Associate Director, Design-SWBI Architects (Interview PART-1)
Rachita ’s story of her design career is a truly fascinating.She completed her architecture in India in 1999, after which she moved to Bahrain. The firm she was working for later posted her in New York, during the early stages of her career. It was during the Twin Towers incident, that she moved back to India. During, this time Rachita had children and settled in India as an architect and designer. For more than 20 years, she has been pioneering architectural design and philosophy at SWBI. The journey has been filled with challenges and the Best Creators were graced with her insightful views about the fraternity and the way forward. We have dissected the interview into key segments to shed light on the propensity and vigour required to excel at the top of architecture.
Rachita credits her achievements to what this industry has taught her. She shares her experiences and her firm belief in simplicity of Design and the sheer importance of setting the right expectations with the clients. In line with the Best Creators vision of making the fraternity more accessible to share knowledge and expertise, we asked her a few questions, to which the responses have been segmented into key takeaways.
When asked about her guiding philosophies, Rachita framed it for us in a phrase, “Keep It Simple Stupid.” The phrase was first shared by one of her college professors. He would usually use this statement to unclog the thinking of a student who he felt had reached a roadblock and was not able to overcome it. This, she felt was the most defining statement of her life. Further expanding on this philosophy, Rachita said that to” Keep it Simple Stupid”usually turns out to be one of the most difficult things in life. Our brain functions in very complex ways. Sometimes when there is a lot of unprocessed information lying around, we are overwhelmed with the complexity. This percolates into our lives manifesting itself in many roadblocks. On the contrary, when one has researched and studied a subject in great depth, processed information related to it, made choices: some good some bad, they have gone through the learning curve. They acquire a deep understanding on that matter and this helps them make things simpler for the others who have yet not gone through the churns. Only if one is clear in their heads with the particular concept, can they make things seem so simple that anyone can see what they perceive. As Design consultants and practitioners, this phase of the learning curve is extremely important according to Rachita. It is this level of understanding of the trade that she constantly aspires for, imbibing all that she can learn along the way: whether it is from clients, her seniors, her colleagues or her juniors.
To truly adopt the above-mentioned philosophy, Rachita feels that we need to create a framework that encourages intuitive thinking
When information and data is organised in a manner that is easy for the human brain to read and identify, it encourages intuitive thinking. It is akin to cataloguing library books chronologically. If you know that you want to find the book “Three men in a Boat”, you would know where to look for it. While designing for their clients at SWBI, there are large teams involved. There is a lot of information to be processed. There is lot of data to be retrieved and shared: within the team at SWBI, Subconsultants, vendors, etc. and usually a lot of hands are simultaneously reaching out for the same information. Unless there is a very well-defined structure to the structuring of data within the organisation, it would lead a lot of confusion giving rise to many complexities.
This requires an extremely disciplined way of working which each and every member of the team needs to adopt and adhere to. A simple and easy way to file information, Rachita feels is crucial to any organisation. “We at SWBI pay a lot of attention to establishing a framework that allows the teams to organise all the data in a manner that is easy to retrieve and process.” When a team is working on a project, a lot of time is spent on identifying the right drawings and information required for execution. But if it is organised properly, and there is discipline within the team to file information in a particular manner, it makes it easier to track down and study the project requirements and share the right solution.” Organizing the information formulates a mental pattern that helpspredict what to expect, encouraging intuitive thinking.
Setting such a framework also helps setting the expectation right with clients for SWBI.Pre-establishing the stages of a project in terms of time and deliveries helps the client pre-empt what to expect. Establishing the right expectations to the client really helps in better client relationships which have usually translated in repeat business for SWBI.
When asked about greatest challenge at work and her Mojo to overcome it, Rachita stated that meeting the expectations of your client is the greatest challenge. There are usually a hundred benchmarks that you are constantly evaluated on: personally, and professionally. Some are set by your peers, some by the teams that you work with, some are set by your clients. The key to standing up to the challenge usually entails meeting the expectation of your evaluator: client taking precedence over the others. Expectations area met when aspirations are understood. Therefore, the greatest challenge is always getting into the skin of the client. You aren’t designing for yourself; you’re designing for them. You have to really feel and understand what they want. Unless you understand the aspirations that drive a particular project, you cannot do justice to it.
Getting into the skin of the client is the most difficult thing to achieve because it takes time. Rachita goes on to say that in her field, where she does interior fit outs for organisations, it’s not just one person involved. There are multiple stakeholders for a single project. It’s not just the expectation of one individual, but different departments of an organization functioning at various levels that are to be met. Getting into themind-set of a single individual is easier than understanding an organization’s cultural ethos. That’s an organizational culture that you have to understand and imbibe. In addition, there are tangible goals and requirements set by the various departments. You have to fulfil those and go through the process of approval for five different departments of an organization. When there are various stakeholders, recognizing their expectations and getting their approval is the biggest challenge that determines a project’s success in this field.
It is this Discovery phase when done right, which sets the tone of the product to follow.
While Dev was pondering over the philosophy of ‘keep things simple,’ he was intently studying this process of making things simple for everyone’s understanding and functioning. It seemed akin to an assembly line in the production industry wherein the process is a pre-established one to facilitate production of a quality product in an efficient way. It was a perfect blend of industrial expertise delivered precisely. The next question that followed was “how do you keep yourself updated on new trends and designs?” to which Rachita was quick to provide her valuable insights.
Research and self-education is the basic essence of being ahead of the game. Rachita explained that the genesis of SWBI is based on being thorough with your research and study: whether it was updating oneself on the latest trends, or information regarding the latest technology available in workspace designs, or becoming adept at the latest software available in the market; Self education and constantly upgrading oneself is the only way to stay relevant to the times. It is as truer for the Design industry as it is to other fraternities: say medicine or law.
There are many industry pioneers who initiate a lot of research and produce white papers. They usually cover the entire spectrum of the industry, not just the designer point of view, but statistics and behavioural studies which are driven by the ever evolving way of working. It is these studies that are published as white papers which provide deep insights to the designers. Common platforms on which all the stakeholders of the industry come together and share their ideas, is a great stimulant to fresh and original thinking. Webinars had become a great way of exchanging such information during the pandemic, and they helped people share their opinions on what would be driving the change in our approach to design going forward. There might not be clear answers at the end of these sessions, but they do bring forth a lot of information that individuals can process and use to their advantage and sensibilities. This exchange of ideas, is essential to our industry to constantly reinvent itself and progress.
When asked about the top things clients look at when designing a space, having a central concept stood out as the key attribute of any project for SWBI. Rachita says that if you have a central concept or a central story, everything else falls in place. Clients expect their story to be told. It is really important was to have a story that was riveting enough to hold the attention of your client and adopt it as the central idea behind the space they want to inhabit apart from a great layout, great choice of furniture and a well-rounded budget. In the past 20 years of her expertise, she says that it is the story that is the soul of any design and is extremely important to the clients. This story needs to be told in conjunction with the people who own the space, at the core of the exercise. SWBI has forever endeavoured to create such stories with designs that are timeless, with materials that are sustainable, within budgets that meet their targets with Wellness and Sustainability being intrinsic to these designs.
The following question was about the things she feels can change this industry for the better.
As a supplier of building materials to the industry, Dev was keen on hearing Rachita’s thoughts about things that can drive the industry forward. He even shared his thoughts on the subject “I think the approach which architects take in designing a space, if it is holistic, it can change the industry. If their approach takes care of each perspective of the environment, it can change the industry. That’s what I feel as a material supplier. I have a wider view in mind, but that’s what I feel.”
Rachita while answering this question explained that Architecture today was an expression of the constant evolution that this industry has undergone from times immemorial. Historically speaking, architects have put to shape in stone and concrete the dreams and aspirations of their patronisers: be it the Taj Mahal, Lutyen’s Delhi or a Trump Tower. Today the same role has been divided into many team players that come together for the realisation of a project. They include not only the space designers but also the construction manager, the material supplier, the contractor, the Facilities Manager and so on and so forth.
“We should all understand that we are part and parcel of the same team. Collaborative effort is the only thing that can make us be in sync with the times. Times will change and we have to change with it, and the only way we can do that is when we collaborate with everybody. Whether it’s a contractor, a material supplier, a designer or the client, we all have to educate ourselves with the changing times, realize the trends and structure our solutions accordingly. While the architects and designers are key players in these ever evolving trends, ushering in better times for the industry requires a much more collaborative approach from all involved to take it to several notches higher.”
The next question was about leadership.
“I think leading a team is similar to the functioning of a well-oiled machine which has its various components. A leader should know what part each member of his team should be playing to make the machine function smoothly and very efficiently.” Rachita said.
Do not expect “fishes to climb trees and monkeys to swim.” Each individual has his or her strengths and weaknesses and effective leaders recognize that. A leader should not measure all individuals on the same scale. In fact, the leader should know how to bring together the right mix of people that can come together for a common purpose and contribute individually in the overall success of the team: a team that fits together, that stays together. You cannot have clones of a similar kind put together for a task. The output of such a team would not only be uninspiring but boring. On the other hand, Leaders should be able to bring together people with different calibre, different capabilities and different talents in a cohesive way, and inspire them by example to bring forth their best potential. Only when you have the intention of bringing out the best in people, can your leadership be truly effective.
The conversation was ended on a powerful note that resonates with professionals across the industry, and the world. The importance of choosing the right team and standing by each other, working together and sticking together is vital to the success of any organization or any endeavour.
“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.” – Michael Jordan. To be continued. >>