Building dreams together, block by block
The founding principals of CDA, Mohanbir Singh and Maninder Kaur, on their 31-year partnership of work and family life
Whatever good things we build, end up building us. That is how New Delhi-based architects and founding principals of Creative Design Architects (CDA) Mohanbir Singh and Maninder Kaur have been building landmark edifices and their loving relationship for 31 years and counting.
The two first met after their parents had arranged a meeting. “Their efforts in setting this up had supposedly thrived. I was pursuing B Arch from Chandigarh College of Architecture when we married in 1989,” says Kaur, 49. And Singh, who was an Associate Architect at Stein Doshi and Bhalla, back then, quips, “It was basically a made for each other kind of thing. When we met, we looked no further and settled.”
After completing her education, Kaur, who specialises in healthcare planning and design, began working with Kothari Associates. During this stint, she conceptualised CDA and proposed it to Singh, 55. “Mohanbir was extremely supportive. We passively founded CDA in 2000 as a side hustle; and started pursuing it full-time only in 2006,” she adds.
Before CDA, Singh was the Director Architect at Military Engineering Services (MES). “The essence was to bring together something close to both of us and express it as an integrated whole. Our first project, ‘The Leprosy Mission’, defined our roles in the 50+ projects we have worked together thereafter.”
Both say their most memorable projects were during 2009-12. “We designed five hospitals for Max Healthcare simultaneously, while experimenting with new concepts in the realm of contemporary Indian healthcare. We curated a new healthcare brand that would defy the conventional architecture and design of Indian hospitals that were depressing and monotonous,” adds Kaur.
While Kaur oversees planning and interiors, Singh manages the structural and MEP integration, and financial matters. Kaur describes their journey as thrilling, yet exciting. “We both have our areas of expertise, which allows us to streamline and manage work efficiently. While there is a defined balance in how we do what we do, there is also an underlying sense of responsibility and zeal in work.” Singh’s forte is planning, sustainability, structural and service integration, but he never lets ego factor come in between work. “The best thought wins,” he says. Working together is something they enjoy. “Apart from having a streamlined workflow, it provides us an opportunity to spend time together,” she adds.
Kaur believes that planning and balance is the key to attain work-life balance, while he feels life’s easier when work is passion. When he’s sceptical, she maintains a positive attitude, and punctuality is one principle common to the both of them with their share of disagreements.
“We mostly try to orient those into a constructive dimension and attempt to venture out via discussions and sometimes apologies!” admits Kaur, and Singh agrees, saying, “Working together feels like steering a venture and giving it direction and momentum with equal status. We are always there for each other.”
While she begins her day with yoga, he starts it with gardening. Then, over a cup of tea, she catches up with friends and family over calls, and he devotes this time to reading before prepping up for work. “My day at work involves a lot of meetings, discussions, managing projects and people, while Maninder does planning and sketching apart from the meetings,” informs Singh.
Covid has completely changed their style of working. Remote working and limited tech-savviness have been a tad challenging, but they are getting used to it. “We have been managing sites virtually. The brainstorming sessions in the conference rooms have moved to Zoom and Google Meet,” says Mohanbir, adding that, “we are constantly evolving our design strategies for urban and master planning and healthcare planning to cope with the uncertainties posed by the pandemic.
- What she likes about him: His quest and perseverance for getting things right and his uncompromising work ethics.
- What she dislikes about him: His scepticism and over analytical mind.
- What he likes about her: Her consistency and single-minded focus.
- What he dislikes about her: She has a tendency of overriding work priority