Spread across three floors, this 6,000 sq ft office in Pune, for real estate developers Sagar and Sachin Bhandari of Bhandari Brothers, was made using a primarily white palette albeit infused with character by SRDA’s signature interventions.
Talking to Samira Rathod of SRDA is never simply about the project at hand. It is about her work in general, architecture as a practice, introspection and soul searching about the path she has followed so far, fair business practices, ethical treatment of workers… and the list goes on. Like architecture, it is about life itself.
“This was a leap away from our previous work – it has terrazzo floors, maple woods and RMD boards. No fuss, really. This was not a project in which a designer could spend any amount of money and anyhow,” says Samira.
RMD is a translucent polypropylene material with many applications. “Sagar and Sachin had sourced it from Dubai and insisted that I use it. I agreed, on condition that I would use it in a way that is true to its character. RMD can be painted over to look like other materials, but I didn’t want to do any of that,” she says.
The ceiling height in this office was just 8 ft. Pipes running across the top needed to be concealed, but creating a false ceiling was obviously not an option. So SRDA created a ‘wavy’ ceiling which undulates to accommodate pipes, and yet maintains whatever ceiling height is possible – ensuring, in the process, that space is not sacrificed entirely. This solution becomes a design element and adds a sculpturesque feel to the space.
Because of the low ceiling, the air conditioners had to be accommodated on window parapets. A conference table which seats 12 has one of SRDA’s delightful touches; a provision of slots for wires which lead to the electric supply facilitating the powering up of laptops and phones.
Small horizontal strips of wood run down the length of the table, their grain contrasting with that of the rest of the surface. In the midst of this arrangement, are positioned the slots. The effect is one of bespoke craftsmanship, where design is applied to a mundane function.
This leads to a discussion on Samira’s use of wood. “I enjoy using it…there is a genteel quality to the material, which prevents you from becoming tired of it,” she says. In SRDA’s designs, wood is carved and chiselled by workers who work for something
greater than a monthly pay check. In this project, one of the floors has a ‘forest’ of wooden sticks which rise from the partitions between work-stations, towards the ceiling.
Another floor has rectangular wooden frames used in a similar fashion, the overlapping view which they present changes as observed from the different vantage points on the office floor. Like a dynamic work of art, infinite combinations of views present themselves during a simple walk around the office.
“Since our profession is service oriented, every space is largely a product of the client’s brief. In this office, there is less layering and thus less to engage the viewer with. This is something I’m doing more of even in the residential spaces which I’m designing now. Even if personal expression overrides everything else, the design can’t just be an accrual of stuff. SRDA’s work is now calmer, more reflective. I’ve taken both positions in my practice…but as of now I’m reviewing the “more is more” position,” elucidates Samira.
“I feel in over designing a space, a sense of quietude may get diluted. So I’m more open to dialogue, to reflection and questioning at many levels. And keeping in mind concerns like – who is it for? Is it really satisfying the needs?” says Samira. “In India, the lenses through which design and architecture are viewed are complex. There are social, sub-cultural, even religious considerations.”
The purposeful focus of the design was to work within a budget. There really is no fat to trim. So what about art and colour in this space? There are very few spaces these days which are not enhanced by art – and this office is definitely not one of them. To belong to that league, the architect usually has to have been mindful from the stage of construction itself, of creating a space which can stand on its own, without being embellished by art and colour. Simple matchbox structures won’t make the grade.
“In this office, the functional pieces themselves become art,” Samira points out. “This is a self-sustaining space.” True. Witness the aforementioned ‘forest’ of
sticks and the rectangular frames which provide different vistas from different viewing positions, the undulating ceiling…or SRDA’s signature light fittings which dot the space. Making the design process smoother, Sagar and Sachin were fully supportive of SRDA’s suggestions.
Most architectural production may create a form which is dictated not only by the demands of universal standards of construction and aesthetics, but is also influenced by what is actually possible on the site. Says Samira, “In India, design is not able to peg itself.” If the search for an appropriate aesthetic fluctuates between two extremes – that of a completely ‘global’ vocabulary on one hand, and an attempt to reinterpret the vernacular on the other, SRDA juggles these mixes with elegance and much flair.
Text By Devyani Jayakar
Photographs Courtesy The Architect