Success in Architecture - Advice for Young Architects

Opinions Dated:  Feb. 16, 2015
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Let me first begin by replacing the word “success” by “achievement” . From what I have seen in my life, a “successful” architect is not necessarily one who is talented, creative, have sound technical knowledge, etc. to become successful ! Many lousy architects ( I do not know if I could call them “architects” just because they have a degree in architecture and are registered with COA) have successful practice ! And also make big money ! Their buildings may not be worth looking at ! They may not have good functionality also. But yet they run a roaring practice ! I do not wish to comment here on how they are successful - it is easily understood and not a secret !

There are very good architects who are successful also and do have a very good practice. At the same time there also exist excellent architects who may not be successful in terms of the “business of architecture” but they may command high respect & regards from their clients, from their own fraternity (architect fraternity), and from the society they are surrounded with. They may not be making the same money as the so called “successful” architects. Hence the word “successful” is highly deceptive ! Let me replace it by “achievement “ and “seniority”.

To position oneself to this end, Honesty & Truth alone do not count. Hard work is necessary but that too on its own does not count. To achieve excellence in architecture, one must have fallen in love with Architecture. And one must have high level of creativity, sound technical knowledge, know what is down to earth and practical, know the construction process, understand the practical difficulties of the Builder, and most importantly , carry a good concept right through completion of the project - without losing the original concept somewhere mid way. And these too are not enough. One must keep on learning new stuff as they come - constantly updating knowledge through attending seminars, webinars, information gathered from the internet, etc. etc. The day one loses curiosity and stops learning further, he/she becomes one among the “walking dead”. All of the above should be coupled with moral & ethical integrity - unshakable integrity - and the “achievement” does not happen over night. You have to prove yourself again & again, over & over. This is the fact of life ! And what I have said so far is one of my message to aspiring architects.

My own achievement - if I am considered as an achiever! - (I should not blow my own trumpet) - lies in what I have answered to some other questions here in this interview. To further elaborate it, even though I have a tiny office - a SOHO setup (Small Office Home Office - literally my premises is an office cum residence in the heart of the city) - I feel proud and confident to say that my designs and drawings stand second to none in my profession. This is not my own conclusion but I have heard my high end clients from Chennai say so and also my Architect friends & other senior architects at Chennai say so.

As a designer & consultant , I leave no stone unturned before I finalize my designs - for any type of building. Every possibility for a good design is explored - reviewed several times, however much time it took. The design has to first satisfy me and then satisfy the client. Even after the clients are satisfied with my designs and give their final approval, if some better idea occurs to me later, I do not hesitate to revise the design again and call the client for further discussions - I compromise on nothing (in some cases subject to the limitations imposed by the budget & site & by the “Vaasthu Misinterpreters”).

The number of drawings that my office issues for a single bungalow/villa would be no less then 250 detailed drawing sheets - more than half of of them would be large sheets. Nothing is left to anybody's discretion. (excepting for some technical details by other coordinating consultants). For even a tiny detail, there would be a drawing. My contractors / decorators / fabricators have just to copy-cat the drawings in execution of the works. The drawings are done to such clarity that there is no ambiguity in reading the drawings or inferring information from them. The “Turnkey Builder's” life which I had in my earlier part of my life had taught me very well on construction detailing and the difficulties a builder would have with sloppy drawings & also some practical difficulties the builders would face in some types of detailing. That life taught me the way to do drawings in a manner that it would make it easy for the builder to read & understand my drawings. Even my clients (who may not be technical people) could understand my detailed drawings.

I would be a sinner if I did not mention here about the wonderful hard work done by my past and present set of staff. God has really blessed me all the time with wonderful, highly sincere, hard working and loyal staff who understood me ( and who also accepted me for what I am - a tough personality !) and without such dedicated staff I would not have been able to have achieved much. Even today they are standing pillars who support my practice. And in return I too give high priority to their needs & comforts and also recognize their hard work by incentives and appreciations so that they too feel proud of what they do. I always do my work sitting alongside my staff - and I go to the discussion room ( I do not call it my room) only when I receive clients for discussions. Young Architects stand to learn from this also.

Last year I gave a lecture to 4th & Final year Students of Architecture on “HOW TO BECOME A SENIOR ARCHITECT” - a step by step process to become a senior architect and I also mentioned to them how the staff should be treated and respected when they are hard working and sincere and loyal to the boss.

IMHO, all the senior architects, from their experiences gained, and the knowledge they have acquired over the years, should impart their knowledge to the younger architects and train them to become senior architects. I have seen in several instances where senior architects become stumbling blocks to the growth of the younger architects. Again IMHO, senior architects, after a certain stage, should give way to the younger architects to take over and become senior architects. May be they should take up only such projects that the younger architects could not handle and start teaching the younger architects on how to handle such projects. I have already started walking this path.

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