Meena Murthy Kakkar and Vishal Kakkar, who helm Gurugram-based architecture firm Envisage join The Sunday Guardian for a candid chat about their practice.
When Meena Murthy Kakkar and Vishal Kakkar met as architecture students at the School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi, it led to a lifelong association – of being partners in life and business. Together, they helm Gurugram-based architecture and interiors firm Envisage, of which Meena is the Design Head and Vishal is the Business Head. In fact, their love of design is so deep-rooted, it pushed them to teach the subject too. Meena is an associate professor, and Vishal is a guest lecturer at their alma mater, the School of Planning and Architecture. The couple join Sunday Guardian for a candid chat about their practice and a whole lot more. Excerpts from an edited interview:
Q. Why did you choose a career in interior design?
Vishal Kakkar (VK): My father was a builder in North Delhi, and I used to accompany him to sites since I was a kid. So, venturing into architecture and design was the next step in my career trajectory.
Meena Kakkar (MK): I have always been a curious child with my head in the clouds. Hence, a career in design was a natural progression for me. After graduating from SPA, Delhi, we both understood the nitty-gritties of designing a space considering its mass, volume, and proportions, and we began exploring interior design, although architecture is our primary focus.
Q. What is the design vision of your firm Envisage?
VK: Envisage was formed in January 2007. Our initial vision was to ensure that we design bright, neat, and functional spaces, satisfying the client’s needs and providing them with results that surpassed their own expectations. For us, the smile and contentment of the client at the end of the project mattered the most. Now we have progressed from basic design methods to applying sustainable measures ensuring abundant air, light, and greens in every space we create. Design has become a conscious effort to create better spaces by delving deep into the depth of materials and colours, instead of designing areas incoherently, without an aim. We diligently conceptualize themes and work around them, paying utmost attention to every element from artwork to rugs.
Q. What have been your most popular projects?
MK: Some of our most popular projects include the architecture and interior design of the Girls Hostel at Mann School. Our residential interiors projects called Anugraha and Anubhuti, and the commercial design project Sequoia, are also noteworthy.
VK: The design of the girl’s hostel for Mann School focusses on the importance of holistic facilities that would encourage learning at one’s home-away-from-home. The front elevation breaks away from the heavy brick finished façade, which respectfully incorporates reds and greys to develop a sentimental, yet practical environment for the students. To improve the well-being of the children, outdoor spaces and greenery have been prioritised. The metal jaali installed on the façade of the hostel building is supplemented by lush greenery extending until the second floor.
MK: Anubhuti was one of the most exciting projects we have worked on. Located in Gurugram it highlights the heritage of Southern India. Designed for a South Indian Iyer family, the concept includes many elements from the architectural style of the south. The viewer is greeted by an explosion of ochre, with bright Athangudi tiles native to Tamil Nadu and a mural in the living room of an ancient Tamil scripture, ‘Kandar Anubhuti’ of Lord Kartikeya. However, the most striking object within this space is the Attukattil Jhula, crafted in wood with traditional oonjal supports done in brass. We delve deep into the history and roots of our clients and integrate their heritage into the project through artworks, materials, colours, and architectural elements.
VK: Similarly, Anugraha is a retirement home for a family of three located in the heart of New Delhi. The project strikes a delicate balance between a light subtlety and a warm elegance that gives it life. Owing to indispensable civil modifications, the project was driven by the complete turnaround of an old apartment to create a hassle-free and efficient living unit, compliant with the client’s lifestyle choices. The clients wanted a traditional Indian theme that would appeal to their taste, thus, Anugraha’s design manifests a sophisticated and subtle reinterpretation of a neo-modern Indian home that is clutter-free and compact to suit the family’s needs.
MK: Sequoia is a modern commercial space located in Gurugram. Our design intent was to make one experience the essence of home at their workplace, while the worker transitions from home to office. Thus, muted colours and cane were used in multiple places to strike an appropriate balance between a workspace and home.
VK: We are currently working pan-India. We have just started construction of a school in Faridabad and a bungalow in New Delhi. We are also working on some interior residential projects in Lucknow and NCR region. The house in Lucknow is inspired by the epic Ramayana, and includes numerous elements from it, with some of them sourced from Ayodhya itself.
Q. How is your design practice redefining itself to fit sustainable and modern needs?
MK: We have consciously put forward sustainability as the first step and priority of our design process. This usually starts with briefing and educating the client about an environment-friendly approach to the project, although some of them are already aware of its importance. So, our choices throughout the process are defined by sustainability. However, modern needs cannot be side-lined, and as architects, we keep our ears and eyes open to newer technologies and methods that serve the purpose and are environmentally, financially, and socially sustainable. We are also very ‘vocal for local’, consciously moving towards connecting with local artists, fabric-makers, etc., and incorporating their brilliant work in our designs.
Q. Have you seen a change in people’s mindsets and their demands post-pandemic?
VK: The first wave of the pandemic definitely took everyone by shock. That is when we underwent several roadblocks filled with uncertainty. But we did manage to stay afloat and eventually saw a positive change in the following months. The pandemic made us digitally organized, and we included methods and applications in our everyday practice to stay connected with our team.
During the pandemic, people spent most of their time indoors, introspecting and understanding the spaces around them. Public spaces became a threat, even the air we breathed was precarious. So, the analysis of space changed utterly. Gone are the days when spaces were designed to ‘impress’. Instead, we are all focusing on spaces where occupants are physically and mentally content. People no longer opt for trending styles, but for healthy indoor spaces that showcase one’s personal style along with nostalgic elements from their past.
Noor Anand Chawla pens lifestyle articles for various publications and her blog www.nooranandchawla.com