Reward Follows Risk: Outtakes from Offsite 02 with Shantanu Chakraborty and Pallav Agrawal
This is the second reflection piece from Offsites — a series of intimate conversations unpacking and discussing the work and life paths of SPA alumni who are doing other things. If you went to architecture school and despite that, you felt like building buildings wasn’t the thing for you (at least not in the context it was presented to you), this is your story. At any point, while not practising architecture, if your architecture education has come to serve you in unexpected or serendipitous ways, this is your story.
You can read about the first Offsite here.
Offsite 02 took place on an unexpectedly hot March afternoon at Candor Tech Space in Sector 21 Gurgaon. What started as a guessing game — how much does this building in front of you cost, per square foot? — ended in an insightful discussion over filter coffee and vadas at their beautifully landscaped sunken courtyard. Shantanu Chakraborty, from the batch of 2001, and Pallav Agrawal, a 2007 alumnus, both work at Brookfield India, a global real estate asset owner and management company. We were joined by 26 students and alumni with a range of curiosities and questions that were as specific as they were informed.
We began with an introduction to the office complex we had assembled in, along with a crash course on buying, fixing, leasing, maintaining and selling such assets. A tour of the premises yielded multiple examples of decision making influenced by not only design considerations but also financial viability and market demands. We found that, in the scheme of things, while design-led interventions do have a real impact on the financial returns of a project, they accrue benefits only in the long-term. A case in point was the repurposing of the ground floor of a multi-level car park into an elegant entrance lobby for a European banking corporation, and a landscaping intervention in the service areas whose benefits would get reaped during the upcoming lease renewals. There was also an involved discussion about the preference of glass and aluminium panels over brick and stone as facade materials by developers. Speed of construction and ease of maintenance were pointed out as the main reasons.
Reflecting on his time at architecture school, Pallav said that SPA taught him to question, present and defend his position — the process of regular critiques and juries made him more confident than other colleagues who had not had a similar education. He also felt that, with courses such as building management and professional practice already being taught at SPA, there is enough opportunity for learning the basics of his present profession. While the quality of teaching may vary, the onus still remains on students to be interested and ask relevant questions.
Pondering over his years of professional experience, Shantanu concluded that the key competitive advantage from his training and practice as an architect had been the ability to work with often incomplete information. Architects are inherently solution-centric and able to navigate and interpret complex situations and briefs. This analytical, goal-oriented attitude is also what sets apart successful management and business consultants.
Both Shantanu and Pallav agreed that in their roles as clients commissioning other architects, their respective experiences have resulted in more nuanced discussions, with better briefs, better feedback and an overall better understanding of the design process.
However, on the question of the meagre pay for architects, Shantanu said, “creators don’t make money, sellers do.” He added that architects don’t make a lot of money partly due to the lack of enforcement of the institutional structure (as compared to say, in the case of doctors or lawyers), which leads to undercutting and malpractice.
It was also interesting to hear about the contrast between Pallav and Shantanu’s journeys. While Shantanu pursued an MBA, without the intention of being a real estate professional, he ended up in the Real Estate IPC set-up. He emphasized the importance of internships in order to get one’s foot in the door — which is how he landed his first real estate related position at JLL. On the other hand, Pallav specifically studied real estate development for his post-graduate degree and worked at a PE fund before finding himself at Brookfield. Both acknowledged that while in college, they were not the most creative architects in their studios and identified their ability to manage as a strength early on. It is therefore interesting that after all of these years, they sit across the table from architects and work with them to make the built environment more valuable.
This interaction with Shantanu and Pallav revealed connections between risk and reward in their personal and professional journeys. Seeking a diversity of rewards at different points in their careers, they both pivoted on multiple occasions and seem to have learnt immensely from those experiences. The other big takeaway was that indeed, every architect does not have to fit into the archetype of the creative genius. There are a multitude of other roles to be played and skills to be gathered within and outside of traditional architectural practices. There is a place in the world for all of us.
‘Offsites’ is a series of curated interactions with SPA alumni who have chosen to do things other than building buildings. Commissioned by the Department of Architecture at the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi, as part of its platinum jubilee celebrations (supported by Jaquar), this series explores how an education in architecture prepares young people for the world in unexpected ways, and celebrates the diversity in lives and career paths that result from it.