Interview with a CEPT Alumni
Created: Nov 23, 2020
About Aanal: Aanal Agrawal, is a senior research associate at Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), working in the field of Urban and Aviation planning. She graduated with Bachelor’s in Planning from CEPT University in 2015, and later pursued a dual degree of Master’s in Urban Planning from National University of Singapore and Tongji University, China. Before joining SUTD, she worked as an Assistant Urban Planner in a leading planning firm in Singapore and as a teaching assistant for Bachelor’s in Urban Design program at CEPT. Aanal loves travelling, thereby exploring different languages, cultures, and interacting with people from different backgrounds.
Q1. Aanal, you always wanted to be an Interior Designer, but pursued Urban Planning after you got selected in CEPT entrance exams. Do you think it was a good decision?
Aanal: Yes, I always wanted to be an Interior Designer, but I couldn’t get through the merit list and hence I applied for the entrance test of Bachelors of Urban Planning in CEPT. However, looking back, I think I am happy that I got an opportunity to be an Urban Planner, as I am still very much connected to ‘design’. I have helped reviving the economy of small hilly villages, have contributed in the slum upgradation, have helped communities recover from floods and basically made a difference, which is more fulfilling than anything I could think of. Besides, being a hodophile, the field has taken me around the globe, which I do not think any profession would have let me.
Q2. What was your experience studying at CEPT?
Aanal: It was exhilarating. With the right balance of both curricular as well as extra-curricular activities, it offered me an opportunity to have holistic growth while celebrating life. Academically, there are huge range of interesting courses available that you can take from any department of the university, hence giving you infinite opportunities to explore and open up your mind. Personally, I have evolved so much while being in CEPT both as a designer as well as a person, as it gave me a platform to live and work with a diverse group of people from all across the country and the world. In all, life at CEPT is beautiful and a privileged experience.
Q3. What is Urban Planning? Tell us more about the course.
Aanal: ‘What is Urban Planning?’ is an ironic question especially for people like us, who grew up in cities and have at some point benefitted by it. Urban planning concerns itself with the health and well-being of urban spaces – cities and their suburbs, small towns/districts to rural villages. To keep cities vibrant and making it work in healthy and sustainable manner, urban planners work with the economy, transportation systems, the environment, urban design and physical infrastructure, and at the same time culture and politics of the city.
The course of Bachelors of Urban Planning in CEPT, took us through each scale of a living settlement – from rural villages, districts, towns, wards, cities to metropolitan cities, while introducing us to different kinds of planning factors. The modules are not only theoretical but practical in nature, where the simulation exercises and assignments with real-life scenarios made the program course very interesting.
Q4. How is it different from Urban Design?
Aanal: Urban planning and urban design share a mutual interest of ‘the city’ and is highly interconnected, however they don’t address the same problem. Planning comes before design, usually done at a macro scale for policy making, and helps setting the parameters to designing. On the other hand, urban design deals with physical properties of an area and focuses on actually placing the design element within the planning areas.
Q5. You did your Masters in Urban Planning from National University of Singapore (NUS). What was the experience like?
Aanal: Pursuing master’s in NUS was an eye opener, and made me grow out of my bubble. Initially, I had issues settling in to a new country all by myself, the planning terms used were new to me and I struggled with the classes, the pedagogy was so different from my classes in India, but soon I realized that it was a part of learning and started enjoying over time. I learnt about new cultures, religions, languages and opinions, which I believe has made me a more empathetic and thoughtful person.
Q6. Tell us about your experience of working in the industry.
Aanal: After graduation, I started working as an assistant urban planner with CPG Corporation Pvt. Ltd. in Singapore which dealt with private developers dealing with huge land development projects. Post that, I worked as a research and teaching associate with CEPT for a year before finally being at my current position of being senior research associate at Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD). With this, I have realized that urban planning as an industry is a huge segment. Apart from the fact that it deals with wide range of city problems, it is also involved in public sector, private sector, international research organizations, NGOs and universities, thereby giving me a wide range of opportunities to explore and find my niche. While it is an extremely interesting and exciting field, it usually deals with long term projects and hence requires a lot of patience and perseverance.
Q7. What is your message to aspirants who want to pursue a career in Urban Design or Urban Planning?
Aanal: Although I love what I do, one thing I miss about being an urban planner is sketching and painting. Many people, including me, get into urban planning thinking it will be a good career option since you like drawing , however this perception is opposite to reality. So my message to the aspirants would be, to just be certain of where you see yourself at the end of the day, and everything else will fall in place, until then have the ride of your life.