This architect-turned-entrepreneur couple believes small cities have better business opportunities

Aastha Aggarwal and Vishal Gupta, Co-founders of ARAV Design Studio

AIT-SAP alumni Aastha Aggarwal and Vishal Gupta, Co-founders of Kanpur-based ARAV Design Studio, say it’s the responsibility of architects to improve both the urban and rural built environments.

By Harshita Das: Aastha Aggarwal, an alumna of Apeejay Institute of Technology – School of Architecture & Planning (AITSAP) has worked with various architectural firms where she has executed institutional, commercial and residential projects including interiors.

One of them was to work as a Senior Project Associate in IIT Kanpur for the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana.

Her husband Vishal Gupta, also an alumnus of AIT-SAP, started his professional journey when he was in college. 

Currently, the duo is running its own firm ARAV Design Studio in Kanpur. Till date, the couple has covered more than 100 projects with approximately 25 currently active projects.

Ashok Masale Group, the National Highway Authority of India, Kamdhenu Steel, Ordnance Factory, Vishal Mega Mart and Surya Namkeen are some of the clients for which the architect-entrepreneurs are providing regular services.

In an interview, they share about the existing scope in India for architects to foray into entrepreneurship. Edited excerpts: 

When did the entrepreneurial bug bite you? And how did you embark on this journey

Aastha:  Since I completed my graduation from AIT-SAP, it was my dream to start my own firm. In 2014, when my co-partner came up with an idea of starting an individual firm, I just contributed towards its establishment. 

Vishal: It was my destiny which brought me towards entrepreneurship. I always looked at the projects from my own vision.

My creativity skills are always praised by my clients which made me start my own venture. Eventually in 2014, ARAV Design Studios happened. 

It was a roller-coaster ride to start my own firm. It wasn’t just about designing and execution but also managing the resources, coordination, accounting, networking, marketing and so on.

We have faced different challenges and learned a lot at each step that we took. Today, it’s a firm comprising 10 to 12 team members. And we are still facing more challenges, but they are helping us to shine more.

According to you, what is the scope in India for architects to foray into entrepreneurship?

In India, the architectural market is very competitive, specifically in metro cities. But at the same time, it is full of opportunities for the creative minds.

One commonly held perception is that the career of any architect thrives when working in Tier-I cities. Is that so?

Yes, it’s true. Everyone expects growth and exposure which has maximum possibility in Tier-I cities. But this creates a negative pool in other cities creating opportunities.

Today, cities of Uttar Pradesh have more design projects than in Delhi and Mumbai. For a start-up, small cities provide better opportunities.

Moreover, being an architect it’s our responsibility to improve both the urban and rural built environment.

Hence, it’s always better to work in small cities, specifically as an entrepreneur. We are witnessing this by handling projects in Tier III cities like Orai, Jalaun, Kannauj, Etawah etc.

What are your respective design philosophies and how do you help each other grow?

Aastha: Sustainability and environmental concerns are always the key concepts behind my designs, which has been strengthened with my post-graduation in Environmental Planning from the School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi. I work more towards the social and environmental cause which may improve human habitat. 

Vishal: 3Cs i.e. Creativity, Costing and Coordination are my design philosophy. Moreover, it’s the criticism of each other’s design, which helps us grow. We discuss, argue and mutually reach the design decision which meets all the requirements.

Any key learnings from AIT-SAP?

Aastha: Yes, architectural networking! I never believe in competition but in contribution. Every architect is working towards improvement of human lifestyle.

And we are all contributing towards it. I looked at my seniors as inspirations and my juniors as my opportunities. And always eager to collaborate with them for more progress professionally and ethically.

Vishal: Those were my days to party. I enjoyed my five years in Apeejay where I met my friends as well as my soul partner.

Being part of AIT-SAP, architectural education became my happy journey. And I started enjoying designing. “Do what you love”, is my key learning from the institution. 

In today’s ever-evolving, globalised world, the architectural field continues to re-invent itself. Two areas that budding architects must focus on?

Technology: Bridging the gap between drawings and project execution via technology or tech-backed tools. In addition, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality should be part of architecture and architectural education as well. As of now this field lacks a lot in terms of technology.

Hands on experience: Working with professionals should be made mandatory during architectural education to enhance practical knowledge.

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