Ashish Sachdev

Founder & Principal Architect-ADEelite Design Consultants Pvt Ltd (Interview PART-1)

Ashish Sachdev an architect, graduated from Mysore University MCE Hassan in the year 2000. He started his journey into the world of architecture with Mathias Consultants.

In 2003, he joined RSP, where he was there till 2009, for almost 8 years. Post that, in 2010 Ashish started the firm AdEelite. In his interview, he expressed the satisfaction of completing the 21st year in 2021. His successes and enthusiasm are a clear reflection of the leaps taken to contribute to the world of architecture and building design.

A journey to dissolve boundaries and create sustainable architecture.

He said, my first office that I joined was Mathias consultants, we experimented a lot, both with architecture and interiors. Interiors gives you an opportunity to transform spaces, experiment with your creativity and deliver spaces that are much faster-paced than architecture. It takes a year plus for a building to come up, whereas your creative side is tested against time when designing interior spaces. That’s what brought me into interior design because I was very interested in fast work where there’s a lot of room for creativity. With access to global technologies and building that we use, it gives us an opportunity to be extremely creative and see the results of your creativity within a short period of time. So, when I worked at RSP, my second office, I learned a lot there, moved within the organization to the design cell, leading a team of architects handling large multinational projects. Very early in my career, thanks to the leadership of RSP that believed in my skills and my confidence, I was able to finish 2 campus projects by the time I was 27. I was leading a very good team of architects. What I realized in my career there working with two types of clients. One is the multi-national companies that come to India. There are a lot of expectations of how to replicate what they have globally been working with. Technologies are the same but the culture and behaviour is varied. What works in UK/USA cannot 100% work in India. Our people are different. Our needs are different, because there is so much diversity in our country. I was very attracted to working with both multi-national and Indian clients. I wanted to see how we could integrate the diversity of culture and behaviour into design of spaces which we could say are truly for people of our country.”

Further elaborating on his decorated career, Ashish reminisced the importance of creativity in every step along the journey of architecture and design.

Creativity is the fuel to human-centric design

“This is my 20th year of working. It takes time for one to develop a new idea and develop it into an established idea. 60% of the needs of every project that we do for clients is very similar. Most of these MNCs would have generic requirements for office spaces. What has been very interesting for us is to come up with design philosophies that our client’s business can resonate with. More importantly, our creative teams that we have hand selected form the industry also start believing in those philosophies / concepts that we develop over time. There is so much impact of every project on the team within the firm when we develop newer ideas, integrate technologies. If you’ve seen my website you would have noticed some of our design thinking.”

The importance of human-centric design

“Over the last two decades, that has been our focus and that’s even more important now during this pandemic is human-centric design. Human centric design is where everything is crafted around human behaviour. The interface of technology and integrating technology into the design spaces and the products we choose is something that is very important. I think human centre design would be one of the top philosophies. Well-being which is the very essence of living is another top philosophy we work with. Well-being in every way. Within an office, when we’re designing for our clients, the larger focus is on the organization’s brand values, the kind of money they want to spend, their lease period, what is the background of the company, all goes into the design brief. But our main focus is on the individuals who occupy the office. Be it the office boy who is within the office, even up to the top level. We have been fortunate to have great clients who have understood the essence of well-being, where they have really allowed us to be focused on each and every individual’s needs within the office.

Let me just quickly summarize human-centered design, well-being, and integrating new technologies that resonate with people over time. Right now, this Zoom software we’re using, you and I are talking like we’re sitting face to face. How do you do that within an office space or within your design where everything seems seamless? The usage of materials and designing for one person to a team of 5 people on the floor. Everybody must be satisfied. You may be within an office, an individual who just wants to focus on his call, or something that he’s writing like a code. You have another team that sits ten feet away who needs to have an open discussion, have a writing board pulled up. How interestingly we have been able to empathize with the needs of different people and treat them as families. The success we have achieved is through the right selection of materials. All of us, human beings, feel / experience through our senses, our senses are what allow us to touch or feel the materials. If you bring these materials together in the right way, all that I spoke about is achieved.”

As we understand the pivotal role of creativity and intuition in the design process, the Best Creators were eager to further delve into the brilliant mind of Ashish Sachdev. His insights were truly eye-opening and encouraging for the fraternity at large. He responded to our eagerness with insights into the success of his organizational values.

Creating an agile and open office culture

“We are a 20-member team by choice. I have worked in a larger organization where there were 400 people. For me to talk to my boss then, it would take 3-4 days because he has to meet many people during the day. One of the things that I have done within my office is that we’ve made it very agile, an open office. There are no cabins besides the meeting room. We can interact and I am able to give one on one time to each and every individual. That one-on-one time is extremely important, and that I think has really allowed my teams to be very creative. We have applied the design of open office agile concept. We have four television screens that can project a collaborative experience. We have implemented technologies for each and everyone in the office to project their work on larger screens and openly interact. There is ample space for us to display materials, use the materials. When you have a 20-member team, we have dedicated a lot of space within the office that allows our teams to exercise the same level of creativity that we are designing for our clients. We have integrated technology for our daily needs. We use certain software that allows seamless integration because when you’re handling four of five large scale or medium scale projects by interacting with 400-500 people across India, seamless interaction is the key. We are using some very good software that allows our team to be very effective in communications. What we use for our own communication, the decks are shared with our clients so that they are on the same page as well.”

Communication and working as a family

“There is no hierarchy. Everyone is heard. Everyone’s opinions are taken into account. We have regular design brief sessions, workshops, where extensive time is spent in the office on the selection chair, a selection of furniture or building materials. And clients participate in those sessions where our teams interact with the clients in the same space. Transparency with an open and agile approach for our own office design and an intentional lean structure has helped us. An architect’s role as a creator is to be at the centre and to be able to hear everyone, understand the client. A lot of importance is given to our vendors and suppliers. One thing that we learned very early in career, is that whether we get our fees in time or not, our suppliers and vendors have to be paid because they are a part of our team as well.When we have lean structure, there are no silos. There are no behind-the-scenes discussions. Everything is visible to everyone. With a 20-member team, we do roughly about 5-6 lakhs square feet a year. Compared to large scale projects, I think small scale also or medium scale projects give you a lot of room for creativity as well. We have supported clients for up to 10 lakh square feet pan India, keeping our team members at only 20 numbers. Of course, consultants, contractors, PMC teams are also part of our extended team. Driven out of empathy, when I was in Japan with a set of successful architects for India, it was an opportunity created to see some of the good works done by Nikken Sekkei in Japan. My intake from that trip was that the level of interaction with the client is so informal compared to what we are used to. They sit together for long hours, call each other home, they drink a lot together. When they are sitting on a design brief it can go up to 12 o’clock in the night. Unless you empathize with each and every need of the client and truly understand what they need, you can’t do justice through design. Our process of interrogation is so thorough that it has been the foundation of our organization. If you prioritize human needs, all the solutions present themselves. You just have to keep people at the centre and treat them as a family. One of the core things that we have been verysuccessful at is that the 20 people in our organization are part of our family, clients feel comfortable with us because there’s a balance being created. We’re not stepping on each other’s toes but we are all working as one family.”

With such admirable values for successful organizational culture, the Best Creators knew that we asked for the best creator’s insight himself. We wanted more and thus explored the expertise of Ashsih Sachdev as a creator and leader who founded creativity and intuitive thinking into the ethos of his organization. He further shared powerful ideas that emerged ashe gained exposure to various large-scale, medium and small projects throughout his career.

Luxury is making the ordinary extraordinary

“We were designing an office campus for a client way back and I realized that when you use materials that fit your design and creativity if your focus is completely on creativity there are two ways to approach it. One, where you buy expensive materials, durable, tested, sustainable and fit into your budget, are high-performing, and can be seamlessly integrated within the kind of technology, buildability, timelines and make a space luxurious. For me luxury is making the ordinary extraordinary. How do you use products in a creative way that even the highly priced products, high-performing products can be integrated into a low budget project? That has been the focus of our journey. When we work on a project which is 10,000 square foot to a lakh square foot, we’ve implemented this. We have been successful in making the ordinary extraordinary through our creativity, bold choices and bold use of colours. If you communicate appropriately to your suppliers, to your client, about why a particular design is in a particular way can bring everybody to the same platform. I would like to share that learning with everyone that doesn’t reject a material because it’s 3000 rupees a square foot but use it proportionately in your design. Don’t discard a technology which seems expensive to maintain. It’s important as designers that we embrace everything that can upgrade or enhance the lives of our users at offices.”

It was truly inspiring to understand the design process that guaranteed exceptional delivery known to be AdEelite’s forte. Ashish revealed powerful ideologies embedded in the very core of his work ethic and vision for the industry’s growth. His people-centric approach is a key definer of successful relations that have shaped his decorated career as a person who enjoys interacting with others.

Design is a relationship of people with the world

“When you’re trying to make people open and you’re bringing them closer, the process has to start right from day one and not just when you are presenting a design scheme. Design scheme presentation is the conclusion of how you have already agreed with a client. They have to see your approach come out. Design is a relationship of people with the world. 40% of our industry works that way.”

Ashish began to shed light on the trends in the industry that he sees as integral to sustainability and creative expression.

(Interview PART-2)

Making money is secondary to the value you add to a space

“I see a trend in our industry. What is the first thing a vendor asks an architect? “What’s the budget?” The moment we realize that the budget is less, our interest changes. Be it an architect I’ve seen in my peers, a supplier, or a vendor, our approach is that luxury is not just using expensive products or working with high-budget projects. Luxury is making the ordinary extraordinary. Just because the budget is big doesn’t mean you show all the high-budget products. Our approach should be that you treat the client on a low budget with the same respect that you would give to a high-budget client so that it becomes a relationship. You would want the best for yourself. We have to treat each and every client with the same respect irrespective of what money they are spending. I see a huge gap among the vendors when it comes to product display or time that they give to the client. If the budget is less, it would be a less hearty interaction. The moment you ask “what’s the budget?” you have branded the client based on how much they’re spending. That needs to change. You should stop asking the client what their budget is and give them all the same respect regardless. I think that’s something we have been very successful at and it has resulted in clients coming back to us, for repeat business multiple times. 98% of my firm’s business is repeat business because of that approach. We have started projects where the client had less than 1500 Rupees. Through the project, they have ended up spending 2500 because they’ve learned the value of spending that money. Just because the project is low priced, I don’t give it to my junior guy.”

The evolution of design practices

“When it comes to project design and execution. Clients, PMC’s, Architects, all give a lot of importance to project design. One of the top challenges we continue to face is that today I’ve got a design brief, the client wants to see it the fifth day while the PM wants to see it the third day, but we get a call in the evening asking if the rendering is complete. A lot has happened in the last three years, since 2017 onwards, where the boundaries have all dissolved as you were picking from my website. Today PMCs are doing design and build. All the MNC’s are doing design and build. Contractors are doing design and build. How much time are people getting to design?”

The Best creators imbibed the expressive insights and further delved into an array of challenges that the industry faces. Ashish stated the strength in his field is in overcoming challenges through collaboration and effective communication. Ashish also used examples of some big projects he worked on that have offered an opportunity to express creativity and team spirit.

The evolution of design practices

“During execution, the challenge we face a lot of time is the changes. Because we don’t spend adequate time during the design phase, and the project goes to execution, they end up doing a lot of changes during the execution phase which results in change orders, requires amendment of purchase orders, then it requires corporate approvals for the enhanced budget, resulting in the project finally suffering. How I have overcome this challenge is by moving away from projects that are extremely time-bound. Today, architects have already worked on a palette of rendering and are not given enough time. So, they show you a rendering that previously was designed. So, what we have done in our design approach is to divide or take away importance from the final rendering, which often I take criticism for, makes the design presentation very elaborative. This allows the first design presentation to ask a lot of questions to the clients. If the lease period is for five years plus, then a month of the extra rental should not matter. Then we explain the economics of it. We explain how important it is for them to see the furniture, see what they’re buying and not just go with the market trends. The clients who resonate with that approach, we’ve worked with them.”

The story of TESCO

“One of the largest projects we did, TESCO, the client gave us almost three months for design. We explained that we are doing something that will last for 10 years for you. It was not a lease period; it was their own building. We were able to do justice and they saw the justice being done to the project. People loved the output. Another way we’ve overcome these challenges is by making clients visit the other facilities that we’ve done. When they see the importance that goes into every aspect, be it the selection of materials, the selection of technology, the ergonomics, lights everything. That’s how we have overcome these challenges of time and making sure the projects are delivered with how they were intended.

The market today is so dissolved that everybody is doing design & build. Somewhere the focus on design and creativity is lost. The entire focus is on completing projects fast. Execution suffers when you don’t give ample time for designing. Give ample time for designing so that the projects are executed within the budget without any hiccups and the importance goes to the quality of the delivery.”

Ashish then revealed some key pointers that define the client fulfilment on each project and his success with offering the best quality.

A balance of design and project management

“60% of the clients are looking out for spend budget. But 100% of my clients are looking at creativity, out of box thinking, where the product selection has to be of high performing. With the assets being the performance of the product, seamless delivery, easy maintenance and how can we build it fast or save time? All clients want their spaces to be state-of-the-art, something unique. That’s why they choose us. They know we will give them the time that they deserve or require. In our organization, I lead the design cell and the design initiatives with a very good team and our engineering division is led by Ramesh, who is our director of services and projects. Our clients want a balance of both design and project management understanding, time understanding, and services understanding. Number one would be creativity. They look or have creativity with us. Easy buildability and easy maintenance would be number two and three. The project budget is number four and sustainability. There is a lot of focus on human needs with technology. Cost is also an important part as each client looks at the budget. The perfect blend of creativity and a budget. Easy availability and quality materials. New concepts are how we have won most of our projects as well. We have been able to customize concepts for the customers. Each of our projects would show you that no two look the same.”

The creative process at AdEelite explained

“What we do is a similar approach to what most architects have. We do a lot of interrogation, ask a lot of questions and do workshops. The most important thing that our organization does is that we conduct multiple workshops with the stakeholders. Most corporates who have worked with us have agreed for top management to have a workshop. We have workshops with business leaders under the top management, to understand their needs. We spend a lot of time going to their offices and spending time with their individuals. We share questionnaires that are answered by these teams. We look at the budget of the project, what kind of technology enhancement the project deserves. How will sustainability, updated technology will play a vital role in space design? A building we’re building in RMZ eco world, or a building which is not by a top A grade builder, we try to understand the infrastructure available to the client and what it needs. It all goes proportionately into the lease agreement the clients have signed or the intent to be in that space. We also look at whether the client has the potential within that space to grow, or whether infrastructure or people-wise the space gets enhanced. We work out strategies from the beginning which will allow transformation and upgradation of their spaces with minimal disturbance to their operations in the longer run. How we organize spaces is to focus not just on the function following form, or how the flow should be. We look at how agile the space can be, how open the spaces can be and how natural light can bring in the balance. We try to make our spaces very playful. Our approach with many of our peers is to bring in a lot of playfulness.

An R&D centre where 60% of users were PhD holders above the age group of 45. Big debate when we started applying colourful materials on-site. They said that it wasn’t what they expected. Then we conducted a workshop with them to tell them about a colour-scheme which is inspiring on a daily basis is important. Then they agreed and the client was very happy. It’s all about how you organize and prioritise. A lot of organization goes into allocating the right budget, space allocation, where and how you place which function based on the project budget has been something we have tried our best over the past few years. A natural flow from the reception to the office space to the meeting room, we have reversed all of it. Bring the reception into the centre of the office space, allow people to enter, the cafe becomes part of the reception so people feel welcomed. Many other peers have also tried similar approaches, but we have been focusing on that a lot.”

Travel, workshops, conferences, presentations, launches and research

“I travel a lot to attend these product fairs and product and design conferences in Germany, Italy, Dubai. I have not been doing much within India, which I should do. We spend a lot of time, almost three times a year I travel. When you see things on a global level about what’s going to impact, you realize that the global trends that are launched in these events are a year or a year and a half ahead of what comes to India. We also allow our product suppliers and vendors to update us regularly through newsletters and product presentations. We attend their new product launches a lot. We meet and see what they are launching in their showrooms. And a lot happens through research on websites. We have a design research team within the office that meets. We also visit factories to see how the products are built. I have travelled extensively throughout the world to see how the products are designed & manufactured. That is something that not many young people are encouraged to do. But I would say that you should grab every opportunity if you get one, because that’s what tells you how the new trends will get transformed into your spaces. Our design research team is tasked to look at new designs, new trends and technologies. 40% of my organization is focused on technology and not just interior design products.”

(Interview PART-3)

Building relationships and building architecture

“There are a few defining moments in my career. Understanding the value of relationships has been a defining factor. I think I realized that relationships are what matters more than everything else pretty early. 50% of how creative you are, how good you are as a designer and leader, depends on relationships. If you have to lead people you have to believe in relationships. Your relationship with clients, your staff, your carpentry team, the painter on-site and that realization and the love for other human beings is a defining moment. That realization enabled me to start my own firm AdEelite 12 years back. 50% of our office staff has remained with us for the last ten years. I am still working with the first client I worked with ten years back. I would also say the support I’ve received from my family adds on to the three defining moments of my career. My family has backed me in every possible way. You have to be experimental in your career. Today, the technology enables a lot of access. But you have to keep experimenting, developing new ideas and transforming them into established ideas.”

Truly, the expression in Ashish’s thoughts were magnificent for the morale that this fraternity truly embodies. People are the centre of architecture and relationships are the determinant of success. After all, we are building for people. He further continued with a clear case study that showed his intent to better our world, one project at a time.

Making the world better one project at a time

“When you are designing a 5 lakh square feet floor plate is 50,000 square feet, you’re basically designing that 50,000 square feet floor. The rest of the ten floors is eventually a replica. You may try to change the cafe on every floor or the colour scheme a little. But what we’ve done is that even if you’re designing a 50,000 square feet office space, we realized that each and every space, whether 20 meeting rooms, no two meeting rooms look the same. It adds a lot of pressure on the contractor, suppliers and my team. But, being creatively experimental is also a defining moment. Because if I wasn’t that, then it would not have defined the career into what it is today. If I only went by the trends of the industry or what everybody else is doing, or look at how many high budget clients I have, then it just doesn’t reach a realization that tells you about creativity.

There is already a subtle start and it’s becoming a huge transformation, where the architect becomes a part of the turnkey contractors, a part of the IPC like JLL or Cushman & Wakefield. Already there is a change in the industry. More importance being given to creativity than just brands is important. Focusing on creative solutions can help our industry a lot. Not that we are not creative as designers in our fraternity or industry, but we are following a lot of trends that are influences of global trends. As an industry, architects cannot get into research, without the budget, bandwidth or time to put ourselves to developing product design. Product companies like Steelcase, Hayworth, or carpet suppliers and ceiling suppliers have the bandwidth to influence the trends and that’s what’s happening. The top three things would be for architects to start small groups to collaborate with suppliers and manufactures to start focusing on sourcing locally. That would be a true transformation. That’s what’s missing in our country. In architecture you are sourcing locally, a lot of materials are locally sourced to go into a building. A lot of my batch mates who do residential projects are very creative with architecture. In interiors, we are dependent on a lot of research and testing of products before a product gets classified as safe to use or sustainable to use. The collaboration of the entire industry coming together would bring more focus on creativity.”

“Architecture is the only true reflection of mankind.” - Ashish Sachdev

“In our industry, there is a lot of influence in developing technologies and global suppliers. More interaction like the Best Creators, coming together for specific topics which are not driven to sell products or know suppliers reaches a larger goal. Develop solutions together for the next ten years. It’s not just about doing something for the short-term future.”

His keen insights into shaping the future of architecture were a revelation to us, who admired his passion and enthusiasm for a brighter future where everybody is held accountable for the good that we impart in this world.

A message to the future of architecture and design

“Breathe creativity, drink creativity and be creative, while focusing on communication. In our days, we di’t have cell phones, laptops, but there was a lot of interaction. Even now there’s a lot of interaction, but it’s becoming difficult to interact with aspiring architects. They prefer using text messages and I don’t want to sound too old but focus on human interaction is necessary. Relationships and creative focus are what will combine an aspiring architect’s career with enhancement. What happens is today, there’s so much photographic information available. From the morning we get up to Instagram to the moment we sleep with Instagram, there may be a lakh images in a day. For aspiring architects it’s important that they disconnect themselves from over-photographic information that they are exposed to. During late nights, we sit at the office, take out our sketchpads and the creativity flows. Architects should be watchful of the overflow of information to remain creative. Creativity doesn’t just come from looking at a great picture on a website or a book or Pinterest. Creativity comes from human interaction, where you understand, interact, empathize and let intuition take over. You have to allow yourself to be intuitive. The only way to get intuitive is to cut yourself from exploding information that comes your way on a daily basis.”

Further expressing his vision for the evolution of modern architecture, his immense constitution has been the basis to our interactions. He is a powerful force in the world of architecture and his success is a mirror of humility, intuition and true expression. We then were treated to a list of challenges that are faced by architects and how transparency is the key to fruitful relationships

Transparency is the mantle to every project execution

“Vendors and suppliers are the legs of our industry. We sit somewhere on the brain side and maybe that’s not a great example, but vendors are what takes things ahead. There’s a lot of good information, good products that they keep bringing in. Some level of transparency has to come in. I understand there’s a shelf-life of a product. A new product entering the industry is priced high. We architects are continuously struggling to focus on the creative side, and a lot of support is required from vendors. I understand the challenges of contracts paying late, but if you start interacting with younger team members of the organization, the information flows well. It’s important that there’s transparency of pricing and consistency of pricing. I do understand the economies and scale. When someone is buying 500 chairs, the price will be different from someone who buys 5 chairs. That should remain. But focus on bringing creative products rather than products that are only profitable. For time immemorial, good products result in good relationships, and good relationships lead in good products experienced by the clients and the architects. Even if your profits are getting crunched, you are earning a relationship. For Indian suppliers, vendors and traders, focus on newsletters. That’s something which is so missing. Use newsletters as a medium. A lot of newsletters, a lot of information is on the web, focus on social media, focus on product presentations as well. Your digital presence should be so good that the architects, product designers should all call you. That focus must be there among the vendors of the industry.”

Effective leadership and the way forward

“Turnkey contractors deliver good quality at the right price and they are already doing a great job. What I would also recommend is to bring focus on the creative side. A good price is forgotten. When you go and buy a Toyota car or a Volvo, paying two lakhs more will be forgotten by the customer, but how you were treated brings the customer back. I made a creative solution that looked more than its actual value. That’s something that turnkey contractors can focus on, a creative approach. Give importance to the architect’s recommendations and suggestions and be consistent with it. IPC’s and turnkey contractors often change their opinion of products at the last moment. Be upfront and transparent with the architects so that the creative approach comes alive.

Today leaders have to be team players. Let go of the pedestals and big cabins. The world is not as it was ten years ago. Leaders today should focus on becoming team players and treating people equally. This is something I’ve learned from other leaders. I’m applying this because I’ve seen other leaders do that. When we spend a lot of time with top MNC’s and corporates, there are best practices we must take from their leadership values. “ To be continued.>>