Inside the studio with Arushi Bhatnagar from Dubai's Fiona Environs

Published: 1 April 2020 - 6:47 p.m.
By: Jane O'Neill

Please introduce yourself and your firm

Arushi Bhatnagar, creative director of Fiona Environs, and a landscape architect. Fiona Environs is a landscape design and build firm based in Dubai, UAE and New Delhi, India. We work across residential, hospitality, healthcare and education, with a focus towards sustainability.

Personally, I spent the first half of my life in New Delhi, where I grew up, and the other half in Dubai. I grew up watching my mom’s hand drawings [mum Shalini is the firm's CEO] turning into reality and always knew I wanted to be a landscape architect.

Following my passion, I went to Kingston University in London for my BA Hons in Landscape Architecture. So technically I’ve been in the industry for about five years now, but feels like I’ve grown up in it. The industry of landscape never really existed back then.

I have recently graduated with a Masters in Architecture Management and Design from IE University last month. The course was a blended format meant for working professionals so it was part face-to-face and part online. So for the past year I was working and studying at the same time. This was extremely challenging, however, it was a definite learning curve where I could put my education to practice, almost instantly.

Describe your studio

Our office is based in Oud Metha and is nothing like a design office. We’re currently in the process of designing and renovating it and how it turns out is completely in the hands of our employees. We have an internal design competition beginning in April for all our design team to come up with concepts to upgrade and enhance the office. A design brief will be distributed with an budget and we will be giving them two weeks to come up with the concepts, samples, costing and timelines, just like a live project.

How has self-isolation effected the team?

Currently we are all working from home, so I have just set up my work space at home, as you'll see from the pictures. I have a little productive corner in my room where all the ideas brew.

My 2020 vision board just above my desk helps me focus on my goals for the year. The space is always kept neat with wires hidden, everything is easily accessible – stationery, lighting, a snack drawer, footrest, blanket, and strong internet connection. So there are no distractions.

How does your day at work typically start?

We conduct a morning huddle at 9.07am sharp with the entire team.
Normally this involves standing around the center table of our office and follows an agenda where each employee shares the following one by one – some happy or good news, updates on yesterday's task lisy and what's on the task list for the day ahead, and fianlly any challenges or red flags.

Now that we're all working from home, the morning huddle continues by using Zoom, where employees join in from home. We follow the same agenda.

What are you working on right now?

In a family run business, you tend to get involved into every aspect. Currently, my focus is on finishing our ongoing construction projects on, or rather before time, due to the current world situation, there is a lot of uncertainty in the construction industry.

Apart from that, working from home has given me that extra time to focus on certain important things such as our website, marketing collaterals, office interiors, streamline our operations by putting in certain standards and practices in place, as well as strategising for the months ahead.

What are the high points and challenges of the average day?

Heading the design team, the high points are really our team lunches, morning huddles as well as constant laughing, giggling and sharing lunches at the office. The team is young, energetic, enthusiastic and really lifts the spirit at the office.

A challenge we always face is the simple awareness and understanding of the profession by general public, and sometimes even professionals in the AEC industry. Shifting sustainability from a trend to a necessity is also a challenge.

What do you love about your office space? What would you change?

I love that we all have our own personal wall space where we have all our goals that everyone can see. The team really gets super-creative.
I'd change the colour scheme and bring a little bit of our branding – plants and green walls – into the space. I'd also like to have more natural light.

What’s the last thing you do before you call it a day and leave the office?

Clean my table, with my book and stationery back in its place. The entire office knows that it's a pretty big deal if my stationery is stolen, and yes, I will find out!

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