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Mumbai architect reveals what goes into building aesthetic and functional office spaces

“The age group, sex ratio, and work environment are some of the factors that need to be analysed while planning,” says the architect.

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“Back in class 7 or 8 at Birla Balika Vidyapith, Pilani, I came across this magazine called ‘Inside Outside’ in our school library. So, whenever we found time, we went to the library to look at these magazines and newspapers. I was fascinated with this one magazine, which had photos of beautiful houses and nicely done interiors. It fuelled a desire to become an architect,” says Sanjana Singh who went on to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Architecture from Apeejay Institute of Technology – School of Architecture and Planning (AIT-SAP) between 2010-15. 

“After that, I read a lot about landscape architecture and the various sub-categories in the field for career opportunities. I used to feel passionate about nicely done homes and buildings and their history,” added Sanjana, who is now working as a Design Lead with Livspace, an interior design and renovation company.

In an interview, the Apeejay alumna reveals what goes into designing offices, post-pandemic trends, and more. Read on:

What does your work as a Design Lead entail?

I was recently promoted from Senior Interior Designer. I will now handle projects with a team of my own. As design lead, I need to ensure that the projects are profitable. So, I would need to take care of the financial as well as the design aspect.

In terms of interior design, how has the pandemic impacted customers’ needs and expectations?

I joined Livspace in July 2020. I have been mainly involved in designing commercial spaces. During the pandemic, the expectations of the clients definitely changed a lot. They wanted flexible seating. In 2020, for instance, I designed a large co-working space. For projects like this, we had to adapt our designs keeping in mind the Covid norms and arrange workstations in a way that a safe distance was maintained. We also built a lot of sanitisation centres. Since most of the employees were working from home, there were only a handful of people who had to come to the office to perhaps collect a laptop or attend a virtual meeting in one single room. In line with this, we had to keep the rooms tech-friendly. Clients, therefore, preferred more automation and sensors to avoid repeated sanitisation of equipment. They wanted an agile and flexible workspace. We also came up with a new design for the divider between two workstations so that everybody could enjoy privacy and at the same time, not spread the virus.

However, now things are going back to normal. From what I have observed, I think the impact of the pandemic is gradually dissipating. That said, the one thing which is going to stay is the increased cost. The cost of raw materials has gone up because of things like the pandemic, the Ukraine war, and shortage of semiconductors, etc—all these factors have increased the timeline and the cost of the projects. For instance, we would earlier do office interiors for Rs 3000 per square feet; now it has gone up to Rs 5000.

What are the things you need to keep in mind while designing co-working spaces?

I have designed a lot of co-working spaces in my career. What attracts a customer are the benefits and facilities that come with such spaces, not to mention how good the collaborative environment is. A co-working space has to be built in a way that it is able to host events seamlessly or celebrate festivals with all occupants blending in. That is the heart of the co-working space. This is something you need to take care of in the planning and designing phase to make sure you build an aesthetic and functional space for the workers.

In an age where social media plays a big role in marketing activities, we make sure to incorporate one or two spots in co-working spaces where the employees can click pictures and post on social media and tag the place. This is something that even our clients are mindful of. An architect has to keep these aspects in mind to make a difference.

Since we are talking about offices, how do you make the interiors vibrant and make the space more employee-friendly by adding a breakout area, for instance?

A lot of this depends on what clients we are catering to and their specific requirements. Designing an IT office would be very different from that of a bank. The age group, sex ratio, and work environment are some of the factors that need to be analysed while planning. Your focus should be on solving the problem of the client.

You cannot stack all the workstations together. You need to avoid congestion and add some green elements or add a pop of colour here and there. Breakout areas can be created between workstations for employees to have a quick meeting or engage with colleagues. For this, you need to understand what kind of work culture a particular office has. There are companies that have brief stand-up meetings for 5-10 mins every morning. A good breakout area works well in such cases. Meeting rooms should be in the proximity of the team and not far away from their desks. Besides, you also need to make sure there is ample daylight in the room, which helps in the well-being of the employees. These days we can be as innovative as we want to create good workspaces for our clients.  

How did Apeejay prepare you for the journey?

The best thing about college was having good mentors who shaped us very well. They challenged us in thinking differently and trying new concepts, etc, through which we could explore ourselves. We were taught to think out of the box and not limit ourselves. There was a lot of discipline and strictness at college, which, in turn, prepared us for future hurdles and helped us become better designers.

How do you see your overall professional journey?

I think I still have miles to go. I would like to add that I worked with Sapras Architects at the beginning of my career where I designed dealership manuals for Isuzu Motors India and Morris Garages when they were entering the Indian market; I was the one who secured the project for my company. I consider it one of my biggest achievements to date. However, I still feel that my best work is yet to come. 

Disha Roy Choudhury is a Senior Correspondent at Apeejay Newsroom. She has worked as a journalist at different media organisations. She is also passionate about music and has participated in reality shows.

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