Ash Parekh, principal architect at The Opus D’Sign Studio, and chief mentor at the Foundation for Architectural Career Enhancement.
Ash Parekh, principal architect at The Opus D’Sign Studio, and chief mentor at the Foundation for Architectural Career Enhancement.

How will Covid-19 impact architects and interior designers?

Ash Parekh, principal architect at The Opus D’Sign Studio, and chief mentor at the Foundation for Architectural Career Enhancement, shares his insights on how the design community can better prepare themselves at this time

Over the past several weeks, Covid19 has wreaked havoc for families and most businesses. The vivid heart-breaking images of the migrant labour population are a testament. The extreme volatility in the stock market has dwindled consumer confidence. Job security concerns and non-existent cash flows are a grim reality for most businesses. Unfortunately, the design industry is not immune to such cyclical gyrations; a reality we faced during the 2008 financial crisis.

The residential segment is already reeling from substantial over-supply. Market statistics demonstrate that the quantum of vacant units far outweighs the absorption capabilities. Prior to this crisis, the demand for commercial office space, (including IT and ITES), had actually been quite robust. These two segments account for a substantial share of construction activities and spending.

During the lockdown period, several companies initiated a ‘work from home policy’. Post the lockdown, it is plausible that some companies may tweak their business models; converting this ‘temporary strategy’ into a longer term reality. This approach could result in lower rentals, utility costs and overheads. This will translate to other environmental advantages such as lower pollution and traffic. The consequence for designers though, would be that the once-robust commercial office demand could peter out quite dramatically.

What could we experience as a proximate knee jerk reaction? Clients may either decide to delay or postpone construction projects. Additionally, ‘imposed value engineering’ will result in a downward revision of construction budgets. It would be naïve to assume that construction sites would commence immediately after the lockdown. Labour shortages, vendor backlogs and delivery logistics could result in significant disruption. The outcome: Untoward revisions in project schedules, further impacting cash flows.

Design professionals need to converge on finding astute and ‘financially sustainable’ solutions, such as shared office spaces and administrative expenses. Collaborative project assignments (CPA) and apportioned revenue models (ARM) offer flexibility and ‘customised project partners’. The offering of bespoke project typology expertise, could translate into a rewarding marketing strategy. Technical outsourcing by using virtual meetings and video conferencing tools will see an influx into our daily professional lives. Our collective success will depend upon our ability to learn from past mistakes and transform them into strengths.

These are unprecedented recessionary times. Any governmental fiscal stimulus package will not create ‘instant gratification or relief’. The design community would be well served to pioneer business models that offer clients value-added services with minimal impact to our profitability. As Ayn Rand said: We don’t design in order to have clients. We have clients in order to design.

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