New York City continues to be the most inspiring place for the arts. So many important things are the brightest visionary here, and design and architecture continue to be on that list. It is always exciting to see the evolution of design and how it changes our habits and strategies in being more sustainable as that is also a rising issue in New York City in the arts. New York Art Life is happy to speak to Sneha Aiyer, one of the most skillful and inspiring architects in New York City.
NY Art Life: Thank you so much for sitting with us today, we are beyond excited to talk to you about your work and your views on design.
Sneha Aiyer: Thank you! I’m very happy to speak to you as well. I’m very impressed with the way you introduce art and curate culture for your readers.
NY Art Life: To begin, let’s talk about the way you connect to architecture and design. What made you realize that this is your passion?
Sneha Aiyer: was always interested in making things by hand whether it is drawing, painting, or sculpting. The best way I can express myself is by drawing or making objects. I would observe how objects are assembled together whether it is a sculpture or a machine and that peek behind the curtains into the mind of the creator or artist inspired me. Architecture is about designing the evolution of our environments and is not limited to making buildings. As architects, we are creating better and kinder environments for the world. That is why the idea of interdisciplinary collaboration excites me.
NY Art Life: That is brilliant. So, you believe that most people can be joint in the way they view the world, not in what they contribute?
Sneha Aiyer: Yes, definitely. Working on an architectural project is very much a collaborative endeavor. We are often consulting with various experts in their fields that are not even related to building construction. As designers, we look for input and inspiration from our surroundings. I was observant of the spaces around me and thought of the way it informed my life, but also the life of others who are living in that environment.
NY Art Life: That is amazing, it is very incredible seeing people find their passion and I loved your story. What I’m most intrigued and amazed about is your project about the danger of flooding in New York City, more specifically Manhattan.
Sneha Aiyer: Thank you, that is a very important project that I wish to share with everyone
. I worked on this project while pursuing masters at Columbia University. The idea of looking at New York City using the metaphor of stratification took me back to the lost strata of history from my hometown of Ahmedabad. I started to think about what do waterbodies mean to city life and the perception of waterbodies in different contexts.
NY Art Life: You’ve done a marvelous job outlining the immense threat flooding imposes on Manhattan. This was one of the projects that led to you wining the honor award for arguments in design. You make great points about the relationship between land and water in Manhattan and how it changes based on human intervention and natural causes
. Reading this truly captured my attention.
Sneha Aiyer: I appreciate your sensitivity to this important matter. I believe we have been looking at ways to hold off water by building walls but that is making the binary land and water much stronger while that is not the case in nature. Dilip da Cunha’s lecture at Harvard University inspired me to explore this idea in my project. Looking at the immediate and distant history of the Island of Manhattan, one concludes that this relationship has always been viewed as a binary – either water or land. However, it is a territory of a gradient where instead of a singular normal, several normals can be defined such that this ephemeral relationship is justly represented. So, there are several questions I asked through my project- how do we embrace the fact that the definitions are ever-changing? Instead of thinking of how to hold it what if one is to pivot this idea and think from water? How to let it flow? How do we design for time rather than space?
NY Art Life: That must be something you always carry with you as someone who has shifted other peoples’ attention to this issue. How does it feel to work on this project and live in this city?
Sneha Aiyer: It is a constant reminder that every decision we make impacts what the consequences of future events may be. In my project, I’ve mentioned how even politics shape the relationship of an island (specifically Manhattan) to its waters and how that relationship changes over time. Owing to trading and other industry influences the water edge was reshaped from a natural riverbank to wooden embankments and docks. And to the democratization of the waterfront by creating public spaces and promenades along the river. In the same vein, the actions we take today will bear consequences for our environment. Now, it is not only the local actions but the global efforts that will influence our future.
NY Art Life: That is very true and alarming. I would also like to know your opinion on this matter and your own project as an architectural designer, regarding the visuals in your project.
Sneha Aiyer: I’m very proud of the way this project turned out. The visuals are great evidence I collected to explain the issue more theoretically. Everyone can comprehend how industrialization can lead to changes in water and land relationships to an island, but as an architectural designer, it is clearer to see the changes because of buildings, piers, and the difference in water and land relationships. The idea is to make these changes evident to the readers by putting archival images together with diagrams and using a time scale. I am thrilled with the work we have been doing. This city is just an incredible place for designers.
NY Art Life: And you have been contributing so much to this field. As I understand, you were fully responsible for in your project, as well as designing and putting together the data that shows these relationships visually. What is your reflection on people’s new understanding to this issue.
Sneha Aiyer: I love doing what I do. most of my work is designing and creating, and offering new solutions, and engaging people with new thought processes on how to change our old habits that lead to dangerous situations.
NY Art Life: It is your true passion speaking.
Sneha Aiyer: Ha, yes! I know that my passion assists me in doing my job, but I do also know that my years of researching, teaching, and thinking about strategies in the design world that help us sustain our vision.
NY Art Life: Of course, you have a background in research
. It is incredible how easy it is to understand the concept you’ve posed in your project.
Sneha Aiyer: This was a speculative vision of the future where resilience is viewed holistically by learning from the past and looking ahead to create built environments that are integral to its surroundings. The framework of the project offers possibilities to re-organize, to re-configure its parts as the future influences change. It isn’t an unchanged static edifice but a constantly evolving built environment with a kit of parts like a Lego set.
NY Art Life: Thank you so much for your insight, that is a very good point. It is incredible speaking with someone with so much experience like yourself. I agree with your point about resilience, as you elaborated on this when you investigated the impact of an earthquake on the city of Bhuj.
Sneha Aiyer: Yes, that was an issue that unfortunately was not possible to prevent or predict.
NY Art Life: Yes. This was an article that was published in Ahmedabad Mirror, an award-winning city newspaper covering news, views, sports, and more. I was fascinated about your views on how the city was impacted by that disaster and how designers and architects had to think of a way to adapt to natural causes and ways that our behaviors influence our surrounding.
Sneha Aiyer: I truly appreciate your attention to detail. It is amazing how far our actions go in our own little world.
NY Art Life: You mentioned how traditional buildings had to “go through drastic changes” in order to survive. This is a very informative piece.
Sneha Aiyer: Yes, change is part of the process. That is how we evolve! We learn to design for the future calamity. But instead of designing our built environments merely as a defense mechanism, we must engage designers and artists to think holistically.
NY Art Life: And we are grateful for that. I am also interested to know about your experience as a designer in New York City. Please tell us about how this city makes you feel.
Sneha Aiyer: I think it’s the greatest place to be
, especially as an architectural designer. There is so much to see and to become inspired by, especially as it is a city that has so much architectural research going on. One of the most fascinating things is that it is one of the oldest cities in the states, and yet the world is changing so much within environmental practices. This definitely has a big impact on design and architecture, and as someone that is challenging traditional approaches to design, I love to see it. I think living and working in New York City has made me more aware of the way my decisions contribute to the way we all survive within the surrounding we create for ourselves, and so I take into practice to align my sustainable values with my actions.
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