As a student of architecture, her focus on restoration and adaptive reuse of historic buildings was met with scepticism, but Aishwarya Tipnis still managed to carve a niche for herself in the field of urban conservation.

Her conservation projects, including at a fort in Madhya Pradesh and at Doon School, Dehradun, earned her recognition from UNESCO in 2016. And on Thursday, she was conferred the top French cultural award - Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et Lettres.

The architect from Delhi appears poised for an even bigger role. She considers urban planners and restoration professionals as a bridge between the past and the future.

But was her journey to the top easy? "While I was studying at the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA) here, I chose to focus on conservation and reuse of historic structures, while all my classmates were busy designing new, swanky buildings," Tipnis recalled.

"Needless to say, it was met with a lot of scepticism, as conservation architects were stereotyped more as 'activists' rather than professionals." At 37, she is one of the youngest conservation architects in a field that is itself very young in India.

The French government said Tipnis was conferred the award for her "outstanding commitment" to preservation of the French heritage in India.

Tipnis hopes her achievement and the honour will inspire more architects to take up urban conservation, as so many old buildings in the country were in direct need of preservation.

Vikas Dilawari, a Mumbai-based conservation architect, said restoration and urban conservation were "alien terms" when he was in college pursuing education in architecture.

"Many government agencies and private owners still think demolition and construction is the way forward. They don't even think of the aesthetics at stake, let alone the rich dividends restoration can pay off to them," he said.

Dilawari, now 52, said he fought off a similar image problem during his college days, about 30 years ago.

"I had drawn up a restoration plan for the iconic Crawford Market for my project while most of my colleagues 'demolished' it to propose a new building. You can imagine, whose idea was received better," he said.

That, however, didn't discourage him.