Ashish Puri

Director, Interior Design Services-Colliers (Interview PART-1)

Ashish Puri, Director, Interior Design Services at Colliers. He has over 19 years of experience, working in the industry as a designer. He states that experiences begin when you first walk into your first job office. He first started his career with Atelier, in 2004 afterward moving to Synergy. When Colliers acquired Synergy in 2019 September, Ashish Puri was part of every step of this evolution. He spent close to 15 years with Colliers and continues to lead at the forefront of design and architecture. His experiences shared with the Best Creators are a shining beacon for the rest of the fraternity, to impart learnings and strategize the path forward in the world of building and design. He first moved to Bengaluru when he secured a seat in architecture at the RVCE.

Coming from a small town called Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh, moving to Bengaluru was a pivotal and exciting venture into the world of architecture. He elaborated on a decorated career that was shaped from his formative years in education towards exposure to various projects where his exemplary skills and learnings attributed to success. He reflects on the sleepless nights catching up to the latest trends and technologies during college, where the painful 5 years were a strong force in guiding him towards his aspirations in architecture. He attributes the faculty of RVCE as the guidance ofhis learnings during college. Ashish slightly hinted at a phase after college where he -guessed the prospect of architecture. His first internship at Atelier was a transformative experience where the exposure to work environments garnered his ambitions to pursue a career in building. He attributes the shift in technologies as a pedestal upon which he built an elaborate career in design and architecture.

The future is designing spaces, and the Best Creators wanted to know more. His charismatic views and insights come from immense experience in the industry, a force to guide the future of architecture towards greener pastures.

Design meets functionality is where the success of every project lies

“The journey starts when wondering what next to be done, in the bustle of our youth. Technology is already changing the way architects work, think and build. Technology is everywhere and we can’t deny the fact that architects must adopt the technology. The future is all about designing spaces that are integrated with technology. Space has to be a functional space, where you spend a lot of time from 8-12 hours a day. Without technology the experiences are incomplete. It is important that technology is integrated into every space, making architecture a field where technology plays a vital role.

As designers, we have to stop somewhere. Sometimes, as a thought process, we keep on designing and designing. I agree with the great architect Mies Van De Rohe who believed that less is more. And I think it’s a very strong statement, very relevant even today. I always believe less is more. You shouldn’t try to be doing too much, or rather everything in one project. Every project has a context and certain set of requirements, and a designer’s aim should be to address that. Not to fill every project with a lot of elements. Some people may like a lot of flashy designs. But, eventually, you know the functionality of that gets compromised. I believe in less is more, very strongly. I believe in designing for the future, sustainability. We have come to a point where we should be aware of what we are going to leave behind when we go away. It’s definitely designing for the future, for the coming generation. Our sensitivity to the environment, reducing the carbon footprint, using material that is sustainable all have a big impact. We know what’s going on, whether it’s the weather change or other issues that sustainability can address. I’m not trying to be an activist here, but we all have a huge responsibility because we choose the building materials, we choose the designs that shape the quality of life. Sustainability is a big thing and we should be very sensitive to whatever we are designing, whatever is going into a project in terms of even technology.

Data-driven design and technology-driven design are going to set the foundation to design in the future. We are seeing that happening, where we experience that ease and access. Ultimately as I was saying earlier, it’s the technology that will drive the design for the future generation. It’s the amalgamation of thoughts, not just the aesthetics but the functionality and how technology can make things easier. These are philosophies that we are evolving with, learning every day. Yet, less is more and still holds good.”

Ashish then gave us a run through on various concepts that emerge from establishing strong expectations with clients. He guided the Best Creators platform with a vigorous anecdote on shaping client relations based on effort and contribution.

Setting the expectations right with each other

“What we do at Colliers as a process, every stage of the design or planning, starts at the beginning to provide clients with leasing services, advisory services, and more. Even before the design comes in, it helps the clients decide whether they should move into x building, or y building, or z building. We are a process-driven organization and that sort of helps us. It keeps things under check and balances. It also helps our clients, the end-users. Right from the beginning, they would know what they are going to get at the end of the exercise. That’s very important. When you have a clear objective, when you have defined the objective from the beginning that any particular design will help you achieve a specific outcome, it’s very good. If I introduce an element like sensor-based lighting, or daylight sensors or occupancy sensors, you may have probably 15% savings on your electricity bills. When we convey these pointers right at the beginning, we have clear objectives. Then we can follow processes to meet the objectives. That’s when it helps the clients understand, and it helps us as designers because we know what we’re working towards. Rather than trying to do everything, we sort of look at the goals. We talk to the clients from the beginning and understand what they’re trying to achieve when they move into a new space. This whole idea from the beginning to the end result goes as a process. That helps in getting a more transparent understanding between the architects and the end-users. We’ve seen that clients appreciate that they’re well-informed. At the end of it, if there were cost implications, they were told that in the beginning. We tell them that a percentage of investment would give you this result. It’s now always tangible because we may say, why don’t you invest in a desk or a workstation, a sit-to-stand workspace? Why would we advise that? It’s purely from an ergonomic and wellness perspective. In the beginning, there’s no calculation that I can tell the client to save money. But what happens when we introduce elements like that, the employees get the benefit, they are automatically more productive. There are a lot of studies that have been done in Western countries that state that when you introduce a sit-to-stand workspace in your organization, people are less likely to take sick leaves. This means they are spending more hours, more happy hours at the office, and being productive. Especially in the COVID19 era, we’ve learned that you cannot ignore wellness. Wellness is important.

These are some of the things, a process-driven approach, a very clear set of objectives to state what we are clearly aiming at. And those begin as a dialogue between the architect and the client right at the beginning of the project all the way to the end. We don’t believe in bringing in ideas somewhere in between because that can derail the whole process. It’s better that, even if something fantastic comes in-between, we’d rather hold our horses and not ask the client to implement that because it could derail the whole process. We largely work in an industry where the designers are not process-driven, although the project management team is probably process-driven. One night, one dream and you’ll probably see a new element on site. That’s something very common with creative architects. But we need to be very practical.”

Ashish Puri is a soulful creative mind, with many wonderful thoughts to back his genius that he imparted with the Best Creators. Our inspiration was derived from his work ethic and commitment towards making each space the best it can be. He continued to elaborate on the challenges that emerge and how success is a result of believing in oneself the right way.”

Every day is a challenge, you just got to be your best self

“Every day is a challenge. The list is endless. One is about how technology has changed very fast. Every day there is something or the other. The design process has been relatively slow even to adopt the technology. But in the past few years, I’ve seen that technology can really bring in a lot of change and information. People are now happy to change into more technology-driven designs. That’s the introduction of them into our practice. But it took time to change. Otherwise, everyone was still working with AutoCAD and all of that. But that challenge has sort of been overcome as we see the good side of it. The other challenge comes when changes come in. Sometimes the changes come in from the client’s side, or sometimes from the architect’s side. That’s where I think that things can go a little wrong, or derailed. But, it’s about how you handle it. If you have a clear process, to deal with the change that’s coming in from the client’s side, a documented process really helps. If an architect is proposing changes, they should be very cautious about the cost and the time implications of the changes. Another challenge is the lack of resources. It happens that you want a particular skill set and you don’t get it in the industry. I think it starts with the education system. Until something fundamental changes there, I don’t see a big change happening, but let’s see what happens with the New Education policy and all the efforts the government is trying to bring in. But there is a huge gap between what we learn in college and what we practice in the industry. That’s a big challenge. Apart from that, every day is a challenge, COVID is a challenge. If there was no COVID, there are other challenges. Competition is a challenge. But the success of course comes to people who believe in themselves and do things the right way.”

Constantly learn and be open to learning

“Learning is a big subject. My philosophy is that every day is a new learning. Learning does not stop. It’s not that I’ve finished 5 years of architecture and I’ve learnt it all. Even after spending 20 years in the field, I actually still learn. Every day there is something new that’s coming in. For that to happen, we as professionals need to work with an open mindset. The moment we come across too rigid to not be too welcoming to new ideas or an approach, rigidity becomes a problem. For us to absorb learnings, we need to be very open minded. I tell my team to be ready for the change, because ultimately change is the only constant. Change leads to growth, to success. For that to happen, don’t be rigid with your mindsets. There will be a lot of learning happening. It could come from contractors working on-site, or a mason that works on-site. It’s not that it happens only on big university campuses. It’s all about working with an open mindset with everyone. I could be learning things from someone who just joined my organization or my team. In fact, the newer generation is much smarter with the technologies and the software and all that we use. Ultimately, one of the biggest learnings is to have a very open mindset. We should be ready for the change. What happened during COVID19 is a big example of how we had to change the way we worked. If we did not change, we would not have succeeded. These are some of the big learnings, something which I strongly believe in. Working towards your objectives with defined goals and an open mind is important. Having a creative mind is not limited to how space looks. Creativity is also about how space functions. Creativity sometimes is taken in a context that means that space should only look brilliant. Doesn’t matter, but it should also function brilliantly. That’s more important. This is something more particular to interiors when we talk about a workplace design or a hospitality design or an auditorium design, where the important thing is that space has to function. It might look brilliant, but if you have an acoustic problem in the auditorium, then there’s no point in having a brilliant design over there. Even for offices.

Ultimately when we design spaces, in interiors, we are designing them for experience and usage. The functional aspect of the spaces is very important to be addressed with the design. What happens in architecture, when someone is designing a facade of a building, they are putting in that effort to create the wow factor for the appeal. Maybe there’s a building on some high street in the city, you may cross by it and say it’s brilliant. But once you cross that building your experience stops there. It does not really impact from thereon. But when we talk about designing interiors, it’s beyond aesthetics. Ultimately space has to function. You may be there for 6-8 hours or even maybe 2 hours. Even if you go to a food court in a mall, you may be there for 2 hours. But you have to experience that space. The functionality of the space, how the circulation happens are all very important. Design is not just about aesthetics. A lot of time it is understood that design is about looking good, but it has to function very well. That’s something I’d like to tell others in the fraternity. It’s the blending of both functionality and aesthetics.”

Ashish is very driven by the concept of bringing end-users value. His success is a reflection of his commitment towards sustainable architecture. In the following segment, he explores the premise of technology driven sustainable design and shared powerful ideas with the rest of the fraternity. up together.”

(Interview PART-2)

Create value for the end-user

“I think we’ve come to an age where wellness has become the most important thing. There’s a lot of traction in the market where we are meeting a lot of clients. One of the questions that come across from clients is about how we are dealing with COVID19 and what are the wellness elements being integrated into the design. That’s the top question coming across. Wellness is certainly going to be the next big thing in the design industry. This means bringing more plants into the office. We also got an interesting element into our own office. We did the office during the COVID19 pandemic. The construction was midway when COVID hit and the construction was halted for some time during the lockdown. But then we finished and moved into the new office by July. We have an element that is like a living wall element, a combination of natural and mechanical air purification. You have the actual plants in the setup of the wall, where these plants are purifying the inside by improving the indoor air quality. We have a tab that actually tells you the indoor air quality and the outdoor air quality index. You always know that the air inside is much healthier than the air outside. It also uses technology through UVA. In case the air quality is deteriorating, the illumination of the UVA lamp increases working backward to increase the air quality. These are small elements that can make a big difference. It also gives comfort to the people here who know that the air quality is much better. They are mentally at peace and thus can be more productive. Wellness is very important, especially for future generations. It’s going to be work from home in the future. Offices are not going to be like a conventional setup of offices. Offices will be mostly used for collaboration, for meetings, and things like that. But tasks that do not need multiple people will be done at home. This means that your houses also need better, more ergonomic furniture. The interiors of your house will also need better air quality. Wellness is going to get integrated into various aspects of life.”

Design for the future generations today

“The second aspect is sustainability. It’s about designing for the future. How sustainable you are? Eventually, sustainability also helps you in reducing your energy bill. It could be small technical elements like integrating vavs into your air conditioning system which helps bring down the electricity bill or integrating your sensors in the lighting systems. Things like this will be very important. It’s not just about bringing down your bill but saving for the future. Whatever you are saving now, you’re saving for the future. Greener buildings, we’ve been talking about lead. But more than certification, sustainability is about something that should be built into every aspect of construction. The material we use is a responsibility. People are very aware nowadays. They know there’s VOC in the paints and they tell us don’t use that, we know there’s VOC in these paints. Use zero VOC paints. We are now dealing with a much-informed audience, much-informed clientele which is a good thing. Sustainability is the second biggest aspect that clients want us to incorporate into the designs.”

 

Architecture is evolving with tech-driven innovation

“The third thing is technology integration. How does an office work in an automated way? We’ve seen automated cars. We’ve seen everything going digital and how technology is changing. Likewise, the technology is going to be massive. We’re looking at technology-driven navigation into a space. What that means is that when you come into an office, there would be a system that recognizes your voice and based on that decides whether you’re allowed inside or not. It’s all voice-activated commands. That also helps reduce touch points. That comes into the wellness perspective and the automation perspective. A lot of clients are asking us, what are the technologies available? We’re moving from a conventional work setup. Which means that there would not be assigned desks for employees. Every office will have certain desks, but not everyone will have a designated desk. It’s going to be more of, if I need to go, I will go and use that desk. It will probably be that I have an app on my phone to book a desk and use it. And I may also know that the office admin is notified to ensure that the desk is sanitized and well set up for me to come and use it. These kinds of platforms are being created, where a lot of technology is being integrated into the design process. A lot of automation is coming in. You will see automated houses and automated offices. It’s going to be the beginning of a new era of automation.”

We wanted to know more about his thought process and how he acquired the fuel to stay optimistic in the face of a challenging industry. His response was hearty and enthusiastic, reflecting the many years that have shaped his successful smile.

Research is key, and history is a great teacher

“Within the busy schedule, the easiest thing to do is just to browse the internet. There are a lot of good platforms available which keep you updated about what’s new. I’m not saying that everything available on the internet is the right content. You need to know the source behind the content. But there is a lot of good literature available. Sometimes you can pick up from some of those things and aim to be a trend setter. You can bring new trends as a designer and start the journey from there. The easiest thing is to go through some of the websites which give you a good insight into where we have headed. Another thing I see as a trendsetter is that when we look back at what we have done in the past, as a country, a region, or a culture in India, how we have planned our houses in the past, look at some of the concepts and apply that to urban planning or office planning it works brilliantly. All our old houses would have a small courtyard in the middle, and brilliant verandas. What these courtyards and verandas do is bring people together. In modern language, we call it collaboration. But if we go back and look at history, there’s so much to learn from it. Although these concepts may have westernized names, originally, it’s all there. All we need to do is put some thought and energy into these ideas, and they can work wonders. Some of these towns designed thousands of years ago are still around. Some of the temples were designed so many years back. If you look at the temples in Tamil Nadu, the stone temples, there’s a lot to learn from history in terms of planning. There’s a lot of directional architecture which we are learning. People are talking about how to get the lead certification. Which means that you should be reducing your energy consumption. So, if you let sunlight come in from the east or north, you would automatically not require any artificial lighting. If you go back and learn from what was designed earlier, it’s all based on the same principles of climatology. There’s a lot to learn from what we already have and a lot to learn from Nature. Believe me these are the trends of the future.”

Reflecting on the years that formed his leadership and finesse

“When I took up the role of the architect, way back with Synergy and we did a few assignments. One of the assignments we did was for Cognizant and Technologies, which was for 2 lakh square feet. That project was really appreciated very well. That was one of the great moments, because I was still very fresh into the industry. We worked over 6-8 months, during the recession of 2008-09 when we delivered the project. There were a lot of challenges, but why I’m saying that is because I recently met someone from Cognizant. I had gone to meet them about their new offices. I asked the gentleman what their best facilities done all across was. He said that he’d seen a lot of offices in Pune, Chennai and Bangalore and even overseas. He said that this particular facility was done pretty well. That gives you a lot of satisfaction. He had no idea that we were the ones who did that facility. That was a defining moment for me. I told him that we were the ones who did that facility, so it was a completely unbiased feedback. And this was a 10-year-old facility, I met him two years back and it was quite good to hear from someone who’s used the services. Things like these define your future in a few months and years. And clients coming back to us say that they like working with us, we like the thought process and how the team has performed, which is great. We worked with one of our clients IIM in Kozhikode and we have been working with this particular client for 10 years now. Every big or small thing they want to do with their classrooms or auditoriums, they always call us and ask us for the design solution. Because they got that satisfaction and the confidence that we are the right team to do the project. Coming from a prestigious like IIM, is a great honour. These kinds of things give you a high in your professional career.” To be continued. >>