Rachita Khanna

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.

The philosophy of “Keep It Simple Stupid”

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.

Setting a framework for intuitive thinking

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.

The challenge of getting into the skin of your client

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. To be continued. >>