Tell us about some important projects that your studio was involved in just before the lockdown.
We were working on a diverse range of projects when the pandemic hit. We had a design-build housing project, a few exciting residences that were on-site, interior design projects, urban design work with the city corporation, as well as a couple of institutions. All of them were in different stages of execution. Many of them came to a grinding halt, but we managed to use this time to work on the finer details and picked up the pace once again as and when the lockdown rules were relaxed.
Which were the biggest challenges and fears you faced because of the lockdown?
The pandemic has been a shakeup to everyone. When the lockdown guidelines were first announced, we did not know when work would resume on-site or when we could meet in person and had to ensure that no one from our team had to face hardships monetarily or otherwise. We also had to find a way to coordinate efficiently because every person’s set up, responsibilities and situation at home were different. Mediums such as Whatsapp and Google Drive came through at this point and helped us keep channels open for constant and consistent communication.
While we thankfully had enough work to do throughout, the pandemic also had us questioning the direction in which we wanted to steer our practice. We imagined to practice in a manner that truly celebrates the diverse work we are doing, with projects that are close to our heart. Our biggest blessing in this period was that we already had great synergy as a team. We had a team that already knew how it worked together pre-lockdown, made of people we knew well.
What were the challenges you faced with the monetary flow in your practice and how are you handling them?
As a multidisciplinary design collective, our diversity of work has ensured that we have projects of different kinds and scales. When a certain area of work is not feasible, there is some other area of work that ensures that all of us can continue to work. Our priority was to ensure no salary cuts of any kind and the income that came from our different initiatives and past projects helped us work around the pandemic.
How are you strategizing to adapt to the new conditions of work upon resumption of office post the lockdowns?
We have started rethinking the nature of the work environment and its spaces. One of the most crucial things our studio space achieved is creating that working synergy in the team. Along with the standard safety and hygiene precautions like masks and sanitisers, the different zones and levels in our studio space have also helped us to be conveniently socially distanced when we are working in the office. Despite the current challenges, the design of our workspace along with the relationship we have with our team has allowed us to create some flexibility and adapt as needed.
Were any new methods of work evolved during the lockdown?
We started scrutinizing all our work and began to invest more time in fine-tuning the details. We spent a lot of time on building good bones for every element with a focus on what is made along with how it is made, who it is made by and how much it costs.
The pandemic just so happened to coincide with the milestone of ten years of our practice and for us, it was more about perfecting the methodology than finding a new method of work.
How were the coordination issues resolved with the studio staff and on-site team?
We had a good communication system in place and made sure that we were constantly in touch with the team, the clients, our site teams and contractors. At all times, we tried to ensure that work was planned beforehand and that updates were frequent and regular.
What were the biggest learnings from the pandemic? And which decisions and new work methods you feel your studio will continue with for the future?
The pandemic has helped us invest more time in the process. We are embracing the idea of adaptive work environments and spaces. The entire world through isolation has realised the value of human connection over the past year. Now more than ever we need to create comfortable spaces that encourage interaction and friendship.
In terms of the future of work, we cannot think of the office in terms of rows of computers and cubicles. We need to prioritise spaces for people over technology or FSI or anything else. We think that design plays an important role in making an ecosystem out of an office, and in creating an atmosphere within the office that goes beyond virtual connection.
Please share a few words about any construction approval processes being influenced by the lockdown. How have the development authorities responded to you and did they share any instructions regarding the approval processes?
We did not have to take up any projects that required construction approval from the C.M.D.A during this period. In our experience over the past year, the city corporation in Chennai has taken a lead to ensure a seamless workflow despite the pandemic and have been accessible throughout. This kept us busy with our public projects.
How have your contractors and labour network been influenced by the lockdown and what measures have you made to sustain or revive them?
The pandemic was not easy on the contractors or the labourers, especially at the beginning. It was through our contractors that we get an understanding of the complexities of the different teams that sustain themselves through the different things that happen on-site simultaneously. For the projects that we were executing on-site, our contractor ensured that the team on-site was paid throughout. As an office, we also try to create constant avenues of work for skill-specific labour.
Are you involved in any off-studio/allied initiatives such as office collaborations, NGO and social projects, working with authorities, photography, writing, research, conservation, etc.? How were these initiatives influenced by the lockdown, and how are you handling them?
Our entire studio is a microcosm of many small teams functioning together. Within the same space, we have Madras Inherited which is a heritage conservation and management initiative, Triple O Pixel which deals with architectural photography, and Merit League which takes up contracting and turnkey projects. With all of us working together, we have been able to explore some interesting ideas and projects along with all the architectural work we do. Madras Inherited along with Triple O Pixel has curated virtual heritage walks over the pandemic to connect people with their city and heritage from their homes. They also recently released a postcard heritage calendar for this new year. Merit League over the last year collaborated with artisans from Karaikudi to work on the revival of handcrafted Athangudi tiles and created some prototypes for furniture for people who are working from home. All of this gives us great exposure and energy as a studio and allows us to create diverse narratives in the realms of architecture, urbanism, interiors, heritage and photography.
About the practice:
Please let us know about the founding year, principals, team and studio.
It was in our fourth year of college, after our internship that we knew that we had a vision for our practice. We realised that our college education alone did not equip us for practice and started looking for ways to learn, design and contribute on our own. We started by taking up small projects in Chennai and Coimbatore initially. Inspired by the impact and positive energy of good design, Triple O (On Our Own) was formally set up in January 2010. To us, Triple O is a methodology and an acknowledgement of our responsibility in achieving massive change through design. We think of design as a tool for change and positive impact.
What are some of the processes and work methods unique to your practice?
We approach each project as a collaborative effort. It is an opportunity to work hand in hand with people who have different ideas and perspectives but a shared vision.
Working with people from different backgrounds has allowed us to push our boundaries as architects to evolve and become whatever the project needs us to be.
As a studio, we have pursued our varied interests right from product design to interior design to architecture and urban design to heritage conservation to photography and contracting. At any given point in the working day, one would walk in to find people working on all these different areas together, and see these multiple bubbles operating in the same studio space, sharing feedback and learning from each other. It gives us great exposure and allows us to grow together.