Mumbai-based Studio Eight Twentythree’s design of an organic café called The Birdsong is in perfect harmony with its quaint neighbourhood; most times it is difficult to tell that the café has only recently come into existence.
An inconspicuous lane veers off the congested Hill Road in Bandra; its silent here. If there is a place in the city where the call of a bird would ring out melodious and clear, it would be here. And that’s probably why the name The Birdsong sits well on the café that has made this its home.
Chief architect on this project, Samir Raut of Studio Eight Twentythree says, “The client had another name in mind when we started, but as the design of the café evolved, this name emerged almost naturally.” Studio Eight Twentythree has been in practice for less than four years but has since engaged in a varied range of projects, from installation art to spatial design to visual arts and architecture.
Samir describes their design philosophy in some very plain words, “We will design anything and everything and are always ready to rise to the challenge that a new opportunity offers.” It was this attitude that made the Studio take on The Birdsong, their first café project.
The café also being a first for the clients, Jennifer Mallick and Ashish Madan, the brief couldn’t have been simpler – just a café. “I had a freehand as far as the design was concerned and so I could easily create the space from my own vision,” says Samir.
The space earmarked for the café was in a heritage village. There are no high rises here, but long-standing, squat cottages whose doors and windows open out into the street. Some have balconies with wooden trellis and others have stairways on the outside.
When Samir planned the design concept of The Birdsong, he was keen that the space does not stick out amidst its neighbours. He shares, “My first response was to make sure that the design reflects and responds to the vocabulary of the existing precinct and speaks the same language.”
And he succeeded. The building is in sync with its surrounds; there are no glaring neon lights or a large lit up name board to announce its presence. It stands there waiting to be noticed and discovered.
The first step towards achieving this bonhomie with the neighbourhood was to choose the right materials and Samir decided to restrict himself to concrete and wood. He explains, “I am vividly fascinated by one quality of both these materials; they age in such an elegant fashion that they slowly start to narrate the stories of the place as it ages along with them.”
The glass façade blurs the divide between the café and the outside. The double louvered shutters on the exterior of the facade help soften the light into a warm inviting glow as it filters out onto the mosaic pavement.
What Samir loves best about the café is that every element within it has been painstakingly planned and designed by him, starting with the moss-green floor. He says, “It is a concrete floor tinted with green. I mixed 15-20 shades of green before I settled on this one.” The bakery counter occupies one end and has also been created from concrete.
An assortment of tables, vitrines and chairs are scattered across the space and a narrow stairway leads up to the mezzanine in one far corner. Constructed from reclaimed teakwood the mezzanine has been created to provide space for live performances or just a private tete-a-tete.
The plaster on some of the walls has been chiseled off to expose the brick underneath. Samir explains, “This gives the space a seemingly weathered look, as if this quaint café always belonged to the neighbourhood and thus people coming here would not feel overwhelmed by its presence.”
The concept of the café also involved keeping the space dynamic and to be able to respond to varied requirements. For instance, the hooks on the ceiling on which the wires for the bulbs hang can also support installations by artists. The graphics in the café are all hand-drawn, some with chalk on a slate backdrop and some with charcoal on a wall; these can be wiped and redone as often as required.
The newness of the project provided ample challenges to the design team in terms of layout, seating and ease of movement within the space and as they created, they improvised and hence ‘The Birdsong’ evolved. The end result is a place that came much after its neighbours did, but has managed to fit in so well that it seems like it was always there.
Text By Himali Kothari
Photographs Courtesy Studio Eight Twentythree and Sachin Pawle