“The best road to success is freedom!” — Mahatma Gandhi
As a child, I was a brilliant student, always finishing at the top of the class until ninth grade. Such was my reputation that it built a dream in my parents’ eyes — to see their son among the top ten students of the city in the Board Examinations. Unfortunately, both their dream and I were broken when I could not achieve this platform. This ignited a fire within – thereafter, I was always looking for a chance to prove myself. The best day of my life came when both my design thesis guides helped me achieve this goal in the final year of my undergraduate architecture studies. I was awarded a gold medal for ‘Best Performance in the Final Academic Year’ and another for ‘Best Performance in Design Thesis’ under their guidance. One of these two guides was Ar. Mahesh Nagecha; the other was Ar. Snehal Shah, who has played an important role in my professional and personal life ever since. It was the year 2002 when I first met Snehal at the SCET college campus, and a few interactions with him compelled me to select him as my thesis guide, even though he was very new to the college. I completed my undergraduate architecture studies in June 2003 and joined ESSTEAM (then S.Team Design Services) — Snehal’s Team, in July 2003, exactly 11 months after ESSTEAM’s establishment.
What I like most about this office is the kind of freedom and sense of ownership that has been provided to each team member. I still remember my first project at the office where I broke an entire physical model just because I did not like the pitched roof, without knowing that it was several days’ worth of effort put in by two senior team members. I was expecting a big remonstration for this, but instead, it converted into a healthy discussion, eventually resulting in the decision to go forth with the design I prepared on my first day on the job. Inopportunely, we did not get that project, but this incident gave my confidence a big boost that helped me a lot in my professional career subsequently. During my journey with ESSTEAM, from a Fresher to Junior Architect, to Senior Architect to Project Head, and finally becoming a Partner in this illustrious organization, I learnt many different sides of the profession. Being one of the oldest members of the current team, I took this opportunity to write about the Culture at ESSTEAM, which I believe has played a major role in ESSTEAM’s success so far.
I never imagined that I would be in for a shock when I reached the office on day one, July 16, 2003. The reception desk was empty, and so was the waiting area with glass seats. I turned to find an empty discussion table surrounded by reasonably empty soft boards. I was dazed and thought to myself, ‘Where have I landed?’
I then checked the workstations, and found only two of the eight occupied by two staff members, working on desktop computers, and during our subsequent discussion, found that both had joined the office on that very day! I decided that I was not a bird fit for this nest.
However, while moving toward the printing desk, my eyes moved to the small soft board near the printing station, a single A4 paper tacked on it. This small piece of paper proved all my assumptions wrong. It read: ‘Ek sthapati nu 2011 na Surat mate nu gulabi swapn’ (An architect’s rosy dream of Surat in 2011). Reading that, I suddenly felt lucky to have made the decision to begin my professional journey in this office, for I certainly believe that to choose the right school is the foundation for the right education.
This simple yet emphatic article was but just a glimpse of Snehal’s thinking process. If I start writing about Snehal and his continuous efforts toward setting up the right culture at ESSTEAM, it will lead to the writing of a whole new book. Having said this, I would like to glance upon a few areas which explain about the culture that has been developed at the office, laying emphasis on an interactive atmosphere, a professional approach, the win-win theory, an individual’s identity and personal growth, to name but a few.
During my nine years with ESSTEAM, I have come to an understanding that the office sustains because clients are happy with the services that are provided to them as well as the integrity that ESSTEAM has constantly shown. It is very likely in a profession, where fees are to be paid on a percentage basis, that the interest of a person leans toward a commercial approach more than a creative one. This is the aspect where ESSTEAM has put so many efforts to instil the right values, and so, each member is polished through a rigorous process. As a result, we are fathoms away from the tag of commercial architects and our list of clients shows that we haven’t lost many, and that the Banyan Tree is growing bigger, deeper and stronger with each passing day.
At ESSTEAM, we pay no heed to the term ‘hierarchy’. It is understood that each member has a role to perform in a systematic way. The profession we are in requires a lot of communication and many, many decisions every day. Everybody sits on same floor including Designers, Engineers and the Drafting team for easy accessibility, as well as to cut down process time.
Similarly, we do not have any doors in the office, thus never stopping one individual approach another, as, ultimately, it affects both the work and its quality. ‘Transfer your words into reality!’ This is what each member of ESSTEAM has to agree with. When I got to know about this book, I felt it was very important to explain this chapter, as ESSTEAM’s culture has played a major role in its success so far. The initially small ESSTEAM had written its ‘Mission Statement’ in its early days, and we have since then redoubled out efforts to stick to it.
To deliver high standard design solutions to any design issue encompassing diverse fields through in-depth and passionate endeavours. To work towards overall development of the team members through commitments and efforts that go beyond professional engagements.
The latter part of this mission statement is about the members’ overall growth; here on I shall delve into some of the activities that have been undertaken toward this goal.
Since each member of ESSTEAM spends more of his/her waking hours in the office than at home, it is very important that one should feel an atmosphere akin to the latter at the office as well. Fortunately, this environment has been created through ESSTEAM’s proactive members. If you visit the office, do not be surprised if you hear a loud laughter on the studio floor, people moving around with coffee mugs, a shout to ask for Babukaka’s tea, Dotiwala’s biscuits lying in drawers along with stationeries, songs of Mithun and Bappi Lahiri’s era blasting at full volume, groups of people discussing on any topic, a menu being prepared at one of the table for next day’s lunch, and other eccentricities. This kind of freedom exists alongside the responsibility of completing the day’s tasks by every team member with complete and utter integrity. The thing about this office that I like the most is that people do not hesitate to share their technical expertise, an unwavering command on software or any other skill.
I have witnessed quite a few people initiating special workshops to educate other members regarding software know-how (like Photoshop, SketchUp, etc.), as well as knowledge of photography skills along with the technical knowledge on current cameras and the importance of each given function. Also, several members have, in the past, been sent to special classes during office hours for several days to learn new software such as Revit.
We believe that the entire office must work as a single body with variegated brains, as it brings out the best from every individual, and thus helps the office in its progress. We respect everyone’s ideas but understand that it isn’t necessary to implement them unless and until the person is convinced of the same. The atmosphere at the office allows everyone to put their thoughts up front even against the boss, and it is always resolved through healthy discussions, until both parties reach an amicable and positive consensus — a system we strive to achieve on any given day, the basis for the Culture at ESSTEAM.
Content written by AR. Jigar Dalal