Though technology has made paper printouts redundant in many sectors, architecture students in India continue to waste paper, blissfully ignorant of the damage to the environment at large

By Niharika Joshi

A group of students from an architecture school in Ahmedabad visited a shop to print out several sheets of their work, to present at a jury. Most of these students were to take ‘test prints’, or preliminary, printed first drafts of their work, to check for errors in colour, composition, and coordination in sizes and texture of the paper.


The ‘test print’ is important to assure students good physical quality of their hard work on digital media, and is used by most students before giving important presentations.

While one student who was extremely confident of her work walked out of the shop with rolls of 10 A1 (594mm x 841mm) size papers, smiling and self-assured, her classmate seemed quite the opposite. He was exasperated with the quality of print, mismatched sizes and scale.

He knew he couldn’t blame the shopowner, whose printers and technology is the best in the city. But seeing the poor quality of work, and so close to the jury dates, he could only focus on all that needed to be redone, and all that had been a wasted effort.

After a quick cup of chai, his 12 sheets of crisp paper still warm from the machine were rolled up and thrown into the large green dustbin in the middle of the canteen square. By sundown, the dustbin was full of the day’s refuse of fruit peels, uneaten food, plastic bottles and cups, metal knick-knacks and spare parts…all mixed with piles of used and fresh paper, printed or otherwise.
As a spectator, and most often a participant to this daily process of use, un-use and creating waste, the awareness of the amount of paper involved in the whole system appalls and intrigues me.
At architecture schools, and as architecture students, a large part of our creative lives depend on and revolve around paper in its many forms and qualities. Good quality paper is religion, addiction and an aspiration of the creative community and time is invested in contemplating, buying, selling and choosing paper.

Traditionally and in the pre-digital era, the architect and his stationery were tethered to the drawing board, with a smooth, textured paper pinned to it.

Back then, the architecture industry relied heavily on limited forms of paper, to produce large drawings and models made from paper and its by-products.

Today however, one might assume that with digital tools and technology, all work done is in the digital media, saved on hard disks and servers. On the contrary, the dictum of “learning by doing” applies as much to producing physical models from wood, ceramics and other materials, as to taking prints of digital work.

“Learning by printing” might be the dictum according to the shopowners of architecture schools, who see large quantities of photocopies, prints , and special reproductions in paper every day. But the problem here is not printing for use or reference. The problem begins with the mindless discard of paper which is still ‘healthy, reusable and of value’.

Like most concepts which face a disconnect within and without academia, the issue of ‘sustainability’ too is looked at the large scale of building material, process and technologies. There is a serious need to infuse smaller concepts of sustainability in the early years of the education system, where most certainly, the future of the profession is negotiated and critiqued.

Sustainability need not be the giant, external aim, but could be a way of life in centres of learning, starting with the most-used and most misused resource – paper. While paper tube architecture today is popularised and awarded, what becomes of the paper itself is not well-researched or thought of in India.

Focusing on the school of architecture’s paper waste, one can not only gauge the many creative and intellectual processes that take place, but also look at the trends in forms paper used. Whether the initiative of reducing the use of paper, checking the amount consumed deems as a solution or not needs to be researched.

But certainly the thoughtful reuse and re-purposing of paper products is an exciting experiment leading to unexpected results. If as a school we can manage to save even a ton of paper, this would conserve 17 mature trees, 7,000 gallons of water, and three cubic yards of landfill space.
Next time I see a fellow student heading to the bin with a pile of paper, this ‘paper’ will be discussed.