ARCHICON 2023 revealed how a progressive, forward-thinking, tech-enabled yet a traditional and a sustainable approach towards designing buildings and the spaces within can create a positive impact on the environment, the occupants and users, and on the society at large.
MGS Architecture presents highlights of the event

Engaging, enjoyable educative sessions and debates, workshops, book launches, and product presentations by popular interior building brands, set the tone for the three-day ‘ARCHICON 2023’ organised by the Architects Association of Agra. It was held during 15, 16 and 17 September 2023 at the Jaypee Palace Hotel and Convention Centre, Agra. The theme was ‘Architecture For Tomorrow: Challenges and Opportunities.’

‘ARCHICON 2023’ organised by the Architects Association of Agra

ARCHICON 2023’ brought together well-known and award-winning architects from across the country, interior designers, young, aspiring architects, students of architecture, and the general public from within and outside Agra to participate in the forum. Experts in the field of architecture and design disseminated information on topics ranging from impact of technology on designing to sustainable, modern, and traditional architecture. The basic idea promulgated was: “Creating something for the present without forgetting the past.”

Today, Going Green has become an imperative in architecture, construction, and design of all typologies of buildings. The three key issues discussed were: becoming aware of the reality of our depleting natural resources; intersection of technologies in the architecture of the future with application of drones, 3D printing, social media, and virtual storytelling, while continuing to learn from our past.

‘ARCHICON 2023’ organised by the Architects Association of Agra

In the inaugural address, Ar. Christopher Beninger of CoBA Designs stressed on ‘Looking Forward’, as India is moving ahead, developing, and modernizing. “Some of the key challenges are developing mechanical competence in manufacturing and creating housing for all classes. Here, architects, as visionaries and doers, can lead the change.” He later gave a presentation of his projects under the theme “Timeless Architecture”.

‘ARCHICON 2023’ organised by the Architects Association of Agra
Chief Guest Ar. Abhay Vinayak Purohit and President COA, held forth the view that technology must advance alongside our traditional streams, and stressed on the need to promote architecture as a lucrative profession. “While India needs 40 lakh architects, we have only 1.4 lakh practicing architects. We need to have more trained architects as there are jobs and there are projects. But the ground reality is that we lack a sufficient number of students in colleges of architecture because students tend to compare the (higher) salaries of IT professionals with that of architects and feel discouraged to consider architecture as a lucrative profession.”

‘ARCHICON 2023’ organised by the Architects Association of Agra
Celebrated architect and author of several books, Ar. Charanjit Shah, held the audience spellbound with his presentation on “Post Independence Sustainable Architecture’ and showcased projects of the past by renowned architects and which have stood the test of time.

A presentation by Shubhi Gupta from Nature Morte, drew attention to the exponential growth of Art in India, going beyond Art as an investment, and influence of Art on education and child development. “Artistic creations by Indian artists are finding space in major cities like Paris, Mumbai, and in many countries, in corporate houses, institutions, airports, etc. This has the potential to foster collaborations with artists across the world to create larger than life, immersive art and sculpture,” she said.

‘ARCHICON 2023’ organised by the Architects Association of Agra
Ar. Shirish Beri, while launching his book “Changes & Choices For the Future” lamented the fact that our alienation from Nature has become a burning question. “As an architect I feel that architects need to connect and have an empathy with Nature. Earth is a finite entity with finite resources. We need to use recycled, locally available, discarded materials and scrap. We need to plant more wood and bamboo as they are the most sustainable materials. We need to have advanced yet sustainable materials integrated into our buildings, simplify our living spaces, and reduce consumption. I believe that a truly rich person is one who is happy with less. I am glad that I am living this fullness of life. I also believe that life’s attitudes and life’s concerns cannot be separated in architecture,” he told the audience while presenting visuals of his highly sustainable projects built around Nature.

Author Ar. Apurva Bose Dutta launched her latest book: ‘Architectural Inheritance and Evolution in India’ in which she presents 10 acclaimed architectural families of India, their professional journeys, ideologies, design approaches, and the challenges they encounter. Through their narratives, the book further explores how architecture in India has transformed and evolved across generations.

‘ARCHICON 2023’ organised by the Architects Association of Agra
Ar. Sangeet Sharma in a scintillating presentation discussed the principles of cubist modernism in India. Drawing parallels with Charlie Chaplin who acted silently, “speaking” with his eyes, and the expressive romantic gestures of Shahrukh Khan, he said: “When architecture speaks a narrative, no words are needed to explain the design concept.” “A good building should speak for itself.” “Every new building is a thesis in itself as architects are always learning.” “We must bring satisfaction to building owners through architecture.” “There should be an element of surprise always in buildings.” “Why are government buildings so colourless and lifeless? Why do we look at them just as boxes?” Visuals of his various projects (government offices and institutes, etc) justified his claim that they can be designed creatively as attractive places of work.

‘ARCHICON 2023’ organised by the Architects Association of Agra
Ar. Purnima Sharma shared how Mughal Art inspired her creations and that her key motivations are led by the 3 Ps: Passion, Perseverance and Patience. She takes a holistic approach when designing the interiors of villas and upscale residences, while keeping the principles of Vastu in mind, along with the concept of reuse and recycle. Her forte is designing unique and grand staircases.

Ar. Manish Gulati of Mofa Studio in his presentation on the topic “Going Beyond Modernism” shared his views on going beyond the complexities of architecture. “Inspiration – Translation – Resolution – Manifestation is the process. Today, from digital modelling and interactive processes to Artificial Intelligence and collaborations with technologies, it has become a closed loop.”

‘ARCHICON 2023’ organised by the Architects Association of Agra
A debate on “Architecture For Tomorrow” raised the question why most buildings and architects address only 5% of the population in India. How can they give the remaining 95% a taste of good housing and buildings. The question raised the need to create more awareness and support by government agencies. “Architects need to work hand in hand with the government to build good structures. Schools of architecture need to work with local communities and agencies, learn to build quality structures at lower costs. This awareness must start at the student level.”

The other points debated upon were: “Why knowledge sharing and dissemination is a problem in our country?” “As educators, we need to identify and disseminate ‘social architecture’ as well and not ask ‘what’s in it for me’ when creating architecture for the less privileged class of users?” A hot topic discussed was the decreasing number of architects in India vis a vis the IT sector and the issue of young architect students wanting jobs, recognition, and instant gratification, though in reality recognition comes only after long years of hands-on experience in the field.

‘ARCHICON 2023’ organised by the Architects Association of Agra

Sustainable architecture was a recurring topic with Ar. Chitra Vishwanath of Biome Environmental Solutions putting forth the question “Is it possible to revive water? Can we revive wells and recharge water?”

Ar. Subodh Shanker launched his book “Random Thoughts on Architecture and Urban Planning”. It covers a wide spectrum of issues like sustainable and affordable solutions, facilities for specially-abled people, socio-economic and cultural concerns of the users, climatic, environmental and global warming issues etc. The author also examines prefabrication technology for solving problems of mass housing, aesthetics for urban design in our growing cities, etc.

‘ARCHICON 2023’ organised by the Architects Association of Agra

An educative session stressed on the need for cutting edge research to equip architects to effectively work and make a difference. The questions raised were: ”Should we be teaching in the old way or encouraging “design thinking”? Ironically, universities other than architecture colleges, are teaching design thinking (which should be the prerogative of architecture colleges) and attracting students.

‘ARCHICON 2023’ organised by the Architects Association of Agra

Winner of many national and international awards Ar. Ketan Jablekar of Studio K-7, Mumbai, shared case studies of many of his projects that had failed, giving reasons for their failure, and their redesigning as per the demand of the evolving times. “Learning from mistakes cannot be taught; it comes from experience,” he said.

The last day of the event saw awards being presented to participants, including children, under the social initiative of the Architects Association of Agra “Creating Wealth out of Waste”.

On the sidelines of ARCHICON 23 with Ar. Sameer Gupta, President, AAA

What was the idea and inspiration behind hosting ARCHICON 2023?

‘ARCHICON 2023’ organised by the Architects Association of Agra
The whole idea originated way back in 2008 when the Taj Mahal was adjudged the number one wonder of the world and the architects of Agra thought that we should celebrate the honour. And what better way to celebrate this than by calling the architects fraternity from all over the country to Agra to discuss the nuances of modern architecture alongside our historic buildings!

When we did this event in 2008, we had architects from India, and a few flew down from various parts of the world to be a part of the event. Following its success, we had the confidence to organize another event the next year, but due to an unfortunate turn of events, we could not muster enough courage to go ahead with it.

This time, we wanted to showcase the brand that we had built. We wanted to further build on the brand equity by exploiting its value by showcasing it more strongly to the architect fraternity at large.

Please elaborate on the theme ‘Architecture For Tomorrow: Challenges and Opportunities.’

Because the world is changing so fast, we decided to discuss the future of architecture on a common platform. Our last event was on ‘Architecture: Past, Present and Future’ against the background of the historic Taj Mahal because we wanted to incorporate the past as well as the future in the theme.

But now, we are at a threshold of advancements and new developments with technology like AI and 3D printers, drones, etc, creating a strong impact on design and architecture. Plus, the population is increasing so fast. So, we thought, what are the challenges in terms of environment; how will we deal with the demands of a growing population, what are the opportunities that we can tap, and so forth. The sky is the limit and you can do anything. The possibilities were discussed in so many presentations by the experts at ARCHICON 23.

How have you seen Agra grow architecturally and become more modern over the years?

Agra has definitely grown as all the other cities of India have. But there are not too many iconic structures here, unfortunately, due to some political considerations, Agra is not too high up on the priority list. There are other cities that are taking precedence, but infrastructure like metro rails is being developed in Agra.

We are going to have an elevated metro on the MG Road, which is supposed to be the artery of Agra. But ideally, it should have been underground, but costs had to be considered. The point is that Agra is a congested city and MG Road itself is not broad enough. However, it’s the state government’s decision. These agencies don’t look at projects aesthetically; they will look at their financial viability. The point that I want to make is that all the stakeholders in the project, including the architects of Agra, should be involved as architects would be in a better place to observe what is best for the people of Agra.

What is the larger role of the Architects Association of Agra?

I say this with all humility, but I can tell you that we, on our own and voluntarily, at no cost, are designing many places of interest and use across Agra. We have done 16 main crossings in Agra, all of which have been aesthetically designed. We built an iconic structure called ‘I Love Agra’ and a garden. We’ve been talking about what Agra needs at various forums so that we can work towards improving the city’s infrastructure and development.

How do events like ARCHICON impact the industry?

I think one of the reasons which I also said in my welcome address is that unfortunately in architecture we do not have too many knowledge sharing events. These events are more commercial, or they are held for some other organization or the other. We want to create a platform where industry experts and architects who have done great work in architecture can come and share their knowledge and experiences with others in the fraternity. And this did happen at ARCHICON 23 where the panelists debated and discussed important issues, offered solutions and shared experiences. We want to make ARCHICON as popular as the Literature Festival of Jaipur.

What were the challenges in organizing the event?

It was really challenging to hold it in a 3-tier city like Agra and approaching companies to support the event. We are confident that in our next biennial event we will have many, many more architects participating and many more companies coming forward to lend their support. In fact, the vendor participation in ARCHICON 23 has been pretty good and it’s because of their support that we are all sitting here.