By : WADe Bureau | 20 Aug 2018 | TRENDING WADe TOPICS
A mini Crash Course for Aspiring Architects & Designers.
‘Masterclass with Mentors’ was one of major highlights amongst the discussions at WADe Asia 2017 and it definitely stood-up! The panel comprised of six seasoned senior Women Architects & Designers sitting together to receive and respond to the questions from upcoming young architects & designers, aptly represented by Ar. Manishi Aggarwal. The session was a mini crash course on understanding how anyone can start up their own design firms and deal with issues related to start-ups. The ‘Mentors’ were there to answer the relevant questions curated by WADe and conveyed by the moderator. This unique discussion was designed to be extremely relevant for anyone who is starting up in Design/Architecture. In case you’ve missed it, read on to get enlightened:
Q. What are the pros and cons of starting up in a partnership firm versus proprietorship firm?
Sonali Bhagwati: We have a little problem in recognition of our company versus a proprietorship firm or a partnership firm. So while you can start a partnership or a proprietorship firm, as architects, it is difficult to write architecture as start-up limited company. This is something that all the architects face. It has other ramifications and that need to be sorted out as we go on.
Q. One of the biggest problems or difficulties that architects face, is pitching to the clients. How did you start pitching to clients? How do you make them believe in your typology and beyond?
Parul Zaveri: Initially you may have to work for free to prove yourself! Or, if you have worked in another firm and have projects to show, that’s another way of convincing them. Initially we did many projects for free just because we saw a cause in to it and it worked out. And then, you don’t have to go and pitch for yourself, your client becomes the person pitching for you.
Canna Patel: In India people start working without gaining enough experience by working in someone else’s firm. Ideal situation would be when you graduate; you work for minimum five years to do 10 good projects. So when I pitch for my own firm, my credibility is the quality of firm & projects I worked in.
Anupama Kundoo: Architecture is a very difficult profession. There is no short cut to it. There is no short-cut to knowledge and experience. On one hand people don’t mind investing huge amounts to get foreign education, but at the same time they don’t have enough time to gain experience by working in firms. I tell some students that you need to choose your education as well as working places more consciously, while also investing enough time in it. If you’re trying to quickly succeed, you need to change your notion. Nobody succeeds overnight.
“As far as young kids, hopping from one firm to another and not holding interest is concerned, it has a lot to do with trends and what the peers do. There has to be a process of self-amelioration and learning by yourself. If you’re doing a project, you could do it mechanically or do a lot of research & study around it. Unless a person does that, they are never going to grow. And, if you do that, you’re not going to hop around because it would hold your interest.”
– Ar. Sonali Bhagwati
Q. There is this generation of architects today who hates stability and love job-hopping. How has your studios dealt with it?
Sonali: I think learning is very important and there’s no shortcut. As far as young kids, hopping from one firm and not holding interest is concerned, I think it has a lot to do with trends and what the peers do. Also, it may not be just them saying that it doesn’t interest me, I think any project if you put yourself into it, would get interesting. There has to a process of self-amelioration and learning by yourself. If you’re doing a project, you could do it mechanically or you could do a lot of study around it. Unless any person does that, they are never going to grow. And, if you do that you’re not going to hop around because it would hold your interest.
Canna: I think to develop that atmosphere in the office where the younger people can come up and talk about their new ways of dealing things or wanting things. It requires the elders to change, I guess – that might change the scene.
Sonali: We face with a lot of interns at times, because they create a kind of casualness in the office… that they would come and go. And then we really have to put our foot down to say that, “if you’re here you’re working”.
Parul: We also tell the in the beginning when we keep them,
“if you don’t perform we will throw you out of the office.” We’ve been ruthless about it and that word I think spreads around and they have to get serious.
“All that we have in life is our time. I always chose projects where I felt I would develop myself. So, I only want to choose clients who will be worth spending my time on them. And if we would be aligned, we might continue.”
– Ar. Anupama Kundoo
Q. As a start-up, is there a criteria onto which projects to accept and which ones not to?
Shimul: Within 3 years of starting my practice, I decided not to do residential interiors at all because that’s the large volume of work you get and I as a woman working from home, didn’t have an office as I didn’t have the money for one. And, I felt it was best if I just cut that out from my portfolio and start focusing on to get architectural work. By doing that in a lot of ways, I had cut a lot of clutter because once you have a residential interior client that client gives a bungalow later or may give you an office later. Some of my early clients are who gave me much larger work later. But I do think that by taking that strong decision I did focus my practice in a certain direction.
Sonali: The only time I feel that you could consider declining a project is if you feel that there is serious disconnect with the client – in terms of your ideology or what you want to do etc. That is important because you need to connect with your client in order to create anything for them. You may like, not like, agree, disagree. But that connect has to be there.
Parul: Also, you need to program yourself, your office. You should have something that outlines the boundaries you fix for yourself. Like, these are the things I want to do and these are the things I won’t – i.e. ethically. Focus upon the passion that you have.
Anupama: At a stage in my life I didn’t know what I want. I think what shaped my choices was that I did know what I didn’t want. Today, when I don’t know clearly about something, I do know what I don’t want. That is a big advisor for me and I think for me money is a means, not a resource. I am not gonna do work to get money. I want to get money in order to do work, to shape myself. So for me I was very patient because I wanted to first have the skills and capacities to develop myself. All that we have in life is our time. I always chose projects where I felt I would develop myself. So, I only want to choose clients who will be worth spending my time on them. And if we would be aligned, we might continue.
Canna: I had to decline a project only once in a career of 27 years and that was because the contract said very clearly: “we are experts as designs, not with project management”. That has to be single contractual execution and the client wanted to deviate from it and not give the extra time and effort which we would put if we had to coordinate. Then we chose to decline that project because you can’t change its execution methods.
Q. Start ups are very aggressive and want to do diverse work. The clients start taking undue advantage of them and make them do things, out of their scope. Where does one strike a right balance?
Anupama: See, everything you do will form who you are and will create a deeper crux. So, when you are innocent and naïve, each thing you compromise, you will become easier to compromise again. If you tell lies one day, next you’ll be more numb to tell another lie. Be very careful on what you do and don’t do. It shapes who you are.
Sonali: For start-ups, for any younger firm or for that matter, even all of us to be protective adequately because this exploitation happens at all levels, not only at start up levels. And unfortunately we do not have a strong body to protect the professionals and unless that happens, professionals will be exploited and and that is polluting our profession today.
Parul: If you have to develop some beliefs and convictions, unless you work somewhere and you have observed something how will you come up with your beliefs. You need experience. And, when you are experiences and develop these beliefs & conviction, you need to get a contract from a lawyer. CoA has some guidelines. So based on that you have to develop a contract and then work with the client. That is the first thing you ought to get in.
Canna: I think the education system also needs addition of few things. What I’m sure all of us faced is none of our professional schools taught us management or finance or they didn’t teach us how to look at contracts or what is profitability or the basics of business. You can’t treat architecture only as art. The moment you treat your work as business, I think you will not accept anything or everything. You will be looking at from a correct sense so that the business needs to succeed.
Shimul: I think the answer to your question is by listening to one’s own intuitions in terms of what is ethical, what is right, when are you being pushed beyond a limit. To me that has been the most important – listening to the inner voice and the second thing is having dependence on other architects and a lot of support from them. It’s very true and possible in this field, it’s fabulous – the extent to which architects help each other. As there’s no other effective mechanism other than this which allows us to improve. Thankfully what we do have is a good fraternity.
“Within 3 years of starting my practice, I decided not to do residential interiors at all. I felt it was best if I just cut that out from my portfolio and start focusing on to get architectural work. I do think that by taking that strong decision I did focus my practice in a certain direction.”
– Ar. Shimul Javeri Kadri
Q. Today there are a number of architecture firms in the same city. Some firms are ready to work for a lot less than what is right? How does one hold their ground or you just let the project go?
Parul: Why are you only talking about start-ups, it’s senior architects and huge firms also go below and do undercutting like nobody’s business. They go below the norms set my CoA.
Shimul: I think to begin with having a council that has teeth and you’ve got to follow some norms. That would really change the nature of the profession and if the council actually created a set of professional fees that is far more viable. But I think at the end of the day one needs to create value in your own work, to be able to quote a fee that you know works for you and people will come for you for that work.
Parul: We have always advised interns and other people who come to our office that you should go back to your roots – to the village or small town that you come from and start your practice there. And in many cases they have been so successful that even before they would graduate they would have 100 of projects done. So we have to be ready to go down to villages, smaller towns, 2 tier cities and there is so much work and no architects. And even at the same time you have to learn to respect the local craftsmen, the local contractors, the local needs you have understand – that is sensitizing. That is why we asked to go their own village or town because then they would know and understand the mindset of people and would be able to work with them. And, they’ve always been successful.
Q. In a country where architecture is almost considered a macho profession – how did you all as women established your ground or credibility if the formative years?
Parul: We have faced plenty of problems not only then, even today. Me and my husband Nimish generally work together, but even in projects he had no role to play, he has never gone to the site, but even today clients refer to that project as his. But then you just accept it – you say why to fight. Though earlier I used to fight, but today I’m not even bothered about it. You have to first ignore that and really become thick skinned and continue to work and prove through your work and decisions. You have to learn extra, you really have to work hard to tell them and show them that you know as much or more. Unless you do that or work much harder, nothing will happen.
Anupama: I think a lot of women get demoralized with that kind of treatment. It sometimes, could be that it’s bad enough that people in your environment think you are less just because of a different biology which has nothing to do with the architectural tools. I mean those other bodily parts they are not required in the designing process, construction, nothing. But still if you are met by this kind of responses, then you know something is absurd. Many times women who get very discouraged and sometimes they feel themselves as victim, it is because you also believe that you are lot less. But if you don’t have any traces of that then you think it is a ridiculous joke when you feel how stupid they are that they think like that. You just try to reinforce you own goals. Because you believe you have a right to do that.
Shimul: Women are the biggest proponents of patriarchy. We absorb patriarchy internally and how can we not, we are surrounded by it. I think in many ways, we hold back and I have always found not Sheryl Sandberg’s entire book but the phrase she used, LEAN IN a very important phrase, which means ‘if we are able to believe that we can do it, no one should be able to stop us or hold us back’. My husband and father-in-law both are architects and in these situations the best options was to leave those practices and practice entirely by myself.
Sonali: Consider yourself gender neutral that is more important. Another important factor to tackle this is to have the support of your family in such matters. Your upbringing also matters. I have two extremely successful sisters, we were brought up to do what we wanted as long as we supported ourselves and we didn’t ask anyone for anything.
Shimul: The last thing I want to be is gender-neutral, the last thing I want to do is ignore patriarchy. I believe very strongly in asserting that I am a woman. I believe in that patriarchy is eventually to be fought. Feminism is a word dragged to the cleaners and it has been interpreted very wrongly. I am absolutely avid feminist and proclaim it and make sure that my clients know while understanding me. I’ve had the most patriarchal of client who’ve enjoyed the discussions with me. But more importantly, I find patriarchy as difficult for men as it is for women. It makes men victims as much as it makes women victims. One of the most important thing in my domestic relationship with my husband has been to treat home very much as a equal space when he’s not expected to run the house and we literally treat all financial matters as matters that we both equally deal with. The idea of patriarchy is to be discussed and dealt with.
“You can’t treat architecture only as art. The moment you treat your work as business, I think you will not accept anything or everything. You will be looking at from a correct sense so that the business needs to succeed.”
– Ar. Canna Patel
Q. What are the other business developments and PR strategies that startups can use to expand their reach?
Shimul: I find that publishing helped me and huge kudos to the whole publishing world. I found there were amazing editors out there, generally women editors who literally seeked me out, found my work. I was absolutely a ‘nobody’ doing few of my first projects and a couple to editors for example, Sheela Sahni, of ‘Inside Outside’ discovered me out of nowhere. She found my name, number and published my three projects. I found publishing has always helped, if not directly but indirectly.
Canna: As directed to the younger generation, social media is a big market and one needs to learn it more professionally or get an expert to handle your social media. Second is that from a couple of videos that I’ve heard of younger people on Youtube. They say now is the time when you have practices which are not just one kind of firm. So, say if you practicing as an architect, you’d be doing other things as well that could be something that would do with design, product development or education or running some classes. So you diversify your business is what is recommended for younger generation today. This is what I would say because what worked for me might be out-dated now!
Q. With the world becoming smaller with globalization, how do we stay ahead of our clients who travel and keep increasing our knowledge?
Canna: In professions like law or medicine, at least abroad, there are systems that allow continuing education – it is through these bodies who protect us in terms of fees, contracts what we just spoke earlier – the same bodies also have continuing education programs, so to continue having your “law” license, you need to continue a certain number of classes for yourself. Same goes for doctors who because of the technology have had to learn a lot. So similarly, I think our profession needs to first of all cater our own selves more seriously and create these kind of legal systems and continue education whether it may be through the council or through the industry. I personally feel it should be there.
Sonali: And then comes the process of self-amelioration. You have to be knowing what is happening in the world, what people are doing, what is being followed. From different work ethics to different work strategies and more. Unless you have the desire to keep up with time, you can’t be ahead of the rest.
“Initially we did many projects for free just because we saw a cause in to it and it worked out. And then, you don’t have to go and pitch for yourself, your client becomes the person pitching for you.”
– Ar. Parul Zaveri
Q. At last I would like all of you to give the start-ups one business advice!
Shimul: Figure out what you really love to do and follow that. That’s what eventually gonna work.
Parul: Not just trends, but also look into what is good environmentally, we are usually picking-up whatever is marketed to us. You have to question everything that is marketed. We have to become responsible architects. Today our world is facing severe crisis and unless we change the way we look at it, it’s not going to help. We have more than 400 schools and so many architects coming out of that along with other design schools, if we don’t take the responsibility, there will not be any turning around.
Sonali: As startups you need to think about what direction you want to go, and what are the directions you want your practice to go in. Re-evaluate yourself from time to time. At some point, try your knowledge to fix your surroundings and the city.
Canna: Well, I keep reminding myself ‘I am not just an image but an energy’. That has always helped me to remain at my best in my business and that would be my advice as that energy goes from my project into the culture… into the community keeping up the ecological correctness.
Anupama: Particularly since we are in the information age, I think people of this generation who are starting now should not confuse information with knowledge. When it is mingled in you, then it is knowledge. One builds knowledge overtime. So, with hastily reading the newspaper comes information, but for gaining experience one has to be more immersed.