The Fifthteenth Annual Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectual Design Excellence 2013
Berkeley Prize 2013

Qureshi - Proposal

The Lab Of An Architect

How does one choose a city to travel to?

There is a marked difference between a traveler and a tourist. A traveler, unlike a tourist, lives among the people of the land where he is traveling to, drinks with them, eats with them, talks to them, and learns from them. In other words, a tourist travels for pleasure whereas a traveler travels primarily to educate himself. I have always wanted to travel the world. As a traveler. Traveling as such is a very humbling experience. One realizes the vastness of our 'little blue dot'. It is one of the best ways to grow as an individual, develop a robust personality, widen ones perspectives, and it invokes empathy to give something back to the society.

Participation in the Berkeley Essay Prize competition, with the consequent research, has broadened my understanding of the role of architects. It has made me realize the power that architects (can) wield over shaping cities by proper interventions which facilitate social good. This process begins with gaining as much knowledge about the discipline as possible. Given my belief in travel being the best mode of learning, choosing the travel fellowship came naturally.

As part of my essay I have studied the city of Delhi and highlighted the various steps that have been taken, mainly by the government, over the last decade that have arguably made it the most accessible city in India. Many of these steps were taken keeping in view that Delhi was to host the Commonwealth Games in 2010. I have mentioned in my essay that these steps have resulted in significant progress towards achieving a barrier-free (physical) environment but the systemic and attitudinal barriers still prevail.

Coming back to the opening question: How does one choose a city to travel to? I attended last year's International Day of Persons with Disabilities being observed in our campus for the first time. After the ceremony, while I was interviewing the Delhi-based chief-guest (who has been instrumental in working for making cities in India accessible), one of the replies she gave struck me in particular. Sitting on her wheelchair, sipping tea, she had said: "(Tackling) Disability is a developmental issue and not a charitable issue." With this in mind I started the search and looked for the world's most liveable cities. Vancouver (Canada) was among the best in the world. It also has a very good reputation in terms of accessibility. What role does incorporating accessible design have to do in making it the one of the most liveable cities? ('developmental issue', remember?) On further search I found out that it has recently hosted the Winter Paralympics 2010. What is the legacy of the games in Vancouver? By now, I was sure that this is the city I would like to travel to.

Vancouver, unlike Delhi, has a very widespread and integrated accessibility program. Every mode of transportation caters to the disabled. Even the taxis are specially equipped! All public buildings- including restaurants, cinema halls and banks- are accessible. It is easy to find accessible accommodation in Vancouver. The residence where I propose to stay also has accessible accommodation. This is in stark contrast to Delhi which, on hindsight, became largely complacent after improving public mobility and did not do much to provide access to other services, like Vancouver. I would like to experience these measures myself and document them so I could work towards implementing them in our part of the world.

I have taken up Ekistics as an elective this semester. In fact, I had to specifically make an effort to get it started (It hadn't opened for some years because of the poor interest shown by students). It will not be wrong to say that my interest in the subject was generated because of the Berkeley Prize. We have been studying about the philosophies and works of Doxiadis, Jane Jacobs, Lewis Mumford, Patrick Geddes etc. In addition I have been interested in the works of people like Madan Vashista, Iain Borden, and David Harvey. It has been an enlightening experience. The ideas of 'right to a city' and the responsibility of a city (hence architects) to 'provide security and happiness' to all its citizens are very enthralling and I am very interested in learning more about the ways in which these can be realised.

In order to achieve happiness and live satisfying lives it is important to engage in social interactions and enjoy the outdoor world. In Vancouver, unlike Delhi, there are special initiatives for this: Vancouver Adapted Music Society (VAMS), the Disabled Independent Gardener's Association, and Disabled Sailing Association are a few of them. I have contacted these societies and am hopeful of getting an audience with them to strengthen my understanding.

About 100 miles from Vancouver lies Whistler - an area famous for its scenic beauty which has been specially developed to cater to the disabled. The Whistler Adaptive Sports Program provides various sporting facilities like skiing, golfing, horse riding among other recreational activities to the disabled. The incorporation of such services, as I had argued in my essay, is important for a place to be truly accessible. Towards the end of my stay I would like to travel to Whistler for a few days and study the idea of a tourist spot for the disabled, its implementation and apparent success. I would, then, use this opportunity to work towards introducing this idea in the subcontinent, especially in my homeland which is a very famous tourist destination (Whistler seems to be similar to Gulmarg in Kashmir) and is known as the 'Paradise on Earth'. I can work towards making 'Paradise' accessible.

One of the lines of thought in my essay has been about the changes observed in the attitudes of people by mainstreaming accessible features and how it may lead to removal of the attitudinal barriers. In this regard, I have contacted the faculty at the Department of Sociology, University of British Columbia to understand the issue in greater detail. A course instructor at the department who teaches the Sociology of Disability at UBC and has been active in advocating accessibility on campus projects for many years has agreed to provide the necessary assistance required in my study. Also, I have been assured that I will get accommodation on campus and therefore I am hopeful of talking to the other faculty/students also.

A two week stay in the city should be sufficient to achieve a comprehensive understanding of accessible designs and its interaction with the disabled, in particular, and other people, in general. The decision of not choosing a seminar/workshop/conference has been a deliberate one as I believe that given this years’ theme, analysing an entire city is the best way forward. As one of our Professors likes to say: "An architect does not have a confined laboratory like a chemist or a physicist. City is the lab of an architect."


May 15: Flight from Delhi To Vancouver May 16-24 : Study and document the accessible design features in the city, interact with the stakeholders, conduct interviews etc. May 25-28 : Journey and stay in Whistler May 29: Return To Vancouver May 30: Return Flight To Delhi


Return flight from Delhi to Vancouver - $ 1200 Accommodation at St. Andrews Hall, UBC for two weeks - $850 Food for two weeks - $25 per day: ~ $375 Return Journey from Whistler by ferry and bus, alternatively, including stay: ~ $450 Local transportation and other miscellaneous charges - ~ $15 per day: ~ $225 Total: $3100


1. Sumayya Syed University Of British Columbia Email:

2. Christine Hochbaum University Of British Columbia Email:

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