Shweta Grover

Director-CRE, DSP Design (Interview PART-1)

The following extract is from the Best Creators interview with Shweta Grover, an industry leader in the field of architecture and design. As we explore the experiences and learnings of the industry, we take to the pioneering forces in the world of architecture and construction. The excerpt reveals powerful ideas that fuel the progression of modern architecture into the forefront of innovative technologies and best practices.

Emerging with the changing world of architecture

“I did architecture from Delhi and I will not say that I was totally tuned into what being an architect was. More than two decades back, we didn’t have that kind of exposure to what field we choose to take. I spent my college years, 5 years in Delhi. I was always a self-ambitious and driven person, insisting that whatever I did should be done well. I started working with top professionals, like pioneers of architecture in Delhi. Ranjit Sabikhi, Sumit Ghosh, and other top firms comprised of my six years after college, mainly large scale developments in commercial and residential.

It was a coincidence that in 2006 I started dabbling with interior architecture. I did a bit of hospitality experience. Workplace Design was opening up as an exciting new vertical. I happened to meet Anurag Srivastav from Space Matrix who interviewed me and insisted that I join the team. That’s how my journey started in workplace design. I was with them for 3 years, and that was my foundation. I was exposed to the whole industry of workplace design, understanding the processes, design and build, RFPs, Business Development, various facets of Workplace.

Thereafter I met Bimal from DSP and I started the Delhi NCR studio for DSP. It was a venture with risk and excitement both to start up something at a young age. It’s been 13 years now. It’s been a very eventful journey to come this far and make a place in the industry for both DSP and me. When you are running things and driving business, teams you have to think like an entrepreneur and not just as a designer. You have to think beyond your given tasks. You have to create tasks and scale to the heights that you have envisioned for yourself and the company. A lot of great projects delivered across many cities in India from my end with my team.  Some great client and industry relationships created. A lot of people mentored. Everybody does not get that exposure or that opportunity at the right time in life. I was very lucky to get that and to be able to prove myself.

At architecture school in TVB, the learning was very global and progressive. It has a very wide exposure through my global travel and interactions which has taught me how to deal with various subjects and issues. That thought process has got me this far. I make sure I impart my knowledge and streamline the process for young team members. That’s very important for me, teaching and mentoring. That’s the only way to build up this ecosystem of learning and being collaborative. We still have to give design that importance, like it is globally, where architects and designers have a huge platform and play a vital role to create a beautiful nation. We’ve come a long way in the last two decades, I’m sure the next two decades will be much better. Technology has brought about this change by shrinking the world and getting people to talk to each other.

During COVID-19, everybody has become comfortable with digital technology and working from anywhere, that this learning phase has been very good. It is going to improve certain patterns in our work life. Though forced, there could be some great takeaways from it. I never thought that Shweta could work from home even once a week. I would feel the lack of control, not sure whether that model works and in six months I have realized that all of us have become so independent, that I don’t need to chase my team and my team doesn’t need me beyond a certain number of hours in a day. If work comes, everybody knows how to manage it at their own responsibility. We are working better now across cities as well.  We are seeing better synergy among people across geographies, because of how we are working online with virtual collaboration. And you don’t need to take a flight and go meet a client for everything, or run across the town to make sure you are there for a face-to-face meeting. Some things have improved drastically.”

A journey to empowerment

“When we talk about women empowerment, I have been lucky. When I started DSP when I was very young, everybody was sceptical about whether a young girl could run a unit. In fact, run a lot of things, not just about business, responsibilities for every project delivery, mentoring and leading the teams etc. Though there was scepticism, everybody accepted and became part of a larger team and I feel amazed how things have fallen in place. Competing with the legacy of known architects and coming up to their level is a very thrilling experience. It shows that yes there are challenges but there are ways to overcome it. Being in NCR, people say you it is the toughest market and how do you manage it. I don’t think people have problems with me. If you’re good to people, good to clients and good to your work, people just accept you. It just merges with the well-being of the fraternity. I am amazed that for 13 years, I’ve been doing it all by myself. At one point, I was very young and people would say that I was going to fail. But it’s good that I played the game right.”

Building your career holistically

“I always believed that you should be a well-aware person. I always tell my team members that I can only teach you to a point. It’s all about how much you self-learn. You have to always be on the learning curve. It has to be a self-motivating, self-driven initiative. The more knowledge you have and the more you bring on your projects, is how you’re going to increase the scale in life. You have to keep learning and analysing what you’re learning. That’s the most important skill

If one understand the subject well and delivers the work successfully, the industry and clients speak for it. Design is a very intuitive and bespoke process, everyone has that unique way to solve or address a project. The successful outcome is more than enough appreciation for a designer. To be continued>>>

(Interview PART-2)

The importance of workflow processes in an organization

“First of all, we are lucky that we are not one of the organic, small time firms. We were an organization, and I was very lucky that I worked with the top guys from the industry. So, we were following the global systems from the very beginning. The global projects and how you can deliver projects with the right quality of design and detailing. Quality and standardization are very important. I cannot relate to a smaller firm, or any firm that does not have processes in their system. You need to have a structure in your organization, processes by which you are sure of the quality of the design, and documentation that everybody is pulling out is perfect. We are working with the top corporate clients in the industry, so they deserve the right international quality of work. Putting all the processes together and ensuring that everybody is following it, and your training people into those processes and platforms is very integral to the growth of a company. That is something we are very particular about and I am very particular about quality of work. You may say I am finicky for perfection. I really want perfect work, not shortcuts. Right from the last letter, we are architects, we have to have that perfection in our work. That is something that goes a long way. You set the culture of your organization, of your studio, and it goes through like a machinery, a well-oiled machinery. If you don’t set up a process, you will only have organic and uncontrollable work. You have to have discipline, resilience in the team members that need to come up the learning curve if they want to become part of the team. This type of structure and process is very important from my perspective.

Obviously, design, creativity is all important but what’s your foundation? Your foundation must be very strong. Foundation on work etiquette, foundation on quality of work, foundation on processes and how you hold yourself as an organization or team handling clients or project managers, including the many external people that we work with. You as a professional is communication yourself with these people, so how you carry yourself is important, all of it as a professional.”

As you learn, you evolve with ideas

“When a doctor finishes a MBBS program, you have to decide what you want to specialize in, whether you want to be an eye doctor, do surgery and so on. Similarly in our field, we have various verticals like master planning, architecture, shell & core, environment, workplace design, F&B spaces, retail spaces and so on. What I have realized is that it takes a decade to learn things properly, become a master at your craft. You can’t think that you can learn it like Maggi noodles. It’s a long learning process. Any architect should first understand the various avenues available for being a qualified architect, and then ask yourself what inspires you, what kind of spaces inspire you. Then decide on the right path. Make sure that you are learning, analysing and becoming a skilled professional in that area. Do it with passion, and commitment, for only then will you excel. I don’t think mediocrity is fun. Be a leader, be a pioneer and get recognized for your work. That’s very thrilling. So, drive yourself in the right direction. Start from there and I’m sure there will be other things you can pick up on the way to professional success. I shifted gears from hardcore architecture to workplace design, and I think I did a very good thing. I realized that this is where I belonged. Some people who don’t like interior workplace design, they are happy doing architecture. Know your mind first and excel in it.”

Prove your mettle to establish your presence

“The challenges have not been many, but the biggest is always when you start up, you are competing with the known legacy of architects or firms in the city or nation. So, you have to prove your mettle with respect to that, with project managers and clients. I think for the first couple of initial years, that’s what everybody goes through. How do you prove your mettle, and how do you show your difference or your value addition compared to the legacy of firms and people around? That was an initial challenge, but I overcame it because there was something about the quality of work, and delivery that did bring me on the same page, of the same legacy of qualified architects who are doing very well. You have to take up that challenge, break the glass ceiling, make yourself visible, heard and compete with the given to come out a winner. The minute you’ve done it, you have to make sure that you’re continuously upgrading your skills and you are delivering better than your previous work. It’s a cycle, a graph that only should go up. You should avoid too many backs and forth into your path, where you are proving yourself to the clients. Your projects have to speak for themselves, your relationships should speak to the industry of what you are as an architect and what you bring to the industry. That’s how you get work. Because people know, it’s a small industry and everybody knows what you bring to the table, what kind of person you are and what kind of professional you are, and what kind of work can be expected from you. Work and relationships, and the quality of you as a person or organization speaks, making sure clients feel comfortable giving you a job because you take ownership. If you own a responsibility, you ensure you deliver it.”

Understanding design requirements through the client’s eyes

“In the last five years, workplace design has become strategy-driven, experience-driven work. We are not interior designers anymore, that somebody is doing a layout or somebody is doing look and feel and that’s that. The engagement has to be on various levels. You have to read a lot; you have to be self-aware and you have to be aware of what’s happening globally. And, you have to be able to communicate with the client on what he is actually looking for in the business they want here. It’s about understanding client needs, the needs of the people working there, the need of the organization, the need of the brand and the vision they have in mind. There are so many ways that one can design. There could be various options of design, or various ways to create a look and feel of an environment. Client is the owner of the project and you are the designer. Sometimes he may look at you for your vision, and you may look at him for his understanding of his vision. It’s a collaborative effort. At the end of the day, talk to the client, engagement is very important. Only if you engage do you know yourself, what you want to do for the project, and what the client wants to bring to the table for his organization or his team. There could be various stakeholders. It’s not like one man, or one woman is driving the entire vision. It could be various people. It’s a collaborative process, after a lot of discussions and thought that you have to try and bring the right solution for them. Don’t thrust your opinions and your solutions on a client. You will see that earlier on; a lot of architects had a certain known territory of a design language and they would work within that design language. But, we as the younger generation of architects are more fluent in that approach. We feel that we are designing for the client. Your language is secondary. You have to be a master of various languages, making sure that what the client wants is given to them. That’s why me and my team and whenever I do a project, I don’t just entrust my ideologies or a design language. It’s always varied in every project. It’s an experiment, something new we create and thus we try to evolve new things for every client. One should not get labelled that this project is this architect because it looks and feels the same across the board. I think that is done. It used to be a time where a lot of these great architects had a signature style. You may have a signature style, but you have to have flexibility and mastery over how you can create newer experiences, newer strategies for clients. That’s something we keep working on. Everybody’s needs, branding, ideologies and guidelines are different. There’s no one size fits all anymore.”

“In the last five years, workplace design has become strategy-driven, experience-driven work. We are not interior designers anymore, that somebody is doing a layout or somebody is doing look and feel and that’s that. The engagement has to be on various levels. You have to read a lot; you have to be self-aware and you have to be aware of what’s happening globally. And, you have to be able to communicate with the client on what he is actually looking for in the business they want here. It’s about understanding client needs, the needs of the people working there, the need of the organization, the need of the brand and the vision they have in mind. There are so many ways that one can design. There could be various options of design, or various ways to create a look and feel of an environment. Client is the owner of the project and you are the designer. Sometimes he may look at you for your vision, and you may look at him for his understanding of his vision. It’s a collaborative effort. At the end of the day, talk to the client, engagement is very important. Only if you engage do you know yourself, what you want to do for the project, and what the client wants to bring to the table for his organization or his team. There could be various stakeholders. It’s not like one man, or one woman is driving the entire vision. It could be various people. It’s a collaborative process, after a lot of discussions and thought that you have to try and bring the right solution for them. Don’t thrust your opinions and your solutions on a client. You will see that earlier on; a lot of architects had a certain known territory of a design language and they would work within that design language. But, we as the younger generation of architects are more fluent in that approach. We feel that we are designing for the client. Your language is secondary. You have to be a master of various languages, making sure that what the client wants is given to them. That’s why me and my team and whenever I do a project, I don’t just entrust my ideologies or a design language. It’s always varied in every project. It’s an experiment, something new we create and thus we try to evolve new things for every client. One should not get labelled that this project is this architect because it looks and feels the same across the board. I think that is done. It used to be a time where a lot of these great architects had a signature style. You may have a signature style, but you have to have flexibility and mastery over how you can create newer experiences, newer strategies for clients. That’s something we keep working on. Everybody’s needs, branding, ideologies and guidelines are different. There’s no one size fits all anymore.”

Learn to filter information for the best results

“There’s so much material on the internet. There’s so much learning you can do. Actively I’m going through a lot of stuff that is happening on projects, by designers across the globe. A lot of workplace design material, product related material is available. There is a lot of research and reviews which a lot of the product suppliers, services suppliers are doing globally. You just have to keep abreast and keep learning. And intuitively imbibe your learning into the ecosystem of project delivery and design. It’s like everybody can be given the same knowledge, but how it is translated into an individual’s work or understanding is unique to that individual. That is something that comes with how much, and how you have analysed to incorporate all the learnings around. There are so many international giants who have a lot of published material, projects getting published regularly and so on. You have to filter what you think you need to learn and what you need to know about. It’s a filtering process. You may skim through a certain article, but you may deep dive into something totally new to you. It’s a very individual learning process.” To be continued.>>