Director – Design|Workplace Strategist-Concept Consilio India Pvt Ltd (Interview PART-1)
Being empathetic yet being cool, adaptable and flexible in approach, meet one of the power women in office design
Architects are indeed enablers and are unaware of the magnitude of impact they have feels Zainab Mukadam, they create an environment where everyone dreams and aspires and further materialise those dreams and aspirations.
Zainab is an architect specialised in the corporate industry, she is workplace strategist and is also the director of design at Concept Consilio India Pvt. Ltd. Apart from being an architect, she feels she is an aspiring poet and a writer, is a dreamer, she loves to read, loves literature and poetry, loves painting and feels words are her tools. Zainab grew up in many countries during her formative years, she feels this has made her more adaptable. Since we are going global and interact with many people, due to her formative training, she can relate to other cultural identities and accept them too. Zainab feels that Architecture is not just about design, it is an all-encompassing profession, it is about business, communication, interaction, knowledge, up skilling, exposure, technology, sustainability and so on.
Zainab feels that most of the times the architects are unaware of the magnitude of impact they create, they create an environment where others dream, aspire and materialise those dreams and aspirations. She feels that designs are a reflection of the society, architects build that design and a good design defines itself rapidly. She feels that architects must design focusing on adaptability, as the environment is so volatile and fast changing, most of the times the change is accelerated. The structure, design and built environment should be in such a way that it adapts itself to the changing demands of the society that the architects design for. Zainab feels that a good design always evolves itself, it is evolutionary, a self-developing process and architects are enablers towards the design. She says that design is a cultural artifact, it is more like a Sudoku puzzle which presents itself after we fit in client’s requirements, geometry of the building, basic design principles like ergonomics, good sunlight, health and well-being and so on and the solution that evolves itself is hence design. Zainab also believes that empathy plays a major part in her design philosophy, how a design makes us feel especially when it comes to control or enhance our emotions through design.
Zainab follows and believes that one needs to be adaptable and flexible in our approach. For her, it has come through her formative years by living and learning from different cultures. It creates a symbiotic synergy. An architect needs to be sensitive towards the client requirements and have best intention at heart. Since Zainab is an avid reader, her thought process was molded after reading Dale Carnegie’s books on thought leadership. One should genuinely have best intention at heart, be honest to self, have sense of integrity and the results will show up and we will end being satisfied too. Architecture is indeed a noble profession. An architect should know about nobility which is the source of good for fellow people and mother earth too, being sustainable, be a part of CSR initiatives, follow recycling, being sensitive. An architect needs to be curious too, finding ways to up-skill themselves, she believes that there is a takeaway in each conversation. Every interaction is an opportunity to learn, to grow, we have to find that opportunity to learn and adapt. A clear vision and intention are necessary so that we have a clear idea where we are heading to, the right direction. Our end goal should be clear, if it is clear then everything will fall in place. There are other business-related aspects which we need to follow and implement such as knowing the market updates, cater to the changing business needs, know the volatile market, know about the import and export policies etc.
Zainab gives priority to diversification, one should know all the aspects of their profession, be aware, upgrade themselves, find a niche for themselves and specialise. We should have a core competency. She also suggests that one should consult the experts when needed, take informed decisions and have a sense of intellectual humility, the ability to listen to others, accept that “I do not know everything”.
An architect interacts with clients, designers and support group too such as vendors, suppliers, etc. There are challenges at each level. The vision of the client keeps changing, the goal keeps changing due to exposure, changing environment, it becomes difficult to realign, causes wastage of time, resources too. To resolve this issue, Zainab uses her expertise in workplace strategy by using the strategies and not just rely on the information shared by the client. Lack of communication Is another challenge faced by architects, though there is verbal communication, e-mails, the essence of good communication gets lost. The exposure to technology and the willingness to adapt new technology is also a challenging issue to deal with. Budgeting is another challenge mainly due to lack of clarity, the value of a good design is not known, only the external look is seen, the quality, durability is not given priority while budgeting. Many times the timelines given are very unrealistic and lack of accountability by everyone involved also is a major challenge.
Clients these days have more information since there is more exposure, they understand their needs, we should be adaptable to their needs. They are co-designing projects and turning into design partners, clients are looking for design partners than just designers. One should be empathetic to become enablers, be ready for collaboration. Clients always look for optimisation of space, enhancement of productivity, use of good technology, follow trends, derive best value for money and timely deliveries.
We all have read the line, “keep friends close, but keep enemies closer”, the industry is very competitive, one should know about the competitors and their way of working. There is learning from everyone and hence we can keep ourselves updated, we can all grow together and as no one can grow in isolation. Speaking to clients and vendors, listening to their needs also helps in updating ourselves. Social media also has a lot of information and updates us with trends in real time. There are many events, platforms, online training programmes which are helpful in providing information. We learn on the job too which is the best form of learning.
The most defining moment for Zainab was when she was a part of the team that designed JIO project in Navi Mumbai. It was a take-off project where she was the key designer. It helped her learn the complexities of a project, learn more about high profile clients like the Ambanis, their way of working, their passion, how they function and so on.
There is lack of accountability in the industry, especially in the support group, this is mainly due to lack of integrity. If one is honest to self, then can be honest to others and stop the blame game and instead take actions in advance to avoid issues and be accountable, be committed to their work. There is lack of discipline, technology needs to be upgraded and made an integral part. Sustainable options need to be followed, there should be less wastage and one should be kind and empathetic in their approach.
When compared to earlier years, there is a lot of information available for aspiring architects or students. They should be able to choose the information needed and use only what is needed wisely. Zainab puts it beautifully, that budding architects should not exchange their time with money but should exchange talent with value. They should make technology their best friend and keep themselves updated with the latest related software and other related technology.
Generally vendors have a marketing team and a technical team. The marketing team interacts with the designers and often there is internal disconnect of the marketing and technical team, to avoid disconnect, they should co-ordinate. There is lack of accountability at all levels which need to be looked into by timely intervention and by being a solution provider.
The turnkey contractors should include technology at a much-upgraded level like having a live tracking app and have user friendly websites where there is quick access to information. There should be an integrated platform for knowledge sharing.
Zainab aims to be a thought leader. She feels that the leader should be consistent and have a clear vision which the team will look up to, this will enable the team to perform better. If the leader has to choose between credit and collaboration, the leader should choose collaboration and think about the team before thinking about self by doing everything possible for team’s success than individual self.
Pandemic has led to change in spaces, spaces have shrunk in size, work hours, working days have changed. If at all people visit their workplaces, the necessities and reasons of visit post pandemic has changed. Instead, homes have become more hybrid and some are bigger in size, the acoustics, technology, ergonomics, good lighting are in demand for homes. There is affordability factor too. Amidst all of this, there are existing challenges and more challenges will come for the industry which we as an industry need to face together doing what is possible at our end instead of waiting and expecting others to take initiatives.