Divya Hegde is an architect with her own firm the KrimsonTree, India. For more than a decade, as a trailing spouse, shuttling between Zurich and Bangalore every few months, Divya has been managing it all from Zurich working on turnkey projects, right from design to execution. What is it like working as an architect during a lockdown? She shares her story.

Lockdown being recent, however seems so familiar. For me, this is the real World War. The war each country around the world is fighting, or the few ones who are not affected yet, are getting prepared to be hit. Many businesses are facing a cessation, some are downsizing and some are drastically cutting down working hours. Job Markets and their operations have been altered overnight. There is perhaps not a single industry unaffected by this lockdown.

While in India, we did not expect the cases to rise, for reasons we convinced ourselves with, the recent rise and the lockdown has come unexpectedly. However the swift performance by the government on this, is quite audacious and appreciable.

Working from Home as an architect

It’s the third week of stay-at-home, here in Switzerland and the second week in India. My profession allows me flexible work hours, or if I may say, my profession sees me working at the oddest of hours. This is the bit I love about being entrepreneurial – the freedom and the opportunity to do a bit of everything for myself and family. But the lockdown phase has seen the busiest me!

My quiet work hours during the morning and the afternoons while my son would be in school is a faraway dream now. But the reality is as a mother, I have to entertain my son according to his expectations. I am supposed to get his school work and home work done as per his teacher. In the role of a mother, wife and myself, I want to cook the best of nutritional and tasty meals for my family.

Being a service provider, I am expected to be available at least on calls, considering I am not on the site, being in the sphere of architecture.

As an architect, it’s my duty to call on my project manager for coordination and updates.

All of this is driving me from different levels of panic to staying calm. There is angst, restlessness, empathy, fear and much more against the want to be peaceful, tolerant and loving to maintain my own sanity.

The Situation in India

With schools announcing a shutdown and a WFH situation for my husband, it looked like I was walking on a tightrope. I discussed with my contractor in India and stop work for the benefit of the workers who walked or took the public transport to our construction site. It wasn’t fair to expose them to this risk and expect them to continue work on site, getting their hands soiled, under the scorching sun. The issue was whether they would relent to it happily, being fully conscious of the current risk that had enveloped everything around. Daily labourers look at the world with a different filter. Social inequality is better understood when their lives are deciphered. Lack of finance, zero medical insurance, and limited access to education, healthcare and hygiene perhaps doesn’t get them to understand the concept of social distancing.

Photo indicating man working on a building in India

The Supplies

With the lockdown now, everything has now come to a dead end. There is hardly a chance for any construction activity to continue. Shops and stores for hardware, paint, construction raw materials like steel, cement and bricks are shut. Stores dealing with interior design material like plywood, laminates and veneer hardware have shut shop. There is no possibility even to get the clients to visit display stores to choose finishes, they would like to use in their projects. These activities go in parallel and are detached from ongoing work and transpire well in advance. Items like river sand, cement are not available during these times because the commute and carriage is restricted. Customized items like floor tiles, special wooden windows and columns, wall claddings do not get made, for the reason that the fabricator doesn’t have the raw materials himself. Vendors and dealers are losing business because the potential clients are not stepping up the orders.

The Chain Reaction

With the supply constrained, we oresee stalling of projects or a significant slowdown in completion. This triggers a chain reaction now, while the client has already got a loan approval from the bank for the project and the project being hindered, a loss is certain. For clients who are getting their homes built, a notice to vacate the rented place is already served. Rentals and time piles up on the client. For banks, it would be an issue to disburse loans when projects are stalled, sanctioning additional loans in the current situation is ruled out, and hence the funding woes too get severed. A severe erosion of finance and profits are sure to follow. As an architect myself, it would become challenging, continued expenditure in the form of overheads would definitely affect profits. I would well call this the ripple effect.

Adapting to the new routine

Taking care of this situation, we have decided to pay them their daily wages for now, and eventually withhold a certain percentage in all future payments, once a new normal returns. Unfortunately, we cannot help the vendors and suppliers and can only hope their organisations would well deal with the situation. There have been enough steps taken by the government and corporate houses to provide for basic essentials.

In European context, a lot of chic pieces employed in architecture and interiors come from Europe and a bulk of luxury items are supplied by Italy. One of the world’s biggest furniture fairs – Salone del Mobile – held in Milan each year has been cancelled owing to the pandemic.
But the world is learning to adapt to a new routine. Online companies who provide entertainment and online educational programs are the winners. Online apps like Youtube, Zoom who don’t need a brick and mortar setting, providing online programs and recreation for kids and also adults for whom all outdoor physical activity are nipped are prevalent and will continue to be.

The focus now specially in India must be to contain the virus as we started the battle against it much earlier. It is possible that home buyers might be able to purchase properties at a lower value after the new price correction, once we are out of this situation. Indian domestic brands might soon start faring better considering the supplies from outside is surely going to take a hit.

Let us hope for now the containment plan works in our favour and the markets heal faster than expected.

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