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Miloni Shah
IDA 2022 People’s Choice Architectural Design of the Year


View the Winning Entry by Miloni Shah


Tell us a little about your background. How did you develop a passion for design?

“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be” – R.W. Emerson.

Throughout my life, I have enjoyed the journey of finding my passion and I developed an interest in architecture in my early teens. While pursuing my higher education in Mumbai, I discovered the explicit lifestyle of the city. I traveled from one place to another by public transport, in which I spent most of the time looking at the upcoming architectural projects and experiencing the changes in environment and neighborhoods, observing the city from different perspectives. Being an introvert, as a child, my fears were left behind by observing human activities and their behaviors in relation to space.

Sitting for hours, I enjoyed watching different activities taking place on the street side. It was about stories narrated by the chaos of vehicles, people gathering at vendors’ stalls and the play of light and shadow. This gave a different dimension to my imagination and thoughts. In grade 10, applying for technical drawing was an indirect answer to my observations. In other words, “Architecture,” suggested by my professor. After completing my schooling, I enrolled in an Architecture school – G.C.P Institute of Architecture, Surat.

From where does your motivation and inspiration for your work come?

I have always been fascinated with clean geometry and the horizontality of architecture. At an early stage of my architectural career, Frank Lloyd Wright inspired my vision, and I always looked for his sense of design and material elegance. Later during my undergrad, I had an opportunity to pursue an internship in Japan, where I discovered the same grace in exposed concrete with clean geometry by Tadao Ando, Kengo Kuma, and Sou Fujimoto. While preparing for my master, I spent quite a lot of time in the streets of Mumbai, studying human behavior and change of spaces, and explored my Interest in developing urban spaces. My had a profound nterest in blending urban design and architecture when I started learning more about the principles of Sir. Jan Gehl and Ar. Zaha Hadid. The architectural language was not similar, but I believe that the link in all inspirational architects is that people come first in design and then the space.

What is your guiding design principle?

The guiding principle for my design process is to follow the needs of the design in relation to the user group and the context around the site. Before I pen down the line, I like to visualize the site and study the context around it to initially derive the form of building gels in the fabric of the context around the site. Once I am through with the context and the site, I like to step into the shoes of the user to understand the activity flow for different types of user groups in the space to get more clarity about the relationships between the people, the building, and the context. This further helps me to design the spaces and to conceive the form of the structure that fulfils the needs of the user groups and blending the fabrics of the city while serving the design perspective.

Is design for you a creation of an individual or a group?

The initial idea could be that of an individual, but to succeed in the design, I believe it is essential to involve multiple stages of discussion with a new set of eyes. That helps in better design as each person could provide a different perspective on the design. But as an individual designer or leader, it is essential to filter and alter for a successful creation.

What would be your dream design project?

My dream project is my interest in blending architecture and urban design or urban intervention projects, which help the community and uplifts society. In my youth, spending an enormous amount of time on the streets made me understand that humans are organic. If given the tiniest space, they can turn the place around to generate economy and uplift the community without the help of an architect or designer. If architects and designers initiate, they can play a vital role in designing the space, helping the community progress in the right direction. Anything in the path of generating human-centric design would be my dream project.

What’s your creative process and what creative software do you use?

I start my process by visualizing and sketching conceptual ideas. Ideas and vision provide links between activities and spaces. When the concepts are more evident, I like to plot them on-site and arrange them in context, which helps me understand the idea’s connection to the site. Then I arrive at a point where I start designing the form to connect the ideas in relation to the site and context. I also make physical massing models and SketchUp 3D models to understand the scale and mass on site. This helps me plan further and complete my design in Rhino or SketchUp 3D. My rendering software is Lumion, Vray, and I us Photoshop for post-production.

How do you think your own culture and environment has shaped your personal and professional creative vision?

I grew up in the bustling lifestyle of Mumbai, where I see people constantly running from day-to-day. People say, “Mumbai never sleeps.” Sometimes I wonder how it is so encouraging for people to wake up early and go to work yet find time for their loved ones. And the answer was in front of me. Something I realized when I started to explore different cities for my education and internship. The most impressive part of my understanding was the integrated planning of the city, in the word of Jan Gehl, ‘5km/hr. city planning’. When I went to the United States, I realized there is a lot to understand regarding incorporating lifestyle planning and how a city reciprocates to the society. Every place has its own culture and environment, but as a designer, it’s my job to address those concerns to cater to the needs of people and their respective contexts.

Tell us about a project which has been your greatest achievement?

I have worked mainly on small-scale projects or residential projects, and during my undergraduate and graduate studies, I worked on institutional projects. But my most significant achievement was when I followed my dreams to work on the Brno transit system, as it allowed me to blend the user’s social interaction with the structure responding to and uplifting the historic city of Brno. It was a challenge to imagine the scale of the site – laying railway tracks with a size of three football fields, three meters above the ground. I accepted the challenge and studied the context which addressed my concerns regarding the site’s topography. Blending the structure while leaving an openness to allow the user flow was my core design idea which was acknowledged by many jury members and professionals in the field.

Which designers in your field do you most admire and why?

I admire Sir Jan Gehl and AR. Zaha Hadid the most. Sir Jan Gehl’s principle of integrated city planning – connecting with the social interaction of people is what I admire the most. What attracts me is the way he works to uplift society for the better, respecting the environment, and the safety of humanity. This motivates me to implement similar concepts in my designs.

Ar. Zaha Hadid is one of my most inspirational architects, as her design reflects emotions and the creation of a story. When I started to learn about her, I fell in love with her achievements and knowledge which I believe has helped us to look at architecture differently. Most people have known architecture as the building of blocks but AR. Zaha Hadid explored it as a form of storytelling and expression.

What are you working on, what is in the pipeline for you?

Currently, I am working as an architectural designer at Sebree Architects. They specialize in multifamily housing, commercial and civic projects.  I look forward to gaining knowledge of the practical field and exploring options for urban design.

How do you deal with feedback?

The secret to success is feedback. Every individual will have different opinions and perceptions, but the key is what aligns the most with my instinct, and if I could justify it to bring everyone on the same page, then that is a triumphant achievement. Sometimes feedback can differ from what you want to hear, but if it’s listened to closely, then there are always hidden answers to problems. I like to write down all of my feedback, read it repeatedly, and then bridge it with my perspective before concluding.

What do you see as the strengths of your winning the ‘2022 IDA People’s Choice Architectural Design of the Year’ What does this award mean to you personally?

I want to say it’s a dream come true to learn that my project recognized as “Designer of the Year” was unexpected. I looked at the entries and winners from all the categories, and my project stood out among all the other unique projects. Many talented designers have exhibited their knowledge and want their work to be acknowledged.
My projects exhibit the core idea of human-centric design, where people come first. It efficiently blends into the everyday life of individuals. In other words, a transit system is not just for traveling from one place to another, just like a pause in any statement, it is a transition of activities. My design focuses on human experience and enhancing the context of the city by blending the structure into the city fabric.
Designing this project was like visiting my memories from childhood and my internship in Japan. Blending my experience with design could be successfully achieved with the help of my professors and mentors. It affirms my belief that architects should centrally hold the principles of service and utility as designers of built environments. The recognition as “People’s Choice Designer of the Year 2022” gives me a new perspective on the amount of industry and patience necessary for any achievement.