Designing Time: Aparna Kaushik’s Mosaic of Classical Opulence and Modern Panache in the Landscape of Architecture

In our intimate conversation with Aparna Kaushik, the visionary architect behind the Aparna Kaushik Design Group, the fusion of classical and contemporary design emerges as a delicate dance of history and modernity. A journey that began with a profound understanding of classical architecture and a meticulous eye for proportions has evolved organically into designs that seamlessly integrate with the fast-paced, technology-driven lifestyle of 2024. As we delve into the intricacies of her design philosophy, the conversation unravels not just as an exploration of architectural principles but also as a deeply personal narrative of evolution, challenges, and the relentless pursuit of beauty and elegance.


Delving into the intricate dance between history and modernity with visionary architect Aparna Kaushik. Join the conversation as we unravel the secrets behind crafting spaces that stand the test of time


Given your emphasis on a fusion of contemporary and classical forms in your designs, how do you strike a balance between these seemingly contrasting styles, and what challenges do you face in achieving this harmony? 

It’s not an easy process to start with. You have to be able to merge any two styles. That needs to begin with a proper understanding of both styles. So when I say classical forms, you have to have an in-depth analysis of the proportions, typology of architecture, motives, and inspiration of those times. And particularly if it’s Gothic, Baroque, any new classical architecture, or French classic, you need to have a very good understanding of all of them. I don’t strive desperately to make it different, but what I intend to do is convert these designs to more contemporary forms. We live in 2024; our needs and lifestyles have changed from what they used to be 400 years ago (when these styles were quite predominant). So, regardless of the proportions and the styles being amazing, what matters is how you translate them to your lifestyle today. This in itself is what’s going to make my designs contemporary. Adding automation and technology and simplifying the details is necessary because we live in a very fast-paced world today where instant gratification is the need of the hour. You design something and you want to see it the next day; you want to find contractors who can execute it fast; and the clients want to move into their houses in 2.5 years. As opposed to the 25-30 years that it used to take to build up a villa. Palaces would go on for even more than 50 or 55 years; all these things become auto suggestions. It is never a desperate attempt to make it different, but it is generally an organic evolution of the design that ends up being more contemporary than its classical version.


From the corridors of history to the fast-paced world of 2024—Aparna Kaushik’s designs seamlessly bridge the gap between past and present. Join the journey as we explore the evolution of architectural elegance


Your designs are described as visually striking and structurally innovative. Can you share an example of a project where you push the boundaries of traditional design and how your experimental process has contributed to the result? 

I don’t desperately try to be different, nor do I understand my process as experimental. What I consistently do, and encourage my junior colleagues to follow suit, is to start by delving into the intricacies of the site. This involves understanding its topography, considering factors like location and climate, and navigating through the relevant local by-laws. Take New Delhi, for instance, where adherence to municipal corporation by-laws is a key aspect. Similarly, in Mumbai, you’re dealing with a whole different ball game, with factors like Floor Area Ratio (FAR) playing a significant role in shaping the design. Equally important is tuning into the client’s expectations. Their list of requirements spans both functionality and aesthetics. So, kicking off the design exercise by blending all these elements ensures a holistic and effective approach.

Additionally, your vision about the concept and the design that you want to do, and ultimately the result that you get, automatically becomes a new experiment. A third person looking at the process would say we are experimenting, but what we are working with is a very different set of functions, by-laws, and climates, and ultimately we end up with a different design. What I always say is that we don’t try to be desperately different, but ultimately we end up being different and more innovative because we are trying to respond to the requirements and considerations, and hence the result that we have is very different from our previous project.


Your focus on proportions and materiality reflects a meticulous approach to design. How does your attention to detail extend to the selection of materials for your projects, and how do these choices contribute to the overall narrative of a space?

Hypothetically, I’m attempting a French classical design or a Scandinavian modern minimalistic design. First, I would encourage my team to do a case study of existing projects. There’s a great library that we have of ongoing projects, and great architects are working on these projects to get a sense of the ideas and aesthetics. If I’m doing a project in the hills, say Kasauli, a hill station in India, and my site is nicely contoured and nestled in the middle of a lush green valley. An attempt at French classical design, according to me, would not be the right choice since it would block my wheels on all sides. Hence, I would pick up a more Scandinavian design—something that is more glass, ensuring that I can invite those views inside and I’m not worried about the heat-trapping through the sun. Ultimately, I would also want to keep the whole place very warm; hence, glass will be my first choice, along with materials that imitate the colours of nature and materials that suit the climate. These parameters and factors would govern my materials, detailing, and architecture choice.


From inspiration to creation—witness the transformation of classical visions into contemporary marvels. Join us as we dive deep into the process of architectural alchemy


You’ve expressed a love for Anna-Lou Leibovitz and Peter Marino. How has their work influenced your perspective on design, and are there specific elements in their photography or architecture that you find particularly inspiring for your creations? 

Let’s talk about Anna-Lou Leibovitz first. Whatever exposure I have to her work and photography, she brings a vintage charm to a very contemporary setting. I have always believed that when in space, if you add a bit of historical charm, it gets transported to the next level; even the most modern spaces with a little vintage flare can be surreal. Clicking on the Queen of England, capturing her majesty, transports you to an era that may be reminiscent of 500 years ago, adding a surreal charm to her photographs. They are not just about capturing a composition in daylight; they are very powerful and evoke an emotional quality, which is what I love about her work. 

Peter Marino, of course, is also a master. If you look at his interiors and the Hublot buildings, I see he picks up a very strong element and then repeats it, creating a very striking visual. If you walk up to all the new Dior stores, you will observe a surreal quality in terms of the usage of materials like – Isa Genzken’s Rose II, right in the middle of a spiral staircase in the new Dior flagship store that opened about a year ago. That was something that nobody could have thought of, but he brought an artist to install that little Rose in the middle of a spiral staircase. So as you climb up the steps, you can appreciate the beauty of this Rose on the right-hand side. It’s a very emotional and powerful setting created through materials and strong ideas; hence, I feel that he is a master at that and inspires me a lot. 


Being a self-starter, you transition from a focus on medicine to architecture. How do you think your background in medicine, or any other non-design field has uniquely shaped your approach to architecture and design?

Like all the students in school every year, you sort of get inspired by one another. If you ask a child in grade three, they will want to be a doctor or an engineer. If you ask the same child in grade 10, their understanding of the world is better than before, and hence, the choice of profession changes. I was a bright student in school, so by the time I finished my board examinations, the obvious choice at that time would have been to pick up medicine, and that’s what people thought; an intelligent student should become a doctor. My family and everybody around me encouraged me to take up medicine. 

My journey has been marked by a natural affinity for architectural history. I can still vividly recall the moments when I immersed myself in history books, preparing for exams, and these captivating visuals would unfold in my mind. Despite initially steering towards medical exams, it gradually became clear that my true passion lay in the world of design and architecture. That quiet inner voice, often in the background, eventually took centre stage. Fortunately, this revelation occurred before I committed to a specific course of study. In college, I’ve witnessed peers who, after completing a five-year architecture program, chose paths such as pursuing an MBA in finance. Luckily for me, this transition happened just before facing those crucial exams.


Discover the art of harmonizing contrasting styles. Join us as we navigate the ever-shifting landscape of design, blending tradition with innovation


Your design philosophy involves accentuating the natural qualities of a space. How do you ensure that your designs are not just visually appealing but also resonate with the emotional and experiential aspects of the occupants?

As I said, what I love about Peter Marino’s architecture and interiors is that it’s an experience. You go into a space and come out with an experience. It’s not just the usage of opulent, fancy, and expensive materials, but an amalgamation of materials with ideas to create a very powerful emotional language. In our residential projects, our ultimate goal is to craft spaces where people feel extraordinarily at ease. Throughout my career, I’ve found myself in spaces where the architectural brilliance is akin to an art gallery. However, there comes a point when you sense a lack of vitality—the spaces seem lifeless, devoid of any emotional resonance. While cultural spaces of the art gallery type may trigger an initial response, I firmly believe that in homes, spaces should communicate with you.

This philosophy underscores all our designs. We aren’t content with merely creating aesthetically pleasing spaces or prioritizing functionality alone. Our challenge, one that we grapple with daily, even hourly, in the studio, is to establish a robust emotional connection between aesthetics and functionality. It’s about weaving a tapestry where the beauty of a space resonates with its purpose, and this delicate balance is at the core of our creative endeavours.


You’ve mentioned redefining design to create excellence with dignity and respect; can you elaborate on how this philosophy is reflected in interactions with clients, collaborators, and the overall book culture within a design film? 

Navigating our professional landscape is no small feat, especially in a country like India that’s still warming up to the whole design vibe. Picture this: for my clients to vibe with and shell out for a piece of artwork, they need to go a bit beyond just meeting their day-to-day needs. You have to secure your bread and butter first, and then, if the stars align, you start thinking about diving into the cool world of design. It’s like a subtle dance of priorities. As our country keeps pushing forward on the economic front, it’s great to see people getting more in tune with their surroundings. They’re starting to appreciate well-designed spaces, realizing that a stylish place can really spice up the daily grind and inject some excitement into their routine.

There’s this gradual shift happening, you know? But here’s the thing we architects need to stand our ground. We’ve got to value our designs, connect with them, and not hesitate to say “no” if a client’s vision doesn’t jive with ours. It’s all about crafting a language for our designs. The key is finding those clients who are on the same wavelength—the ones who resonate with your style, your thought process, and your whole philosophy. While keeping your integrity intact, you’ve got to hold onto that right to decline and patiently wait for the right projects that align with your vibe. It’s like a dance, but with blueprints and aesthetics!


Unravel the profound elegance of architectural creations. Discover the beauty that transcends generations


As a designer working across various disciplines, including furniture, lighting, and product design, how do you maintain a cohesive design language throughout different elements of the project? 

It’s a little unfair to look at furniture differently from lighting and product design because, ultimately, the whole experience of a space is contributed by all these things. So I feel that in my practice, when I started as an architect, I quickly realized the need for interiors, and we developed an interior wing that is as strong as the architecture wing in the office. As we progress in our journey, we feel that, as you perfect yourself, there is a constant need to perfect your designs. I feel lighting is a great contribution, so we are now working with lighting consultants who resonate with our language of architecture, who can highlight the features and make the day-to-day evening life or the nightlife very comfortable for my clients in the house. We are strongly discouraging cut-and-paste from catalogues and using the same four designs that are popular and already beaten to death. The idea is to create something more interesting and appropriate for the design than to pick up catalogue selections. We are also trying to build a nice product design wing within the office that can help us and complement our overall architecture and interior design processes. 


If I’m not wrong, you express the desire to surround yourself with beauty and elegance. How do you define these stones and the context of your design? How has your perception of beauty been throughout your career? 

I think the perception of beauty is always evolving. When I say that I want to surround myself with beauty, I mean to say that I want to marinate in an environment that I aim to deliver to my clients. So it’s important for me to first get exposed to this genre; those beautiful, elegant designs in exhibitions across galleries, beautiful projects all over the world, visiting the best museums, and getting a chance to even visit some of the great works done by great architects, both contemporary and of the past era. This is how you continuously build your learning and keep adding more knowledge and creativity to your work. 

This is one way of doing it, and I also feel that going forward, one has to understand that the concept of beauty is always evolving. As you mature in your career, you come to a place where your designs should grow for your clients. It should not be an initial impact, like an elevation of a peak and then a free fall from there. For a home, when it starts, it stands tall for almost decades, so it should be a design that should grow on you and engage you daily. That can come with a lot of maturity, which only comes with a lot of hit and try over the years along with experiments and exposures. 


Appreciate the intricate dance between classical opulence and modern functionality. Join the conversation as we explore the convergence of past and present


In your journey from being a student at architecture school to the founding principal of Aparna Kaushik Design Group, how have your design principles evolved, and what key lessons have you learned along the way?

I guess it’s pretty much the same concept I’ve been talking about regarding our office’s work process. It’s all about evolving through constant learning and learning different built environments. One major lesson that has hit home for me is that there are no quick fixes when it comes to success. I keep hammering this point with my juniors. In this Instagram era, everyone’s dazzled by these glamorous architects, but what doesn’t get showcased on Instagram is the real hard work. There’s just no way around putting in the effort and grinding it out.

Number 2 is, basically creating a talent pool for your office, where you create a test exercise before you hire a new talent so that you know you have like-minded people. Similarly, create a client pool for yourself, where your clients also resonate on the same frequency as your design philosophy and principles. I think it is important to slowly create harmony within your office where your design process resonates with the juniors who work with you, the clients that you deliver to, the vendors that you work with, and the contractors. Creating an entire ecosystem that is more cohesive and conducive to the philosophy and the ideas in the backdrop is the key to success. I think that is how you will be able to deliver successful projects that are not only successful in terms of financial and commercial arrangements but also a great experience for your clients to live in, to remember, and to create memories.


Celebrate the artistry and vision of architectural excellence. Join us in honoring the legacy of timeless design


In the symphony of design, Aparna Kaushik emerges not just as an architect but as a custodian of stories, where each creation becomes a chapter in the evolving narrative of our built environment. The interview, akin to a voyage through the corridors of Kaushik’s mind, leaves us with a lingering appreciation for the intricate dance between classical opulence and modern functionality. It is an ode to the timeless essence of design and an acknowledgement that, in the hands of a visionary like Aparna Kaushik, architecture becomes a conduit for dialogue between centuries past and the dynamic aspirations of the present.

As the conversation with Aparna Kaushik draws to a close, we are left with the resonance of her words—a testament to the commitment of a designer who seeks not only to shape physical spaces but to evoke emotions, narrate stories, and bridge the gap between history and the contemporary. In the grand tapestry of architectural brilliance, Aparna Kaushik stands as a maestro, orchestrating a harmonious convergence of the classical and the contemporary.

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