As architects and spatial designers, we have a great responsibility to ensure that the spaces we design are conducive to good living. To put things in context, we are building more than ever; resources, democracy and equality has given us the opportunity to build living environments for everyone. It also enables the designers and builders to make a living out of it.
But, who designs and who builds? Are they the same set of people? More importantly, are the same skill sets required to design and build? I truly believe that they are two different capabilities, which bring out the best in both by complimenting each other.
Despite originating from the same source and being intertwined, design and build are different. Essentially, design brings together a process of questioning, often called “design thinking”. It is the process of stipulating parameters, requirements, constraints, and finally, bringing together cultural nuances, psychology and behavioural reactions.
The entire mechanism then needs to counter technical and material constraints. It also unifies the soft skills of understanding the human perceptions through an individual as well as a collective perspective. With design thinking, there is a stream of cognitions that will be triggered, whether desired or not.
On the other hand, build brings to life the imaginative process of design thinking in an organised fashion, which is almost never visible when it is being built. Very few people are able to visualise the various pieces of the [puzzle] together in the pre-built stage. It is a complex sequence of activities, the availability of materials and the inter-relationships with various trades.
It’s crucial to consider the coordination among the three – client, designer, and the builder. Each one plays an important role from the concept stage to completion. Clients often feel that the two aren’t mutually exclusive and that employing the same people to handle both design and build can save time and money.
In their haste to achieve the expected outcome, designers end up with a haphazard project outline. And so, in times of desperation, you might reuse an old design, materials, and themes. Doing so come has its own implications such as compromising creative integrity and your philosophy.
Much like the process of the blooming of a flower or ripening of a fruit, design thinking takes time. If we as a society do not undertake and value this process, we will continue to do what we do and create more problems than solutions. It also raises the topic of financial expectations. We must always remember the old adage that there is no free lunch. It’ll be delusional on our part to think that anything might be available for free, least of all, critical thinking.
There are many interior architects and designers who have a design and build business. This arrangement is such that financial aspects seem to be an overriding factor. While they understand the need for good design, they’re unable to invest their time in it because the client wants the design and costing together. So while you’re designing, you are also searching for material alternatives, costing, specifications, joinery orders and furniture, all within a short span of time.
These days, clients often say: “I have seen this on Instagram, I have the design, and I don’t need a designer, I know how it looks, let me go to the builder and ask for the same.” Social media is just another tool to convey a designer’s intention, but it can’t make up for the lack of a designer’s thinking process. The solution lies in agreeing that design and build are two different skill sets which need to tango without stepping on each other’s toes.
It is important for all three stakeholders to comprehend the process in its entirety. In today’s world, it is important to feel the subtle nuances of human existence. Our environment is crying for the way we have misappropriated it in the past. To redeem ourselves, we have to consciously ensure that every tile, light fixture, or even a gypsum board, has a story to tell, whether in the space you make or in the landfill, preferably minimising the latter.
Clients need to understand that design process is mandatory to achieve good environments to work, play and live in. Builders need to translate this tangible and intangible content through constant dialogue for proper delivery.
We are all equally responsible for the resources, budgets and time we consume. By understanding our obligations towards not only the business, but also the environment, we can create a better world.
About the author: Indu Varanasi is an award-winning architect and designer. Born and raised in India, Varanasi has lived in Dubai since 1994, and is the founder and design director of her firm IR Design. She has worked on such notable projects as the Time Square Mall and Amity University Dubai, and has been invited to design projects in other countries such as China, India, Oman, Tanzania and Sudan.