Shivani Gour

Studio Director, Associate, Design Synergy Leader–Gensler (Interview PART-1)

Shivani Gour was born and brought up in Delhi. She was brought up in a joint family, that has a lot of influence in her connect with the social and cultural context of what she designs. It has come from the way she was brought up to pay close attention to what others require. She completed her schooling from a convent in Delhi and later went on to graduate from CEPT, Ahmedabad. She owes a great deal of her success to the formative years spent at CEPT that molded her approach towards Design. Her initial years in the professional world were exploratory, where she tried her hands on interactive museums, exhibitions, furniture design, and craft-based designs.

She further moved on to a more core Interior’s practice in the Hospitality and Retail world. She worked with firms like PSDA and HBA, who are pioneers in hospitality design, and got to work on some top-notch hotels. In 2010 she moved to Bangalore, where she went on to work in the field of Aviation, Retail, Healthcare and Education. Throughout her career, she developed a diverse portfolio, that speaks of her spirit to take on new challenges with rigor. So far, she has had the opportunity to work on more than 12 airport terminals – (International and Domestic), focused on interior-planning and design and developed a thorough understanding of this sector’s needs which is much in need of the current times. All the diverse practice areas come naturally to Shivani. She usually distances herself from the standard stuff and leans towards a more creative and customized approach that requires fresh thinking. Her 20+ year journey is truly inspiring and a testament to the massive strides taken in this field.

Believing in the purpose of design

In this excerpt, we dissect the philosophies that guided Shivani through a decorated career of 20 years in the industry, where she reveals the role of belief in the process of design thinking.

She said, “I conduct my design processes believing in the purpose of design, which shouldn’t be forgotten. We have to look at what is the ultimate purpose of design and that is to improve life. It’s very generic but it’s important that we don’t forget it. Architects and designers often get distracted by the urge to create aesthetical compositions of forms, forgetting that all of that is created for the life that walks through it, and for the people who are going to experience it. The attention has to be brought away from the physicality of design to the experience of design. If we are more mindful of what experience we are creating, then it will surely make life better for its users and will duly serve its purpose.

Evidently, the design excellence of Shivani Gour is well-depicted in her statement, where she attributes the success of a project to the design process. Her belief in people stays fundamental to realizing that everybody plays a vital role in the success of a project. We asked her about workplace efficiency and she responded with insightful advice.

Understand your clients well by sincerely listening to them

How a client’s understanding is fundamental to furnishing the project requirements was something that Shivani repeatedly enforced as a design principle. She said, “It’s really important that we understand our clients well and for that listening is really important. Many a times architects get a gist of things and think that they know the solution. I think one has to stop oneself from jumping onto solutions too soon. It’s important to sincerely listen to the clients and understand why they are saying whatever they are saying. Many a times, clients suggest solutions, saying that they want specific design elements. That doesn’t mean that we give them exactly what they ask for, but it means that we should understand why they are saying so. An inquiry into their ‘why’ leads to much better solutions and enables us to advise them better by giving them more comprehensive and advanced solutions.”

Communication is the key

“It’s important to understand the ‘why’ behind whatever is being spoken. Plus, it’s important that the understanding is translated to the team because I’m not the only person who is designing – it’s a whole team which makes the design happen. Not just the team that sits on the drawing board, but also the team that goes and executes. It’s important that they all understand the ‘WHY’ and if I am able to become an efficient bridge between the client’s expectations and the team that’s delivering, we bring everybody to walk towards a common goal. This collaborative and transparent process can create really efficient and good projects with desired outcomes – An ideal picture would be that even the junior most carpenter on the site who’s hitting a nail, should know the big story behind a project. If he knows, he will be inspired to do it in the best way.”

The core of the matter retains fervent communication across all levels of a project, as the defining factor. Her commitment to sustainable architecture emerges from the commitment to people. Best Creators asked her about the learnings she would like to pass on to others in the same segment of design and architecture. Her response was heartwarming and truly inspiring to us, the Best Creators.

Believe in the process to nurture a universal design

“Believe in the process. Don’t be fixated to the final outcome – it will happen and it does happen! It’s important that we undertake a process that looks at the overall context and anything/ everything that can impact that design. Plus, implement a collaborative approach, because the more the perspectives that we respect and include in our design, the more universal the design becomes; the more acceptable and inclusive the design becomes. It’s important that we take a collaborative approach. It’s never my design. It’s never your design. It’s everybody’s design. Keep the process in a way that enables collaboration, where every voice has a say in the process.

(Interview Part-2)

Things change and we can evolve together

Shivani offers the Best Creators an optimistic approach to the ever-changing demands of the industry, where she has grown as a leading figure in the field of architecture & design. Her emphasis on collaboration as the fuel to success is an inspiration for others in the fraternity. With great pleasure, she introduces the challenges faced in the industry and how adaptability is a vital part of an architect’s journey.

She said, “Things change. Things are always changing. From the day the project begins and the first brief lands – from that day to when you hand over and even after you’ve handed over a project, the expectations and needs are always changing. The biggest challenge is how to cater to these ever-changing phenomena. One way to do so would be to make a design or a solution which adapts to the rapidly changing world. What I like about this profession is also that we call a ‘building’ a ‘building’ – a verb in continuous tense and not a noun. Because it is always building! I think that’s interesting because as and when people walk into it, it’s still changing and evolving forever. At any given point of time an end-solution has to function efficiently, but built forms do get dated. So, they need a refresher, a changed outlook and purpose. If we can just keep evolving with the built space that we create, we can all evolve together.”

This statement resonates with every creator, designers, builder or contractor in the industry. We can evolve together in changing times with a concrete plan that adheres to the purpose of architecture. Shivani then explored how the beginning of the project can be a guiding light towards the completion of a project.

Define the success metrics of a project and communicate it effectively

“ In the beginning of the project, if you are able to define the success metrics of the project, and set it out clearly to all stakeholders, then, once the design is complete, you will be able to reflect back and assess whether we have achieved what we desired. If expectations/ requirements change in the process, then the success metrics captures it for everyone’s common understanding.

We wanted to know more about her fascinating approach to the challenges of the industry. The best creators wanted to learn from the creator herself about the important steps involved while designing a space. To our ears, what followed was charismatic energy.

A collaborative approach and learn from each other

Shivani Gour said, “Have a collaborative approach. That is my biggest mantra. It’s never my design. By the end of the design process, one shouldn’t be able to tell between your idea or my idea. Everybody’s ownership should reflect in the creation of that piece by having a process that enables more collaboration not just within the design team, but with clients, vendors, and consultants. There’s so much we don’t know as designers. There are material vendors who are masters of their field and so are the consultant partners of their fields. There’s so much to learn from them. Having an approach which respects every partner in that making as an equal partner, not just a support, has always led to better solutions. Designers don’t know all, but surely can bring all together for a better creation.”

Her insightful practical solutions are hopeful for the future of architecture. If we can all learn from each other, we surely will create an environment that nurtures ideas into life. After all, that is the world of architecture summed up. As we moved further into the Q&A we stumbled across a powerful insight about keeping up to the changing times. Shivani Gour is a strong personality and her take on gathering information is rooted in the basis of our common humanity.

Keeping updated with information

“India is a land of dialogues. We talk so much. We love talking and reaching out to the other side to find out what’s happening. By actively involved in doing so, we learn a lot. Right from the era of Chanakya, we have encouraged dialogues and debates. All kind of interactions keeps one informed about what’s happening around in the world. It doesn’t have to be trends of the design world in a journal. We can set our own trends. But it’s important to know what’s happening around. A reasoning mind will always tell us where to head and what to do, but it’s important to stay more informed and inspired. By being in touch with various fields and people of diverse experiences, there’s so much inspiration one can get. Just looking at a ballet dancer or looking at a guy making a pot, there’s so much one can learn. Even a banking professional and how they look at the market has a lot to offer and so does a beggar on the street. Let’s not stick to design trends and design talks, but stay informed about everybody and anybody. The more informed we are, the better we can design.”

(Interview PART-3)

Furthermore, we asked her about her career and what defined her career at large. She responded with her gratitude for the people who taught her during college.

“I could not pinpoint any defining moment in my career. It’s been a continuous journey. I never sat to consciously design my career path. Just that I didn’t refuse any opportunity that came my way! But I would say that my graduation years at CEPT have taught me how to think and how to approach a problem – that is what has shaped my career. So, I give a lot of credit to my college and I owe a lot to it. In this entire process I have enjoyed what I do and that’s what brings the best out of us.”

Then the Best Creators set up for the key question. We asked her what her advice for aspiring architects would be. She is happy to share the importance of determination and perseverance. She outlined that every challenge is an opportunity to learn.

Every challenge is an opportunity to learn

She said, “I would say just go head-on and take whatever comes your way. I have never said no to anything. There were so many times in my career where I felt that I should run away from certain challenges. e.g. I remember avoiding electrical layouts when I began my career. I would be scared of doing them. Then came a project where I had to deal with electrical layouts of 52 interactive objects which had absolutely complex IT and electrical engineering behind it. I told myself – I’m not running away from here. Take whatever comes and it will shape you. Even if you don’t really achieve what you planned, you will still learn something from it. That experience of going through it is yours; that learning is your own. Just enjoy the process and you’ll come out great.”

After we realized the encouraging and optimistic advice from an industry leader like Shivani, it was time to share her knowledge with the rest of this fraternity. It is only right that her optimistic and determined thoughts were shared with the rest of the world of architecture. She told Best Creators about change being the agent that helps us design flexible solutions for each project.

Recommendations for the industry at large

“On a functional level, I would say that the world is very rapidly changing. What I’m always looking out for is how a system or product can help me be more flexible in what I am offering to the client. Whether its lighting or partitions or any system that we can think of, how can that enable more flexibility in the final design solution. If the product ranges can offer agility in the way we can use them, that can be a big boon in serving the changing needs. Just a few months back, there were so many spaces rented for commercial and office purposes which are suddenly vacated now. People are working from home and companies have adapted that as the new normal. There’s a huge amount of real estate which is looking for repurposing now. So does it mean that we are going to generate more waste by throwing away all that the spaces contained and spend resources and energy in bringing more new items. I wish everything was so flexible that it could be repurposed into some other functions. We could have saved so much time and energy and the carbon footprint. We need to build responsibly. Sustainability is not just a fancy lead certification we should get, but we have to sincerely try and build sustainably. As responsible contributors in the world of construction, if we can be more genuine in our approach and leave behind a better planet for the generations to come.”

We often hear about sustainability and in the case of building projects, Shivani reinstates sustainability as a collective effort required to head into the future. Her deep thoughts on the fabric of today’s architecture shows the underlying requisite of sustainable design. She urges building material suppliers and turnkey contractors to maintain transparency in communication. She offers an insight that collaboration on a project is the first step towards sustainable architecture. She also urges sustainability as the key focus in the years ahead.

Sustainable architecture has never been more important

“What the client is always looking for is to be informed about whatever is happening. That is what builds confidence with the client. They are more satisfied with the outcome, when they are part of the whole process. Whether it be cost or time or resources, just keeping the client informed creates a more supportive environment. It also eliminates clash of interests.”

Her thoughts of a supportive environment are necessary for any field. It is only through collaborative effort that design can take flight. She acknowledges the role each stakeholder plays in the success of a project. To conclude, Shivani expressed her thoughts about design being a profession of service.

Design is a profession of service

“Design profession is a service. If we keep that feeling in our heart, that this is our service to those who will be walking through these spaces, then our efforts would be genuine. That emotional connection towards service is beyond everything. It will change what you bring to the table. There will be no doubt about you lacking anywhere because you are genuinely trying to serve the people, serve the end user and serve the clients.” To be continued. >>