Architecture and Social Change: The Two Shall Meet!

Lalita working with the community — something that has changed her perceptions about life.

Have you ever been excited by architecture and its socio-cultural meanings? Meet Lalita Waldia, a young student who has already initiated her own ventures, has worked in the development sector, and is an aspiring architect and social change maker. Lalita’s story is one of hard work, a relentless pursuit of her dreams and ambitions, and learnings developed from traditional methods.

Laita has a B.Arch degree but her choice to do architecture was just accidental. When applying for the AIEEE exam after her 12th boards, Lalita decided to give architecture a try because it seemed interesting. She got through the Dehradun Institute of Technology in 2013 and pursued her 5-year course in Architecture. During this time, Lalita got introduced to various Himalayan traditional forms of architecture and how culturally rich Himalayan buildings and structures are. In fact, Himalayan architecture is as vast and diverse as the region itself! The Himalayan architecture reflects the collective religio-aesthetic aspirations and zeal of the people to create monumental structures through their collective endeavours (Handa, 2010). Lalita was mesmerized and inspired as she started exploring the vernacular and traditional forms of architecture in the region. As she took part in a documentation trip to Almora, Lalita’s fascination with the region’s architecture grew.

But Lalita did not want to rush into something she was not sure about. Career choices make us who we are. She cleared GATE but took a year break to understand better what she wants. After the break, she decided to work with IIT-Roorkee for 2 years on the National Mission on Himalayan Studies. “Architecture changed my life,” Lalita said. Working on the project, Lalita interacted with communities and worked at the grassroots. She became more familiar with society, culture, and how everything determines architecture!

“Leaving mainstream architecture was not an easy task,” Lalita added. Yet, she decided to shift to Social Sciences to better understand society and its intertwining with architecture. She did a Diploma in Youth Leadership and Social Change from Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai in 2020 and completed an internship with Pravah where she tried to understand the impact of Covid-19 on the sexual health of young people.

Lalita doing her fieldwork.

Lalita decided that Social Science can help her with what she wanted to do. “I was always into creativity, ” Lalita said, “Arts and crafts make me excited.” But her interest in arts and crafts always had a social connotation. She had always wanted to understand the social meanings of arts and crafts of various regions. Lalita’s strong interest in society, culture, arts, crafts, and architecture made her realize that she wanted to pursue a career in what interests her, rather than just keeping them as hobbies. She finally decided to pursue a Masters in Development Studies from IIT-Mandi in 2021.

The shift from Science to Social Science proved to be difficult as her classes started. But Lalita remains determined. Her love and passion for architecture and the social meanings behind them have kept her going. But Lalita has also started two initiatives. ‘Khayal, a platform to bring out stories of animals and free them, was developed by Lalita and her friend during the lockdown. Her second initiative is on promoting local products and ventures. She and her colleague thought of creating one single platform for ventures that do not have any social media presence and that need marketing and promotion. Lalita does this free of charge. She believes in promoting local ventures and helping local communities become more accustomed to social media marketing.

Lalita has also recently published her article on the journey of likhai, a disappearing craft of wood carving in the Kumaon region. She is still a student. But her work and ambitions are inspirational to many youths hoping to pursue what they want to. Lalita wants to work with traditional knowledge systems and bring out the social aspects of architecture. Working on Himalayan culture, art, and architecture gives her a sense of belonging. Everything is social, including our buildings and structures, and Lalita knows that very well.

References:

  • Handa, O. C. (2010). Himalayan Traditional Architecture. Rupa Books.

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IABT is a non-profit & social organization working to bring opportunities, awareness, and mentoring to youth in rural and small-town India.

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IABT is a non-profit & social organization working to bring opportunities, awareness, and mentoring to youth in rural and small-town India.

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