• Ankita Dhal

Space Elicits Action: Architectural Office Spaces and Team Organizations - #Analysis05

Plan of Dar & Wagh office. All rights reserved. Dar & Wagh.



The first year of this studio was conducted in the pre-covid times, focusing on offices in Ahmedabad. This allowed the students to visit the offices’, further conducting the interview’s in the office spaces itself. This privilege of visiting the workspace of the practices and observing live was not possible this year in the second term of the studio. However, the online studio format allowed us to expand the reach of our interviews and research across the country with various Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities.


This meant finding new ways of entering the practices’ workspaces through zoom video call walkthroughs, pre-recorded videos of the office, albums of photographs (old and new) or sometimes simply drawings for the ones that were working entirely from home. This unexpected way of documentation led us to analyzing and recording data in multiple ways.

Another key aspect of our study was to understand the realities of being individual in the act of design versus the aspiration of having a collective way of designing. Often the truth about the nature of practice - individual or collective, is seen in the way the office space gets structured. How furniture is placed, the cubicles, eating and leisure spaces, the culture of work and daily routines, all of these tell us more about the design process and level of collaboration in each office, than the espoused theories of architects themselves.


In this blog post, I will be taking you through each office’s work space in different formats, making connections with their team organization, geographical location and the nature of their practice.


Before we begin, let me briefly explain the recurring team organization typologies:


1. Pyramidal (Vertical distribution of power): 13/18 offices had this organizational structure i.e. 72.2%

2. Horizontal (Hierarchies are flatter, more democratic)

3. Non-Linear (Unique, haphazard and mixed distribution of power)

5/18 had either a horizontal or non-linear organizational structure i.e. 27.7%


I’ll cover offices based on the cities they were located in.


Offices located in Tier 2:


Studio Matter


“The Studio is situated in Goa in The Blue House, on Monte Villa Road. It is a small space that houses both STUDIOMATTER and THINKMATTER. The team comprises 12 members, where the principal architects, associates, architects, and interns all share the same space. The space is jam-packed with books, documents, walls are filled with drawings and tag boards. It's like living together in a house. The meetings happen commonly, conversations are overheard and transparency that helps in collaborations pervades. “ - Gazal Nanwani, Student at CEPT.

Interview with Studio Matter

Virtual visit at Studio Matter


“ The paraphernalia of the active mind, a constant state of entropy, if it’s not chaotic then the mind is not active enough, not to say the latter is a bad thing etc., I have marginally more control, like I have little more real estate and control over the ac remote. There’s a library too, there’s less space, we plan to move to a bigger one soon, but there’s also publication work so it’s a lot of overwhelming amount of printing, we are also very tactile, so we like to print and build, hence it’s messy. We tend to not encourage working 24x7, you will find us reading, taking a break or writing in between a work day. “– Ruturaj Parikh (Partner, Co-Founder Studio Matter)






















Plan of Studio Matter Office made by Gazal Nanwani


Yanapada Architects


“We moved from place to place. First we wanted to be in the city, but that has certain demands and noise, so we moved to an aloof place, but soon we got bored of each other’s faces because there was nothing around, so we moved to a residential area which is quiet. We have constantly been thinking - what should an office space be like? Should it be a singular entity space or a scatter? We realized small places of scatter worked for us. A lot of people who work for us come from far away, so we try to organize accommodation for them nearby. We also have certain places fixed in the area where go to meet someone during or after office hours. So there are certain connections that developed overtime in this neighborhood, up to 4-5 streets. We always think it would be so great if the office was also like that.” – Sivith Kumar (Partner, Founder Yanapada Architects)


We had some interesting discussions with Sivith during the virtual walkthrough. Here we see a combination of photographs and a drafted plan which served as the walkthrough.

Plan and photographs of Yanapada Architect's Office. Credit to the office.


In the plan and the photographs, the main working space i.e. the studio, is in the center of the apartment. There are no segregated work desks, instead a long communal table in the middle of the room which serves as work and dining table.


This is interesting because such a layout is often associated with an old school way of working i.e. with physical drawings and models that demands people to sit together with large space around to keep stationery and materials. However their office uses laptops like most architecture firms nowadays. We wanted to see if there was any intentional thought given to this layout –


Sivith: A table allows for sharing of resources and interaction, a laptop provides everything, except maybe a conversation? All other materials of shared use are available on the laptop. How does one make an office space where we work with computers but have that sense of sharing and communication, we have sketches of how it can work like side tables with laptops next to a large communal table? We have people who choose to exile into the smaller room and re-join us after a few days or weeks, things like that do happen.


Kashi: The laptop leaves no trace, but a desktop makes you always face the wall, many offices have moved to laptops but not changed the configuration, they still faced the wall, but in your office and its central space people are facing each other so I see that it has been changed.


So the separate model making space is for dust and material or was the room available and thus it became a model making room?


Sivith: We had the room available, we also realized the ones making it prefer to work on the ground so they can make bigger models, same can happen in my room also, that room has a balcony where things can be left out to dry.


Kashi: so there is a space called principle architect’s cabin, do you work there or in the central studio space?


Sivith: Usually in the central space, but when I’m preparing for a lecture etc. I go in because the desktop has all our archives.


Kashi: So how do you look at the principle architects cabin?


Sivith: Frankly I don’t think it’s important, the meeting room is more important as it keeps meetings separate for the office processes, so we do need an “other space” , when you look at the plan, the principle architects room is nothing but a transition to the male toilet room, otherwise it has no other significance (laughs).



Virtual Visit with Yanapada Architects


While studio matter works in an independent house, Yanapada works on one floor (apartment) of a building. Yanapada’s layout works well for a team their size and both these practices don’t segregate any exclusive space for the partners. It’s interesting how when an office drafts a plan it may choose to still label a space as a principle architects room, even though in everyday practice and routines the room merely acts as an extra space.


BPS Architects




“Our office is a residential studio at Rajkot. While designing the studio, we already had an idea of the kind of comfort level we wanted to achieve in a professional environment. It was decided that there would be individual workspaces, giving us each a space for personal expression. The studio space, on the other hand, is kept away from the common workspace without any kind of surveillance. In this manner, everyone has their own work environment without the fear of being constantly watched. “– Parth Shah.



Video Tour of the office by BPS Architects


The video was made by an intern who worked with them at the time. The way the video captures the space showcases it’s comforting and calming atmosphere. There is a slowness and routine in the way life happens in the studio, very similar to a family house. The partners speak of family values, along with a parental and friendly relationship with their employees. The architectural details of the house also demonstrate the kind of work that BPS does.

Another aspect of being in a Tier 2 city is the access to space and land. Certain Tier 2 cities allow for a family home typology of office space where the architects can express their design skills to create an intentionally thought of working environment while also conveying directly to the client the kind of work they’ll be doing for them.


Office Plan by BPS Architects





This availability of space also allows for hands-on work to happen – more space means more storage – which means hand drawing and model making can happen more freely. The city in which an office is based in and its subsequent speed settings affect the tools chosen for a design process and thus the organization of space.


Interview with BPS Architects



Prabanjas Architecture



This office space is on the first floor while the ground floor is their family home. This practice majorly comprises drafts-people and not architects. The employees sit in a large room in a typical office fashion, while the principle architect works and designs from their executive cabin. There is a little apartment attached to this floor along with regular office resource rooms like a reception, sitting etc.


Plans made by and sourced from Prabanjas Architects.

Virtual Tour


Photographs provided by Prabanjas Architects


EssTeam


This is the first and only Tier 2 office we visited that were housed in a relatively larger commercial building which they designed themselves. They occupy the top three offices, while the lower floors serve as food and retail spaces owned by their friends. We ran through their plans and a presentation explaining the different spaces and their design philosophy. From the reused shuttering, bamboo scaffolding or the polish containers used as mail boxes, they used every corner of the building to showcase their sustainability values.


Office tour slides by EssTeam


Office space presentation with EssTeam


During the interview they further discussed how important the idea of care was for them and how they saw their practice as a series of cross disciplinary relationships amongst people. Even though the larger team is headed by two partners, you can see the many sub-offices and teams in the team organization chart, each catering to a specific concern. One of the floors thus functions as a large studio housing multiple smaller offices, while the other floor takes up all the conferencing spaces, meeting rooms and cabins for the partners. They further mention how their cabin is more like a chatting room where employees drop by for heart to heart discussions beyond the office work. This is an unspoken yet important aspect of being a partner. The top most floor is a semi open terrace where team meetings and discussions occur along with lunch and office gatherings. This seems to be the heart of the practice.




Office plans from EssTeam



Offices Located in Tier 1:


The remaining 13 offices we interviewed were all located in Tier 1 cities. The 13 offices fall under 5 typological categories.


TYPE 1: Part of an existing building


Sorted Pandit Studio


The partners’ spoke of moving into this office after realizing the first one was not working out. Being a young practice, they started working out of one of the partner’s home-apartment, which soon began to backfire. The homely environment would mean work flow was slower and time experienced too comfortably. This pushed them to rent out a part of a bungalow, the ground floor of which serves as their current office.


Perhaps the most interesting thing about their studio space is their energetic dog. A glance at their Instagram stories will remind one of Yanapada’s work space, a shared table where everyone seems to be interacting and conversing throughout the day. Their office is multidisciplinary with the architecture team being the newest addition. Their team organization involves three partners managing different aspects. The two founding partners sit in their own workspace, while the third partner who oversees the architecture team sits with the rest.


Sketch by Sorted Pandit Studio


The entrance transforms into a makeshift work space often, whenever anyone wants to sit in the outdoors. They talk of their studio space and culture of working as youthful, the space lending itself to hanging out and spending long hours in the studio.



Virtual Tour



Busride Studio



Busride functions as two bodies – the Busride Studio and the Lab. The studio is responsible for all design work – from interiors to architecture. Whereas the Lab serves as a think tank for satire, conjecture and critical thinking. The Studio works across two cities – Mumbai and Goa. The Goa studio was meant to be a more personal working space for partner Ayaz. However the lockdown led to many Mumbai team members to relocating to Goa for a more relaxed and enjoyable workspace. The Goa studio was still under construction when we last spoke to them. The Mumbai studio is located in Ranwar village of Bandra in an old bungalow.




Plans by The Busride


The practice’s way of working is described by the partner as casual, with meetings happening over drinks in between parties. Talking, conversations, brainstorming, active, fast pace, youthful, and quirky – are some of the keywords used to explain their approach.



Interview with Zameer Basrai


TYPE 2: Apartment in a building


Nilay Patalia Architects


As one can see in the table, this practice was the smallest practice we studied this year. The team organization is somewhere between horizontal and vertical hierarchy. The partner maintains some amount of hierarchy in decision making. However when it comes to design, production or even the back end running of the studio, everyone participates equally. You can see that in the simple linear layout of their single room studio. Their practice values mental health and thus work life balance is a must. Productivity needs to be balanced with breaks and time management – “If you crack, is it possible to run a practice that does good work and in good time?” – asks Nilay while passionately talking of the office culture.

Interview with Nilay Patalia

Office Photographs



MO-OF Mobile Office


Most architecture and design offices are houses in residential apartments that are converted into work spaces unless they are of a certain scale and able to afford rent in a commercial building/ complex. Given Mumbai’s organic, hap-hazard, mixed use nature, especially in the suburbs, this serves as a common model. The partners spoke of consciously maintaining a 10-12 person team since authorship roles that the partners had in the design process began changing into more managerial roles. We visited their office virtually, through the zoom call itself.


Student’s interpretation plan:


Virtual visit


_Opolis

Office sketched by Gazal Nanwani


“The Studio is an apartment that was earlier Rahul Gore's father's office who was also an architect. The transition occurred over time. The studio holds model making at the center of its activities. Each and every nook and corner is utilized to store models that are made in abundance during the design process. Equipped with the projector room, meeting and gathering space, plotter and accounts space, the workstations, the studio has it all in the miniscule of an apartment! “– Gazal Nanwani, Student.






The office is laid out through processes that are crucial to the stages of design. It’s a rational segregation of tasks and hierarchies and thus work flow. Rahul speaks of “time” and it’s keeping as an integral part of their ideology which they maintain vigorously through their work culture.


“We try to work hard during the weeks and continuously take Saturdays and Sundays off to recharge and come back. Only if there’s a competition or deadline or site visit, do we work on Saturdays.” – Rahul Gore (Founder and Partner at _Opolis Architects).



TYPE 3: Part of a Commercial Office Building


M:OFA (Manifestation of Fluid Architecture)



Out of all the offices we studied, M:OFA seemed to be adopting the work-from-home way of life with excitement. They had an interesting plan and section layout for an office of this size. Their central space was a sitting area, a library on the side, with no separate cubicles for the partners. In fact Manish mentioned how he and Tanushree were to exchange their workspaces so he could work right next to the team, instead of working separately which was inefficient for their communication. The layout of furniture and movement was organized around a collective and not a person.

Interview with M:OFA

Plans by M:OFA


However with the post-covid situation, they had moved all their work processes on cloud, become heavily reliant on digital and internet technologies and using the studio as merely a lab and gathering space for them to meet a few times a week. The new idea of the studio was individualistic and at-home with remote places connected through the internet while the “studio” was just a space to cross paths and for storage of their expansive digital archives. It was an interesting speculation for the future of offices and architecture where design work flows without a drawing table. They propose a model that will be useful for offices looking to adopt more digital means of working and optimize their usage of physical space.


Photographs by M:OFA





A+ V (Architecture plus Value)


Due to a change in FSI, their client returned to them with an opportunity to build another floor for a commercial rental purpose. The office proposed becoming the tenant and designing it themselves so they could move into a larger office space. Their favorite feature of the office is that it is a terrace floor, giving them ample light and ventilation, a large leisure space and a lovely view of the neighborhood. The entire building serves as a representation of their work.

Due to a change in FSI, their client returned to them with an opportunity to build another floor for a commercial rental purpose. The office proposed becoming the tenant and designing it themselves so they could move into a larger office space. Their favorite feature of the office is that it is a terrace floor, giving them ample light and ventilation, a large leisure space and a lovely view of the neighborhood. The entire building serves as a representation of their work.


The image shows the original design layout of the office in a sketch up model that we we walked through before seeing the actual office over the zoom call. The office is heavily reliant on digital model making and has completely discarded the method of physical model making, this showed even in the way we were taken through their office.



The partner speaks of how important interns are in the office, he believes in the skill and labor interns put in at every level of a project and hence makes sure to pay them very well. He also spoke of how the potential and growth curve of interns was much higher than a junior or a senior architect because of the kinds of tasks and design work they can experiment with. According to his observation, senior architects in the hierarchy often reach a stagnation point when it comes design work and thinking because of the overweighing managerial tasks that their job demands. You can see the focus on interns in their office layout, where the largest space with the best light – ventilation and terrace access is given to the interns in the form a studio space.

They were also the only office to ensure having the Q & A session with the entire office team. Some architects felt comfortable enough to speak with us openly as well.


TYPE 4: Small Independent Office Building


Dar & Wagh


The office operates out of a residential building which was formerly a residence of an Architect. They never felt the need to change a lot in the original building and enjoy it as it is. The office has a lounge space, which doubles as a welcome space as well as an important social space that they want to retain. Sometimes their friends use it as a working or living space too. Ranjit describes it as - inviting, refreshing, with architectural finishes, it’s thought through, and it shows who we are. It’s interesting because for a tier 1 city like Mumbai, Delhi etc. people would use it for more workstations or a reception space. Yet, they prefer it to be empty so they can sit, read and rest, or even entertain and get together with friends. Amber says – space is luxury, the lounge is luxury for us.


Office Plan by Dar and Wagh


They also have employees in Singapore, such as a 3d renderer, two associates, and a freelance draftsperson. Ranjit says - when they are trained so well, subletting makes sense, it saves time and resources. They also had a designer who was in Singapore and then Chicago, along with a friend who teaches in Rhode Island Interior Design, who assists them on conceptual designs at times. In that sense their office is spread out with plenty of resting and leisure spots with many staff members across the globe working digitally. Amber mentions how they encourage people to take a break instead of pretending to work at the workstation all day long. They believe that the act of drafting is not second class to design, and that documenting through drafting is evidence of a good project. Hence you can see plenty of large tables and reclusive sitting spots to immerse in the drafting process.