On mentoring at Biome

April 6, 2011
Building hope, brick by brick
Aruna Chandaraju meets Chitra Vishwanath, who has made it her mission to create healthy spaces and use natural resources wisely
MENTOR TOO Chitra has very successfully encouraged young architects to think of space solutions that are eco-friendly. Pic by the authorShe is deep in discussion with a young couple about the design of their dream house when I enter her office. There are building plans and various other papers on the table and Chitra Vishwanath, architect and founder, Biome Environmental Solutions, is trying to explain to them the rationale of her ideas  even as she attempts to understand the couple’s vision of their home.

The rest of the office is bustling with activity as several young architects and engineers are bent over their tables, working on various other projects that Chitra’s organisation is currently handling.

As she winds up her discussion and approaches me, she sums up the work that her organisation is doing with a simple statement. “We are just trying to create positive buildings and healthy spaces.”

Chitra and her husband have acquired a formidable reputation for sustainable architecture. They look at a space as an ecological one, not merely a physical one. They believe in conserving and using natural resources wisely. Eco-friendliness and harmony with nature are the operative words of their work, which has won much recognition and respect.

The soft-spoken Chitra says modestly, “Maybe it was also about serendipity. About having been there at the right time with the right ideas. It was also a great deal about persistence with our chosen philosophy despite the odds. But it succeeded. And here we are.”

Every architect has a choice — he/she can either start out on their own or work under someone. Chitra and her husband chose the first option. And right from the beginning they had a deep conviction about ‘green building’ philosophy, long before these words became fashionable. “Soon people realised that what we were saying and doing was not for creating an impression of novelty or just being different but about a genuine concern for the environment,” she says.

And today, she and her husband are trying to encourage a number of architects who believe in and work with the same philosophy by mentoring them.

“When I talk of mentoring the young, it means giving them the right opportunities and raising their levels of confidence to the point where they feel they are capable of doing a job on their own.”

Chitra does not spoonfeed them but rather gives them the space to grow.
It is a way of giving back to society, she says. And it is a responsibility that all well-established professionals have, she adds.

“Once we reach a stage in life, where we have established our career and built a reputation, we should take time out to mentor the younger generation. No doubt, in the course of our careers we are always working with and teaching those younger than us. But what I mean is consciously taking out time and effort to groom them and help them rise.”

Is it also a way of ensuring that their legacy is carried forward? She replies: “Legacy is a big word. I would rather say that certain principles matter to us and we want those trained under us to practise them wherever they go careerwise. We want our overall philosophy to guide them in their work.  Our thought process should stay with them which is good for the environment even as I want them to think for themselves”
In fact, she says she is pleased when the youngsters ask questions and insist on being told the rationale of things.

However, she does not do much of teaching today as would be expected as part of this training of the younger generation. Why? She replies candidly. “I have become disillusioned by the attitude of managements of architecture institutes. They stress numbers over quality. Also, we feel we are ahead of the times in many ways. So it is sometimes difficult to go to a school and still talk at a level which seems, to me, to be behind the times.”

Chitra is upbeat about the future of the world. In these days when we are assailed from all sides with depressing news about environmental degradation and disregard for nature, it is cheering to hear a credible professional like her speak optimistically.

“Sustainable architecture and eco-friendly ways of living are finding greater acceptance. There is definitely greater worldwide awareness about them today. And  when we talk to clients about the pressing need to make their space — whether home, office, resort, educational institute or even an entire housing colony — more eco-friendly, they understand and accept this. Hearteningly, the younger generation is very receptive to ideas about living in harmony with nature.” So, there is hope still for our planet!




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