, we disregard the fact that the human body is blessed with the most natural camera which is the “Eye”. The concept of a camera is essentially originated inside of the eye.

It becomes essential to understand that what we see through the eye creates memory through cognition. Cognition is a term referring to the mental processes involved in gaining knowledge and comprehension. Thus, cognition translates to memory in the brain. Architecture and the cognitive memories created through travel, channelizes the mind of the creator of the built structure and the traveler or observer into an oasis of awe and admiration. This is conceivable when the traveler reads the edifice with an open heart and not just captures with a technical camera. Unfortunately, most of us are victims of camera and mobiles to create memories which do not hold value as much as one can experience a place thoroughly with all their five senses. We have become vulnerable and dependent.

Without traveling, Architecture is merely academic and narrow learning process. Through travel, one can explore the architectural character and comprehend the cultural context in which they’re built in. Architectural works/buildings are to be experienced in a way where one’s senses are utilized to their best by feeling the volume of the spaces created, touching the textures of the finishes, gauging the scale of the work through the eye, reading the façade and weaving a story that glorifies its architectural beauty and essence.

A travel journal is certainly a unique and exciting way to learn and document the journey as it involves the travelers mind, focus, cognition, thoughts and perspective about a place visited. Travel journal can be made more interesting in many ways. A travel sketch journal, using exciting mediums such as rendering pens, watercolors, pencil etc. Creating photo collages and scrapbooks are equally exciting ways to capture the memories. Memories can be unleashed through studying intricate details and textures of a monumental architectural piece. Textures can be traced and chronicled directly on site. Live sketching helps an architect to understand scale and proportion of a built structure. Writing about the experiences of being in a building is another technique by which we can get the reader to visualize and comprehend the building, although he or she may not have seen it. Their creative visualization abilities are enhanced and boosted. This is very essential for an architect to possess as it initiates the conception of a project. Imaginative travelers may also choose to express their journeys and associative feelings through writing poetry, articles and essays. The important aspect in the process of keeping travel memoirs and journals is to stay inspired and passionate to absorb the flavors of architectural works that one comes across during their travel.

As architecture enthusiasts, we need to understand that learning is endless. One needs to travel in order to learn the architectural fabric of a city or a place as he moves from one place to another and he gets exposed to the reality of a building. He or she can become aware of the numerous design factors observed during his or her journey and can grow by adapting the best practices, avoiding the mistakes or unfavorable elements and evolving towards becoming a better architect and designer. The role of travelling becomes as significant and crucial as an architect seeks to raise the quality and standards of his profession and the subsequent outputs. The path of travel for exploring the prevailing architectural wonders and marvels is divine and diverse.

Certificate of Appreciation_2: Mitchell Ramseur, M Ramseur & Associates, PLLC, United States.


Creativity surrounds us. It is us. The only way to absorb all of this worldly creativity is to immerse yourself in it by traveling. Be it local, national, or international leave your comfort zone and experience a different type of beauty whether you understand it in that moment or not.

As a designer and architect, the accompanying image of Long Bay Beach in the Turks and Caicos Islands embodies one of our favorite architectural styles – Modernism.

Look at the simplicity of it all, sand, water, sky, life (vegetation), and stone.

All essential items in modern day construction materials simplified here in this image. Sand (glass), water (concrete), vegetation and stone (essential elements of historical architecture).

The creativity and beauty we speak of comes in the form of reengaging your primary senses: Touch, Sight, Hearing, Smell, and Taste.


Run your hand along the coarse stone of the exterior façade of ancient architecture in Florence, Italy. It is a feeling you will never forget – knowing that your energy just connected with stone that was hewn and touched by inhabitants of this planet hundreds of years or more into the past.


Take excursions and visit UNESCO sites. Visit the pyramids in Africa and witness a human feat unparalleled even to this day. Visit the Taj Mahal and see the power of love and reevaluate your own life and what love means to you and those you care about.


Visit the bustling kiosks of Las Ramblas and get lost in the bartering and small talk between locals and customers. Attend a soccer match in the United Kingdom and become part of a larger family you never knew you had, who is all cheering for the same team as you.


Visit a glass factory in Caracas, Venezuela and marvel at the process it takes to blow glass into some amazing shapes. Take in the smell of the process.


Eat foods you would never try in your home land; Order something that the locals love; Have you found yourself in Cartagena, Colombia? Try the ceviche. It will change your life and raise the bar on all ceviche from that day forward.

All of the examples above are moments in your life that will live with you forever and impact you in everything you do – so be present in the moment and take it all in and take it for all that it is worth. Turn off your mind and feel the energy.

Peace is found in the present and so is inspiration. Be it for your next design or your personal life.

Do yourself a favor – after reading this take the time to plan a trip anywhere beit local or otherwise. Go out and live life!

Jury Panel for the Competition comprised of

- Pappal Suneja, PhD Scholar, Bauhaus-Universität Weimar, Germany

- Lola Kleindouwel, Architectural Designer & Journalist, the Netherlands

- Fatema Kabir, Architect & Researcher, Pune, India

- Reem Saad Sardina, Architect & Researcher, Egypt & Germany

- Puneet Dua, Architect, Urban Planner & Founder, Studio Saarth, Jaipur

- Gurmeet Kaur, Designer & Founder, Madhy-antar, India

The Essay Writing, 4th Cycle (themed Orating History) shall be launched in April first week. For more updates, visit the Instagram handle of the Organisation.

Poster Design © Rutuja P Sahane.

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