Modern design has become a mainstream requirement for an increasingly large number of discerning people. Luxe architecture and interior design are no longer considered the domain of the elite, with an increasingly large middle class going in for that extra dash of value addition to make their spaces unique. Innovation in aesthetics, technology and a ready access to a universe of ideas has brought design across scales and typologies within the grasp of the common man. The urge to create and possess an aesthetically and functionally curated product has translated into the field of Architecture and Interior design, and we are happy to be a part of this revolution.
Featuring in this issue of The Enterprise World’s of The Best Architecture Design Firm In 2022, is Ground 11, a architecture and interior design firm that is working towards adding value to our built environment, enriching lives through design.
Ground 11 is a full-service design firm, with projects and realizations across architecture, Interior design, urban design and master planning. It is by most metrics a small firm with a very design and detail-oriented approach. They have a very diverse group of professionals working with the firm, within their offices as well as in various allied fields across the world, collaborating and contributing to their unique design narrative. Ground 11 has two offices, two partner firms and three outposts, spread across India, USA, Ghana, Nigeria and Ethiopia. These constitute a team that is able to conceptualise, design and deliver across scales and project typologies.
Ground 11 is based in Pune, with RC Sons in Chennai and Urbanscape Architects in Delhi being Ground 11’s multiple award-winning partner firms, with a free flow of collaborative ideas between them. Ground 11’s presence in the US is as VIDA, a small LA based studio specifically geared towards large urban-scale live-work-play community design, and is headed by Ar. Drone Iyangar, a UCLA alumnus and an urbanisist par excellence.
Ground 11 has been working with RC Sons for over 15 years on master planning and IT projects, and with Ar. Dinesh Panwar and his team at Urbanscape Architects for large residential, commercial and mixed Urban design projects.
“Our outposts are small teams of ‘design ninjas’ as we call them, who proactively problem solve while helping us understand and provide global design solutions in keeping with local culture, technologies and processes.”
Every project done by the teams is an in-house design competition, where alternative interpretations of the design brief are extended into conceptual derivatives that bind the project, and hold the essence of the design through development. A large amount of work done by the firm is research driven, where the design grows around an idea, or is a stream of thought that allows reinterpretation and re-evaluation of commonly assumed paradoxes.
This keeps them questioning the established, and establishing their questions. Needless to say, every project concludes with more questions than answers – for the firm – while the client gets better solutions.
“Ground 11 actively involve ourselves in feasibility studies and financial modelling for projects, necessitating an often-steep learning curve while working on projects in other countries.”
The Growth Quotient-
At a very philosophical level, growth is a gradual and organic function. For Ground 11, it is the measure of how they as a team deliver aesthetics within the individual economical and functional framework of a project.
These aspects of a project matter, because there will come a time when enough people will know about the firm, and when the clients will reach out to them more often than before. And over a period of time, as the firm will crystallize and fixate on its own design philosophy and narrative, like-minded and like-thinking people will come together and make wonderful ideas happen organically.
Chronologically, two points in this twenty-four-year journey are of note.
The first was the winning of an international design competition in 2010 for a project in Tamil Nadu, which required the firm to raise their game to global levels, where Ar. Drone Iyangar with his incredible design acumen and workflow management created a paradigm shift in how one viewed the design process. This also encouraged us to move beyond our shores for work.
The second inflection point was the start of Ground 11’s association with someone who is now a dear friend and mentor in the United States. Mr. Michael Todd reached out to them to help imagine his house in Newport Beach CA, around five years ago. That collaborative and iterative process gave rise to a long and lasting business and personal relationship that has spanned several years and projects.
“We continue to work with him and his incredible team in California and Texas on planning, mixed use, and residential projects in several cities.”
Ground 11- A Notch Above the Rest-
“What makes us different is our approach to a project as well as our outwardly chaotic but highly nuanced design process. This allows us to provide fast and efficient design solutions that are tailor-made for any size or type of project.”
They also do feasibility studies that include financial modelling and guidance on project structuring with phase-wise mezzanine stack financing options that are most suited for the project vision and rollout. Their extensive study and deep dives on product mix, both design and construction planning, is something that is relatively rare in this space as a core competence of a design firm.
Ground 11 prides itself on a highly technology-driven eco-system with 3D printing and VR simulations making for seamless workflow and project communication.
“Ground 11‘s workflow is that of a small design team, not unlike an architecture school.”
Each project team is headed by a senior who is a mentor for the team. The team defines the direction and the narrative of the project, and all members are encouraged to interact with clients to understand the project and the client better.
Projects are divided on the basis of criteria that include time frame, research required, resources available, and mandatory inclusion of a team member who has no experience with that particular typology, to provide an unbiased design perspective during the process. Clients are encouraged to be a part of the process, and all sketches and process diagrams are shared throughout the project.
The design process and its narration are considered equally important, to ensure the why is as important as the what, through all stages of design. The methodology of project design is a seamless transition through research, concept and design, often requiring an education in local culture, technologies and methodologies.
A Competent Team: Strong basics, innovative ideation
“The team at Ground 11 have worked and continue to work in over 10 countries around the world, and still find exciting newness in it all, every day.”
Ground 11 architects work as a design studio, where every member of the team takes ownership of his or her work, and is encouraged to make mistakes, the more the better, and to learn from them. Each person within the firm is actively encouraged to pursue their own passions, including playing music, dance, writing, theatre, fashion designing and many such that not only make the workplace positive, but help each employee understand and empathize with others.
Seniors are encouraged to improve themselves and pass it along to juniors, and projects are occasionally designed through simply because they provide an excellent platform to hone and improve some skill or improve the functioning of the team. There is no direct micro-management where not required, and delegation is encouraged. Everyone is allowed to perform in a manner that brings out what they are best at. This improves morale, increases productivity, and allows for a much wider range of skills to be learnt.
The Road Ahead-
Although Ground 11’s core competencies have remained largely unchanged, they have added several value additions or ‘plug-ins’ that add significant value throughout project lifecycles, with some transcending individual projects and more suited for an overall improvement in workflow. The use of Virtual reality in ever more technical use cases has significantly improved design validation and communication within a team, and it has allowed them to venture into projects where they would otherwise not have. Another is the use of point cloud data as a survey tool, which has cut down the project documentation workflow and increased efficiency substantially.
“We have also started the design of bespoke furniture and detailing for various parts of projects, including kinetic facades, programmed climate-responsive screen systems and so on.”
However, these do not constitute any kind of stand-alone services for the firm, but more as value addition to their projects to increase efficiency and leverage technology to achieve better than acceptable outcomes.
Pranav Iyer and His Views on the Future of Architecture-
“We are at a point in time where the past, the present and the future of architecture coexist. The cutting edge of digital design tools are being used to restore the oldest structures, complete unfinished ones like the Sagrada Familia, while pushing the possibilities in parametric design and architecture. Collaborative teams are working simultaneously on the same drawings and the same time, from different parts of the world, designing buildings that are at times being hand built by artisans who now have a global audience for their thousand-year-old craft.
The future of architecture will definitely be more democratic, as acclaim is no longer tied to the inertia of previous fame. New ideas have the same platform as established thoughts, and interpretations in architectural design cross national and cultural boundaries with the click of a button.
A meritocracy is beginning to emerge, and global competitiveness will encourage a much higher level of collaboration, as designers across fields realize it is better to collaborate with others and compete with themselves.”