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Poché - an online initiative for architecture and design engagement

Poché, a new platform for community building and education in design and architecture, offers multidisciplinary exposure through its inspiring series of talks and more.

by Meghna MehtaPublished on : Sep 21, 2020

Poché, an initiative by architects Sudipto Ghosh and Riyaz Tayyibji, is an interdisciplinary platform for online conversations and learning centred on the Global South with particular interest in South Asia. The platform has two primary initiatives - an International Design Studio where students with instructors explore a question together, and Poché Conversations - a series of inspiring talks by multidisciplinary professionals from various design fields. These interactions for the first edition took place recently, inspiring senior professionals and students alike.

The inaugural Poché International Design Studio, a five-week long programme titled Alter-ego, had 170 participants from across the world and was stimulated by 16 talks from multidisciplinary thinkers. Apart from the curators, the studio also invited instructors such as Neelkanth Chhaya, Sarosh Anklesaria, Zameer Basrai, Shilpa Ranade, Hussain Indorewala, Ayaz Basrai assisted by Shilpa Mevada, Owais Asif, Gaytri Chandramouleeswaran and Vignesh Chandrasekaran to interact with the teams. The first edition investigated the Indian capital city of New Delhi, particularly its colonial precinct designed by British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens. Considering a site stretching from the Central Vista to the banks of Yamuna river, the studio was guided by six renowned instructors, each bringing a different perspective.

“Poché studio is an online place for discussions and engagement around the built and unbuilt environment. These conversations are particularly framed around issues that are current and important to the Global South. Poché is imagined to be an interdisciplinary space that enthuses other disciplines to engage in the studio format to explore issues where often the physical problem is only the symptom,” shares Tayyibji.

An archival visual of an Indian city | Poche Studio | STIRworld
An archival visual of an Indian city Image: Courtesy of Poché Studio

The pandemic compelled art and design schools across the globe to acknowledge the possibility of online design teaching. However, even before the coronavirus outbreak, a fair amount of design learning had taken the virtual route. “Looking beyond the cloisters of university education was therefore inevitable when the economic and ecological normal started to shift. In India there are over 450 schools of architecture, most of them clustered around metropolitan centres in the country,” mention the curators.

The idea of Poché took shape through discussions, suggestions, and conversations with leading architects, academicians and multidisciplinary thinkers. “Initiated by architects, the first few studios may well begin from domains and disciplines that are related, allowing for an understanding of the online space and a fine tuning of its infrastructure. The platform hopes that very soon it will be able to draw people from a variety of disciplines to work together in curating, moderating and instructing its studios,” says Ghosh.

The ‘Chinese Whispers’ exercise for the Poché International Studio Alter Ego, where students passed on their ideas and received the others with new instructors every week | Poche Studio | STIRworld
The ‘Chinese Whispers’ exercise for the Poché International Studio Alter Ego, where students swapped their ideas and received the others with new instructors every week Image: Courtesy of Poché Studio

With a site close to the controversial redevelopment of New Delhi’s capitol-complex, the studio generated an inquiry and an architectural/urban expression of the “Open City”. In doing so, it proposed to create an alternative narrative, a creative challenge to the notions of city that remain purely organisational, narrowly symbolic, exclusionary, and controlling. The design process was further stimulated by Poché Conversations: a series of 16 lectures by artists, writers, environmentalists, historians and sociologists amongst others who shared a wide variety of ideas and imaginations of the city. The sessions included discussions with BV Doshi, Dilip Da Cunha, Anthony Acciavati, Pradip Krishen, Rupali Gupte, Madhav Raman, Ranjit Hoskote, Prem Chandavarkar, Pankaj Vir Gupta and many others.

Poche’s online campus, modelled on a design village with studio rooms, a 24-hour café, library, video room etc. provided the participants an astonishing sense of physical proximity across continents and time zones. “Poché explores the possibility of an endless campus: a digital Escherian space where walls have memories and windows open endlessly to the past,” informs Tayyibji.

During Alter Ego, the technological platform revealed the importance of having a digital campus that had a sense of place about it. The campus map explored the possibility of specific rooms developing a sense of identity. The participants in room Kotla, for example, felt a sense of enclosure since they knew that their online conversations were secure and no one apart from the instructors could enter these rooms.

The Studio site map for Poché International Studio Alter Ego | Poche Studio | STIRworld
The Studio site map for Poché International Studio Alter Ego Image: Courtesy of Poché Studio

The common space of Chai Poché—a 24-hour tea room where people usually walked in with a cup in hand—served as a recreation space to hang out with other students and instructors. The Library was the real revelation as material in the form of crowd-sourced documents, book scans and videos populated the room over the four weeks that may be compiled into an incredible 'reader' for future studios. Many auditing professionals expressed the feeling of going back to college, of stumbling into a hall-side conversation or discovering a new resource at the library.

Tayyibji believes, "the studio format is one that allows for critique, engagement, and the opening up of multiple imaginations about things that we take for granted – in this case our idea of what a city is and should be. The first studio at Poché has been tremendously exciting in the diverse people and conversations". Ghosh was also extremely pleased with the response to the inaugural session. "There was a serendipity between the Poché Conversations and the Alter Ego studio that was quite magical to experience. Anyone who has been a part of this would know that something quite special happened during these five weeks that none of us quite expected," he said.

For the second edition scheduled for early 2021, three modules have been planned. The first – an international studio, similar to the first edition, the second - a workshop module offering weekend workshops, and the third – a research lab module that would allow those interested in writing to further synthesise issues and invite subject-related papers from across the globe.

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