I consider myself a rebel. I’ve never been interested in blindly following trends or fitting in with the crowd. Growing up in Saudi Arabia and after moving to my parents’ hometown of Hyderabad, India at age nine, I knew there was a flaw in our education system. We are taught that there is only one correct way of doing things, and this never appealed to or made sense to me. Everyone around me was preparing for a career in Engineering, because most Indians believe that an Engineering degree guarantees a steady, well-paying job. However, my aim was not to have a stable job, but to tap into my creative side and find fulfillment in doing what I love. My rebelliousness is what led me to study Interior Design and not follow the herd into Engineering. Not only did I want to break free from the confines of a single way of thinking by entering a field with many possibilities, but also to break the stereotype of women not being able to cope on site and not being able to do physically strenuous work.
Being a Muslim woman who wears the hijab, I am the target of many misconceptions and assumptions that Muslim women are oppressed and that our freedom of choice and agency are snatched away from us. It is difficult for people to picture independent, successful and outspoken hijab-wearing women, because we are not well-represented. It has been very rare for me to find a role model who looks like me, and I decided that instead of waiting for a role model, I need to become one myself, for future generations of girls. It is my rebellious nature that made me stand my ground in front of government officials in Hyderabad, who insisted that I take off my hijab for my passport photo. I was made to wait for hours before I was even heard, and I could see other women around me giving in and taking off their hijabs. I had to educate not only those around me who were unaware that the hijab was allowed in passport photos, but also the ignorant government officials. Finally being allowed to wear the hijab was a small victory for me, but it opened up the door for conversations around this issue which many women were afraid to confront. It is a common misconception that women are fighting for the right to be uncovered; many of us are fighting for the right to be covered, and all of us are fighting for the right to wear or do what we wish.
I feel passionately about designing for the elderly and the differently-abled. I have lived with my grandparents since we moved to India, and my grandfather started losing his ability to walk after a severe fall and subsequent surgery. Over the years, I saw my sharp-witted, independent Nanapappa slowly lose himself to Alzheimer’s. I was studying Interior Design when this disease started to take over his mind, and I slowly began to notice the flaws in the design of his living space. I noticed how easier it would have been for him to use the toilet if the bathroom door was wider, or how difficult it was for him to get out of his house because the flooring didn’t match by just a few inches. Even his fall could have easily been avoided if the flooring had not been as smooth. Most of these issues were due to cost cutting techniques adopted by the builders. These design flaws became so prominent that I couldn’t avoid noticing them everywhere. I realized that most of my country is inaccessible to people with special needs, and I have gravitated towards designing for universal accessibility.
My sister is an architect who has designed a charitable school for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, on a very low budget and using local labor and material. My thesis was a live project within the same premises: the design of an Accessible Children’s Library for this school. My research and study on the differently-abled compelled me to design a double-story library, connected by a ramp that winds in and out of the library. Unlike other spaces, the ramp is not an afterthought confined to a corner: it is the central feature of the building that binds all the spaces together and creates an experiential path through the space.
I have been working at DesignAware, since 2016. I have been fortunate to gain hands-on experience at DesignAware, where I not only had the opportunity to learn by doing, but also to teach by leading a team of interns. September 2017, we were featured as Surfaces Reporter Magazine’s ‘Rising Stars of the Month’, and in November 2019, an ice-cream parlor I designed, Rewind, won the Platinum Award during Festival of Architecture and Interior Design (FOAID) in Mumbai. We have taken many experimental projects to completion, and are still on the path to learning.
Together, my sister and I began many initiatives to help the ones in need. Most recent being #StarvetheHungerVirus in 2020, to help migrant workers who were left without a source of income or access to rations and food, sometimes without access to toilets and even homes, due to the rapid outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic all over the world, followed by a sudden lockdown at the directive of the Government of India, to contain the spread of the virus. Though necessary, these preventive measures shone a harsh light on the widespread poverty in India, where many people are homeless and thus unable to quarantine themselves at home. With the discontinuation of public transport, they were left with no option but to travel on foot to their hometowns.
The government, NGOs and many social workers started food drives to ensure that these workers and their families could be sustained without having to leave the cities, which could be dangerous. Social workers, volunteers and organizations have worked tirelessly with the government and police to provide cooked meals to the lesser privileged. Other initiatives are providing rations that would sustain families through the quarantine period.
DesignAware raised awareness about these food drives on our social media channels. A virtual lecture series by architects from all over the world, Road Less Traveled, was organized, under this initiative, to raise funds that are being channeled towards providing food and other necessities to displaced construction and daily-wage workers during the lockdown.
Typography and doodling has always been my way of clearing my mind and de-stressing. People go to spas, or take a vacation, I prefer holding a pen in my hand and doodling. I find calmness in the chaotic lines of my doodles; I feel a sense of tranquility and security. I have realized that gaining identity in the field of design takes a lot of effort, time and patience. Being creative isn’t like doodling whimsically: the act of designing is about problem-solving above all else.
Many people are not open to experimentation. They are afraid of the idea of failing, but to the very few of us in the design fraternity, failing just takes us a step closer to success. Design doesn’t have a right or wrong way of doing things. We discover a new way of designing with every new project we work on. Interior Design, I feel, is a field of constant trial and error, a field of constant learning and discovery.
With our country currently in flux, I believe now is the time for rebels. And I would like to be a rebel with a cause.
This was my Statement of Purpose that was a part of my Master’s application to all the colleges where I was accepted [University of the Arts London (UAL), Parsons School of Design, Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Brown University, Istituto Europeo di Design (IED) and Domus Academy]
If you are planning to apply for your Master’s and need my guidance, you can contact me here!