Stakeholder Snapshot: Architects and Interior Designers
To put it very simply, an architect is anyone who designs spaces. To meaningfully design any space, one must take into account its utility and the sensory experience for its occupants.
An architect tries to fundamentally understand how people inhabit and interact with their surroundings. Based on this understanding, they try to anticipate the needs of the user. And then they try to create a physical environment where people can meaningfully engage with each other, and go on with the events of their day. Every architect strives to arrive at a solution that benefits both the people that inhabit a particular space and the larger context that that space inhabits.
Traditionally, the word ‘architect’ was synonymous with anyone who oversaw both, the exterior and the interior design of a building. As an example, let us consider the great American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright was known for delving into the minutest details of the interior design for all his projects. The Avery Coonley House is one of the most magnificent manifestations of Wright’s Prairie Style. As a National Historic Landmark, it is noted for its open layout, its wide, overhanging eaves, and its art glass casement windows. The interiors for the project include Wright’s original designs for rugs, curtains, and even the wall paintings.
Today, architecture and interior design have evolved into two distinct disciplines. Architects focus more on spatial planning and the overall construction of a building. On the other hand, interior design is strictly concerned with the finishing and treatment of the interior spaces.
Roles and Responsibilities
Let’s meet Anna (name changed). Anna is a first-generation practicing architect, based out of Mumbai. She works as an associate architect at a popular firm. Recently, her team met a client to determine their project’s design requirements.
The task at hand is to propose a two-storey structure based on the following:
The financial constraints of the project
The client’s preferences around incorporating a particular theme in the design
Insights from analysing the site
Building codes and regulations as prescribed by the authorities
The scope of work requires Anna to be involved in a wide range of activities:
Preparation of drawings: The drawings serve as the foundation for detailed estimations, material procurement, and on-site work. They contain floor and site plans, elevations, and isometric views. Other structural drawings, 3D models, and multiple views are also a part of the work. The size of the project necessitates varying amounts of collaboration and discussion among various experts. These experts can be from structural, electrical, plumbing, HVAC, etc.
Cost Estimation: The assessment of costs at various phases of the project’s progress aids in maintaining budget control. This information alerts the client and the project team before a larger budget issue arises.
Liasoning with consulting professionals on structural design; sanitaryware, plumbing, sewage, drainage, and water supply design and structural integration of electrical and communications systems; incorporation of heating, air-conditioning, ventilation, and other mechanical systems including fire detection and prevention systems; and periodic inspection and evaluation of construction work.
Inspecting and managing various on-site tasks with contractors and subcontractors.
Maintaining relationships with material suppliers and vendors.
Anna is a millennial architect. Millennials grew up during a period of rapid digital, economic, and global change. They have different views, actions, and expectations than the previous generations. A survey predicted that they will account for 75 per cent of the workforce by 2025. But they lack operating capital and savings. New architects like Anna have next to zero market networks and relationships. With limited industry expertise, they fight several assumptions and stereotypes. These include “designs are impractical or expensive.”
The industry has compelled these aspiring designers to believe in lies that lead to self-doubt and depression. The biggest lie amongst all this is that they cannot be executioners because they do not have enough work experience. It starts by mere repetition from design jurors in college and is reflected in work roles and assignments during internships.
The disparity between academia and practice results in the lack of industry knowledge. While this leads to apprehension for other stakeholders, it has become a significant factor of exploitation of millennial architects.
The industry is underinvesting in digitisation, exacerbating the existence of information asymmetry among stakeholders. A lack of knowledge or clarity among stakeholders about a project's objectives and uses adds to this contention. As a result, upon breaking down the client's suggestions, each stakeholder has their unique view of the design brief.
Design criteria that are constantly changing necessitate several modifications. This causes significant project delays. As a result, clients' payments are delayed. Unpaid dues and huge fee undercutting by competitors disrupt the entire market forces. As a result, architects are forced to accept cuts from material suppliers and third-party contractors. It is an unethical activity, yet there is no other option except to self-finance the firm. As a result, they are practically barred from acquiring the required financing. There is no openness regarding cost, material availability, or project scheduling.
Their second option is to start a business. As they have no way but to self-finance their growth, no first-generation architect has any hope to reach the level of pre-qualification required for public sector projects that are bubbling under the skin of the nation. As the Indian state is going the big way in building the national infrastructure using consultants competing mainly on commercial bases, where L1 (lowest) bidder is awarded the work, architects are forced to engage in price wars to get assignments.
At a public policy level, the market penetration for a new practitioner is being increasingly reduced. They face disenfranchisement in terms of the scale and age of the firm during the tender process. Whereas in the private domain, senior architects and proprietors of existing practices hold their junior architects back from client meetings, and also add non-competing clauses, etc. to ensure dominance over them. Most of the junior architects are relegated to the work of a draughtsman because it is cheaper for existing practices. On graduation, students find it difficult to find well-paid work in architecture.
Lastly, because of her gender identity, Anna’s problems have doubled as she is not able to exercise her rightful authority in the workspace.
Gender prejudice affects women designers in a unique way. Anna has had a few problems with the contractors. They do not prefer listening to the female authority. She had to hire a man to give the required instructions to the contractors. She also tested this in the market. She requested a quote via her male colleague's email address. While comparing that quotation with the one she received, she realised there was a huge difference, roughly of 6 per cent.
Strenuous working hours, cold and abusive workplace, peanuts for appraisals, and sexism are major factors that push up to 60 per cent of junior architects to quit the profession or change their role within the first five years of completing their graduation.
No industry or its processes are perfect and they cannot be expected to fulfill the needs and demands of all of their stakeholders all the time. Therefore, it is obvious that time and again, someone will decide to leave and their place will be taken up by professionals from outside the industry. It does not mean that there are structural issues with the industry’s processes.
However, if the majority of professionals, who are trained to act as central intermediaries of the industry, pick up and leave within the formative years of their career, then we must accept that there is something fundamentally wrong and inhospitable about how the industry and its leaders function. And as long as there is no recourse to it, the industry will remain in a regression cycle until the tech industry intervenes as a disruptor and decides to give each stakeholder of the industry, irrespective of their seniority, clout, wealth, knowledge and gender, a run for their money.
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About the Writers
Anchal Srivastava is an architect, urban planner, writer, researcher and scholar. She is a certified GIS specialist from IIRS, ISRO, Dehradun. She is a graduate of the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), Delhi and Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Technical University (APJAKTU), Uttar Pradesh. She has experience working at the Town and Country Planning Organisation Delhi, Jabalpur Smart City Limited, Suresh Goel & Associates (SGA), APS Green Architects & Associates, and as the head architect at SSAP and Shantiniketan Buildtech Pvt. Ltd.
Yug Aggarwal is an architect, illustrator, writer and experimental designer. He is the Co-Founder and COO at Zeyka. He is a graduate of the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), Bhopal. He is the winner of various national and international architectural design competitions such as FuturArc Prize 2020, World Architecture Festival (2016, Berlin and 2015, Singapore) Student Charrette, and ICCPP Conference on Cities, Places and People (2015, Colombo).
About the Editor
Naveen Kumar is a public policy and regulatory governance professional. He is a graduate of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Hyderabad. He has experience working at the Gitika Trust, Tata Institute of Social Science (TISS) Hyderabad, Krishi Vigyan Kendra - MYRADA, AID India Eureka, Larsen & Toubro Infotech Ltd. (LTI) and Eco Foundation for Research and Training (EFFORT).
About the Illustrator
Meghna Singh is an architect, urban sketcher and design enthusiast. She is a graduate of the School of Planning and Architecture, Bhopal. She has won numerous national and international architecture design competitions, namely, NASA Mohammad Shaheer Landscape Trophy 2018, Heal+ Regenerative Housing for Kerala 2019, and the World Architecture Festival Student Charrette, Amsterdam 2019. She has experience working at Archohm Consultants Pvt. Ltd.