Architectural Practice: The System-Output Relationship
In Architecture, the final output of a project is a manifestation of the design thinking as well as the system and ideology of the practice. The system-output relationship is an essential aspect of any architectural firm, as it defines the processes and procedures that drive the delivery of successful projects. Having visited several firms, I noticed that each firm focussed on different aspect of the practice and derived their systems from it. A well-developed design system ensures that projects are delivered with a consistent design approach, while a well-developed documentation system ensures that all project information is properly recorded and maintained. A well-developed communication system ensures that design is efficiently communicated to the client, the design team as well as the contractor. Based on observations of the architectural firms in Ahmedabad, some common trends were identified:
Having a Design Language
One such observation was that single proprietorship firms like HCP, Jagrut & Partners, Groundwork, Matharoo Associates a specific language or style, irrespective of the scale of the practice. On the contrary, younger firms like Vaishnavi Shukl and ButterConcepts didn’t have a specific language or style, and it was felt that it may evolve over time. The firms that retained the sense of a common language had fixed design process and system of assigning design work to familiar people that ensured that larger ideas of the firm are maintaining throughout the process. Younger firms, lacking an established design language or style, may still be exploring different approaches to design. This exploration may lead to a less specific language or style, as the firm is still in the process of developing its identity. However, as the firm gains more experience and defines its approach to design, a more specific language or style may emerge.
It was also observed that having a common design style was necessary for gaining recognition, as it made it easier for people to associate a particular project with a particular firm. This is another factor, conscious or sub-conscious, that made different projects belong to a particular firm. The language need not be just the aesthetics, it could also be ,for example, projects addressing a larger concern of sustainability, as in case of Kakani Associates, or projects made to enrich lives of people and working with government, as in case of Compartment S4.
Overall, the system of a having/ not having a design language or style is influenced by a variety of factors, including the size of the firm, the diversity of its employees, and its level of experience. Understanding these factors can help firms develop and refine their design language, leading to a stronger and more recognizable identity.
Distribution of Roles & Responsibilities
If you are a large team, one pertinent question that could be asked is who designs and should everyone design. In such cases, a proper system of design is necessary to ensure smooth functioning of the practice. By smooth, it need not to be the fastest or most efficient, it just means that there is a proper distribution of roles and responsibilities. Principle sketching and giving it for execution, as in case of Apurva Amin where he makes the initial sketches of all, as well as everyone sketching and developing the design, were both found to be efficient. This suggests that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to the design process or distribution of roles and responsibilities. Instead, different approaches can be equally effective, depending on the firm’s culture, structure, and goals.
Principle sketching, where the principle architect creates a preliminary design that is then handed off to other team members for execution, can be effective in firms where the principle architect has a strong vision for the project and is able to communicate it clearly to the rest of the team. This approach allows the principle architect to maintain control over the overall design direction, while still leveraging the skills and expertise of other team members.
On the other hand, sketching and developing the design by the team can be effective in firms where collaboration and collective input are valued, as was seen in Compartment S4. This approach allows team members to bring their unique perspectives and ideas to the project, resulting in a more diverse and innovative design. Interestingly, Compartment S4 already had a common intention among the team members which helped in maintaining the larger ideas of the practice in check.
One interesting case was that of Matharoo Associates, where initially everyone was allowed to sketch and pitch in ideas, and then one selected idea would be developed by the team and the design process established. This was a mid-way where the diversity of ideas was also retained, and the efficiency of design development was also maintained.
Overall, the key to efficiently distribute design work in the design process is finding an approach that works best for the firm’s specific context and goals. This may involve experimenting with different approaches and continually refining the design process over time. In firms where decision-making is more distributed, team members may feel more engaged and invested in the design process, resulting in a more collaborative and dynamic office environment.
Clarity: a crucial factor
The clarity of ideology and larger goals of an architectural firm helped firms to make quicker decisions and hence made the firm more efficient. One such case experienced was in Kakani Associates, where the decision of having or not having a window in a government school as taken from their ideology rather than the spatial implication of the window. This helped in resolving the difference of opinion quickly as you have something to reflect upon.
The clarity of design process could also help in the overall functioning of the firm and understanding of one’s role in the project. It creates a common ground to understand different projects within a firm and helps in maintaining a timely schedule. One good example of such system was Groundwork Architecture, where the process was divided in 4 phases and the level or type of output from each stage was pre-determined. A predetermined design process may be effective in some firms, particularly those that have a high volume of similar projects. Such a process can help to streamline the design process, ensuring consistency and reducing the likelihood of errors.
The idea of having clarity of what needs to be done or how is it to be done within a firm is very important as it forms that backbone of overall functioning of the firm. The absence of systems results in inefficiencies, and having a clear sense of direction can be instrumental in driving productivity and achieving success. When team members have a shared understanding of the firm’s values, goals, and vision, they are better equipped to make decisions that align with these objectives, resulting in a more focused and efficient design process.
One interesting thing that was observed was the irrespective of the ideology or the design approach or the design process, each firm had a specific system, either of how the work or what the work towards. This could be conscious effort or sub-conscious in some cases. But no firm that we visited had no sense of system, be it decision making firms or sense- making firm, be it single proprietary or partnership, be it small scale or large scale. Hence, having systems is important. Understanding one’s ideology, the nature of practice to one wants to achieve would help in coming up with the most appropriate system that one wants to establish within the practice.
It is evident that firms that have clear systems in place tend to produce better results, as they are able to streamline their processes, manage their resources effectively, and deliver projects on time. The absence of systems, on the other hand, can result in inefficiencies, delays, and a lack of clarity in project execution. Therefore, it is imperative for firms to develop and implement well-defined systems that align with their goals and objectives to ensure that they produce high-quality output. These could include having a clear ideology, a recognizable design style, and efficient systems and processes. My key learnings from these observations are the importance of having a strong sense of purpose and direction, a clear idea about the ideology, and efficient systems and processes in place to ensure timely and successful project delivery.