Dr. Deepika Shetty, Director, Manipal School of Architecture & Planning

Dr. Deepika Shetty is the Director of the Manipal School of Architecture & Planning. A Ph.D. holder in Architecture/Urban Design, Dr. Deepika’s area of expertise include Urban Design and development of small towns, morphology and perceptual studies of town structure, theory of design in Indian context and coastal development pattern of Udupi District. She has worked in the capacity of Urban Design consultant as part of CEPT team to review the town planning measures for Bhuj town immediately after earthquake April 2001. She is also a member of Panel of Advisors for Udupi District Coastal Zone Management Plan since 2013. In an exclusive interaction with the Higher Education Digest, Dr. Deepika talks about the challenges of urban design education in India and many more.   

  • Looking at the rapid urbanization in India, do you think, we have an adequate number of institutes that can create quality manpower to support this growth? Comparing to the developed nations, what should be the focus of Indian design schools now?  

The need of the hour today is to make our urbanization appropriate to the context, with respect to resource management, energy conservation as well as waste management. This detailing is not satisfied by planners alone, urban designers, architects need to address this for every city, every sector, every street, and every building. The number of urban designers, architects, and interior designers are no way sufficient for the number of problems that need a context-specific solution. Some of this can be developed by studying our old living heritage towns. In schools of design, we need to research, study and develop a design for a sustainable and resilient development that can address climate change, resource management, healthy environments, and Sustainable development.

The schools need to educate the people that mimicking the West or standardizing solutions for all cities is damaging and we need to use our studios to demonstrate how to combine old wisdom and modern technology to address the regional issues. Our students should take up live projects, work with government and stakeholders, study traditional as well as modern systems and demonstrate plans to the people, stakeholders, and government officials. This becomes a win-win situation for educating the students with real-time problems as well as building awareness for the general public to the need for good design.

  • As you have been working in the urban design education for a long time, what are the major changes that you have noticed in the way aspirants are taught to engage with the world? Or, in India, are we still exploring the ways to deal with the global urban design trends?

During 2000 the profession was mainly focusing on form-based issues and some parts of urban system management. The theories and policies mainly came from the West. Over the years we have realized the need to introduce research as a component of design education. This helped in developing an original thought or concept of design. We have introduced modern technology of simulation, visualization and analyzing software/labs. The profession has become multi-disciplinary hence we have introduced program electives that cut across various disciplines of urban design, architecture, landscape design, interior design, and fashion design. We also encourage open electives which allow the students to do courses across many disciplines across 22 Institutions in the university. To add to that we have made our courses outcome-based education where the focus of teaching is on student learning and evaluation rather than only planning of instructions and syllabus. We look at the overall development of knowledge, skill sets, aptitude and attitude for the profession. The campus also supports the overall personal development of body, mind and social skills. Digital systems of student life cycle management systems and e-pad evaluation system make the education transparent and efficient.

The new mantra of education is going glocal. This means globally educated and locally relevant. The education system allows the students to access information across the globe, have international exposure through joint studios, semester exchange programs with the best universities in the world. Do an international internship in research or practical training. The faculty research and international collaboration makes the education up to date with global standards, trends. It Covers international perspectives, global trends as well as local issues and socially relevant design. The world has acknowledged our traditional knowledge systems as well as changing dimensions of climate change. This has enhanced the need for global education to increase the knowledge bank of traditional systems of resource management and planning. We need to look at the sustainable design which are environment-friendly, respond to the socio-cultural context, and make a healthy built environment for the people

  • At present, what are the biggest challenges in the urban design education sector?
  • The challenge is to balance the requirements of standards set by accreditation authorities as well as match internationally varying education modules and systems.
    • The commercial design trends have been towards exclusive expensive client requirements. The designers have shied away from social and environmental responsibility. The market needs to be made aware of the costs of Unhealthy practices, energy-gobbling materials, and design. There is no legal standing for public facilities design standards. A mistake in road geometry or lack of pedestrian safety standards may lead to accidents, loss of life or loss of livelihood. No case is registered against the wrong design or lack of standards in installing basic urban infrastructure. There is no objection to the depletion of public resources or infrastructure or pollution of the environment.
    •  There is a huge gap in understanding the role of design, it’s standards in day to day execution of urban systems, elements built forms, and so on. Even products of harmful environmental impacts are not distinguished from environment-friendly ones. No one is paying attention to the lack of implementation of waste segregation. There are so many polluting systems of urban infrastructure damaging our water resources, polluting our soil and air.
    • There is a need for educating the government to develop standards and procedures for urban development. There is a need to give a post or role of urban designers in the execution of projects and development of urban infrastructure. In fact, quality and standards of design as a need for every element of urban development is to be ensured in the system of implementation.
  • How can an urban design educator teach creativity and imagination to make multi-disciplinary thinkers What are the challenges for a traditional urban design facilitator in the tech-driven world?   

Creativity has been traditionally linked to aesthetics and novelty of built forms and products. However, today design has become a verb to develop systems, procedures as well as products. Design is to dwell on how much to build, how to build, what to change and what not to change. Design involves public participation, involves ecological impact assessment, gives evidence-based user requirements, simulates performance evaluation and highlights social responsibility. Design and designers have a role to enhance the health and safety of people. Enable environmentally responsible behavior and practices. Make socially relevant and environment-friendly choices.

The core of design thinking has always been multidisciplinary as we need to look at social aspects of the economy, culture, history, humanities and many more. As well as technologies for mechanical systems, services, electrical supply and fittings, electronic gadgets and modules, information conduits and system design, and so on. Today technology also enables efficient management of information, resources, traffic, data, security and many more. However, there is a danger of using our resources for managing information but there is a lack of basic infrastructure or facility. There are instances where smart technologies of CCTV, sensor-based vehicle scanners are installed but road design is faulty, footpaths are missing, drainage lines are overflowing. There is a lack of priority on how to use limited funds and resources of the cities. One has to ensure that the fundamentals of design development are not compromised. No technology can compensate for bad design or lack of infrastructure. One has to educate decision-makers, clients and stakeholders that technology is a tool and needs to be used judiciously where it is relevant and justified. Design quality should not be assessed based on the cost or use of fancy gadgets. It needs to be evaluated based on its scientific evidence of performance efficiency, relevance to society along with the impact on environment and ecology. Role of institutes is to educate designers, enable research cutting across various facets of profession and disciples as well as build public awareness of what is good design.

  • What advice would you give to a student thinking about becoming an urban designer?

I would encourage students to go for the profession of urban design as there is a need for such a profession in today’s context. Urbanization has become a need for development so in future urban infrastructure will reach every village. In fact, the lines need to be blurred between rural and urban in terms of urban infrastructure and facilities. There will be settlements of varying sizes doing different roles of production, supply, and consumption. The urban designers’ role is to ensure a sustainable resilient development balancing the needs of society to the conservation of resources and environment. The scope and future of the profession are immense in the coming years in India, as long as we ensure that ethics and standards of the profession are maintained.

Designers, architects and urban designers are essential to make the built environment a sustainable and beautiful place to live in. It is a profession that affects the life of people and can make a substantial impact on national development and the environment. It is one of the few professions that has a role in almost all sustainable development goals of the UN. The responsibility is huge, and the journey has just begun for young India. It is up to us to recognize the needs of the nation and build something that will become an example to the world for the coming centuries.

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