When an innovative technology company approached Studio Mahek Lalan for a design for their new office space, little did they know that their bland white walls would be tessellated into an installation that would redefine the energy of their organisation.
In a city like Mumbai, land is always on a premium, and the spaces that occupy it in a constant state of flux. Because most expanding companies are unable to find suitable larger spaces as they grow, the only option they are left with is to reinvent their existing shells. Located in Saki Naka, Andheri the company in question posed a unique challenge to the architects in their brief. Their existing office housed machinery within a central enclosed environment, while staff offices occupied a peripheral open space.
The need of the hour was to upgrade the structure in order to accommodate more numbers of office personnel, as well as more floor area for this staff. The concept that SML proposed to their clients resulted in an inversion of the current functional situation. By providing a temporary roof over the peripheral open area, the design studio shifted all the machinery outside. The central enclosed area, now empty, enabled the installation of new work stations.
By means of a strategic shifting of walls and elimination of mezzanine floors, a large volume was created within the built nucleus in which the new offices could be planned. Further, it was now possible to achieve a smoother workflow within the factory setup. A major factor dictating the layout of the offices was a set of internal columns running diagonally across the length of the space.
The way the architects chose to respond to these obstructions could make or break the design. The office space was, thus, divided into two parts – the open plan portion with low-height cubicles, and the enclosed managerial cabins.
The workforce of the company comprised a highly skilled and disciplined set of individuals that brought a refreshing amount of creativity and open-mindedness to the table. Further, the lack of hierarchy within the organisational structure was a breath of fresh air. The cutting edge technology and advanced level of research that the company conducted served as points of inspiration for the architects. The result was a design language that had at its core a sense of mechanical precision and aesthetic boldness that would be difficult to match up to.
Along the length of the open office space, a long tessellated wall became a primary defining element of the plan. Apart from serving as an aesthetic focal point, this wall acted as a backdrop that would unify the various disparate processes taking place at its forefront.
The shapes and angles of the tessellations were non-repetitive. Further, they were positioned within a unique coordinated system so as to enable easy construction via traditional carpentry methods. While most of the tessellations were opaque, a few transparent ones along the exteriors allowed light to filter through.
Within the internal partition walls, cleverly positioned translucent tessellations enabled visual connectivity between spaces. The designs of the receptionist’s desk, low-height walls of the cubicles, as well as the door panels took strong cues from the prevailing geometry of the surroundings.
Within the managerial cabins, the tessellations took on a different twist. While the geometry outside boasted of dynamic and compelling qualities, a more refined geometry was born within the cabins of the company heads. The material palette, too, shifted from a stark white canvas to one that speaks of richness and warmth. Here, the floors and ceilings were replaced with wood.
The available storey height was greater within the cabins, but deep beams cut across them. What resulted was an innovative reinterpretation of a pitched roof. The wooden false ceiling dipped near the beams and rose elsewhere, allowing the rooms to maximize on the available height wherever possible. Within the false ceiling, conduits and ducts of important services were concealed. Lighting strips along the ridges enhanced the overall look of the ceiling.
The refurbishment designed by Studio Mahek Lalan – and importantly, the role reversal of functions – enabled the technology company to grow not only in terms of number of employees, but also in terms of the efficiency with which its processes were carried out. Moreover, the new and unusual aesthetic form that the design boasted of infused the organisation with a fresh zeal and a reinforced enthusiasm.
Psychologists and neuroscientists, over countless years of study, have been intrigued by the deep ways in which cognitive capacities can be affected by architectural attributes. The spatiality of this office environment and the response of its users serve as testimony to the powerful influence of design.
Text By Priti Kalra
Photographs Courtesy Photographix (Sebastian+Ira) & Mahek Lalan