A group of 3rd, 4th and 5th year architecture students is currently in India, working in a collaborative studio with students from the School of Architecture and Planning, Anna University, Chennai. Their common goal is to address design problems relevant to the contemporary Indian context.
For the duration of the six weeks, students are engaged in a project on the emerging Indian suburb - an urban feature of the rapid economic development sweeping Indian cities, and for which the infrastructure, architecture and mindset of the current development models have been quite unprepared.
At an economic, social and cultural level, Indian cities are being challenged as never before in their history, as the commodities, images and practices of the global economy stream into a society still largely ordered by traditional agrarian frameworks.
In Australia, suburbs are characterised by the ideal of universal access to car and land ownership - in India this privilege is afforded to about 20% of the population. While the templates for architecture and property development are indisputably drawn from this car-centred idea, the Indian suburb is far more layered and hierarchical, and in appearance is a hybrid of jostling and disordered elements. Large lots of this 'suburbia' are rapidly cluttered by informal infill developments, and the road widths are challenged by the mixed traffic of vehicles of all sizes, rickshaws, pedestrians and animals.
The project is on a vacant plot of land in the rapidly developing suburb of Velachery. Working in groups combining students from both universities, they'll first analyse the usage patterns in current development models to come up with hybrid public and private sector functions designed to be delivered though private sector development.
Celine Heliar, a 4th year UWA student remarked "Undertaking a design project in a completely different suburban environment is really interesting. You get to see the parallels with our society and how they are integrated into such a different, complex and rich culture; it's seeing a drive-through McDonalds next to a slum with people selling fish off the street".
But the aims of the programme are only partly academic. ALVA's motives in offering international experiences are consciously aimed at developing global citizens, with responsible and wide ranging skills and knowledge applicable to challenges of the world of the future. This studio encourages profound social and academic interaction between students and staff of both universities. The students agreed unanimously that this was the most rewarding aspect of the studio.
‘We've spent time with our group members and their families, and we've done all-nighters together at their houses and in our apartments - it's been interesting see the contrast between their learning and our learning - there are so many things - they have such a long academic year with only two months of holidays and we have 6...and there is definitely different ways of going about a design problem', said Bessie Lemann in 3rd year.
'The best thing about the studio is interacting with the Indian students, said Felix Joensson, also in 3rd year.
The ALVA students will mount an exhibition of the work after their return home to Perth next month.