Tracing Trajectories: AAID’s Mansi Tewari by Love That Design

Mansi Tewari has an infectious laugh. Yet, what is more enamoring is how forthcoming she is about juggling the roles of a first-time mom and the new Associate Director at AAID (Allen Architecture Interiors Design). We caught Mansi as she walked in her office. With her signature ebullience in tow, she told us all…even about AAID’s expansion to Saudi Arabia.

“I just want to know where the bedroom is,” remarked a thirteen-year-old Mansi as she scanned the construction drawings spread across the table. The drawings belong to her father, a lawyer referencing them for a legal case. Amused by his engrossed daughter, who continued to trace her fingers over the plans, he playfully inquires if she wants to be an architect. She replies with a resounding "Yes."

Years later, the smile and curiosity remain. Still processing how the stars have aligned, Mansi recollects her childhood visits to the Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai—an annual tradition for birthdays or anniversaries. The specifics of those visits may blur, but the feeling persists.

“It was the only time we would go to a five-star hotel because that was our celebration day and oh my god, I love going to hotels!” she exclaims. Having explored over 50 countries with her husband, Mansi is convinced her two passions—travel and architecture—have conspired to lead her to Hospitality Design. “All these storytelling journeys of wanderlust boil down to my philosophy of living different experiences and eating good food,” she quips.  

From Doubt to Design: Stepping into the F&B Sector  

Growing up in a family of lawyers, the realm of architecture was new but also familiar. “We would visit museums and travel quite a bit across India. My mom and I love textures and art and craft. Isn’t that what architecture is? A combination of art, design and construction,” Mansi reasons.

However, this journey was not as much of a fairytale as it seems. Clouds of doubt loomed as nobody truly prepared you for architecture school. Surprisingly, the demanding hours did not deter her spirit, but the mid-final year existential crisis hit hard. “I constantly wondered what I was doing with my life. Is this what I want to do? The one thing I was sure about was that I loved being on a construction site, and I enjoyed the detailing and creation of spaces,” Mansi reflects.

When a colleague offered her a role in a Food and Beverage design company, she understandably hesitated. Yet, two years and 12 projects later, Mansi found her stride in the F&B sector in New Delhi.

Adventure to AAID: Chasing Design Dreams Across Continents

Six months later, Mansi embarked on a new journey by enrolling for a master’s degree in Interior Architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design. She spent a year working there in the field of hospitality design. Following this, she relocated to Singapore after her marriage and began collaborating with a French firm.

“In terms of hospitality design, in the USA, I was doing more Hiltons and Marriotts, but here in Singapore, there were more boutique brands, and I was also doing smaller beach resorts in Maldives and Africa, so that was an interesting take.”

With her calling clearer than ever, the couple shifted base to Dubai, a prominent hub for the Hospitality and Construction industry. That’s how Mansi joined AAID as a Senior Designer in February 2018. Allen Architecture Interiors Design is an established international design studio specialising in the conception of architecture and interior projects across a diverse spectrum of cultural, commercial, residential, retail, hospitality, and education domains.

Dream Project: The Ministry of Tourism in Riyadh

As Mansi rose up the ranks to join the commercial design team, she noticed the increasingly blurred lines between hospitality and commercial spaces. “Today, it seems like everybody wants their office to look like a hotel,” she explains.

However, Mansi is not complaining. This shift led to their most significant project before her maternity leave—the Ministry of Tourism in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. “Because it's the Ministry of Tourism, the brief was we want this office to look like a hotel,” she laughs.  

The project recently won a CID (Commercial Interior Design) Award in the Interior Design of the Year – Offices category. Envisioned to promote a fresh concept for versatile workspaces, the project draws inspiration from the nation’s rich landscapes and cultural practices to create a state-of-the-art workspace that integrates function and technology. Mansi’s life history and design philosophy ensured that nods to local craftsmanship, from textile and basket weaving to wood carving, are intricately woven throughout the space.

The Balancing Act: Juggling Projects and Parenthood

“I think we didn't anticipate how much space a baby takes,” laughs Mansi. The flurry of projects kept her occupied throughout her pregnancy, and just as a well-deserved break seemed to be on the horizon, another project emerged: designing the baby's nursery. “Right now, we're those parents who have the baby in their room, all of his books on our shelves in the study, and his toys in nice baskets next to our junk,” she chuckles.

Thrilled about her return to AAID as the Associate Director, Mansi experiences a blend of nerves and gratitude. “When you are moving up in an organisation, you feel that your work is appreciated and recognised,” she states.

On her first day away from home, the pain of leaving her son was heart-wrenching. Yet, having a role model proved invaluable. “My mother is a working parent and a multitasker. I remember growing up, we never felt her absence. She was always there. She would wake up early in the morning, get us ready for school, and then head to her job, and still manage to be with us for dinner. As a retired civil servant and IAS officer, it wasn't an easy job, right? But she did it, and if she could, then I can do it too.”

Balancing the roles of a mother and a professional took a few weeks of introspection and difficult decisions. “I have always been an early morning person, but now I wake up even earlier just to have a few moments to myself. I start the day by spending time with my baby and then preparing for work. I have realised that the only way I can cherish both aspects is by completely switching off from one when I'm at another. The key is discipline and delegation.”

Mansi’s Secret to Success: Architecture as Storytelling

When quizzed about her design philosophy, she begins, “Design is a story and I am a storyteller. I don't think I've ever made a design without a concept. So whether it's an office space or a home or a hotel, there's always going to be a journey attached to the experience that the customer or guest will have.”

As Mansi delves into her sources of inspiration, the origins of her philosophy become clearer. “The spaces designed by the Japanese architect, Tadao Ando are so calming that I just want to be in them a lot longer. Whether it's the churches or the museums, the serenity that his architecture holds is something I hope to design, someday,” she explains.

Among her other favourites are India Madhavi and Roman and Williams. “I remember when I was in the USA, I was hoping to go to the Ace Hotel in Brooklyn one day,” she says. The diverse and eclectic style of Roman and Williams is another element Mansi seeks to incorporate into her designs, and she might have already begun. “We collect shot glasses from every city that we visit. We have this massive wall of shot glasses which will come down very soon when my child starts to crawl,” she says.

Speaking of India Madhavi, Mansi finds inspiration in her amalgamation of textures, colours, and patterns. “These are things one could pick up from anywhere. They don't always need to make sense, but they will make sense because there will be a story behind them,” she states.

She further argues that when you have a story, you always have something to go back to. “Whether it's designing the plans or choosing fabrics and finishes, when they tie back to the story, it's easy to relate to them. Human beings pick up patterns very easily,” she affirms. While the client budgets may derail these plans, Mansi asserts that a story provides a glass-half-full perspective that makes all the endless changes and revisions worth it.

Explicably, this is also her advice to her younger self and aspiring architects. “All that hard work is always worth it so do not shy away from it. Blood, sweat, tears and heartbreak, it's always worth it,” she winks.

Budgets and Sustainability: Finding the Middle Ground in Design

If there is one thing Mansi Tewari dreads, it is value engineering. “I don’t like the tender phase because you're awaiting the budget and you'll realise the client wants to value engineer design.”

The problem of budget cuts pops up while discussing her approach to sustainability too. While Mansi believes there are multiple paths to achieve sustainability, hers is all about being mindful of our choices. She also admits it’s a slippery slope. “It's not really on our end, but more on the client's side. Sometimes sustainability means they need to spend a little more. Nevertheless, an increasing number of suppliers are introducing sustainable materials, and we are trying to integrate that into our design.” she explains. The studio ensures that whether it's electrical systems or materiality, they are willing to push for a net zero initiative as a small contribution within the broader scheme of things.

On the technology front, Mansi admits she is somewhat old school and still reaches out for a pen and paper. “I'm one to flip through magazines and books for inspiration. However, I'm also embracing the learning curve. I know the team uses tools like Midjourney and I am keeping up with ChatGPT. These tools do help when you don't have someone to brainstorm with or when you hit a wall. While Google will tell you everything you need to know, ChatGPT will help assort it,” she adds.

Expanding Horizons: AAID's New Chapter in Saudi Arabia

Thrilled to announce what’s brewing at AAID, Mansi draws up some numbers, stating “Currently. 70% of our projects are in Saudi Arabia. We're doing a fly-in and fly-out model but that takes a lot of time away from work. So, we are opening an office there!”

She further adds, “I think Saudi Arabia is doing some cutting-edge work. The ideas are wild and that's amazing. As an architect myself, they remind me of my old thesis projects. Saudi Arabia’s transformation has been phenomenal, and it'll be a shame for us to not be there. So we are in the process of setting up, so we can establish our presence there.”