The Eleventh Annual Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectual Design Excellence 2009
Berkeley Prize 2009

Neelakshi Joshi Proposal

Open Public Urban Spaces Conference
Translating Traditions- looking backwards, moving forward

"With the depth of your roots measure the span of your wings" - unsourced

India has a rich and vibrant variety of climate and culture across its length and breadth. This automatically translates into architecture. Common sense and context have always been the ideology guiding buildings. This is why we can see a great number of ageless buildings that have sustained the onslaught of time, both in their structure and activity.

We, the youth of India, have experienced a sea of change within our lifetimes. After the liberalization of the economy in 1991, global forces have influenced our lives in a big way. Though this has done wonders for education, employment and the G.D.P., it is sad when one pauses to think what all we have lost in the way.

Today life has come full circle. Resources are running low and architects the world over are grappling for green and sustainable solutions. We, a developing nation, have seen both-the simplicity of a traditional lifestyle revering and respecting nature and the current high consumption attitudes. The knowledge of the difference between the two should be our armory as future designers.

Study of the local vernacular styles does not feature in our regular undergraduate syllabus and is sometimes added as an elective. So by the end of five years we accept steel sections and artificial air conditioning as the norm but are at sea about adobe, sloping roofs and wind tunnels. Maybe we are done severing our connection to the very roots that sustain us. It is time to make a journey back home.

For my essay, I researched my own city’s rich architectural heritage and its social, cultural and environmental links. I concluded that the cause of most present day problems was hasty policy making that adopts tailor made foreign solutions ignoring context.

For the 2009 Berkeley Prize Architectural Design Fellowship I propose that students be encouraged to study and re-think the rich roots they come from and suggest schemes to continue this into a rapidly changing future. The past, then, would not seem like a burden but as a resource for developing a sustainable future.

The national level competition will be conducted in 2 stages:-

Stage one: Tradition

Duration: June 1st-July 15th

Students are encouraged to pick a structure which exemplifies local architectural traditions. It may be their grandmother’s house where they have spent many a summer holidays, a building they pass by everyday to college or their very own houses. It may even be an urban open space, market or some aspect of indigenous town planning. The aim is to study and explore the structure in terms of its natural, social and traditional context. The uniqueness of the construction style, materials used and technologies adopted must be explored. Original research work and associative links will be given precedence. Teams of maximum two can participate. Registration will be online and will close two weeks before the submission deadline.

Submission- photographs, plans, elevations, sections, views, sketches and text composed on a maximum of 5 A3 sheets and submitted online. Students who wish to hand draft can post the sheets with scans or photographs of the same posted online.

July 31st- top 25% of all the entries qualify for the second round.

Stage two: Translation

Duration: August 1st-September 1st, 2009

Students are required to prepare proposals on how they intend to maintain the continuity of the structure and the wisdom it carries when the values and customs that sustained it are fast eroding. These may be schemes to adopt constructional wisdom to make new buildings cost-effective and green, to successfully bring the building back to life and integrating it with everyday community life or something radically different.

Submission- Plans, elevations, sections, views, sketches and text composed on a maximum of 4 A2 sheets and posted to Birla Institute of Technology.

Winners announced – 7th September

Winners will be invited to Zonal National Association of Students of Architecture (ZONASA), an annual three day inter-college fest, to be hosted by our college in mid-September and to be attended by around 300-400 students. All final stage entries will be exhibited. A seminar session with lectures by the jury members and presentations by the winning teams followed by an open discussion with the audience will be organized.

The entire competition- the design problem, thought provoking entries, winning sheets, juror’s comments and the final open house discussion will be documented in the form of a magazine and sent to the participating institutes. A digital copy of this will be freely available to all students online. This will also be sent to the Berkeley Prize committee.

Ethos, an organization that works actively with the student fraternity mostly through sensitive design problems and quizzes, will serve as a platform for popularizing the competition and announcing the results. (

An interactive blog will be maintained during the period of the competition to address queries and share thoughts.


1.Ar. Chitra Vishwanath ( is a Bangalore based architect whose firm Biome Environmental Solutions specializes in creating indigenously green buildings. Email-

2.Ar. Gita Balakrishnan is the lady behind Ethos ( and very popular among students. She is at the forefront of organizing various green design competitions. Email-

3.Dr. Ajay Khare, Head of Department of Architecture, Birla Institute of Technology, Mesra, Ranchi has been working as a passionate conservationist for many years and exhorts his students to feel deeply about their roots. Email-

4.Dr. Satyaki Sarkar , Senior Lecturer,Department of Architecture, Birla Institute of Technology, Mesra, Ranchi has special interest in urban conservation and has done a lot of work in Calcutta along the same lines. Email-

The prize purse will be divided among winners as follows- first prize: USD1000, second prize: USD750, third prize: USD500 and special mention: USD250 USD500 will be set aside for publication and distribution of the event magazine as a knowledge disseminating tool to various participating colleges. UDS500 will be spent on travel and other expenses of the jury. The infrastructure for conducting the seminar and open house discussion and the accommodation for the participants as well as the jury will be provided by B.I.T as a part of ZONASA.

The aim of this entire exercise is to create awareness and inculcate pride in the future generation of architects about the wealth of indigenous knowledge that is slowly disappearing unsung. With our roots in place, we hope to confidently open our branches to the world.

Additional Help and Information

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Neelakshi Joshi, Birla Institute of Technology, MESRA, Ranchi, India
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