Principal Tapan Dharnidhar Consultants LLP (Interview PART-1)
In this generation of social media handles, following trends and cut-throat competition to have maximum visibility, it is indeed rare to find people who do not use social media to run their business. But then again, for someone who does not wish to ‘run a business’, it is not surprising that he never uses WhatsApp. AR Tapan Maharishi is indeed an inspiration for aspiring architects who is a fourth generation student of Vastu Shastra and is successfully running his own Architecture & Interior Design firm since 2014.
Tapan is of the firm belief that architecture and design should not be a business but be practiced as a discipline. And since Vastu Shastra is a science, it should not be solicited. He believes in keeping it simple, real, being efficient and honest in his work.
Tapan has been following the philosophy that, design and architecture; just like medicine, education and law should not be run as a business. He rues how over time all of these fields have fallen into the trap of business. Tapan has followed his principle very diligently right from the start of his own firm where they don’t solicit business. He admits at times it gets too idealistic in today’s times to wait for your work to be noticed by a prospective client and for work to come in. His design practice has no webpage / social media page / social media engagement, and he claims he has stopped carrying business cards for the last four years in a bid to test his belief. But inspiration lies in him running a successful design practice with projects scattered across the country purely on the basis of one-project-leading-to-another and getting new projects from people who have happened to visit a space designed by him. So then one is forced to ask whether he thinks he runs a successful practice and if so, what is his definition of success. To which his matter-of-fact reply is, “There can be no upper limit for success. To me running forty projects in a year or doing 5-star budget projects isn’t really the true parameter of success. Given its boutique approach, my practice avoids running more than 10-12 projects at a time, and the parameter of success for me is that I have never drawn a blank when I have received a query call from a site, hitherto; because I know what we have proposed in every corner of the project and what was the last discussion pertaining to any site glitch, whether it’s a 800 sq.ft. site or a 28,000 sq.ft. site”. He says, “To me, giving my hundred percent to every project is the only key parameter because the client has decided to hire me and not a bunch of staff in my office, and hence whatever little I might know about my field it is my duty to give it my all.
Given the exposure he has had to authentic literature on Vastu Shastra and seeing its myriad applications over the years, he successfully integrates the principles of this science in all his projects for a holistic design.
Tapan’s firm prefers hiring architects and interior designers with an experience of atleast 1-2 years so that they know the basic grammar and can learn the rest through the course of a given project. He believes that a firm should look out for the learning and growth potential that work can offer to its employees. His puts this to practice by letting every team member irrespective of work experience or seniority, engage with all aspects of a project – making BOQs, co-ordinating with contractors & vendors, visiting sites; while parallelly engaging them with design development. He asks his employees to keep a tab on their growth every three months and whether they have become better at their craft every three months, by making use of the various opportunities given to them.
He abhors turning any design practice into a ‘factory’ where sets of people are assigned with very specific jobs, because then someone who prides himself/herself in having mastered ‘working drawings’ for plumbing and carpentry has no exposure to cost impacts, and someone who has a hang of rates and BOQs isn’t well versed with design aesthetics and someone who may have great ‘design’ skills might be at sea with practical issues at site. This factory culture of a design office is something he feels is doing great disservice to a whole generation of architects and designers, because despite spending years employed in offices they do not have a comprehensive skill or outlook as architects/designers.
As a leader, Tapan likes being hands-on with his sleeves rolled up anytime to dip his hands into anything needed, thus leading by example. His office functions without a peon and clients or vendors are served tea/coffee by Tapan himself and not his staff.
His style of leadership is about willing to learn himself and inspiring others to apply themselves irrespective of their qualifications and skill sets.
Tapan admits that not having the standard tools for visibility does make it difficult to know what is the flow of projects going to be like. Add to that his practice prides itself in not having a signature design style so there is no one word that his prospective clients can hold onto in terms of what to expect. Clients who have already used his skills and services recommend his design practice as “great design with an efficient layout, no matter what the budget is”.
Since he has no Instagram page of his firm or even of his own, he actively discourages clients from using reference images and does not entertain any such images from clients. He insists that they articulate and describe what are the things they are liking in a photograph that they want to share with him. He then helps them contextualize those elements to the actual nature of the site at hand and help the clients understand that picking up design elements or material palette from images from across the world would not work in their given space.
In his bid to deliver every penny’s worth to his clients, sometimes in the case of commercial office spaces he has had to debate and convince his clients to not repeat a design template incase they have multiple offices to be done. So while the clients are OK with paying fees for three offices where actually the firm would have to design one office and repeat the template to two other locations, he says his fees is not worth it if its simply about copy pasting.
Tapan feels that instead of alluring clients through the common business model, one should be disciplined towards their work and be credible towards the project which will attract clients on their own as in the case of Tapan’s way of working..
Tapan’s firm puts the client’s needs on priority, they believe in being high on quality without compromising on the aesthetics, giving a better design at a better rate without compromising on the design, being cost effective at the same time. Their firm doesn’t differentiate the client based on the project size, each client is important and treated the same way and not differentiated as a big or small client. He believes in being true to one’s conscience while meeting the client’s needs.
Tapan has never been the one who follows magazines and other projects, he believes in keeping himself updated by understanding the space and working on the project rather than referring to some work which may not be applicable in all cases. In this generation when everything is available is on the internet, many clients tend to bring reference images to him to replicate it in their project, though Tapan’s firm doesn’t believe in replication, to respect the client’s ideas, he tries to understand client’s need as per the reference image by letting the client describe it, conceptualises it and rationalize what they want versus what the nature of the space of the project is.
Tapan feels that a lot of focus needs to be given to materials which are sustainable for the environment and as well as the cost effective. Primary focus needs to be given to the environment before considering the cost, once the demand for sustainable materials increases, the cost will be effective, hence we need to focus on the environment. New innovative methods need to be introduced which are good for the environment and smarter ways should be found to bring down the costs of the raw materials. The vendors also need to be firm and frank in their approach while dealing with projects.
Contractors need to be accountable for the deliverables at their end, they should raise the bar for themselves before competing with others and they should upgrade their working standards and be able to stand up to the architects when needed.
Tapan is a 4th generation student of Vaastu, whose father Dharnidhar Sharma has successfully utilised the principles of Vaastu for more than three decades across a range of residential, commercial and industrial projects. His father was very curious and took the original literature which was in Sanskrit, he studied them on his own, did many case studies and came to a conclusion that it matched with science and is hence applicable to everyone. Tapan’s father believed that knowledge should not be bartered for money, we cannot put a monetary value to it. It is proven that Vaastu is science and hence it cannot be solicited. This would be disrespect to science. We can see this being followed by Tapan too. Tapan believes that learning never ends and he humbly says that he is not an expert and is still learning. Vaastu applies to a building structure as a whole and it is not any magic as popularly known. Vaastu is a part of the designs and cannot be an additional service.