Journey of ANA Design Studio Pvt. Ltd.

It started out as a one person initiative hustling day and night. Then there was identification and realization of a gap that for smaller projects, we actually didn’t have at that point of time, in 1995 and 1996, an ecosystem where designs were translated completely on the building site. 

Specially for small projects like Residences and small interiors that we were doing, we found that we were discussing with the clients at a higher level as in the aspirations were very high. But the people who were implementing could simply not understand the aspirations, leave alone try to put them together and therefore quality came only in the last mile where one would say, ”A brilliant painter because he paints the walls straight or a very skilled carpenter who knows how to fix the doors and the windows.” 

There was no discussion on the fundamental performance of the building, optimization of the structure, building insulation, waterproofing, pipe engineering. For example, pipe engineering has been a very neglected part of projects, especially small projects even to the large projects. Bathrooms and other wet areas of a building will leak is something that people were just accepting. 

Then it went on to the comfort conditioning of the house like how much air conditioning to be needed, how will air flows happen. At that point in time, there was this concept of putting ducts with evaporative coolers, insulation was a big deal at that time. Then materiality, combining two or three materials together in layers. People would put cladding on their houses which would just come off. So, a simple understanding that a mechanical fastening system is needed did not percolate down the implementation level. And we were doing all those things. 

In time we realized that the amount of effort, energy and time that we put in order to do it right, it made a lot of sense for us to do it ourselves. Therefore we moved from pure consultancy to turnkey solutions. We said, “Offer us the brief, offer us the land and we’ll build it for you!”. 

It did start with houses with a natural progression to the same clients offering us office interiors and then somehow we found our way into pathology labs around 2001 and 2002. We started to understand that they required a very high performance environment, while they were not buildings, they were interior. They needed to be efficient and high performance in a way that there were infectious disease samples coming in and what not. We dealt with questions such as how air isolation happens, what happens when you put an X-Ray, what happens when you put hazardous medical waste, what happens to biomedical waste and how it is controlled, how is water-flow controlled, what is phlebotomy and so on.  

So, we had a fair bit of exposure and with practice, understanding and then expertise at comprehending, designing, specifying and executing an optimum level of high performance. 

This led to our big breakthrough in 2010 at Reliance Technology Group, Research facility in Navi Mumbai, India because we had a lot of experience and expertise in designing labs in the former 7-8 years. 

So, it was almost a 360 degree journey where we started off as a conventional consultant designing the spaces and everything else was done by external consultants; then doing the complete job ourselves where we didn’t have consultants for engineering but we used to execute the construction ourselves to an extent that we won a large commission which couldn’t be built because of insufficient financial resources. And we realised that it would be better to have Engineering in house in order to be able to design and deliver what we had been trying to do and doing successfully in the last years. 

So, an enlargement of scale happened from the standpoint of projects, but we also curtailed our services into construction because we needed the time and effort to detail out the buildings. So, now in 2020, it’s becoming a full circle again, understanding that there is again a gap in the construction market which we can fill with our turnkey solutions.  

Evolution of ANA Design Studio as a team

Between 2000 and 1996, various drafting hands were involved when ANA had developed a system where Amin Nayyar would draft the basic sheets and specifications himself and involve architecture students to learn and convert them into Good for Construction Drawings. So, there were a lot of students and interns working together much like a classic architecture studio in an institution. This was the era of hand drafted sheets, long hours of work, neck breaking tasks and fine detailed sheet plates made with extensive stationary like graded pencils, ink pens, drafting tables, parallel bars, set squares and so on. 

From 1999 onwards, ANA started hiring professional architects with a work system of hierarchy but ANA has always been blessed with very talented people. So, they have been very instrumental in the detailing, design and production processes. We shifted from hand drafting to Computer Aided Design (CAD) by 1999.

We experimented with the idea of Building Information Modelling through Autodesk Revit in 2007 but not very successfully. We were excited by the idea of BIM because we were in the construction industry for 13 years by then and the concept of BIM as a tool that communicates in 3 Dimensions takes away the need for long explanations, multiple sections, several errors and mis-coordination in 2 dimensions. 

We had consultants for construction but we always had civil engineers who performed as our Project Managers and Procurement Managers for our construction. So, Ritesh Kashyap has been with us since 2003. He is a civil engineer by education and because the complexity of our projects was growing, we encouraged him to not just learn on the job at hand but also go for education enhancement. So, he completed his Masters in Project Management and Planning while he was working with us at ANA.

In 2010 when we won the project for Reliance Technology Group, we initially started by hiring subconsultants for MEP Engineering. But the gap we had observed between Architecture and Engineering earlier in small projects was also creeping in mid and large scale projects that the consultants were fundamentally either commercially not aligned with our and client’s vision because maybe we were a small part of their business and the project got that little attention. 

The industry was quite content to let the consultants carry out the conceptual design and the detail engineering and design was left with the contractors as in the detailing was left for a moment post the shop drawings. It brought back the same issues that the concept of building engineering would leave a lot of room for both errors and oversizing. At the end of the day no one would complain about the air conditioning, electrical system or the plumbing of a space. 

But that is philosophically something we never accepted for if something is too much, it is too much, we don’t unnecessarily do too much with our client’s money. 

Because a large part of the construction industry was with this attitude, oversizing used to get hidden with notions such as universally accepted costs, sizes and value. People would also fight for optimisation within that framework and exclaim that they’re able to save 5% of the total cost. Nobody was really talking about the fact that they’re spending 15% to 30% more on saving a third of that amount and celebrating a 5% saving as optimization. 

Secondly, it was our nature of being transparent, detailed and communicative which our clients really appreciated. For instance, Reliance Industries as a client is a very demanding corporation when it comes to proving our intent of engineering in a way that they would ask for calculations, details, proof of concepts and so on. These were simply not available with the external consultants because of sheer ignorance or ego issues which is not the right way of doing business as the client’s are spending their hard earned money. When the clients are paying for advice and asking questions we should answer them in a professional, scientific and detailed communicative manner.   

We went back to our construction colleagues and senior gentlemen in the industry who used to do MEP construction for us and we asked them to set up an MEP Engineering division within our Architecture Studio. A lot of engineers including Mr. Somjit Sahni, who’s heading the MEP Department in ANA Design Studio, actually comes from Facilities and Construction background. They were inherently engineers who knew building design to an extent and they were on the front end of implementation, testing and maintenance. They brought with them a very rich experience of what goes wrong, what should not be done in design which creates a problem later on with service coordination. 

There were obviously professionals from contracting background ANA like Ravi Sriwastwa, Ritesh Kashyap, and many more who were also used to the idea of physical deliveries and money being out things that got done. 

The systems they created for design stemmed from buildability which fitted very graciously in our process in a way that we’ve been designing buildings that are meant to be built. Therefore, immediately one could observe the optimisation in our buildings, detailing in our structures, clarity of our drawings and efficiency of our spaces. 

In fact for the Reliance Technology Group, because we weren’t successful in BIM in the former years, we actually did a lot of 3 Dimensional Service Coordination in Trimble Sketchup. Files were heavy and the task at hand was painful for us but yet we went ahead with modelling of shafts, AHU rooms, lab sections which was later migrated to Autodesk Revit to extract Construction Documentation. There was always this ‘strive towards precision and accuracy’ such that other stakeholders and clients are able to comprehend our design intentions.  

A lot of times there was an argument regarding the space being too less for services, for instance, in Reliance Technology Group, the main lab AHU Room height was kept at 2.2 metres which was retaliated by the Reliance teams by stating that it impossible in reality. So, we proved them our designs by converting 2 dimensional lines on paper to 3 dimensional models at scale. Although, all of our opinions weren’t always right, it can be a difficult crawl space to work in and we did learn that it’s not so easy to jump over pipes or ducts but it got built and it functions very well even today. 

ANA with International Consultants

In 2012 to 2015, the architecture and engineering solutions and learnings from Reliance Technology Group were later adapted with a few improvements in other places like when we were working with international consultants, Perkins+Will, for the Learning and Development Centre who appointed ANA as detail engineering consultants in India. All the civil engineering, detailing in Architecture, Construction Engineering and Construction Architecture and MEP Engineering were done by us. It was a very interesting project as we learned a lot from Perkins+Will in areas such as how architects add value to clients and buildings.

In late 2018 and early 2019, we were introduced to Leo Lynch through a former engineer at ANA. They were facing problems with detailing and executable drawings for Mechanical and Electrical services. They were a construction company who were looking for people with BIM capabilities and expertise. So, we sent them sample drawings which they really appreciated and gave us the work. It was a big high for our engineers at that time because here was a European company which was appreciating our standard of workmanship which was ultimately a validation of the fact that whatever we were doing was adding value to our clients.

Construction Journey of ANA

Since 1999, when ANA had designed and built the first residential project and lost capital invested, we realized that if we’re not well managed in execution, our design intent will not make it through. So, while we managed to just about finish the residence and scrape through, we burnt our fingers pretty badly to an extent that we had to sell off our assets to pay for the contractors. Obviously it was a relatively small project compared to what we’re doing today and the financial loss was not gigantic. 

But 25 years back, the lesson we learned from this failure was that if we’re not tracking every nut, bolt and screw that needs to be in a building and backtracking it beforehand. 

For instance, before it is tested, it will be commissioned, installed, transported to site, which needs to be ordered with a lead time, therefore, well in the lead time, we need to negotiate , sign off and order and pay for a particular piece of equipment or material; for all this roller coaster to happen and then it gets done in time. Then the coordination between several people where we can’t have 20 people doing the same task at the same place at the same time. 

This system of ours got formally and informally perfected over the years as we ventured into Construction. As luck would have it, since we were working with companies that were expanding all over the country, we were motivated to travel to different cities and build for them. One day we were building in Hyderabad, the next day in Kolkata and another day in Indore. It wasn’t our backyard from Delhi like buildings in Gurgaon, Faridabad or Noida where we could easily arrive and tell someone to construct something without fuss. So, we needed to do some sort of a vendor development locally, transportation for our regular vendors for engineering works and then we automatically started to learn taxation which used to be very complicated in those former years with VAT, State Tax, Local Regulations, filing of returns. So it was quite an interesting experience for us to understand tax, billing, transportation and finances, how things worked in different states across the country, what happened to the lead time when we were in a particular state or a particular distance from Delhi. 

All these learnings were significant to our development as a whole. Everytime we got it right, we had a successful business and everytime we made a mistake, it became a direct cash loss to us as something somewhere would get messed up and there was no way to make any amends. This kind of ingrained into our ANA System and even when we were not appointed formally as project managers, that huge strength which is Ritesh Kashyap’s personal contribution to the quality of ANA, we bring a lot of value by friendly professional advice to the project stakeholders

At a lot of moments, when ANA wasn’t appointed as project managers, our ability to identify an issue, look around a curve, be able to raise a flag and ring a bell at the right time helps to avoid a lot of foreseeable roadblocks. That is really the meaning of professionalism for us ANA. We create processes, systems and methods where problems are identified before they happen.  

In fact, in certain cases, it’s been very humorous when clients have come back to us and felt very short changed saying that we took a lot of money for something that was so easy to accomplish. Had we not been investing our efforts, skills, time and money, it would’ve been very difficult or not done at all. We believe that such have been our best compliments when clients have come back to us and exclaimed about the simplicity of our designs through the complexity of our iterations. 

We believe it is an inherent nature to us now, for our team, who have grown with us at ANA, who know if we do not preempt, ask the right questions at the right time, follow up with stakeholders, look back, forth and sideways and make sure that various moving parts are moving in the right rhythm and direction, something’s going to fall off eventually. 

Since we couldn’t handle large constructions due to financial reasons, we turned the construction division of ANA into construction management. Our large projects like Industry for Plasser India, Kashmir University, various projects in Nigeria, we have worked closely as construction and project managers with clients. 

In Construction Project Management itself, we have done close to 2 million sq ft valued at 2500 crores of projects in the last ten years from 2010 to 2020. 

For laboratories and initial retail projects, we have executed complete construction. For industrial buildings, retail buildings in Nigeria for Artee Group, we have done design and construction management formally. 

Construction was still growing and clients recognized that there were inherently gaps. As a matter of policy, a lot of companies would restrict the project designers from becoming project managers which is fundamentally very unfortunate as it means that project designers are not fundamentally trusted to be able to deliver that aspect of the project and therefore, they look for some external consultants. It leaves the ground open for all kinds of politics to be played, stresses to be generated and ultimately nobody wins. It becomes a game of one manship where the project contractors would put up their motives, the architects would push back, soon everybody is blaming everybody and the clients somehow think that things are managed but in ground reality, it is not managed. This is the major reason why design intentions aren’t translated into actual buildings.   

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