Work and gain experience outside of your comfort zone. – Prashant Pradhan’s advice to young architects

Interview by Shubhayan Modak

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Prashant Pradhan Architects is a design firm based in Gangtok, Sikkim that focuses on delivering the highest quality multidisciplinary design. They do not distinguish between urban design, architecture, and interiors and approach each discipline as being seamlessly interrelated. Their design philosophy is rooted in the context, and therefore, issues of identity and culture get as much attention as architecture in the contemporary context. Their projects vary largely in scale, ranging from a 1.2km stretch walkway with allied facilities in the heart of the town, markets currently being constructed in 2 major towns in Sikkim to small residential units and design of individual furniture pieces. They are currently working on a number of hospitality projects since tourism is the most important industry in the region. Prashant Pradhan (MCA, MIIA) the principal architect is a graduate from CEPT and has done his post-graduation from the Berlage Institute, Netherlands. He has spent time working in offices in Amsterdam and New York and has also taught at the City University in NYC.

Ar. Prashant Pradhan has always wanted to have his own practice in his hometown, Gangtok. He was also quite clear that prior to starting his practice, he would need to gain experience and develop an extensive set of skills so that upon starting his practice, he would have the necessary intellectual and market skills at his disposal to handle most situations when they arose. It was because of these objectives that he set out to get a master’s degree from the Berlage Institute in Amsterdam. Fueled by practices such as OMA, UN Studio, and MVRDV, he was exposed to the fiercely progressive design environment of Holland. After his masters, he lived and worked in a few offices there. By the time he left the Netherlands, he possessed a fairly good idea of how to conduct research and be able to operate in an Urban Environment.

“I returned to India with the idea to start my practice but, before I did that, I got an opportunity to live and work in New York for a few years. I worked in a few offices and managed to gain a lot of experience in office management. I also worked in a small firm that specialized in high-end interiors. This helped me gain a deep insight into interior design. Armed with this arsenal of different skills when I returned to Gangtok, I was well equipped to establish my practice. I wanted my office to be a studio with space for discussion and debate about the design. There would be a lot of freedom given to architects and interns working in the studio so they could develop their design skills and encourage the sharing of ideas so that the design process would be enriched.”

Possibly, the biggest challenge in the first few years of the practice had to do with where the projects were going to come from and, who would come to work with me. – Prashant Pradhan.

Gangtok is quite removed from the rest of India – tucked away between Nepal and Bhutan. It was a challenge to get architects, recent graduates, and interns to know that PPA was looking to hire. Typically local students and fresh graduates looking for the comfort of working in the government, so they were not available. The ones that worked with the office for a while promptly left the firm as soon as an opportunity in the government sector arose.

Ar. Pradhan had to visit colleges in other states asking for students wanting to intern with his firm. There have been times when all the work in the office was managed solely by interns. Apart from lacking experience, they had short tenures, which meant that before they could begin to understand what they were working on a little more deeply, it was time for them to leave. The office has since made a policy that short internships are discouraged. “I feel that there has to be a relationship between how long an architectural project takes to complete and the duration of an internship. In order to learn something – more time is required.” he rightly says.

Talking of the joys in the course of the practice, he says that the satisfaction of achieving completion of a project is unparalleled.

We worked on an urban walkway project, which took a long time to build and complete but, when it was done, it has helped decongest the city and create a safe and dry walking area for pedestrians. This makes me happy.

They also completed a hotel project earlier where they developed a model that could create a contemporary luxury experience built very inexpensively. This was then repeated in refurbishing and renovating a number of hotels after that, which has been a milestone idea for them.

Ar. Pradhan wants an organic and eventual growth for his office in the future, a model which is not aim and goal driven but grows in the footsteps of the people who are a part of it!

I don’t have any vision as to where I would like to see our practice in the future. I would hope that it would evolve based on the people who contribute to it – the people who work with us – our clients and consultants. There is no specific goal to try and achieve, but the general idea is that there must be growth and development. This may be achieved by critical thinking and self-reflection, which I want to encourage within our office.

In the end, Ar. Prashant Pradhan gives a very realistic set of advice to the youngsters new in the market.

• Work and gain experience outside of your comfort zone. The further you go and push yourself, the more you will learn. Live and work outside where you grew up and went to college.
• Consider every challenge as an opportunity to learn. Don’t be scared to make mistakes when you are working in someone else’s office. It’s up to the senior and experienced architects to teach you and take the blame.
• Work in a small or medium-sized firm so you get to wear many hats. That way, you will gain an overall understanding of the process of designing and constructing buildings.
• Don’t start your practice without enough experience and have your poor clients pay for your expensive mistakes.
This never gets any more real!

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