Designer Stories

Decoding Neilesh Kenkare

Chief Architect and Interior Designer, Arch-Aid
In this episode of Design Leaders Decoded, we interviewed Neilesh Kenkare of Arch-Aid. He is an architect and interior designer with over 25 years of experience. Kenkare’s multi-design service firm has been lauded for projects across the spectrum of residential, commercial, hospitality, education, and religious spaces. He has bagged prestigious awards in the industry, including Creative Excellence in Architecture And Interior Designing, Society Interiors (2018), Top 100 Hot Architects of the country-iGEN (2015), and many more. He has been a jury panelist for several competitions and is a professor at leading architectural colleges in Mumbai, India.

This candid, fresh, and from-the-heart discussion is a must-watch for architects and designers who can learn a lot from his evolving experiences in this industry. Having started his own practice and firm Arch-Aid right from scratch, which has reached great heights today, Neilesh Kenkare’s interview is sure full of lessons that may not be found in any books or reading material.

A few excerpts from the dialogue…

Most people choose a career, but for some, their career picks them. Neilesh Kenkare came from a family of doctors and was preparing for a medical entrance examination. But destiny had something else in store for him. After watching a movie, Kenkare had accompanied his friend, who wanted to apply for the architectural entrance exam for Sir J.J. School of Architecture. His friend did not have change worth INR 15.00, and so, they filled two forms instead of one, the second being Mr. Kenkare’s. This accidental entrance exam led him to score spectacularly and feature in the institute’s first list of accepted candidatures – nationwide top 40. And that too with zero preparation.

Consequently, he did not fare well in the medical examination and did not secure any seat. Having had a penchant for art throughout the school with several of his paintings being displayed at an international level, he decided to give architecture a chance. And there has been no looking back. 

“I would have been a terrible doctor, thanks to those fifteen rupees that I am here today… architecture was something I wanted to do, and it was destined for me,” says Kenkare with immense satisfaction today. 

Neilesh kenkare’s take on progression in the design industry

Having been in the field for 25 years and worked on projects across all sectors and segments, Mr. Kenkare feels that progression in the industry is bound to happen. 

“I remember when we did a night club for the very first time, there was total experimentation. There were no coloured lights, LED strips, etc. in the early 90s’. We would cover tube lights with cellophane paper to generate effects. I’m talking about a very preliminary phase. There are very few materials available in India, whereas now, everything is easily available. Everything can be imported. But in those days, even if clients had a budget, there were so many red tapes. There was no internet, no exposure. So, it was more of trial and error. But I would say that that time was more of pure design.” 

He added, “Nowadays, design is more of accessorizing. Architects have become selectors rather than designers. And even clients today come to us with images from Pinterest. That reduces our involvement in the overall design, theme, etc. Earlier, we used to visualize everything. Everything was an original design, not a glorified version or inspiration of something else from the internet. So, exposure is good in a way, but also bad in a way because people are taking it for granted. Clients also tend to take it for granted and undermine the role of architects in the design process. When we design a restaurant, we would contribute to everything – including the menu card, uniforms, etc. because that is also equally a part of design. So, I feel today the awareness level has reduced. The design process is the same; everything else is the same too. But the internet and too much exposure have ruined the chances of design, that’s what I feel.”

What is creative design satisfaction for you?

When asked this, Mr. Neilesh Kenkare replied, “Design satisfaction is when you don’t give the end-user what he wants, but what he needs. Today, due to exposure, clients tell us various requirements. But they don’t quite understand the meaning of a lot of terms that they use by just surfing the internet or seeing a competitor’s design. We talk to the end-user, we talk to the clients, we do a site survey and in-depth research before designing any project. What decides design? Design is not even 30% of the actual work. Understanding the client, his habits, his likes, dislikes, site conditions, etc. is the entire process. Because eventually, it has to function. You can like something for 8 months, but that is very different from having to stay with it for 8 years.”

“And that’s why, today, even after 25 years, we visit every site and every client. That’s the kind of involvement I have in my work. And that’s what makes every project satisfying.” concludes Kenkare.

Which segment or sector excites you the most?

For Mr. Kenkare, it’s not really about segment, sector, or budget. For one client, he did a small Buddhist monastery and temple in a remote Nagpur village. He said that the joy of working on that project was enough, “We had a great time staying on-site and eating local food, and we did not charge a penny for the project. Every year on the Vardhapan Din, we get invited to this temple. And more than twenty-five to thirty-thousand people come to the temple and the way they worship… they show reverence even towards you for constructing this temple! So, a place where you did not charge a single penny can also give you so much creative satisfaction,” says Mr. Kenkare. 

He adds that it’s not just about the money or segment of the project, but your involvement, your creative satisfaction, and the kind of experience you have. He insists that his firm always takes up projects with 100% involvement. So far, they have not done a single project without feeling happy or satisfied with it. They’ve been fortunate that all their projects have been dear to them. 

Way forward for sourcing

Mr. Kenkare explains, “Nowadays it is very easy to source, so there is zero R&D needed. The market is also global, and it is easy to import whatever is needed. We always look for vendors who can understand what we want. We are always open to suggestions about what is new in the market.” 

Mr. Kenkare, who has been teaching in various architectural colleges in Mumbai, emphasizes that “sometimes we can learn from our students too. They may not have the technical knowledge, but their ideas could be far better. Likewise, in our profession, we are always looking forward to new suggestions from our vendors too.”

Neilesh kenkare’s thoughts on arcedior

Kenkare shares that this is a very good idea – India’s very own and one of the first global sourcing platform. He further adds, “In order to make it successful, you must have a good team of people who are able to understand what architects want. That is very important.”

Projects by neilesh kenkare

The meditation project

The Meditation Project is a spacious Buddhist monastery cum healing and ayurvedic centre on the outskirts of Nagpur city. Situated at the riverfront in the midst of nature’s glory, this classy retreat is designed in a way that will surely help you explore your true nature.

Merino experience centre

Nitrro fitness club

Private residential project

Lodha wellness retreat

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