“There Is A Need For Diplomacy And An Understanding of Subtle Politics For Effective Design.” – Ranjeet Mukherjee, The Vrindavan Project

Interview conducted by Asmita Patnaik

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“The only way to find out how deep the rabbit hole goes, is by diving in.”

In light of the discussion – Opportunities and Obstacles of starting your own practice, today we feature/interview Ranjeet Mukherjee, founder of Gurgaon Based design studio, “The Vrindavan Project” started in 2011 along with his partner Shreenu Mukherjee.

Whether you are a fresh graduate with aspirations to make it on your own, or an architect who after working with other practices feels the need to establish yourself, or maybe you are just tired of working for someone else or have your own entrepreneurial streak; whatever may be the reason, as glorious as starting your own practice sounds – most of us do not know how to start our own practice and sustain the same. As the challenges are numerous, let us together address the same with architects such as Ranjeet Mukherjee.

Ranjeet Mukherjee - The Vrindavan Project(1)

Ranjeet Mukherjee brings about a few suggestions to guide aspirants; that he developed from his learnings as an architectural entrepreneur –

1. Ask yourself – When?

The first step to starting your own practice is acknowledging when you are ready for the challenge. The timing of this decision would naturally vary from person to person. Having patience with oneself is vital. Ranjeet believes that if you are looking for instant results, then do not follow this path. Have faith in yourself, your work, your destiny and an overall faith in the ‘design’ of your reality…. The key to success is patiently and consistently striving forth towards this vision.

Ranjeet says, “I had somehow visualized having my own practice from a young age, as I decided to become an Architect and applied to university accordingly.

However, I was aware of the steep learning curve required, before setting up one’s own practice. Therefore, whenever I worked at any office over the years, I was always very particular to apply to small-scale firms, so as to learn as much as possible about a micro office’s functioning.” He continues, “about six years after graduating, while working in a small but zealous firm at Auroville as an Architect; the opportunity arose for my wife and I to embark on our own path as designers, and we set up our own firm.”

2. When in doubt, ask for advice.

It’s amazing to encounter the number of architects that are willing to help you out, when starting your own practice. Understand that your seniors and your mentors can provide you with support, guidance, perspective and inspiration in varied capacities.

He recalls, “I remember this one time, I had to deal with an obstinate client who refused to reimburse us with our fee. I found myself completely lost and demoralized, and decided to call upon Manish Gulati of MOFA studios, a senior from college. He invited me over for tea, and I had the privilege to spend a nice afternoon, chatting with him and his partner Tanushree, in the middle of the week, during a full-fledged working day at their office. They kindly heard my woes, and thereafter proceeded to describe through personal examples of professional experiences, the scale of what unpaid dues could be. It was the exact and immediate reality check I needed. Besides seniors, I also have the good fortune of being in touch with classmates and colleagues, some of whom entered design practices run by their parents or siblings, and a few who stared their own practices some years before we did.”

3. As an architect/ entrepreneur, understand that there will always be scope for learning.

An ability to deftly negotiate and manage the variety of participants, and their respective personalities during a project's course, is a fine art to master.

“There Is A Need For Diplomacy And An Understanding of Subtle Politics For Effective Design.” – Ranjeet Mukherjee, The Vrindavan Project 1 Ranjeet Mukherjee The Vrindavan Project

There are always going to be new challenges, and there is always going to be a learning curve in every single one of them.

For Ranjeet, the first challenge that he had to understand was the dynamism of the city that he works from. Every city has different aspects that can affect the ways in which you work as a practice.

There were many important lessons that manifested as the practice evolved, when they started receiving different types of projects and clients; such as –

There is a need for diplomacy and an understanding of subtle politics for effective design – Your client may not always agree with your design recommendations. One has to deploy a certain kind of restraint while explaining why your strategy is better suited and more sustainable for them in the long term. Most often the ‘client’ is a group or family, and members of these ‘client’ bodies invariably disagree among each other. This is where highly diplomatic negotiation strategies are vital, so as to allow for all participants to feel heard and to ensure that no one’s specific concerns are left out of the process.

Understanding the type of individual, you are dealing with as a client is a prerequisite –

We learnt it the hard way, the tough lesson of not getting paid for designs delivered successfully; simply upon the whim of a client who blatantly refuses to even acknowledge that any fees were due.

Situations such as these necessitates a judgment on the type of individual you are dealing with. He says, “Understanding people and discerning whom to take on as a client and what kinds of personalities to avoid like the plague, became another prerequisite to running a practice.”

Develop an understanding of the Business of Architecture – “There are lot of technicalities that go into project development which you have to be well versed with as the principal architect to appropriately conduct the “business” of architecture. This includes a thorough understanding of contract mechanisms and setting up all necessary infrastructure for invoicing, GST, establishment registrations, trade-marking among other requirements.

Recently we developed a deeper understanding of site communications, and further clarity in terms of the extents and limitations of a client’s involvement in any project… while safeguarding the designer’s true role and authority in a construction process; which is necessary to ensure safety and quality in every aspect of design.”

4. The Internet is your ally

The Internet brings about a relatively new avenue for self-expression and communication with a wider audience. According to Ranjeet, “Social media allows you to establish a certain amount of awareness of your work. A tool that was not accessible just a couple of decades ago. It allows for a niche audience to even follow one’s progress in real time; by witnessing the design and construction process as well… and not just the final product. This is a unique feedback mechanism.” Although, he then suggests that perhaps it’s utility is dependent upon the temperament of the design professional in question.

He continues, “Personally I have found that our own social media platforms are largely forums for students and fellow design professionals to interact with us; be it to exchange ideas or design sensibilities, suggest collaborations, conduct interviews or maybe as a platform used by students and architects to communicate their interest in working with us. Occasionally a couple of prospective clients have reached out to us with project proposals as well, over these social media sites.”

Social Media can be a boon if directed properly, and if its content is curated appropriately.

5.Take The Necessary Risks

Ranjeet says, “Understand that though working with an established firm provides a certain amount of job security, a regular salary and scope to become a senior partner someday, starting your own practice comes with its own rewards.” He encourages further saying “Although starting your own practice may be uncertain and daunting at first, the only way to find out how deep the rabbit hole goes, is by diving in. Upon removing the safety net, when one musters up enough courage to take on the risk of starting up one’s own practice – the rewards will speak for themselves.” He continues, “Both paths are valid and viable, depending on a person’s interests and aspirations. While seeking to work for an established practice, it is prudent to obtain further specialization university degrees, after your bachelors to enhance your resume and get higher paying positions over time; whereas on the entrepreneurial path, experience in the field matters the most. So, if you aspire to start your own practice one day, start working in smaller scale firms – understand the different aspects involved in sustaining a practice, preferably get a lot of site exposure; the earlier the better. If you decide to start your own practice, definitely go for it. The risks bring in the rewards.”

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