“We conceptualize themes and work around them”

Meena Murthy Kakkar and Vishal Kakkar, who run Gurugram-based architecture firm Envisage, join The Sunday Guardian for a candid discussion of their practice.

When Meena Murthy Kakkar and Vishal Kakkar met as architecture students at the Delhi School of Planning and Architecture, it led to a lifelong association – to be partners in life and business. Together they run the Gurugram-based architecture and interiors company Envisage, of which Meena is the design manager and Vishal is the company’s head. In fact, their love of design is so deeply rooted that it has inspired them to teach the subject as well. Meena is an associate professor and Vishal is a visiting lecturer at their alma mater, the School of Urban Planning and Architecture. The couple join Sunday Guardian for a candid conversation about their practice and 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 accompanied him on construction sites since I was a child. So venturing into architecture and design was the next step in my career path.
Meena Kakkar (MK): I’ve always been a curious kid with my head in the clouds. Therefore, a career in design was a natural progression for me. After graduating from SPA, Delhi, we both understood the details of designing a space considering its mass, volume and proportions, and we started to explore the design of interior, although architecture is our main focus.

Anubhuti

Q. What is the design vision of your company Envisage?
CV: Envisage was formed in January 2007. Our initial vision was to ensure that we designed bright, neat and functional spaces that satisfied the client’s needs and provided them with results that exceeded their own expectations. For us, the smile and the satisfaction of the customer at the end of the project mattered the most. Now, we have moved from basic design methods to applying sustainable measures that ensure an abundance of air, light and greenery in every space we create. Design became a conscious effort to create better spaces by diving deep into the depth of materials and colors, instead of designing areas incoherently, aimlessly. We diligently conceptualize themes and work around them, paying the utmost attention to every element, from artwork to rugs.

Sequoia desk.

Q. What have been your most popular projects?
MK: Some of our most popular projects include the architecture and interior design of Mann School’s Girls Hostel. Our residential interiors projects called Anugraha and Anubhuti, and the commercial design project Sequoia, are also noteworthy.
CV: The design of the Mann School Girls Hostel emphasizes the importance of holistic facilities that would encourage learning at home away from home. The front elevation stands out against the heavy brick finished facade, which respectfully incorporates reds and grays to develop a sentimental, yet practical environment for students. To improve the well-being of children, outdoor spaces and greenery have been favored. The metal jaali installed on the facade of the hostel building is complemented by lush vegetation extending to the second floor.
MK: Anubhuti was one of the most exciting projects we have worked on. Located in Gurugram, it showcases the heritage of South India. Designed for a South Indian Iyer family, the concept incorporates many elements of the southern architectural style. The viewer is greeted by an explosion of ochre, with brilliant Athangudi tiles originating from Tamil Nadu and a mural in the living room of an ancient Tamil script, “Kandar Anubhuti” by Lord Kartikeya. However, the most striking object in this space is the Attukattil Jhula, made of wood with traditional brass oonjal mounts. We dive deep into the history and roots of our clients and incorporate their heritage into the project through artwork, materials, colors and architectural elements.

Girls’ Home at Mann School.

CV: Similarly, Anugraha is a retirement home for a family of three located in the heart of New Delhi. The project finds a delicate balance between a light subtlety and a warm elegance that brings it to life. Due to essential civil modifications, the project was carried by the complete transformation of an old apartment to create a hassle-free and efficient living unit, in line with the client’s lifestyle choices. Clients wanted a traditional Indian theme that would appeal to their taste, so Anugraha’s design manifests a sophisticated and subtle reinterpretation of a neo-modern Indian home that is clutter-free and compact to suit family needs.
MK: Sequoia is a modern commercial space located in Gurugram. Our design intent was for a person to feel the essence of home in their workplace, as the worker transitions from home to office. So soft colors and cane were used in several places to strike a proper balance between a workspace and home.
CV: We are currently working pan-India. We have just started the construction of a school in Faridabad and a bungalow in New Delhi. We are also working on some interior residential projects in Lucknow and the NCR region. The Lucknow house is inspired by the Ramayana epic and includes many elements from it, some of which are from Ayodhya itself.
Q. How is your design practice redefining itself to meet sustainable and modern needs?
MK: We consciously put sustainability forward as the first step and priority in our design process. This usually starts with briefing and educating the client on an environmentally 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 put aside and as architects we keep our ears and eyes open to new technologies and methods that serve the purpose and are ecologically, financially and socially sustainable. We are also very ‘vocal for the local’, consciously striving to connect with local artists, fabric makers, etc., and incorporate their brilliant work into our designs.
Q. Have you seen a change in people’s mindset and demands after the pandemic?
CV: The first wave of the pandemic definitely shocked everyone. It was then that we crossed several roadblocks filled with uncertainties. But we managed to stay afloat and finally saw a positive change in the following months. The pandemic has organized us digitally and we have included methods and applications in our daily practice to stay connected with our team.
During the pandemic, people have spent most of their time indoors, introspecting and understanding the spaces around them. Public spaces were becoming a threat, even the air we breathed was precarious. Thus, the analysis of space has completely changed. Gone are the days when spaces were designed to “impress”. Instead, we all focus on spaces where occupants are physically and mentally satisfied. People are no longer opting for trendy styles, but for healthy interior spaces that showcase their personal style as well as nostalgic elements from their past.

Noor Anand Chawla writes lifestyle articles for various publications and his blog www.nooranandchawla.com

Maria D. Ervin