Co-Founder & Director-Urban Frame (Space Matrix Group Company) (Interview PART-1)

Anup Naik is a pioneering force in the world of architecture. Bringing design and design practice into perspective, this article is a recall of an interview conducted by The Best Creators. The entire conversation has been broken down into comprehendible portions loaded with information, that everybody in the fraternity, from all walks of life can surely benefit from.

To explore the people behind this wonderful industry, a set of questions were asked to the Anup, the Founder Director of Urban Frame Pvt Ltd. The pointers recorded were an eye-opening experience intended to be shared with the fraternity, to learn and grow from each other’s experiences

User-centric design philosophy

“As an expert in the field of design, what would you say are your top philosophies that have helped you remain at the top of this industry?”

Anup expressed the ever-evolving nature of thought, in an industry that is driven by the creative mind. He expressed that a set of philosophy evolve and grow with your professional career. When you’re in architecture college and getting out of college, you have a set of philosophies. In professional life, the first 10 years you have a set of philosophies, the next 10 years, you carry another set of philosophy and these philosophies keeps maturing. The experiences you have gained in the journey, is the thread which binds these philosophies together., in the creative world, you are constantly looking at different scenarios, different kinds of engagement, different client base where the nature of project changes. What anchors these philosophies together as a continuum or a common thread is High Integrity

The premise of integrity is the basis to Anup’s guiding philosophy. He continued to shed light on integrity coming in multiple levels. Business integrity is your commitment to your business, and to work. Then emerges design integrity, where at every point of time you are offering the best to the stakeholder and client needs. More often than not, your project is placed in a built environment. Your integrity to the city, is your compliance and connection with the place, which is very critical. Another foothold for integrity is what you can do from a user’s point of view. Most often, you might be doing homes, or public buildings where the idea is to make the user comfortable.

For Anup, another key philosophy was working on user-centric design, where he believes that any kind of architecture, must be convenient, comfortable, and engaging across a plethora of users, from toddlers to the elderly who may use the space. The idea of driving user-centric design is something he and his team have always pushed hard, trying to excel and better their experiences every single time. User-centric design represents a strong base of his creative world, where user experience is the foundation to fulfilment. Anup states that putting the user first is the kind of integrity that holds his project and design practice together.

Further Anup was asked about his professional life, where he was responsible for implementing certain aspects to impact the efficiency of his organization and clients. To this, Anup delved into his exciting career of experiences that shaped the world around him – He began with the philosophy of design excellence.

The goals of design excellence

At his organization, they push the envelope of design excellence and this DNA runs across the organisation and not a top-down process. This laid down the foundation to run a horizontal organization, with limited hierarchy wherein every employee is in the same mental space and always carrying the same drift. Most of what they do stems from conversations, Anup attributes improvement in his organization through conversation which is a key to design excellence.

Further elaborating on the channel of communication, he mentioned that it is important to keep the communication channel always open. It does not matter who is working on the project from architects to engineers to digital designers to interns, everybody becomes a contributor to the design process. He believes a flat organisational structure allows for qualitative design conversations and communication. From his experiences, considerable improvement happens through the process of communication. Sometimes, in a design process, architects tend to look at things in one direction a myopic view is reinforced, but when there are a lot of people contributing to the design, the qualitative aspect of design enhances.

He further expounded about his reflections on organisational agility. Agility in running an organization is very important, wherein agility in operations, agility in meeting technology demands, agility in situation management are critical functions.

He says that his team and him ask themselves every morning, “Are we relevant?”.Which is an integral part of keeping the organisation agile.

Accelerating the design process and decision making

At Urban Frame, everything internally is based on C A R – clear communication, agility, and reflection. With our clients, we follow an open communication policy.Design is done through a workshop mode, such that there are equal contributors. It is not just the decision makers of the company or the bosses, or the project proponents, but an entire group of people who contribute, including the finance, marketing, and the salespersons. He insists that such an ecosystem helps in design formulation, accelerates the design process and design decision making.

For Anup, it is a practice they have followed, and he loves everything done around chasing design excellence. He further elaborates that a project could have a sales handicap, a marketing handicap, or a program-based handicap, but when a lot more people contribute, it is an enriching experience. As much as it enriches the design process, together they make sure it is an enriching process for their clients too. That way, there’s a higher value created in the project cycle.

“Play it like a sport, because then you play for the love of it. You may have an opposition, but the opposition becomes part of your project. You learn how to mark the process to reach effective decision making.”- Anup Naik.

Project is king

When asked about his learning, that he would like to share with people in the same segment of the industry, he responded with vigour and enthusiasm. Stemming from the thought process in his organization, he stated that today every business is chasing a signature design. When people ask him what his signature design is,it puts him in a reflective mode, pondering on whether there is a necessity for a signature at all in the design world or does a project determine the signature eventually…

Project is king, the project is the patron, the project determines what and how it manifests itself. With this perspective, a lot of what a team thinks they could add value to, is reflected against the project and for whom they are designing. His team constantly looks at detaching themselves from what they themselves think they are, to look at the needs of the project. The project proponent is different, the patrons of each project are very different, they all come from different synergistic information and source bases. He reminisces that, when we reflect ourselves to the situation with clear project goals, it gets the best out of us. Anup continues about the mantra that sets a project in motion -when his team is going haywire, when their egos become bigger, they reflect their egos against the project and ask themselves, “is this what the project really needs?”

The sense of detachment is something they constantly ask of themselves. Otherwise, he says we are running behind a signature, where it is not about the project but the individual person’s creative pursuit. When your projects are in the public domain for public consumption, you’re just somebody who’s guiding the project, adding value to take the project forward. The way you nurture a project, is by keeping the ego out and looking at the project as the bigger entity, a lot of clashes happen just because of strong ego. When the mission is clear about the project, egos can be eliminated.

Challenges that shape a project’s design and execution

Challenges are plenty every project comes with its unique set of challenges. Anup  decided to pour his experiences into three buckets.

Clarity about the project

First, how you do you get absolute clarity about the program of the project. Most often the project program is not very clear, it is ambiguous and left to a sense of interpretation, which could lead to an ambiguity. His team tend to go back with multiple solutions, put them on the table and create resolutions, to provide clarity to the project’s program. Application of Design Thinking processes help in obtaining resolution to the most complex problems.

The mind and hand gap

The second bucket comes from what he calls as the ‘mind and hand gap.’ At the creative end of things, there is a mind side, and then there is the hand that executes it. Your drawings are read by somebody in charge on the site, or read by a bar bender, or by a plumber, when there is a gap between what the mind thinks and what the hand wants to do, leading to varied interpretations leading to friction. Before we start a project, we speak to people who are the hands of the project. We share the philosophy and intent of the project and how the hands are responsible for the project, just as much as the creative team. This is something Urban Frame constantly keeps pushing, to reduce the gap between mind and hand in executing a project.

Eliminating project fatigue

The third bucket is to keep an eye for project fatigue. When the project stretches over a sizeable period, there is a fatigue that creeps into the project. This is due to the high momentum that is created initially, and then slows down, and this is when you need to pick it up again and put it back on track, resulting in a lot of challenges. The team needs to refresh themselves in the project cycle. When there is a team working on the project and it hits fatigue, they get some fresh legs onto the project, we find someone who can rethink the project in a different way, without losing the initial intent. There are a lot of people who are digital designers, making drawings for the project. The team allows their digital designers to visit sites and witness their drawings come to life, this enhances ownership. They give us their insights and the team rethinks together. It becomes insightful when there is a different sense of ownership to the project. One way
to cut down project fatigue is to look at ownership at different levels. ” To be continued. >>