Ideating on the dynamics of corporate design with Sathya Raj from Raj Consultants

Ideating on the dynamics of corporate design with Sathya Raj from Raj Consultants

In an exclusive dialogue with Commercial Design, Sathya Raj, principal architect, Raj Consultants, discusses genesis of his projects and enthuses about his vision and plans for the future

Interview, Sathya Raj, Raj Consultants, Bangalore

What are the factors that drive the design process at Raj Consultants?
Great design pays. It breathes life into existing buildings, engendering corporate pride in the workplace, drawing visitors to leisure and hospitality developments and attracting tenants and occupiers to mixed-use developments. Exceptional design also increases the bottom line value of the completed development. We aim at using ‘design as a strategy’, that helps leverage the power of design to generate innovative solutions that brings about real effective transformation. The purpose always is to create value that maximises potential for higher performance.

The firm covers a whole gamut of services from feasibility analysis to visual merchandising. What is the method and approach? How do the synergies happen?
We think of any organisation as a distinctive ‘human community’. Through our design process, we strive to connect with people, shape relationships and empower organisations to produce new invigorating forms of human community.
We believe design is always a ‘combination of complexity and clarity’. It involves a journey aimed a bridging the gap between "what exists and what is desired", “theory and practice”, “indoor and outdoor”, “Client needs and our Aspirations”.  The fact that "Design is a dialogue between generations which creates an environment across time" has always been a very import source of inspiration in all the designs we create.

Thus providing a sense of timelessness and transparency that makes us strive towards creating designs that help create meaningful dialogues and tell a tale of their own.

Our designs are a product of collaborative process, wherein we work with artists, artisans, graphic designers and photographers; this deters us from relying on standard and tested solutions.

How do you acquaint yourself with a site before considering a design? How important, do you think is context and client brief to the conceptualisation of a design?
Before we embark upon designing for a client, we immerse ourselves in the culture and aspirations of the client company. We talk to executives and staff alike and learn how the business sees itself, and how it wishes to be seen. We look at each one and consider the context—what it is and what it can be—beyond the strictly functional concerns. We think about its public nature and how that can be enhanced, how the spaces we create can enliven the experience of being there.
To help translate this knowledge into exciting architecture and interiors that work at every level, our cross sector teams provide an innovative approach to design, challenging accepted norms and pushing the boundaries of design, giving rise to architecture and interiors of striking originality.

Every architect has his own version of today’s ‘ism’. What according to you is the ‘ism’ for work space design of the present?
I want to live by inspiration and concretise inspiration in space and light. Architecture can be a gift left for others to enjoy – architecture together with landscape can form a special reality – a special place, a place that is alive and inspires generations.

Digital interface has changed the way offices are designed. How has this affected your design strategy? In addition, what do you think about the role of upcoming systems like BIM in construction?
Technology tools are being consolidated into easy-to-use platforms that let workers collaborate in both a synchronised and non-synchronised manner; and are providing the ability for people to work virtually anywhere, inside and outside the offices across geographies. Technology is making it easy for people to get together and share information making work more efficient. People are less stressed, more comfortable and in control. As employees become more mobile and workplace design more flexible, a seamless integration of technology tools and usage policies are essential for success. 

This ranges from provisioning the employees with the right tools to work wherever, whenever they need to, as well as including the right tools within the space.
One of the unique things about BIM is that it allows for more collaborative work by seamlessly connecting all aspects of design. When any modification is made, in any aspect of design, it shows up in all of its other components, including floor plans, sections and elevations. BIM also allows for building simulation, which is critical for the engineering process and building management after its construction.

You have designed for programmes of various scales and complexities. Please tell us about your most significant project(s) and your takeaways from each of those.
All of our designs are close to our heart and we take profound pride in all of them. One of the real challenges, since we’re working with varied clients across spectrums — is in understanding variations, both in terms of culture and context. It’s important to understand differences in scale and environment.
Today, our collaborations with other creative industries provide us with an opportunity to express our ideas through different scales and in many diverse media. We see it as part of a continuous process of our on-going design investigation. It’s a two way process – we apply our architectural research and experimentation to these designs – but we also learn a great deal from the process of collaborating with others who lead their own industries. A brilliant design will always benefit from the input of others — a lot more cross-pollination in the disciplines, but this isn’t about competition, it’s about collaboration and what these practices and processes can contribute to one another.

Stakeholders – developers and clients – are starting to realise the economic benefits of energy-efficient buildings. It makes perfect ‘business sense’ to build green.  Is this aspect perceptible in India? Is it now easier to convince clients to accept solutions that are more responsible?
The 21st century presents us with one third of the earth already developed, much of it in sprawling waste. A fundamental change of attitude, a re-visioning of values must take place. We emphasise sustainable building and site development as fundamental to innovative and imaginative design.
The Indian green building market has evolved. It is no longer only motivated by MNCs looking for just LEED certification. A growing number of end users – both Indian and international – follow sustainable practices, without necessarily aiming for certification. Leading developers are increasingly, genuinely more interested in pursuing more sustainable practices, as they look to benchmark both their products and techniques against the best practices existing in more developed markets. The cost differential is lower than they used to be. Many materials that had to be sourced from farther destinations are available more locally, now. This lowers the overall costs as compared to a building solution that relies on a lot of imported products and techniques. It is also beneficial that over the years there has been an increased influx of knowledge of green/sustainability practices into India. Not only are end users being able to leverage the knowledge of their internationally based counter parts, there is also superior data available in the country itself.

What are the different tools and processes for green and sustainable workspaces?
Sustainability is beyond materials and initiatives; it is an increasing focus for corporations in terms of investor relations, stock value, and customer opinion. Although sustainability impacts many aspects of work, such as building usage, office equipment, commuting, air travel and meeting patterns, sustainability through new ways of working is growing in importance. It translates to distributed work, telecommuting, satellite centres, information technology (through telepresence and virtual offices). Sustainability today has become a way of smart business. It is essential to understand that we have borrowed the environment from our last generation and it is our responsibility to preserve and hand it over to coming generations.

What do you think are the current challenges that the country faces in the field of design with respect to approach, method and conceptualisation?
There is the perception that architecture is different because it is a more immersive experience – it is about is how the person places oneself in the space. Indeed, our designs become more ambitious as we see possibilities created by the technology of other industries. There is a strong reciprocal relationship whereby our more ambitious design visions encourage the continuing development of new digital technologies and techniques, and those new developments in turn inspire us to push the design envelope ever further. The current state of architecture and design requires extensive collaboration and an investigative attitude and we continue to research and develop new technologies.

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