Team Talks

Meet Saksham Tikekar!

Saksham Tikekar is an Architectural Designer at Handel Architects, which he joined in 2021.

Interviewed by Katie Donahue, Senior Associate at Handel Architects.

Would you mind introducing yourself and telling us a bit about yourself?

My name is Saksham Tikekar and I’m a recent graduate of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo with my Bachelor and Master’s degrees. I’ve always loved architecture. I’ve always loved creating. I think my first toys were big Lego blocks. Building is in my nature. Apart from architecture I love to cook. I love to bake. I find it’s very therapeutic to be in the kitchen, in the zone, and I also love skiing. I got to do some of it recently which was really fun. Traveling is also a big hobby- exploring places, learning how to be on your feet. And with being a foodie and loving to try the hot new restaurants in and out of the area, you can see how those hobbies are pretty related.

You said you’ve always been interested in building, can you tell us a little about that?

My dad and I actually had a hobby of building Ikea furniture, and I know it’s a big chore for a lot of people but I actually enjoy doing that. Looking at those diagrams and understanding how the parts and pieces work together is a lot like what we do on a daily basis in real life as architects. If my parents got a new dresser or bookcase for my brother or me, or just something for the house, I’d be the first to open up the packaging, get the directions, and start putting it together. I always had an inclination for it, and I’ve always been a visual learner. I think that’s one of my first memories of building something. I’ve also always really liked infrastructure - planes, trains, cars, seeing how things come together, work together, and how you end up with a beautiful product. So, that’s my initial introduction to building - Ikea furniture!

I think a lot of people would be happy to hire you to help with putting Ikea furniture together, that’s a great skill to have. When did you know that you wanted to go into architecture specifically?

It was always in the back of my mind growing up. Coincidentally, both of my grandfathers are architects, and both my parents studied architecture, and then transferred into tech when they finally settled down. Now I’m the third generation to study architecture, which is not crazy, but I think it’s crazy in the Bay Area, because most others here are in tech. When people hear I'm an architect, they say, "Oh wow! You’re not in tech? That’s amazing."

When the college application process started, I knew I didn’t want to go into a biology-related field, a scientific field, or the liberal arts. I wanted a well-rounded college experience. And architecture was just an amazing option where I could get holistic knowledge in a lot of different fields. I got into almost every school that I applied to. Cal Poly stood out to me because it was ranked the number one architecture program in the nation at the time, it was close to home, and it was budget friendly.

I think I saw a TV show recently where someone said, “Oh he’s an architect.” And somebody else said, “That’s a made up job, nobody is actually an architect.” I thought that was funny because the job is often depicted in movies and shows, but nobody really quite understands what architects actually do. Would you mind telling us what your day-to-day is like as an architect and designer?

I think being a designer in the San Francisco office at Handel Architects is an extremely rewarding experience. The way I describe it is we’re a small shop with big projects, which means whether you’re an entry level designer or you’re a principal, everyone has a piece that they’re responsible for. When assignments get tasked out, people in higher positions really make it digestible for junior level designers. It makes me feel like I can do it to the best of my ability and I can do a good job. Now, with a little more experience, I find myself coordinating with structural and MEP engineers, talking to ownership, and being an interface for certain design decisions. I have a piece where I feel responsible and I feel like I have ownership of a project, which is somewhat rare for a person at my level. Leadership wants everyone to be a useful part of the team.

Day-to-day, it definitely varies, but right now we’re in the CD phase of the project that I’m working on, so it’s a lot of working on details, working through coordination items, working on how the kit of parts comes together. Learning that process has been gratifying and rewarding, to see both where we started and where we are now.

I think you articulated that in a really beautiful way, that it is a small shop with big projects where everyone has these various pieces that they’re responsible for. It sounds like you’re given a good chance to develop into what I’ve heard called a “full architect.” Can you tell us a little bit about the project you’re working on?

Since I started in 2021, I’ve been working on the Four Seasons Private Residences Lake Austin. It is high-end, million plus square foot project of private residences, with private amenity spaces like a boat dock, a lake clubhouse, athletic center, theater, restaurant, etc. We’re a team of about 20-25. The part of the project I’m currently working on is what we’re calling the Upper Clubhouse. It has all the back-of-house functions, dry cleaning, food storage, mail sorting, etc. Then, as you go up, it's more public and includes the lobby, the concierge, the private restaurant, the main restaurant, the game room, and all the necessary amenities a project of this stature requires.

I joined this team in January of 2021. At that point we were in SD. We inherited drawings from our client. It has been amazing to see where we started and where we are now. The client is very involved in the project, he wants everything to be state-of-the-art. It’s been really great to hear his feedback and hear what he values. It’s been a unique and rewarding experience for sure.

The Four Seasons Private Residences, Lake Austin, which Saksham is currently working.

View from the Upper Clubhouse at Four Seasons Private Residences Lake Austin

What are some of the guiding design principles that you inherited? What was at the core of the design?

We received models from the ownership team, who was working with a variety of designers already, including a landscape designer, a rendering agency, and a more private residential-type architect. They developed a full model of what their vision for the project was. When we came on board, we inherited all those renderings, drawings, and models. We were brought on around SD 50%, when some reorganizing needed to happen to make the building function at the scale that it needed to—like adding a basement level, a loading doc, the MEP room, and sizing the right equipment layouts. Our office didn't make those broad brush strokes of, this is what the design is looking like, it was more, "let’s hash out how to include all the things that we’ve received into the design.." I think the design is timeless, contemporary. A lot of the façade elements are clean lines and muted tones, which will work well with the Austin landscape. It’s going to look very beautiful once it’s done.

Even though you’re a relatively recent graduate, can you tell us what you like most about working in architecture or at for Handel Architects?

I think one of the most rewarding experiences, as cliché as it sounds, is having a hand in the built world. Often times, for my peers and people that I talk to in the Bay Area, a lot of their work is digital, and its on the back end, and you sort of see it but you can’t really put a name on it. To be able to see something come to life, especially a type of architecture that people will inhabit, their home, where they bring their families —i t is a very personal type of architecture, multifamily specifically. It just makes the whole experience a lot better that you’re contributing to someone’s livelihood at the end of the day. Architecture is such a broad thing but the genre of architecture that Handel does—that’s the most rewarding thing for me is being a part of someone’s livelihood.

How about outside architecture? You mentioned that you’re interested in food and baking and are a self proclaimed foodie. Do you have a signature dish, or, what is your go-to to make in the kitchen?

It varies day by day. I think during the pandemic I had the time to spend three hours and just wait on bread to rise—I got into this big sourdough trend, which did not work out in my favor. It’s easy for something to go wrong. Sourdough is just very finicky, I'll eave it to the people who know how to do it. I also tried a lot of yeasted breads, and cooking whatever was in season and whatever my family was craving. We would do salmon tacos. In Half Moon Bay, a coastal city west of San Francisco, you can go down to the dock and all the fisherman have their catch of the day. You can get it filleted by the monger, it's the freshest seafood ever, cooking with that was just an amazing experience.

I’ve decided I don’t have to be an expert cook, I just have to be friends with expert cooks. Since you’re always trying new restaurants in the Bay Area or maybe elsewhere, what’s a recent favorite restaurant that you would recommend?

That’s a tough one. I find that some of the best meals are the most simple ones. I recently went to Mazra in San Bruno, south of San Francisco. They started as a mom and pop grocery store, just a corner Middle Eastern grocery store, and had dreams of expanding into a restaurant because they were always also serving food. For $20 you get a side of hummus, yogurt, hot sauce, with two meat skewers over a plate of rice—the most simple food, but the best I’ve ever had. Another of my favorite restaurants is again just simple Indian food, it’s called Zareen’s. I got to experience a 3-Star Michelin tasting menu at this restaurant called Kei in Paris. The Chef, Kei, is Japanese, but he’s lived in Paris most of his life, so he has this Japanese-French collaboration going on with the meals that he serves. It was quite mind blowing, and quite delicious, and quite expensive.

My last question…When you’re looking for inspiration either for design, architectural, or maybe just life inspiration, what are some of your go-to sources lately? Where do you seek out inspiration as a creative person?

I think inspiration for me carries itself in multiple way. As they say, it takes a village to raise a child, so my family is probably the greatest inspiration. They’ve gotten me through small decisions, like what to buy for groceries, to big decisions in my life so far, like where I should go to college.

On a more professional level, I think I’ve always found inspiration from people who are doing something different from the status quo. And a lot of it comes from looking at what other schools, programs, and firms are doing. Just to see that there’s not one way of doing thing, and expanding our horizons and seeing how other people do things differently.

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