Here’s the innovation that architects and designers are looking for!
Real Estate

Here’s the innovation that architects and designers are looking for!

The space we reside in impacts us in more ways than one. It affects our physical and mental well-being and sets the stage for most of our everyday activities. It also has an effect on the environment in how the elements are manufactured and sourced. In this age of social media, the appeal of aesthetic, ‘instagrammable’ spaces has been on a high.

Product selection

Every element making up the decor, its design, material and texture, is decidedly chosen by the designer depending upon a variety of factors that collectively make up the context of the space. “Everything depends on the design concept for the project,” says Meenu Agarwal, Founder and Interior Designer, MADS Creations.

The space we reside in impacts us in more ways than one. It affects our physical and mental well-being and sets the stage for most of our everyday activities. It also has an effect on the environment in how the elements are manufactured and sourced. In this age of social media, the appeal of aesthetic, ‘instagrammable’ spaces has been on a high. Product selection Every element making up the decor, its design, material and texture, is decidedly chosen by the designer depending upon a variety of factors that collectively make up the context of the space. “Everything depends on the design concept for the project,” says Meenu Agarwal, Founder and Interior Designer, MADS Creations. “It is a result of our vision for the project after many rounds of discussions with the client.” “The product has to go with the ethos of the project we have created,” agrees Pooja Bihani, Principal Architect and Founder, Spaces & Design. Durability, workability, availability and budget play a part too. Additionally, products should offer good value for money. “The simplest things are the best,” says Amit Aurora, Partner, groupDCA. And when it comes to incorporating value addition, he gives an example. “Say, we design the layout for a living space or bedroom and the residents want a TV. However, there is a good view outside the window on the only available wall. We can provide a simple set of windows, but then where do you put the TV? Here, we can design hardware for the TV to lower into a cabinet or go inside the ceiling and bring down when needed.” Innovation factor Often, products are incorporated into a space in such a way that they optimise the space, enhancing its functionality. According to Rudraksh Charan, Principal Architect, 42mm Architecture, an interior product stands out as innovative when it solves a problem that is identified but not yet addressed. “It can be a slight modification in the product that can change its shelf life or some technological equipment that can function with maximum efficiency and yet be concealed.” Innovation is anything out of the ordinary in the way of value addition. “Providing premium at a reasonable cost is also an innovation,” says Priyanka Khanna, Principal Architect, 42mm Architecture. Apart from being aesthetic, products should make practical sense and be functional. Agarwal shares an example: “We have used vertical linear lights to separate the living and dining areas in one of our projects. It adds a unique feature to the space and looks good, while obstructing vision and successfully bifurcating the two spaces.” Flexibility of material usage is another aspect of innovation. “Any material that comes in larger sizes allows for the flexibility of joints as per design,” says Bihani. “If the number of joints is reduced, the look changes.” Innovating through design to achieve unique finishes is also a route. “A lot of products are getting minimal. It is possible to have a minimal switch panel with four switches that carry out the function of 16 switches,” says Ajay Arya, Founder, A Square Design. “Flooring innovations include experimental flooring where it is possible to combine two or three materials to achieve a hybrid flooring. Further, in windows, the aluminium profile is getting slimmer and sleeker. Glazing is also getting designed as per the climatic context to withstand pressures on the higher floors of skyscrapers owing to the wind.” In Aurora’s view, innovation adds an interesting value to the whole package, “and that value is never just sheer aesthetic. For instance, you have toilet fixtures that are user-friendly for people with special needs.” Some products may offer innovation by enhancing the acoustics, soundproofing, sound absorption and ventilation and optimising a space in tangible ways. Origin story For most designers, the quality of the product is the prime deciphering factor. “We look into the brand’s background and its manufacturing processes to estimate their technological advancement and ability to innovate and also to see a cost margin,” says Khanna. Factors like cost, time of procurement and access to maintenance play an important role in decision making. All designers prefer to rely on well-known brands for the quality guarantee but some prefer locally handcrafted products as well. Bihani relies on brands because in many places, especially in eastern India, there is a dearth of variety and range, and availability is also an issue. Going with a well-known brand helps her gain and maintain customer trust. Kanhai Gandhi, Partner, KNS, agrees, saying, “Apart from the look and feel, it is important to have a product that delivers on longevity. For example, if you’re buying a sanitary fitting or fixture, we ensure it has a life of 15-20 years without giving any trouble to the client, apart from just serving as an aesthetic component. When it comes to the fabric, veneer or any type of wood, brands play a huge role because they are known for quality.” For his part, Aurora prefers to seek quality among local suppliers. “Anything handmade is better,” he avers. “Products using artisanal workmanship and helping to improve the rural economy in any way are better. The USP of these products is that they are unique and not mass produced.” Agarwal adds, “What matters most to us is using the best local craftsmanship and high quality of materials and finishes to achieve end products that are on par with the finest brands in terms of style, construction and function. We might include a brand if the client so desires. In that case, it would totally depend on the client’s wish.” So, with aesthetics more or less understood as the prime decision driver, how much of a sway does sustainability have over pricing? “If an initial capital investment can reduce the overall cost spent during the lifetime of the product, or significantly reduces maintenance, the cost margin is covered by the client,” responds Charan. “However, if the higher cost margin offers an additional aesthetic value, which holds precedence for the client too, the cost margin gets neglected.” “Here, it’s a little contradictory that you want it to be affordable, but handmade products will always be more expensive,” explains Aurora. “I wouldn’t spend money on doing intrinsic panelling on the wall but I would spend money on somebody doing wall art, painting that wall. An aesthetically driven product is up to us as architects. We can use any product judiciously and make it aesthetically driven – that is the role of an architect or designer.” Indian companies are now stepping up to meet market demands and deliver good quality at a good price. “Many local products – be it furniture, light fittings – have a similar output as international ones,” says Gandhi. “There are a lot of good Indian companies that deliver good quality at a good price. It is just a matter of time that people start realising the brand value of products produced in India.” Sustainability Product selection plays a crucial role in making a space sustainable. “Products that pose a choice between sustainability and aesthetics are not successful sustainable products,” says Khanna. “Sustainability in product choices is personal to a client; as designers, we promote sustainable products that do not compromise on quality.” Meanwhile, Bihani says, “If the project calls for sustainability, it is better to keep sustainable products as the primary factor but if the client is looking for a project with a high-end look, aesthetics become more important. What would be a better practice is to introduce a sustainable product in a high-end project in ways that accentuates the project.” “Thoughtfully designed and manufactured products using materials and finishes sourced responsibly do play a role in making a space sustainable,” says Agarwal. “Today, most luxury brands follow all environment-friendly norms, making them equally sustainable as the products labelled as such.” How a designer uses interior design and interior design products is what makes them sustainable, believes Aurora, “For instance, if I am using an expensive marble and tomorrow the space is being renovated, the marble goes waste whereas a good, handmade carpet that can survive for generations will never go waste.” In future While the current market for innovative products is still developing, the designers we interviewed help identify some potential gaps: Rudraksh Charan: “For the makers of innovative products, it is important to observe and study the user. Every person appropriates/uses a product differently. Studying the habits of the user can help modify and evolve the designed product. A product developed as a response to the user's psychology tends to be an innovation and a value addition to quality of life.” Amit Aurora: “I want to create contemporary, modern spaces but I also want to have products that are more inclusive in terms of their production systems. I don’t want to use every product that is factory made and wish there were more people using crafts to create more contemporary products.” Kanhai Gandhi: “A lot of stuff seen on social media is not apt for our weather conditions. A little more time needs to be given to R&D because then we’ll actually be manufacturing for the country and its weather conditions.” Priyanka Khanna: “There are only a few people identifying modified products to suit a person with disability. Moreover, the cost implication for such modifications also makes the product out of reach for a large number of the disabled public. When inclusivity is not seen as a privilege rather than a fundamental need, it becomes a distinguishing factor.” Ajay Arya: “Certain products are harmful for human health, such as some paint finishes banned in other countries, but we lack awareness about them. The construction community can help make people aware of this and the Government can also move towards making these products safer for both human health and the environment.” Inputs from SHRIYAL SETHUMADHAVAN

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