Rebuilding Srinagar, one brick at a time - Zoya Khan

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I am Zoya Khan, born and brought up in Kashmir and an architect by profession. Having been raised in an education oriented background  the conventional roadmap of my career would have been becoming a doctor. Both my parents are doctors but at a very young age, I knew  that it was not something I wanted to be. I always wanted to do something creative, something different yet satisfying.  It was not until later  that I found my inclination towards Architecture. That was who I was going to be, an architect! The thought excited me.

 I graduated from BNCA in Pune from where I went ahead to attend Carleton University in Canada during my final year of architecture school. After being exposed to the works of some master architects like Frank Llyod Wright, Santiago Calatrava, Antoni Gaudi, Alvar Aalto,  I.M.Pei amongst others at a young age, my understanding of architecture greatly changed and experiencing these spaces in person helped  me think at a large scale. I pushed my boundaries and started perceiving architecture as an integral part of my life. 

 My parents inspired me to be a hard-working, independent professional and respected my choices. People often ask me why I did not  become a doctor when both my parents had an established practice. I tell them that every person has been given a skill, a gift and it is  important to nurture it, whatever that may be. Following your heart is of prime importance and from where I see it; I am being of service to  mankind too. In a different way perhaps, but I am. So I urge people to honor their passion. Nothing goes waste if you have the right  intentions about it.

 I have been very fortunate to have friends and family that have always supported and motivated me. In fact some of my first few projects  were for family and very close friends.

Currently I am working as a full time urban planner with SDA on the revision of Srinagar Master Plan and as a part time architect and interior designer with my associate in Mimar Design Studios. My current areas of intervention in planning majorly revolve around heritage, built environment and I’m also exploring the possibility of incorporating the emerging concept of gender inclusive planning for cities at multiple tiers. Both these subjects are very close to my heart and I have researched extensively in these areas throughout my academic career. My master’s research was about the gendered use of public spaces in Srinagar.The results suggested that women were more restrained in their access to public space & faced exclusion. I assisted the senior architect at my design firm in the part plantation of Pratap Park which is our biggest ongoing project apart from working on two hotels and a few residences.

I have been working as a government employee as well as a freelancer since the past ten months and I have seen people all across the hierarchy. It’s definitely a challenging yet interesting experience. As an architect you are required to be at the site often and even as a planner fieldwork is a must so you interact with a lot of people on a daily basis. I won’t deny that there are certain limitations but I’ve managed to adapt well. My current work environment is conducive and luckily I’ve had the opportunity to sensitize & educate my colleagues about gender related issues by sharing my experiences with them.   

I recently started preparing a bunch of students for NATA 2016 (National aptitude test in architecture) which is the basis for getting admission in architecture schools recognized by the Council of Architecture-the first of its kind in Kashmir. I take studio sessions where the students are exposed to practical knowledge and interactive methods of learning. It is a very satisfying experience to be able to cultivate someone’s dreams. For a long time now, I’ve romanticized the idea of seeing an architectural college open up in Kashmir. This is just the first step towards that goal.

As much as I love the vernacular architecture of Kashmir, I feel change is unavoidable and it is not necessarily a negative thing as long as it’s sensitively done. It is how we evolve, it is how we innovate. The thing about the field of architecture is whether you like it or hate it, you can never escape it. You are constantly interacting with your built environment. Srinagar being a thriving city faces challenges of a great magnitude that need to be addressed immediately. It is unlikely that all desired changes would happen at once. But a planned city is a well-prepared city.  I am a very optimistic person and am constantly trying to work towards improving the quality of life of the people around me. I’d like to think of it as shaping and building the future of this city, one brick at a time, one step at a time.

Women as opposed to men have an in born quality of being a homemaker and as such have a deeply personal connection with architecture at some level. By possessing this quality they add value to design and thus humanize architecture. But your ability to create doesn’t really have much to do with whether you’re a woman or a man. Design defies these boundaries. I don’t believe you have to prove yourself to anyone or compete with men if you are a woman architect or for that matter even as a woman. It is important to recognize the contributions of both men and women in the diverse field of architecture. So if you have what it takes to visualize someone’s dream and have the courage to create something out of thin air – welcome to architecture. 

In my free time I love to paint & sketch and I think they are the most important tools for communicating for an architect. I have keen observational skills and also like to photograph people going about their daily lives and the stunning landscapes of Kashmir. Personally what I love the most about Kashmir, like everyone else is its beauty – in its natural, raw form, in its heritage, in people’s faces and in everything Kashmiri. I think how I feel about Kashmir can almost perfectly be described by this story:

Every time Van Gogh went for a walk in Arles, the local teens threw cabbages (yes, cabbages) at his head. It was not his grimy smock, his cheap straw hat, his stench of coffee cognac and turpentine or his lack of teeth. It was the way he would sometimes drop to his knees and stare into the heart of a wildflower with sudden monstrous awe.

Design Intervention for undergrad thesis - Kashf

The picture is from the Design Intervention, her undergrad thesis as a part of her architectural program.

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