Shreya Pal

Industry: Architecture
Location: Raipur, India
Age: 31 years
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As a child what did you want to grow up to be? Did you stick to it?

As a child I didn’t really have any ambitions, that I can remember, but I did dance an awful lot. So maybe I would have wanted to be a dancer. Most of my childhood was about sailing, dancing and laughing (flashing my bugs bunny teeth), so I guess I just wanted to be “Happy”.

What and where have you studied?

I started my schooling at Riverdale School, Dehradun. I was there till class 4, after which I joined Welham Girls School, Dehradun, an all girl boarding school. After completing my 12th from there I went on to pursue my B.Arch at The Maharaja Sayajirao University, Vadodara. Following my B.Arch I did a Masters in Urban Management from Domus Academy, Milan, Italy.

What made you choose architecture as a profession?

It all started when my Dad decided to start constructing our own house in 1994. The architect for our residence was a woman named Pushpa Negi, who was sort of a rising start in the city at the time. I used to make frequent visits to the site with my dad and witness a female architect instructing the contractors.

She had this amazing ability to convince and this command on everyone working at site. She was one of the sources of inspiration for me – a mere 9 year old, at the time. Later we found out that she was an alumni of MSU as well, batch of 85, it sure was a sign and coincidence of some sort.

Another very important factor was the fact that each time I visited I experienced the spaces differently. As the walls and roof came up, I realized how an empty space was becoming my house, and the person making it happen was our architect, as without her consent and instructions nothing happened at site. I began to realize the importance of an architect in shaping something out of nothing. It fascinated me how one individual could have the power of transforming space into something functional with an emotional connection. I wanted to have that kind of power so in class 10th I told my career councilor, “I want to be an Architect.”

The universe heard me, agreed with me and I became an Architect.

How did you transition into having your own business?

After finishing my Masters from Domus, I worked in Milan for some time and then came back to India, where I worked with Design Consortium, Delhi, for almost two and half years. As I was getting married and relocating to Raipur, Chhattisgarh I had to quit my job, so I decided on building my own set up and have my own practice. That’s how I started working on Raipur Ink.

Just a few months into it I got a teaching offer from National Institute of Technology, Raipur, which I took up. As I had never taught before, it was quite a challenge at first but gradually I started liking it, mostly because of all the young energy around. I was constantly recharged with ideas, enthusiasm, creating a dialogue with them helped me gain perspective and I realized it was something I needed to keep Raipur ink running.

What is your work all about?

As Raipur is not as cosmopiltan as Delhi, practicing women architects were rare specimens in the city and this made practicing independently very difficult. So Raipur ink started as a design firm that used scrap to make products, such as old utensils, GI Pipes etc. Initial experiments were lamps made out of old brass utensils and furniture made out of GI Pipes. These were mostly used to decorate my own house, as there was not much of a market for it in the city.

Further on, Raipur Ink started making customized art for interior projects and I started working with my husband on his interior design projects. Currently, the studio provides customized art solutions, furniture designs, interior designs, graphic designs and products made from recycled materials apart from architectural consultancy. We have also diversified into designing paper products such as DIY calendars, notebooks, hand painted jewelry boxes, bags etc. as well. Some products are customized for clients or companies such as a DIY Calendar for the employees of World Wide Shipping in Singapore and Memorabilia for Welham Girls School.

Another product we are currently exploring is a Bulb plant and Penholder, which is basically about adding some green to your work-space. Raipur Ink has recently supplied this product to an interior design store in Dehradun and am working on exploring more in terms of its design. So basically it’s a work in progress.

“Getting paid for your consultancy is the most difficult bit in this profession. In this aspect I feel architects should have a management program integrated in the B.Arch course, so as to teach budding professionals how to make money as well.”

How to crack it in your industry?

You have to be a very strong individual to be in this kind of a profession, especially if you’re a woman. There are many ways you could make it in this industry; it mostly depends on what one is comfortable with.

Very few women opt for fieldwork like site management or project management, others prefer working in the office, dealing with designing, making drawings and client interactions. In this aspect, architecture is similar to any corporate job, where once you have reached a certain seniority, you can have a very comfortable air-conditioned office space and all you have to do all day is manage your employees and meet with the clients.

But if one has to start their practice, it is a very tough ball game because not only do you have to design, you have to make sure you get paid for it. Getting paid for your consultancy is the most difficult bit in this profession. In this aspect I feel architects should have a management program integrated in the B.Arch course, so as to teach budding professionals how to make money as well.

How is Raipur a great choice for your work?

The only way in which Raipur is good for my work is the fact that it is a small city and I get a lot of time to do a lot of things. In terms of art and design appreciation, it will still take one-generation worth of evolution. Raipur happened by chance, not by choice, so I had to make the best of it, which resulted in Raipur ink. One other thing which is good, in a way, is that we have got to witness a lot of “firsts” in the city, like the first discotheque, the first lounge or the first community bazaar. So, keeping my fingers crossed, there would hopefully be a lot of opportunities coming our way.

What advice do you have for women trying to make it in architecture and design?

My advice would be to become strong individuals because the designs you make need to be implemented and that requires you to sometimes work in a very sexist environment, which can really screw with your thought process. Talking of designers in general, my advice would be to be comfortable in your skin because the day you are comfortable in your skin that day you will be able to be original designers and not a copy.

“It fascinated me how one individual could have the power of transforming space into something functional with an emotional connection.”

If you were not been in your current industry what would you have been?

If not architecture, I would have been in some other design field — either graphic or fine arts, maybe industrial design. I was never hardcore engineer material; I barely passed Physics and Chemistry.

What is the most profound advice you have heard and remembered?

I have been extremely lucky to always have people around me to give me advice because after joining as a faculty I realized there were so many students seeking for advice and there was no one to give it to them. Before marriage my parents would always give me advice and it was followed by “you will not understand it till it happens to you” and over the years I have realized that no matter what advice you give to anyone, it will be understood only when it is their time to understand it!

What was the worst day you’ve ever had at work?

There have been plenty, mostly involving arguments at site with the site supervisor or some client making profound comments on my ability to design.

Although one such event actually made me cry in the office and it was an argument with the site supervisor, where I was asking him why a certain task wasn’t completed on time and he replied with a very sexist remark of some sort, to which I ordered him to finish the task on time and he actually laughed to my face. This incident took place after working and supervising work in the office for almost two years. Every single member associated to the office was well acquainted with me and this site supervisor was new. It was the worst breakdown I have had in the office.

How have your family influenced your personal and professional life?

Family is a very essential part of this profession. Their support was critical in doing my B.Arch and M.Arch degrees. If they had not approved, I would probably not have studied in Gujarat, which was on the diagonally opposite corner of the country and Milan was on another continent all together!

Their support helped me find a good office in Delhi and a very decent neighborhood to live in. The fact that I am married to an open-minded architect is another aspect to having a decently successful professional life. He is my support system, without him all this would definitely not have been possible, in fact he is one of those husbands who does not want me sitting around the house, doing nothing. We are also one of the very few couples in the city who engage in professional debates whenever we have a difference in opinion, which is very progressive thinking for this city.

Do you live your life by principles? What principles are important to you?

The only principals I live by are those that define the kind of individual I am. As I am also a faculty at NIT Raipur, I believe in fair judgment of students. That’s one principal which is very important to me. Because I feel any unfair or biased move in an educational institution can ruin a child’s future and that is too big a burden to live with. As faculties we are entrusted with a very big responsibility, handling a child’s future, so we really cant afford to not have principals.

This however is not the case when it comes to the corporate part of the profession. Sometimes one has to bend their principals in order to befit the situation, the question in hand here is how much can you bend it before you lose it.

Raipur as a city does not have any professional work environment, so to stick to your design principals you need to be ready to make sacrifices with the clients or projects for that matter. For us, design is a process of looking at solutions to the every day problems and understanding the need and aspirations of the clients. Some times we even end up educating our clients on the different aspects of design.

“Whatever you do in life, always remember it is very important to have a voice, especially when it comes to you as an individual.”

What advice do you have for young women and girls in general?

It’s all about being strong individuals from inside, that would shape the person who you are and what is projected of you.

Living in an Indian society the female gender is usually considered weaker and taken for granted. Most girls are programmed to think that after education, marriage and then children is the ladder of progress for them, which is why many times girls are taken lightly even in educational institutions, where teachers pass remarks like “Isko to B.Arch karke shaadi hi karni hai, ispe itna time mat waste karo (she’s just going to get married after her Bachelor’s, don’t waste time on explaining this to her)” .

Whether one works, practices, studies or gets married after having done their graduation is a matter of choice but neither of it is mandatory or rules by the book. It is absolutely all right for a girl to decide to make a career before getting married or vice versa or just get married and raise a family. My mother was a stay-at-home mom, while we were very young and she is a strong individual with a point of view.

Whatever you do in life, always remember it is very important to have a voice, especially when it comes to you as an individual.

Your favorite memory from childhood.

Sailing on the ship with the family, best memory ever. In fact I can’t remember anything more vividly than our sailing holidays, so it would definitely be sailing.

Are you married? When did you marry?

Yes I am married. We got married on 12/12/12!

Seriously. Fun date, isn’t it?

How has marriage changed your life?

Marriage has been critical in changing my life.

Has a married life had any impact on your career?

Oh yes, definitely. Moving to Raipur was a result of marriage and the reason I started Raipur Ink, so the sole credit goes to marriage. Also I would never have even thought of getting into teaching if I were not in Raipur.

Do you have children? Do you want children?

No, don’t have children yet but we are in the process of planning a family.

Have you promised yourself or decided on how you’d like to raise them?

Not really, I guess once they come into our lives, raising them would be a process we evolve through.

Can women have it all?

I think they can. It’s all in their head. Everything is possible; it’s all about choices. One can chose what to follow, what to do, how to do it, their priorities in life etc. The most common thing with most women is that they are soft inside, which leads to foggy judgments, sacrifices and a lot of hurt. But, this again, is a matter of perspective.

‘One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’. So it is possible that we, as onlookers, tend to feel bad for someone who is absolutely happy in their situation. May be they already have it all, just not your “all”!

What question(s) do you wish I had asked?

I can’t really think of any questions, though, but I am sure I have written down all my answers, even if the questions were not there!

1 Response

  1. Manju says:

    Shreya ur response to every query seems to b so sublime n straightforward. Moreover ur simplicity n approach to every aspect is very strongly defined. May u keep adding more feathers to ur cap. Our blessings.

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