Founder and Senior Architect at F.A.T. Studio, Varsha & Pradeep Architects (Interview PART-1)
Varsha is an expert with long years of experience in the field of architecture and interior design, and her aspirations for architecture are astonishing. Architects like her are inspiring in how they see their roles as contributing to the world and to the general public. Her hunger to learn more every day is a source of motivation for many people. She is currently doing research, along with she appeared for and cracked the Graduate Aptitude test in Engineering (GATE) at the age of 52 in 2021.
Varsha was grown up in Uttar Pradesh and studied architecture at the Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee in 1992. She said that going to Roorkee was like a dream for her, while she was in school because her elder siblings were studying there, and she used to visit them and got fond of the campus and the people there. That was the catalyst for her desire to study there. Since she has diverse interests and does not prefer doing one thing all the time, she had many options to choose from when contemplating a career path. Nevertheless, she chose architecture as a career because she thought it would be interesting.
Her father is a civil engineer in the railways, and they have moved around 29 houses in her father’s career as he would get transfers frequently whenever the rail line had to be laid. She recollected that she enjoyed the process of moving to a new place, a new space, a new house and even sometimes, they have lived in 100-year-old houses. That was when she realized that she had a love for space, and thus ended up studying in Roorkee. After studying she worked a few years in a firm and then founded a company in 1996, an endeavour her partner had long dreamt about.
She expressed that from the beginning itself, they have always wanted to work on a variety of projects. Because of which, they di’t really call themselves specialists in anything. They always liked to design and create new spaces. So, they are always ready to try out different projects, and different typologies. So that has been a basic philosophy of theirs, being a very design-centric company.
In 2019, Varsha joined a research program at the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras, a PhD program, because she always liked to try out a lot of things on her sites. She found her interest in working from post principles. She said that, while structuring a building, she does not start by saying, “I am going to make a brick wall, or I am going to make a frame structure”. Rather than that, she used to start by saying, “Okay, I have to make an enclosure, so what do I need? Do I need stone or do I need metal?” That was how she approached things and found that there were so many possibilities with materials. That ultimately pushed her to join the PhD program, which gave her time to sit and think.
She is researching how space interacts with people in the sense of whenever there is a phenomenon happening, where the focus of the study is work from home. So, the whole concept is revolving around how the whole space interacts, when people work from home. She is doing this research hoping that her study from the spatial lens, will give insights to organizations, and people who create spaces for everybody, basically, as to what should be done. Because now working from home, is the new normal.
Varsha’s plan after the research program is so mesmerizing. She aims to contribute and practice architecture differently rather than just executing the projects. She feels that there is a big need in society. She pointed out that there is a certain class of people who cannot afford to hire consultants but at the same time, they are the ones who need the most economical and comfortable buildings, passive energy buildings because they do not have the means to buy technology and lives to brighten it up. They need national technologies. She added, “as of now, I do not know how to contribute to that sphere, but I want to do that. So, in the next two or three years, I will work out that in the hope to work in that zone.”
She explained her perspective, “I try to remember that I am fulfilling another person’s dream. When someone comes to me saying they want to create something, whether it is their factory, office, house or school, I try to understand and get them what they want. Sometimes the clients will not be able to express what exactly they want in the language we understand. Even if we are not even taught this in college, I believe it is important that we comprehend them and figure out exactly what they want. Furthermore, architects should constantly communicate with their clients, ask them questions, send them questionnaires, and have to schedule meetings to better understand their needs. So, if the client approached us to build a house, we meet the whole family, not once, but many times. We try and meet the users who will be using the space, to understand their aspirations and expectations. Having all that information makes things easier and clearer. That is not only in terms of their requirements. I do not separate requirement design functionality, cost, and aesthetics. In my opinion, they all go together.”
Varsha’s notions about an architect’s work should start by setting the budget first rather than designing and then cutting the cost. Fixing the budget and setting the cost should be a process that has to start from the beginning otherwise one may not achieve the goal. So, the process should begin with understanding the client. Then decide on tying all the concepts including the client requirements, the site, the location and what to build. She said that a lot of time goes into conceptualization, but that is a strong base. The client may not be convinced in the first short of meetings. It takes time and it takes a few to go back and forth, but the philosophy is that always present all that is possible to the client. It means presenting all options, even options that are to be discarded, the reasons for the discard etc. Let the clients understand what is possible in their requirements and then proceed with the detailed design. And of course, when it comes to detailed design, a high level of honesty, sincerity and commitment is required to the design as well as to the client and the execution of the project. And not least, professionalism and transparency in work are other core areas that she focuses on.
Each person is different in their ways, depending on their personality or job profile. So, help your team so that they become more efficient. They will enjoy their work more and will be productive. Even though every profession is creative, architecture requires a fair amount of thinking and creativity which is different from person to person, depending on their personalities. And as long as their style is in line with the company, it’s goals and the methodology of work, let them be free. So, there should be a fair amount of freedom of work in the office.
There should be a strong vision and make sure that all the employees know the organisation’s vision and that they are on track with it. Talk to them and let everyone in the organisation know the vision and only then you will be successful. So, the employees, their work ethics, everything has to gel. One should be very clear on what kind of a company they are running. One should be true to themselves and understand, what you are as a person and hence translate that to your company and know what your company is. Keep discussing it with everybody in your organization, so that you are very clear on what you are. To be continued >>