• November 10, 2017
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A few days back we had hosted an eminent group of realtors at Baroda from across the country.

Design and real estate seems an unending discourse that is rarely settled satisfactorily.

In a country where real estate more than any public or government architecture makes the recognizable fabric of our cities this  discordant note has led to the tardy manner in which our urbanity presents itself. Hard, inhumane, joyless, heavy handed, and with very little civic responsibility and societal ethics.

A small monograph was made for the occasion and it had an essay that outlined some of the procedural ills; but having said that, architects and designers are even more responsible for the mess- and its a situation where blame has to be appropriated to all.

The monograph had some pictures of 10 odd  real estate projects if only to say that things can be better.

Below here, is the essay.


Code R.E.D; Real Estate Design.

Three decades is a long enough time.

Being a landscape architect helps- since it not only allows you to observe how real estate works, but also how architects work with it.

By way of qualification, almost none of the real estate companies I started working with in the 80s exist anymore- they have either gone bankrupt, retired, or moved on to deal only in land.

Site engineers who I worked with, went on to become giant real estate companies, vanished and site engineers working with them are today giant companies.

All this only to say, that I have seen the many tides of this world, so am qualified to comment a bit.

In a complex world of finance, uncertain and ever changing regulations, difficulty of securing clean land, a demanding client base, ever present political complications, real estate juggles many balls with dexterity and often short sells what really is the lowest hanging fruit- design.

Alarm and disdain written large- most realtors would disagree; simply because they think they serve design- or what they think is design and my contention is, that  they don’t and its not.

Not certainly the design that architects have been taught or revere- but they serve a market demand fad imagined or real and almost rarely demonstrate their ability to make the difference.

There are exceptions- of course; but few.

Over time I have a list of 10 things that go wrong. They are easy to correct.

  • The trend is to follow- not lead.
    If its worked for someone then why think more? That explains why we keep doing water guzzling golf courses to front houses when it could be a rich forest with bio diversity over several hundred acres. It comes from an odd low risk appetite from people who thrive on risks.
  • Supply equipment – don’t learn the game.
    Most believe they design a life style or provide one. And so litter the development with objects and neatly labeled legends that promise everything ever possible. So architecture is seen as a commodity and not a stage for human evolution.
  • The problem of pigmentation.
    If someone did a math of all the money spent on designers flown in from distant shores, and correlated it with the value accrued in the end product, it would make an interesting study. I suspect we would see a balance sheet in red.
  • Education is success
    I have come across very few realtors who actually spend time understanding design and learning it; like all things nowadays, the depth of knowledge is directly linked to the success of their endeavors. As profits soar the confidence in design does too. Linked to it the assumption that what sells is good design- conversely what does not, is bad.
  • A design brief is an excel sheet.
    The poverty of thought that constitutes design briefs is remarkable; they rarely talk about the intangible, or semantics or experiential, and list rudimentary measurable. Uninspiring briefs take effort to overcome.
  • Where is the selling image?
    Design is a process; its iterative. It needs time. The pressure to see the selling image early on, denies this, leading to poorly articulated and imagined work. Perhaps realtors should hire designers well in time ?
  • The visage is important, soul be dammed !
    The disproportionate resources that go in what is to be seen, often at the cost of the real performance of the heart of the building is a fact and affects the life-cycle of the building.
  • If its got four legs, a tail and makes a sound like a neigh, it’s a horse !
    Nuances mean nothing in real estate; and they mean everything in a good design. The number of times that a poorly construed bigger picture is seen as an acceptable way forward, usually at the cost of functioning of the project, is an alarming reality.
  • If he speaks well then he must design well.
    This is such a sad recurring theme. Because ability to actually evaluate good design is suspect, designers who market self well, often with not the best design ability, get hired. Or because they are “easy” to work becomes a larger measurable than talent.
  • Good design is a series of connected events;
    The number of good designs sacrificed at the altar of inept site works, or in house design management are large and a frequent lament.

Are these then the only set of problems? No, not at all- but the ones I can park at the doorstep of the real estate players; if I was introspecting or writing for my own fraternity it would be a set of novels.

But as I said, there are exceptions that make all this angst worthwhile.

In subsequent pages are some of them.

Aniket Bhagwat
November 6th 2017

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