Opolis Architects, treats every project as a complex personality – its research not just covers statistics, but delves into “character, image and symbolism” as well.
Opolis Architects’ principals, Rahul Gore and Sonal Sancheti, are fervent believers in the philosophies espoused by the American architect husband-wife duo,Tod Williams and Billie Tsien – “Whatever we design must be of use, but at the same time, transcend its use.”
As a result, the firm the two founded in January 2001 has made it a habit to view every project as a complex web of utilities and forms. Its approach statement affirms that, “An architectural program lists quantitative requirements, but often misses many qualitative issues. Through dialogue, we draw out these subtleties and address the complex issues of a building’s character, image and symbolism.”
The following three projects represent this maturity of style and keenness of observation that makes Opolis Architects a remarkable presence in the urban, architectural, and interior design spheres.
Chowgule Residence, Goa
This residence in Vasco, Goa, was to become a young couple’s abode of art. Both are erudite art collectors, so the space had to reflect the elegant restraint of a gallery, while at the same time embody the warmth and familiarity of a home.
Opolis Architects dealt with this split identity by cleaving the area into two ‘bays’ of private and public spaces, and fitting in an open courtyard scheme. The two-levelled private wing houses the guest, study and entertainment rooms on the lower floor, and the master bedroom and two children rooms on the upper floor.
The public part of this universe encompasses the living and meditation rooms (flanked by lotus ponds); a superb canopied entrance; and the dining and kitchen sections.The overall feel of the place is non-frilly, efficient and light-flushed.
The exposed laterite lends the home a resolutely earthy character, which is enhanced further by the uninterrupted concrete flooring, vertical louvers made of wood. The plenitude of well-lit passageways, windows, pavilions, and a porous pervious pathway at the entranceway, is flanked by a cantilevered structure.
“The use of vertical wooden fins to enclose space in the passages is the crucial element of the project,” states the team. Opolis Architects scores high on this project because of the conscious breaks it takes in the design priorities. Everywhere, the effort to not confuse the home’s character is apparent – the art that will adorn its walls will blend into the scheme, instead of seeming like conscious appendages.
Shivaji Park, Mumbai
Sprucing up or improving upon a public space, especially a sprawling, iconic one in an image-conscious city can be tough. To say the least. But Opolis Architects was up to speed when selected to create a master plan for Shivaji Park in Mumbai, and approached the task with exhaustive research and calculated foresight.
The team studied everything from traffic movement, to passage nodes, to the need for temporary toilet facilities during big gatherings, and directed the work from the fringes, chipping away slowly to the inside instead of re-working the core directly.
This project in itself was a professional challenge for the team and Opolis Architects capitalised on this opportunity with thespian flair. The firm has refurbished the Children’s Park here, created innovative interfaces and barriers for both the maidan and the city-facing ends of the area and introduced a fun fountain plaza.
The team also created plinths around the vital Shivaji statue, de-cluttering it to give it more definition. The team also suggested building secure changing rooms for the pitches. Subway systems to streamline pedestrian connections; a plaza to embrace sub-structures like the Ganesh temple, the Scouts Hall, and restoration of the much-loved Shivaji Park katta was also carried out.
The sheer scale of this project could have overwhelmed, but it didn’t affect the team’s sensibilities and therein lies the credit.
Symbiosis Institute, Pune
Educational institutions and hostels are tricky places to design, and if there is a space crunch in the equation as well, the challenge becomes Herculean. With the English Language Teaching Institute of Symbiosis in Pune, Opolis Architects had to battle with all these complexities and come up with a plan that would accommodate classrooms, living areas, and public spaces for the students, while making full use of the 20,000 sq ft area at hand.
With such low ground swath, a double-structure was deemed not feasible, and so the thinking went vertical. The top seven floors became the hostel, divided into 300 sq.ft of individual rooms with a 4-way split to house 3 students and the essentials.
The service floor is sandwiched between this hostel block and the classroom zone that makes up the lower three floors. The basement and stilt level take care of the power and back-up apparatus, as well as the parking. The most obvious ingenuity of the design team here is of course of space-management.
But Opolis Architects deserves praise for not having let this interfere with their commitment to style. The Symbiosis building’s façade, slathered in white aggregate plaster, sports an impetuous arrangement of windows making the structure look like assembled blocks.
The interiors are decidedly austere, but with flashes of purple, and the atrium is an august marvel with its uneven staircases and a good mix of natural and artificial light. Additionally, everything is designed to be perfectly insular to Pune’s confused weather conditions. Good touch, indeed.
Text By Shruti Nambiar
Photographs The Architect