SURFACES REPORTER'S (SR) I-ME-MYSELF is a special section that hosts an interaction with a personality in design that is a mix of personal & professional stories.
Ar MADHAV RAMAN- Principal & Co-Founder, Anagram Architects, New Delhi, is one of the most promising architects of the younger generation. Madhav’s interests in cultural histories and urban economics add depth to the practice. He brings insight and experience in transit, urban ecologies, multi-disciplinary strategies and new technologies to projects. An avid cyclist and swimmer, Madhav regularly guides research, lectures and writes about design in professional journals as well as mainstream publications. In an up-close conversation with Vertica Dvivedi, Editor-in-Chief, Surfaces Reporter magazine, he poured his heart out about his interest, favourite projects, clients, inspirations, managing finance, mantras for students & young startups and much more.
What is your idea about the ‘New’ Normal?
This new normal is very abnormal so the architectural idea is equally abnormal. We need to start getting used to the fact that ‘Architecture is the protection against other things’. The biggest thing the pandemic has told us that it is us who are endangering other things including the nature, environment and the people. We are the one who is spreading the virus
Tell us something about your first project.
I started my firm right after college. Our first project was an extra room on the roof of my parent’s house when I was in second year. The first project with Vaibhav Dimri, I still remember, there was the launch of Skoda Octavia. We designed that event for ABN Bank's introduction of SKODA in India. The first architecture project we did was the South Asian Human Right Documentation Center (SAHRDC).
Life lessons you would like to share with SURFACES REPORTER.
One lesson that I have learnt is 'Not To Take Myself Seriously'. Sometimes we architects operate with a great deal of passion where we are convinced about our ideas and ideologies. But a practice is like a vessel in a stormy sea. It gets thrown around. Likewise, there are some disappointments too. So, I have learnt to have a sense of humour especially about myself and the predicaments I find myself in.
What are the three mantras for students of architecture & design
These are really tough times and none of the lessons from the past can be directly applied. Perhaps some values can be added
There are three lessons I would like to mention. Firstly, be honest to yourself, to check if you are enjoying what you do and the next project you choose. The clarity of thoughts have to be there. This becomes particularly important as now you do not have physical access to mentors or teachers with whom you can talk or take guidance from.
Secondly, be brave. When I was in my school, things were much more simple and less critical but now the situation has become a lot more different especially post COVID so be fearless.
Last but not the least, because you are in the design profession, do not stop asking questions. This is the mantra that I keep repeating ‘be honest, be fearless, be inquisitive.
What are the mantras you would like to share for young startups in architecture & design?
I think the startups have to be brave. This profession is not for weaklings. Life is very unfair for an entrepreneur; I would say, Choose Partners Wisely. It is important for the entrepreneur to build people's trust. I am very lucky to have Vaibhav as a partner who is amazing. He is my friend since the first day of college and we have deep trust in each other.
It’s a foundation that helps us to struggle and get out of any situation. We rely on each other. My big entrepreneur lesson is 'It's imperative that a business must have good partners or friends and to choose them wisely.'
The lesson that I have learnt is 'Not To Take Myself Seriously. A practice is like a vessel in a stormy sea. It gets thrown around. Likewise, there are some disappointments too. So, I have learnt to have a sense of humour especially about myself and the predicaments I find myself in.
How should one manage creativity and finance together?
The nature of creativity is such that it allows us to think laterally but a lot of the financial world operates lineraly. While in finance, one has to keep things linear like follow-ups, earnings, balancesheets, spread the expenses evenly, be wise about the future, Creativity is about thinking out of the box, doing radical things. It appears like they don’t sit together. However, I must say that as soon as you can, get yourself into the Financial Discipline means, pay your taxes, hire a Chartered Accountant, pay yourself a salary, log in your expenses etc. These things are easier if started in the begining itself when the size of the firm is smaller and easily manageble.
Tell us about the name 'Anagram' and the partnership with Vaibhav.
First, we became a friend because we used to hang out a lot and do theater together. Vaibhav still does theatre. The friendship blossomed because most of the time we were usually out of schedule on our submissions of college. We started doing group work together and realized we gel really well for work. After that, it became a typical bootstrap. We used to operate from our 'Living Room' attached to one bedroom which is in southwest Delhi. Slowly we became bigger. In 2004, we established the firm.
The real story of the name 'Anagram' is that we were searching for a name starting with letter A so that we would be at a top of any list. Suddenly I said Anagram but even I didn’t understand what it meant at that time. But we like how it sounded so we decided to keep it and the rest is history. It’s important to say that this is a story because ‘Anagram' means a different meaning of how you put it together or how you do not. It offers you a context. Hence our USP is that we never repeat our projects. It is never the same. We always try to give fresh.
Your views on the arts and creativity for collaboration.
Architecture is a domain incomplete without creativity. As a practitioner, my knowledge will never be complete. I look at this in a very optimistic way as it helps me in a mental position to collaborate. If I will be honest with myself then I will know the gaps in my knowledge and therefore, I see where and who can fulfill these gaps. It is very important to understand because the person who meets you as a sub-consultant where you are treating him like a peer because it is equally important in terms of sustainability. Arts in architecture is a process and we do architecture and Interior by going beyond sometimes. I have a lot of things in my mind but many ideas construct very suddenly. The ability to listen is very crucial and you can only listen if you know that someone is also contributing. If we already have something in our mind then we can never be a good listener. We looked at it differently and it is a fact that we are dependent on other people.
Why do we have to look at 100 years back or 500 years back to find good Indian architecture? Why not now?
The way architecture is taught in practice and the kind of buildings being buit are already in the process of being 100-year-old as this Modernist style is in use (albeit some periodical changes) for at least a hundred year. I have an understanding that the idea of building in any culture goes back thousands of years. As an architect, we are not great historian, we are a good storyteller who tell people that this is how their building will look like. Even Conservation Architects are conserving for the future. So, the philosophical answer is that it doesn't matter whether you are a futuristic architect talking about how we will live hundred years from now on or you are a nostalgic architect who feels that things were much simpler in the past. We must roll back the time. The idea is, we all are motivated to create better architecture, better human habitat and better impact on the planet.
Your message for young practicing architects and designers.
The nature of practice is full of unpredictability. It acts as the light source for good design. Uncertainty always gives good design but require so much ability to handle the humility because you can never be sure so, my message is, ‘The requirement of design to step out and try to be creative always. Learn from your past experiences and always keep learning.
My message for Surfaces Reporter:
I must congratulate you because Surfaces Reporter and the events that it holds are picking up the most crucial subject matter. The gender divide that one sees in architecture is one of the biggest places where the change can occur. It has nothing to do with the building; it has got to do with how we see ourselves as a representative of the demographics of the society. This is the biggest thing I can talk about the Surfaces Reporter about its commitment towards the question of gender as no one likes to talk about it. The other thing is the sense of positivity. No matter, if there are difficult times or situations, you people keep connecting as you also believe that ideas too change over time. For me, these are the hallmarks of SR publication and I look forward to it.
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