May 15, 2017

Q&A with Ajay Chopra of Echo Design + Architecture

'Fun and engaging amenities are essential to creating a great workspace, because those features are used to attract and retain fresh talent while keep existing workers happy.' -Ajay Chopra

by New York Spaces

Echo Design + Architecture's Barber Shop in Alley Chelsea.
Echo Design + Architecture's Barber Shop in Alley Chelsea.

Q&A with Ajay Chopra of Echo Design + Architecture

Ajay Chopra
Ajay Chopra.

NYS: What is Echo Design + Architecture known for? Tell us about your team!

Ajay Chopra: Our firm is known for developing innovative, adaptable spaces through a client-focused approach to design. We are known for pushing boundaries and thinking outside of the box, while staying on schedule and within budget. That's why our clients trust us to conceptualize, construct and breathe life into their apartments, homes, office and various environments. Our culture takes root in a collaborative and creative atmosphere. We are individuals with a wide range of passions, education, and experiences. Our team of architects, designers, and thinkers operate with the common belief that good design has the potential to transform lives. The Echo team continues to experiment and build a creative culture, catalyzing design innovation.

NYS: What drew you to designing offices? What aspect about the process and end result do you most love?

Ajay Chopra: What we love most about working with office spaces is the ability to work closely with founders

Staircase in Chelsea Alley
Staircase in Alley Chelsea.

and business owners who are creatives themselves and aid in the development of amazing technology and drive start-up innovation. Each entrepreneur is different, and that presents us with an opportunity to immerse ourselves within a company's culture, finding that spark of imagination that allows us to showcase each business differently through design. We get excited about that process of discovery to understand the flow of a company, its employees and their work-culture, because we are creating an environment in which they will spend the better part of their lives. In the end, our goal with office design is to make those people who will be occupying the space happy by stretching the boundaries of creation and execution, offering them a sense of comfort away from home.

NYS: Tell us about one of your favorite projects!

Ajay Chopra: The Alley Chelsea workspace has been one of my favorite projects to work on, as it provided an opportunity to create a truly dynamic environment that captures the experiential design concepts we are constantly exploring. The client gave us free reign to truly develop unique design elements to create amenities and spaces for its members to flourish. Our goal with Alley Chelsea was to design a highly-customized, yet unbranded space where young entrepreneurs could come together and collaborate with one another. The architectural and interior design of the workspace offers the community of members countless moments for inspiration, collaboration and innovation through the implementation of elements such as lighting, materials, and setting. From the themed privacy booths that provide respite and a chance to escape the activity of the office to providing unique amenities and services such as the retro barbershop and communal cafes, Alley Chelsea allowed us to really reimagine and investigate what the future of workspaces, and in particular co-working spaces, can be.

Echo alley chelsea cafe
Alley Chelsea Cafe.

NYS: What made you decide to design a retro barbershop in the Alley Coworking space? We are fascinated by that!

Ajay Chopra: The founder of Alley had total confidence in our abilities and entrusted me with the freedom to think outside the box with the design of the Chelsea location, so I ran with it. I really sought to add a bit of fun and playfulness into this space that was being created for serious, driven entrepreneurs. My hope is that the Barbershop is not only functional, as members have actually received haircuts, but also inspirational in the sense that it provides an escape from the busyness of the day. The barbershop also gave me the opportunity to explore the idea of delivering services to people wherever they are, similar to concepts like Uber or Seamless, and test how far that could really go. The barbershop approaches that notion of delivered amenities in a completely new way, and I think that is what makes it truly unique.

NYS: How do you make commercial interiors feel more residential?

Ajay Chopra: Traditionally, there's been a clear difference between how commercial and residential spaces

Echo Alley Chelsea Entrance
Alley Chelsea Entrance.

should look and feel. My focus has been on incorporating varied textures, materials, furniture and finishes that blur those lines. The workplace does not have to be rigid and streamlined. We bring soft-seating lounges into communal areas that serve as an area for relaxing and unwinding. We also pay very close attention to lighting fixtures and brightness levels, so as not to create screen glare or a harsh work environment.

Additionally, we incorporate set design in our work, utilizing curated artwork and hand-selected props to add a deeper level of comfort typically reserved for residential spaces. Those quirky details encourage conversation by making the workspace feel more real. Too often offices feel sterile, which stifles collaboration and interaction. We love taking those environments and re-creating them to be slightly less streamlined or perfect and making them more cozy.

NYS: What kind of sensory and experimental design elements do you employ to engage employees?

Ajay Chopra: We've experimented with all kinds of sensory and experiential elements in our designs, aimed at challenging how many different experiences we can offer in a single space. I learned through doing experiential art installations that people engage with spaces in a variety of different ways. The point of design is to facilitate that interaction with the space and with one another. I carried over that experience into workplace design through a variety of unique, interactive features, such as magnetized walls with changeable letters or dry-erase walls.

Alley Chelsea Phone Booths
Alley Chelsea Phone Booths.

In our recent projects, we experimented quite a bit with color palettes, furniture, decorations/wallcoverings, and materials to create different experiential themes throughout our spaces. For example, for one project we paid special attention to ensuring no two chairs are the same, so that no matter where someone sits, they're feeling something different every time. Be it a cafe or library nook, chair coverings and lighting levels also alternate to encourage different kinds of interactions. We've even specified particular scents for certain rooms depending on their intended use, as there is a lot of psychology that goes into our sense of smell (linked to memory, relaxation and productivity).

NYS: We love that you include unique amenities in your office spaces. Tell us about some of the more interesting amenities you have worked on!

Foursquare Entrance
Foursquare.

Ajay Chopra: Fun and engaging amenities are essential to creating a great workspace, because those features are used to attract and retain fresh talent while keep existing workers happy. Certain amenities offer a respite from the daily work day and an escape from the humdrum of the office, which is very sought after in open office settings and coworking spaces. Consequently, a lot of thought goes into what amenities will work for a particular client.

For Foursquare's office, we created a sixty-foot long gallery wall in front of the receptionist. That wall opened up in cut outs of varying sizes, allowing you to catch a glimpse of what was taking place in some of the conference rooms. It was like peeking into a museum to see artifacts, as each room was heavily decorated to a particular theme. In later projects, we've designed nursing rooms for new mothers, uniquely styled cafes, and bathrooms with individual design aesthetics.. Themed phone booths have become a staple in many of the office spaces we create. Each one is individually crafted for private work, inspired by international destinations, including log cabins, an architect's drafting room, and sci-fi movies. We even did one to serve as an homage to Ikea using furniture incorporated in the original space.

Greenscraper Hotel
Greenscraper Hotel.

NYS: What would your dream project look like?

Ajay Chopra: My dream project would be something in the hospitality industry. Our goal is to design a hybrid space that will blur the lines of spatial typologies. In each of our projects, I try to challenge what we consider to be a solely "residential feature" or "workplace amenity." I would love the opportunity to bring that vision into a hotel space and let that idea evolve even further, reimagining what's considered 'traditional' for a given space and providing amenities that have not been fully explored.

Additionally, we would love to work on a project that explores the creation of a hybrid environment that integrates indoor and outdoor space in an intriguing way. For example, we designed a conceptual project—the Greenscraper Hotel—that weaves exterior landscaping through the building's infrastructure. Though just a concept, we'd welcome the opportunity to investigate this idea further with a realized project. Ultimately, my team and I are working to redefine the boundary of interior environments as a whole, and designing and outfitting a boutique hotel would provide an opportunity to see just how far our imaginations can go.

NYS: What are you working on now?

Ajay Chopra: I have a keen focus on the exploration of the future of coworking spaces, investigating how technology can be integrated into the workplace and impact how people collaborate and innovate. I'm currently working on one underwraps tech project, in addition to a dual outfit for a fin-tech company as they rethink their corporate structure. My hands on approach has allowed projects to continually be delivered on time and on budget, and I'm looking forward to crafting new designs that challenge the norm and excite with a sense of playfulness and whimsy.

Ajay Chopr
Ajay Chopra in Alley Chelsea's Barbershop.

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