5 Tips for Designing Contests that Bring Out Real, Hidden Talent by Volume Zero

The most simple and basic, and yet the most important structure we inhabit, and will mostly be influenced by, will always be our homes. It’s an abode which we always look forward to coming back to and being ourselves, be it a tiny house or a huge mansion. But, in the course of our day have you ever wondered how many structures we casually stroll by? Once in a while we also take note and marvel at them, and sometimes we even pay a fee to see them. Those are times we stop and appreciate the minds behind those buildings, and the artists behind these structures — Architects.

After pursuing a degree in architecture, three friends – Aniket Wadke, Truptesh Sawant and Koustubh Metkari, felt the need to use the knowledge, to solve and apply that knowledge in other areas as well. Together, they created Volume Zero, first as an online platform and eventually as a virtual magazine that is bringing together and giving voice to the upcoming architectural talent in India, while practising architecture themselves. Their team is now more than 14 people who call their workspace a ‘lab’ where new ideas are encouraged, tested and are brought into fruition.

Through a heartfelt conversation, Aniket Wadke shares the company’s vision for the architect’s community and the impact they can create beyond architecture, with Samira Pillai.

For Designers, by Designers

Volume ZeroAn idea might seem to come in a flash of light, but it usually requires and demands time to cultivate and bloom. Aniket explains “The idea for Volume Zero came because we wanted a platform to give designers a sense of what goes behind the thought process – from a small sketch to an entire building.” The venture focuses on talent in the Indian subcontinent through a virtual platform that has been striving to inspire young designers to think out of the box and create unique yet functional designs for individuals as well as masses. 

It all started when the three friends observed and marvelled at the unique works produced by the not-so-known talent around them. He says, “We thought these artists were producing work worth noting. We wanted to make case studies for other designers to draw inspiration from.”  This simple thought of inspiring other architects nudged them into the direction of creating a digital platform and providing a voice for such unique minds. Having their work featured on the Volume Zero platform has brought them visibility, from many quarters, including the design audience. At the very least, it has opened up a communication channel for them regarding their work. 

Amongst the array of architectural platforms out there what sets ‘Volume Zero’ apart is the uniqueness and relatability that are derived from the fact that it is envisioned and created by practising architects.

Unique Minds, Unique Designs
It is a known fact that every mind perceives a subject or a problem in their own unique way. And, Volume Zero believes that every design is unique, like the mind behind it. As Aniket explains “Design is something that we believe is a problem-solving tool. If we apply it in architectural context — each site is different, and each architect’s thought to solve the design problem is different. The context to it may be the same or different. But that’s what kind of makes it unique! It is the thought behind a design which is an important aspect and is worth showcasing. That is pretty much what we believed was unique to each and every mind.

Crowdsourcing Content

VZ inside the book

10 Incredible Houses Sneak Peak

Initially, Volume Zero team proactively reached out to designers whose work they thought was interesting – including international architects and designers. These were then curated into articles and published on their website and other digital platforms. 

With the increase in their popularity and move to being relaunched as a Design Magazine, artists now submit their work to Volume Zero directly. Aniket explains “A year or so back, we devised a system where people can now submit their work on our website, and our editorial and design team then ensures that the language and design content align with the website’s vision.” 

These works are not just sourced or submitted by the national talent, but by international talent as well. “We are primarily focusing on the regional talent, where we think people’s work hasn’t gotten much attention, but that doesn’t stop us from looking at and showcasing exceptional work done by designers outside India,” explains Aniket.

These continued efforts of Volume Zero to publish exceptional work have also intrigued people beyond the architectural background. “Initially it was not our vision. But we were getting feedback from people even outside our community. This is certainly motivating. We are still in the brainstorming phase and trying to figure out different options where we could actually reach a bigger audience. Perhaps something along the lines of 10 Best Bedroom Designs will have more mass appeal.”

Challenging Young Minds

Tiny House Competition Poster

Tiny House 2017: Competition Poster

One thing that really intrigues a creative mind and sets it on a path of discovery and invention is a challenge. Competition is one such form that is the best and most efficient way of nudging someone to think out of the box. Over the years, Volume Zero has planned and executed many such amazing, yet unique contests, which are based on real-life applications like ‘Re-School’, ‘TinyHouse’, ‘Unbox’, ‘Aquatecture’ and the more recent one being ‘Little big Loo’. 

“The idea behind ‘Re-school’ was to motivate architects and re-imagine the idea of schools. Basically, finding ways to create space for not so privileged students and provide them with opportunity to receive non-conventional education from volunteers and learned people from their own community”, says Aniket. ‘Little Big Loo- Rethinking Public Toilets 2020’ is inviting ideas that can be used to disrupt the perception of public toilets with the most innovative and efficient solution for sanitisation, a real-world problem, which is plaguing our future.

Volume Zero hosts an average of 3-4 contests per year and spreads information primarily through social media and direct interaction with architecture colleges across India. Over the years, these contests have received over a few thousand entries from more than 20 countries. The response led to the birth of Volume Zero Awards, where contests are not only open for students and architects but also for product designers, industrial designers, and engineers.

These competitions are not just based on real-life applications. Some of the topics are more abstract as well, like ‘Moonception’, ‘Marsception’ – imagining life on Moon and Mars and creating functional and recreational spaces.  “The basic idea behind these competitions has been how we can make it all interesting, yet educational for not only architectural students, but architects too”, says Aniket.

Interestingly, these competitions have not only garnered attention from the architectural community, they have intrigued minds beyond their community as well. “The age limit to submit one’s entry for these contests is set at 18 years and above. For the Tiny House contest, we had a couple of kids who really wanted to participate, but they were underage. They finally participated with help from their teacher, which was very interesting for us”, says Aniket.

Building an Audience

10 Incredible Houses Magazine

10 Incredible Houses by Volume Zero

Our goals and achievements drive us to pursue bigger and better things. Aniket thinks that gaining the goodwill of people has been their biggest achievement. “People trust us as a brand in terms of information that’s provided and the contests we host,” he says. He further adds “The company continually aims at providing relevant information, which can be in the form of contests, magazine, videos or initiating discussions which will help the upcoming talent to grow both academically and professionally”.

For the future, apart from growing their digital audience beyond the confines of the architectural community, they also want to focus on publishing digital books that will help impart information which is concise and filtered.

Creating Meaningful Spaces
If you just take the context of India, there are so many spaces, and many issues that plague our nation. If you place an architect who understands that space, they can very easily resolve issues like sanitation. But according to Aniket this is just one part of it. “It all starts at grassroot levels – the educational institutions. Creating the building is one part of education. I personally feel that the introduction to psychology in architectural college is an absolute must, as it goes hand-in-hand in terms of how you create spaces, how the spaces are perceived. Basically, understanding the needs of the end user, which will make it more relevant to the person or persons for whom that particular space is being created.”

If you break it down to the basic level, architecture is not just about creating spaces. In fact, it is the art of creating meaningful spaces for relevant functions. “I think architects can play a bigger role if they collectively understand that it is not just about creating buildings, but it’s also about creating different functions for different people in different areas”, signs off Aniket.

– Written by Neha Mutreja