Sharmila Lakshman

Associate Design,  M Moser Associates (Interview PART-1)

Sharmila Lakshman, expert in the field of architecture and design. Her experiences in the industry have been condensed in this blog, in an attempt to impart wisdom and learning to the entire fraternity.

Sharmila began with an emphasis on the functionality of design. Her deep insights revealed a lot about the way a designer’s mind works. She introduced aesthetics as a fundamental, yet functionality as the core of architecture. With immense experience in creating corporate environments, recreational areas, institutional architecture and more, her 16 years were a pivotal aspect of her journey in architecture.

Great design is a holistic approach

“We do corporates, recreational areas, we do institutional areas, so we are into all the areas, it’s not particularly into one segment which is there. It’s a nice experience for all of us actually, and there is no end to learning. The moment you enter into a new project there is a new learning for it and that’s how it is.

Basically, great design is not only about aesthetics. The design has to be complete from all the aspects. It is not important only that the thing which looks good and aesthetically is appealing. It should be functional as well. So, for me design has to be functional, wow is the first key and having said that, it has to be functional, and it has to be user friendly when you are delivering it to somebody.

It has to be the way that you operate your phone or, you operate your laptop, or any product. The usefulness has to come out. Only aesthetics does not cut it. Few designers do work from that perspective that aesthetics is the prime priority, the next time onwards we see how the design evolves. But for us and for me specifically, on the day one when we start at the point one, we take care of all the aspects. So that at the end, the product is a nice fruitful product which comes out. To be a designer, and meet the client’s expectations as well.”

Sharmila then narrated her winning workflow that has contended a rapidly advancing industry with prestige and resilience. She stressed on the importance of a common understanding of the project requirements, and fulfilment.

Implementing a mutual understanding

“From a human perspective I have implemented a lot of things, meaning first when you get introduced to a client you have to understand the client thoroughly, you have to dig into their portfolio before starting their work, so that you understand them fully. Then the foremost thing is being humble and kind because without that you cannot move on. Being humble and kind actually relates to teamwork as well. Being a leader, I cannot work without my team. I have to create a space of understanding and growth. The saying of one-man army does not go with our industry specifically, because if I am leading a team, I have a team of designers who must deliver on the project specifications. And if I am not able to deliver the things required with my team, there is no point.

Carrying forward, taking all of them, having brainstormed with them, learning from them as well as giving your learning to them are the major things which actually, I have implemented and this has reproduced the efficiency of my team members, who have grown up by moving and taking challenges together.”

Her direct and practical response to handling work priorities as a lead designer is truly inspiring. With extensive experience in delivering large-scale, high-quality projects, Sharmila further shared some insight into the design perspective of things.

Great design combines with a human perspective

“There is a design perspective and a human perspective to every project. There is no junior and there is no senior. Yes, you have to respect your seniors and there has to be a level of seniority, but then you have to respect all of them equally. Being a junior support staff as well, mutual respect is fundamental to this profession. Once you treat them nicely all of them give you some or the other learning. From a design perspective as I have earlier mentioned that aesthetically it has to be good, but then the design equally has to be functional, and it has to be appealing to the client’s use, so that the client is much more comfortable in terms of accepting the complete handover of the project.”

(Interview PART-2)

“Any project which comes without a challenge, brings no fun in the project.”

– Sharmila Lakshman

Here enthusiasm was high and with a practical view of design influence, she delved into the core of her profession. She discussed the importance of challenges that help architects grow, broaden their horizons and produce quality projects for clients.

Resolving challenges in the way of work

“It’s really good fun to resolve challenges, and that’s how the journey begins and ends. Actually, sometimes arguments with clients also happen interestingly. Resolving those challenges where the opinions are different bring perspective to the project.

In terms of design, maximum of the times the mass and the structure of the buildings is really challenging being an interior designer. When you don’t have a hold on the architecture of the building, it can get tough. The bare shell is given to you, a footplate, or two three footplates are given to you. Sometimes the buildings are not compliant with the norms. Like I would not call that as a proper norm. I’ll not dictate that norm here, but then those that are not compliant from the norms perspective, can be challenging work. But from having just the right details, if we are delivering our project on interiors, we have to take care of all the norms. From a fire perspective also and from a green perspective, these days green is a priority, and everybody wants to get a green certificate for the project. These are the main things which are the top challenges and we’ve been resolving them by getting more fun out of delivering these projects.

If it’s a repeat client it’s much more fun as well as it’s much more challenging. Be it a new client, it becomes a little different in that case, in a repeat client you can’t give the same thing to them. It has to be different. It has to be an out of the box design every single time. So, for me that is much more challenging and interesting that way. Top things off with a smart design and then if you talk about a new client the client also understands, and we also understand. The understanding should be very clear that both of us are new. We understand that from our study what the client wants, and their study of us teaches us a lot. Like they must have studied our work from the market and they’ve come to us and that’s a different perspective all together. That’s a market review strength here which works wonders in this case.”

Sharmila talked about new trends and designs, things that boosted the productivity among her team to garner new concepts and envision projects from the scratch to finish.

Make your vendors, your friends!

“New trends and design internet is the best source but I would not say that the only source. That’s the best part about me that I am a very social human being from my professional life experience. So, I am very good at making new contacts with my vendors. I have made them friends as well and that helps business. So, I keep these relationships, I don’t deny them to come and meet me up so whenever I get time if they are calling me, I do communicate with them and take an update of what’s new in the market. That’s the best way to keep yourself updated

Firstly, the launches which are there I try not to miss them. Due to covid it has stopped all together. But then online sessions are still happening. I try to make sure that I am connected to that because if I am not updated to these then I am outdated to my design as well.”

To Develop an out of the box design

“There have been many defining moments in my career because I’ve worked with some interesting people. I would like to speak about two to three of them. So, in my first initial start of my career, I told you that I was with a company which used to do only the residential part of design and architecture. There have been many mentors in my life. And fortunately, I have met with very good people in these organisations as well. The first one was really good that in two years of time, he had sensed me and he’s detailed me in a way that I have understood the meaning of detailing in a project. Detailing means transitions, and anything that could bring out the aspects of a structure. What is detailing and how to resolve the details, I had understood. The funda has to be very clear.

The second turning point was that I got an opportunity to get involved in a team wherein I delivered a manual for pizza hut. It was a big thing because you are developing a manual which goes for five years, wherein all the pizza huts nationally that are getting delivered will be executed as per your manual that you have made. So that was a big thing for me. At that time, it was an exciting project. Then I got an opportunity to work for a project where I had to travel internationally, work with international designers. Understand, work in their office, understand their detailing and way of working. Because culture here and there is very different, it helped me grasp complex ideas rather well. For the past five and a half years I have been working with Aeon. With this diversified profile of Aeon, having hospitality, recreating, sample apartments, institutional buildings, hostels, restaurants all together, has become a defining part wherein I’m still growing onto the different levels of design and architecture.

I have two three mentors who’ve actually changed my sense of understanding as well. So, there are small things which you don’t understand. Being a growing designer, you will not understand in your years of six, seven, when you grow, you’ll not be able to understand the finer aspects of architecture. There are ways that you’ll not be able to write the emails or you’ll not be able to present yourself how to do that. If you get a good mentor, it’s really easy the journey becomes easier and then you grow accordingly.”

Having attributed her success in the industry to guidance and mentorship, Sharmila truly humbled the Best Creators platform who looked up to her insightful views about her career. She is a strong force in design, with a brilliant offering to the industry that continues to excite her with new ideas.

(Interview PART-3)

She then elaborated on ideas she insisted, were fundamental to the growth of a professional in the field of architecture and design.

Bridging the gap between generations

“You’ve to think into the design, whatever you are thinking there has to be a strong concept. You really cannot pick; copy paste and design something. There has to be a strong story and a strong concept behind it. You have to deep dive into the design which you are thinking of and the client’s mind, so that the design arrives from their brand value as well. For youngsters, I would really like to highlight that there is no age for learning and there is no ego in this industry. There is no space for ego and there is no age for learning. Keep calm and keep working.

I trained some of these designers wherein I’ve met multiple of them on a personal and professional level. They are living in their fantasies even if they are six or seven years experienced, they are living in their own fantasies of designing. They don’t think about what detailing and what design means, it is just an internet thing which is there in their heads. I would like it to highlight to them that they need to think from a contractor’s perspective, as well as an executive’s perspective while designing. Once you do that you will be able to make your design as a practical design. Otherwise, there is no point in simply researching ideas.

Things which cannot be executed and used well, there is no point in doing that.” She further elaborated on her industry insights about contractors, vendors and others in the fraternity. She voiced her concerns and the premise of building strong relationship with others in the industry, to contribute with ideas and growth together.

Bringing vendorship into perspective

“Vendors are doing their own job and they are well experienced in their industry, how to sell their product, how to display their product and they know their architects. What each architect wants, the vendors know. There are few of them that don’t understand, and once you meet them, you make them understand. It’s much easier for them to grow with you and get connected with you. However, the launches of the products which are there and communicating those launches to the architects was silently happening earlier. Now it is loudly happening. That’s very much important that few of them are applying correctly, and few are not so. I would like all of them to do this thing, where they urge transparency and share ideas. They should educate their architects with the new launches so that we are not outdated and the products are well used in the projects.”

“It is always good to make the money but at the same time you have to be loyal to your architect, your client, your project.” –  Sharmila Lakshman

Grow with your team

“Teamwork. People Skills, which is the most important thing. These are the keywords which I would like to use for being a leader. You need to begin at a leadership position and you need to take care of your team. Be humble and kind, no doubt about that.”