Keta and Varun Shah combine their individual skills to run a multi-disciplinary design practice that fuses art, graphics and space as a part of a single canvas
What drew you to design?
KS: I was always interested in the creative fields, and dabbled in art, music and dance throughout my school days. At the same time, I was curious about what went into making things. I guess architecture was a natural fit. The people and the environment at CEPT University, where I pursued a B.Arch degree, really push you to explore your interests beyond the curriculum. Being in such a thriving environment, among passionate people helped us to learn new things everyday and has been instrumental in shaping my thinking.
VS: Growing up, I enjoyed tinkering with things – pulling them apart to see the processes and products making them work. Design as a profession wasn’t something that I was much aware about during my school days. I pursued a B.Des degree at CEPT and think I made the most of what the institution had to offer – there is so much to informal learning to feed on after classes and accessibility to some of the best minds in design and architecture.
What is the story behind Workshop Inc.?
KS: Workshop Inc. was originally set up by three partners – Keta Shah, Varun Shah and Harsha Mistry. In 2011, the three of us did a 10-day pop-up Photo Booth during Navratri at CEPT, and it received an amazing response. What started as a fun thing turned into a formal venture, and over the next three years, we traveled across the country to set up booths at corporate events, weddings and other events.
It was also a good way to learn our strengths as a team, and we started working on design projects together, formally establishing Workshop Inc. in 2014. Harsha has since left the firm and moved to the UK to pursue other interests. I am Principal Architect and Varun is Principal Interior Designer. We are very hands-on in our approach to design, focusing more on the making and the methods behind it. Our work primarily spans the disciplines of architecture, interior design and exhibition design, along with projects for styling, visual merchandising and creating brand identities.
Which have been your most memorable projects?
The Project Café in Ahmedabad has been conceptualized as a fresh, dynamic space merging three aspects – food, art and retail – where food acts as a catalyst for widening the reach of artists and designers among the masses. The idea was to create a language that serves as a canvas for the numerous and changing artworks. The neutral palette of the space, with its raw character of textured walls, curved edges and metal display systems, is the shell that is the permanent feature of the café, with the artworks and furniture being embellishments. Collaborating with artists to create usable art – right from furniture to cutlery and linens, gave a distinctive character to the space.
The Advanced Diabetes Centre in Surat (in association with Ar. Samir Shah) is spread across 4,350 sq ft. The design is an attempt to reinterpret healthcare design, creating a warm and calming atmosphere using color and different materials. Being a lifestyle clinic where patients are required to spend at least a few hours at regular intervals to undergo testing, it was important to create various points of interest to keep it from being monotonous and boring over a period of time.
Baraza in Pune (in association with Ar. Siddharth Paroolkar) has been conceptualized as a Goan house that is opened out to become a watering hole. The idea was to create a place where you can relax and unwind after a long day, creating a ‘destination’ that immediately transports you to another place. The place channels in the relaxed and laid-back vibe of Goan bars or Tavernas. It is designed as a fresh take on old-world charm that is bound to induce nostalgia, yet is modern at the same time.
The Container Bistro in Anand is situated in an open plot of about 4,250 sq ft. The challenge was to make the restaurant stand out from the surrounding mass of concrete buildings and attract clientele not just from Anand, but also from the nearby cities of Ahmedabad and Vadodara. Considering that it was to be built on leased land, the factors of time, permanence and construction costs that came along with conventional construction methods also had to be taken into consideration. Repurposing used shipping containers was the perfect solution to this, and allowed for the structure to be disassembled and shifted to another location without a significant strain on resources.
What has been the most challenging brief you’ve ever received?
In 2012, when School of Architecture, CEPT University, celebrated its 50th year, we were entrusted with the task of designing an exhibition displaying the works of their alumni. The SA50 exhibition was to be designed inside one of the classes at the School of Architecture building designed by Prof. B V Doshi. Both the Context and the Content were daunting for fresh architects in the field. Toying with the idea of playing with the different volumes within the space, we designed a suspended system that challenges the way that space is perceived every day. The test then was to execute the system without fixing any nails or screws on the building, which we were successfully able to manage.
What does your creative process entail?
At Workshop Inc., we look at each project with fresh eyes, generating ideas and concepts based on the brief. This initial ideation is very important to us, as it is the concept that drives all the decisions taken for the design. The spectrum of concepts that we work with can be varied – it can be a mood that we want to create for the space, it could be one design constant for the entire space, it could be about exploring one particular material or a technique – but, in the end, we try and take all design decisions for that based on that one constant. With our maker’s mentality, we end up customizing a lot of things within the space, from furniture, accessories to lighting and artworks, and the freedom to be able to do that allows us to create a cohesive design language for our projects.
What is your strategy for dealing with clients?
KS: Dealing with clients is something that we have learnt over time. Being a young firm, we’re still learning every day, and each new client throws up a curveball. I wouldn’t say that there is a fixed way to deal with each client, but being professional, with proper contracts in place, helps you to weed out a lot of grey areas. I feel there’s always a give and take, and clients are more receptive to newer ideas when you are confident and have done your homework. We’re grateful to have had some wonderful clients from whom we’ve learnt a lot!
Do awards matter when it comes to business?
For us awards or recognition are markers that show that maybe your work is going in the right direction. We look at them more as incentives to do better work, rather than accomplishments. When it comes to business, they may add credibility to your work from the client’s perspective, but it would be difficult to say if awards directly affect the volume of business.
What is the ‘Ahmedabad Objectified’ project about?
‘Ahmedabad Objectified’ was a platform to create interactive street art. It was 2013, and social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook were picking up in a big way. We added a specific hashtag to a number of ‘objects’ across walls in Ahmedabad, and it was fascinating to see people interacting with those objects and uploading their pictures on social media, tagged with our hashtag.
What challenges do young architects face in India today?
As young architects or designers, it is really important to find your voice in the visual and sensory overload that we are bombarded with everyday. It is really important to find what you love doing and what you are good at, and then work with those skills to carve out a niche of your own.
How challenging is it to work as a couple?
As a young business, we are still learning the ropes of running and growing an organization. Both of us are very much involved in the designing of our projects, with each taking the lead of specific projects based on our strengths. The same goes for the administrative tasks as well. But it does get challenging at times, since you’re with the same person 24 x 7, and work never takes a backseat. But, both of us are really passionate about design, and it is more often than not a blessing to have a sounding board for ideas even in the middle of the night. And with the support of our team of designers and our families, we are trying to figure out an ideal work-life balance!
What’s next for Workshop Inc.?
At Workshop Inc, we’re always on the lookout to design new and interesting stuff! We envision Workshop Inc. as a design studio that offers cohesive design solutions to brands and clients across various design verticals. Presently, we are working on developing a range of products for home, an extension of what we do in our projects, and we are looking forward to launching them next year!
This article was originally published in POOL 102.
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