TADstories with Ar. Thendral and Ar. Athavan I Architecture for All I AA

Architecture for All is a Chennai-based architecture and interior firm with a unique approach. And, the duo strives to create a better living environment through their designs and ideas.

Architecture for All is a joint venture of Ar. Thendral and Ar. Athavan. Two talented designers have come together to explore and showcase their skills through architecture and interiors. In a conversation with both, they tell us not only about their journey of building Architecture for All but also the philosophy behind it.

“In alignment with these thoughts, we design architectural and interior spaces of varied scale and context, all over India, in the realm of residential, commercial and hospitality industry” – says the principal architects.

Who are Thendral and Athavan? How did you come up with Architecture for All?

We are just people who were always deeply impacted by the physical environment around them. Our sensitivity towards the spaces we inhabit and the shared joy of creating spaces brought us together on this journey.

There is a general notion that architects are there only to cater to a specific portion of the society, and that we merely “beautify” spaces. And, we feel there is a need for more dialogue on how Architecture creates the very fabric of our community, the spaces we live, work, play and breathe in; and how it is fundamental and relevant irrespective of the “who, what, and where” – who it is for, what type of space it is and where it is situated. Architecture for All is our attempt towards creating work that aligns with this thought process.  

How did you get your first project and what was it?

Our first project was an architecture and interior design project for a 4500 Sq. ft. residence in Chennai. We got the lead through a referral and were able to pitch successfully. 

From previous work experience, we had exposure to different aspects of a project, like designing, budgeting, coordinating, and executing the project. Starting out, it was our first project that taught us how to handle the financial side of architecture as a practice; dealing with payments, filing taxes, and in general, learning to also approach architectural service along with its business aspect.

Your designs showcase bold colors and shapes along with the exploration of various materials and patterns. What is your design approach and signature style in terms of planning and execution?

Certain typologies and contexts demand bold forms and color-blocking techniques. And, from our experience, F&B projects, especially those set in challenging locations tend to require a bold treatment. Hence, they generally have the need to visually stand out in order to reach their customer base, and the design helps achieve that.

Our design approach and style are merely a response to the specifics of the project at hand. Rather than a heavily visual-based approach, our designs evolve from the experience we want to create for the people inhabiting the spaces. 

In terms of planning and execution, while we’re designing we try and simultaneously solve the question of “how is this going to be executed?”. And we meticulously detail this in the planning phase. Altogether, this approach has helped translate the design very closely on-site.

In the past few years, especially after Covid, there has been a rapid change in design trends. What is one trend change that you would like to see in the field and one that you would never like to change?

We are constantly inspired and learn from the emerging design trends in our industry. Although, we feel designing is a process that builds the space around the user and the site context. And ‘what the current trends are’ becomes immaterial. 

Nowadays there are numerous online platforms to get inspired and get ideas. How do you cater to the client’s requirements regarding your style of design? 

The privilege of gaining exposure to designs from all over the world, without physically traveling, is to be grateful for. 

It helps both, the clients and us architects, to continue raising the bar. However, we ensure our clients understand that our designs will evolve from the brief, and aesthetics will be influenced by the specifics.

What is your strategy to transform a given space into a masterpiece in terms of budget constraints? 

There are a couple of things we generally focus on, in the face of budget constraints.

In architecture projects, judicious land use helps, as every extra sq. ft. adds to the cost. When spatial planning is efficient, the project becomes more economical. And this can be done without comprising the quality of the spaces. 

Depending on the geographical location, using vernacular building techniques and locally sourcing materials can work out to be economical. Sometimes all it takes is, taking a conventional technique or a material that we’ve regularly seen before and treating it differently. In interior design projects, we could opt for a more décor style treatment while minimizing wall paneling and carpentry work. 

We should also remember that there is a realistic bare minimum budget for even the most economical projects. And rather than textbook solutions, organically arriving at solutions as a part of the design process would be more effective.

If you had the opportunity to design a dream project, what would it be and why?

We would love to work on institutional projects, like schools

In many ways, the space around us designs us, especially in our formative years. 

But in a developing country like ours, the necessity of architects is being undermined, and architecture is seen as something that is only required once a certain level of economic development is achieved. By designing thoughtful schools, we feel we can convey the positive impact and the need for well-designed spaces. 

We would also love to design spaces that don’t strictly fall under usual typologies; spaces that could also be designed by architects but typically aren’t, like dog shelters and third spaces in a community. Such projects would be interesting to explore how architects can contribute to bettering what exists.

Nowadays collaborations are in trend. If you had the opportunity to collaborate with another designer, who would it be and what would you create?

Collaborating with architects and interior designers whose approach towards architecture is along the same lines as ours, would definitely be an enriching experience, especially on large-scale projects.

We would love to collaborate with artists, sculptors, and artisans. Rather than working with them to execute our singular vision, it’d be interesting to give them complete autonomy over their part of the project and end up with a space that is an amalgamation of all of our ideas.

Our readers are always looking forward to learning from the best. What advice would you give to upcoming designers or startups?

Our two cents would be, to be intentional and deliberate in what you do

We ask ourselves why we’re doing something in the first place. It can be in terms of why we want to work as an architect, or why use that particular material for that space in that project, or it can even be on the whole a design principle for a project. 

It could be at any scale, macro level, micro level, the bigger picture, or the more minor details; attempting to answer why we’re doing something gives clarity or redirects us in the right direction. 

We believe that when our actions are rooted in reason, it results in meaningful work.

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