The outcome of any creative endeavour, whether designing a building or a light bulb, is never entirely certain. Timelines and budgets usually include a healthy dose of optimism about the architect’s (or interior designer’s) ability to meet targets. Practical reality is invariably harder, especially when it comes to commissioning a new office fit out.
Companies measure success by cost effectiveness and timeliness. An architect’s concerns range from the aesthetic (form and function) to the practical (monitoring a contractor’s quality); other criteria are usually secondary. A few rules of engagement can help bridge the dichotomy.
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Identify the architect’s ‘sweet spot’
Happy endings usually begin by locating the right partner.
Locating the right architect is complicated by the fact that there are nearly 30,000 registered architects in the country (according to the Council of Architecture), and they are not permitted to advertise. They must rely on word-of-mouth recommendations (and, of course, press coverage). Yet referrals do not suffice, unless your needs are also similar.
We believe every architect has a “sweet spot”, a particular area of expertise or competence, beyond fees and project management capabilities. The challenge, for a potential client, is to identify that sweet spot.
Most commonly, it is architectural style, building type or industry expertise. Many well-known architects are branded as having a “contemporary”, “luxury” or “heritage” style; are associated with certain building types, such as retail properties, museums or nightclubs; or have domain expertise in designing BPOs or pharma labs. These labels work perfectly for a risk-averse client because they encourage continuity.
More innovative clients look beyond conventional labels to discover an architect’s unstated expertise: design elements (furniture, space or colour), specific issues (sustainability) or design approach (spatial behaviour vs appearance). The most talented architects are also the most versatile: They can apply their skills to diverse spaces and clients.
Let the architect mind your business
A superior architect will make it his or her business to understand the client’s business. One of the best examples of this is a long-standing architect-client partnership between Bangalore-based MindTree Consulting and architects Chandavarkar and Thacker (CnT), who have designed around 1.5 million sq. ft of space for MindTree over the years. Parthasarathy N.S., one of MindTree’s co-founders, says, “CnT are an extension of our team, they understand our values and their ideas are backed by research with our end-users to get feedback.” Prem Chandavarkar of CnT agrees: “We share a common chord of wanting to tap into the human spirit, in a joint exploration.”
Fruitful briefing, better feedback
Once client and architect have established a personal chemistry, it is prudent to demarcate roles: Briefing is the responsibility of the client, creative thinking that of the architect. Correctly briefing the architect is the single biggest contribution a client can make to the project. A written brief, with functional, aesthetic, behavioural and operational requirements defined at the start saves time and cost at later stages, as the client is pushed to clearly spell out his needs.
Another useful technique is to provide visual references of preferred spaces, techniques or forms. Architects should also provide computer-generated 3D renderings of the finished space, rather than attempting to modify the designs on site. This investment in visualizing the finished space before on-site work begins can ensure you get it “right first time” and avoid time-consuming, expensive reworking.
Aparna Piramal Raje is director, BP Ergo. Radhika Desai is a Mumbai-based interior architect.
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