An office in Chakan, Pune, for a manufacturer of high tech electronics for automobiles has been designed by VDGA to create an ambience which not only does justice to the quality of the work carried out within its walls, but also becomes a workspace to look forward to for the staff.
“Nobody gets their hands dirty here,” says Deepak Guggari of VDGA (Varsha& Deepak Guggari Associates), quickly dispelling any notions of the typical grime and grease laden work space that one would associate with the automobile industry. The front office has an area of 15,000 sq ft, while the factory at the rear sprawls over 45,000 sq ft and is designed to conform to industrial norms. Climate controlled and with robotic machines, this is a 100% air conditioned space.
Workers pass through a sanitising zone to remove all traces of dust from their garments, after which they wear aprons and caps at work.
The front of the building faces the north, consequently enjoying a diffused natural light almost throughout the year, while the dead façade on the south houses the services. “The inclination of the glass façade in the front ensures that the heat of the sun is minimised even when it is in the southern hemisphere, by nullifying the angle of radiation,” says Deepak.
The tinted glass reduces the solar gain further. Two large cantilevers (measuring six metres and seven and a half metres respectively) hang over a lotus pond at the entrance, conforming to the norms of the required setback at the ground floor, while utilising the necessary floor space at the upper levels.
“We approached the design of the jali façade as we would product design,” says Deepak, “and utilised it as an opportunity for branding the company.” Perforated aluminium panels, powder coated in vibrant orange and red (the colours of the company logo) control sunlight, replacing conventional roller blinds.
“In an office, these can be tedious to operate and tend to get grimy,” says Deepak. The panels are openable for cleaning and maintain the visual connect with the front avenue, yet secure the privacy of the office.
The entrance has a landscaped porch with tropical vegetation and a water body. Within, the reception desk is in mild steel and has the sky-lit atrium as a backdrop. The latter is clearly the star of the design, vertically connecting the three floors of the office even as it separates the administrative block from the manufacturing one.
The upper floors accommodate the work space, cubicles, the product gallery and the conference facilities. The reception cum waiting area is flanked on both sides by MD’s cabins and a conference room. Both these rooms look into the minimally landscaped atrium, as do all the work areas. The reception and atrium areas are kept cool by means of an evaporative cooling system, hence reducing the air conditioning load.
Well lit with natural light from the top, contributes to energy savings since the atrium is an additional source of light, suffusing surrounding spaces with a diffused glow.
“Energy efficiency is not always about LEDs alone…often, common sense is also required,” says Deepak. Consequently, the front office uses solar power, contributing the surplus to the grid.
“When the fire inspector insisted on an additional fire escape, it turned out to be a boon for us. We were happy to comply and placed it in this atrium, wrapping it in a vertical landscape nourished by drip irrigation. The natural vegetation conceals the staircase and makes it a green focus, providing a touch of nature in the office.
It has turned out to be so popular with the staff, that they use it more than the primary marble staircase,” says Deepak. The atrium is also used for seating, but has no furniture as is conventionally understood. Coining the phrase ‘usable landscape,’ Deepak explains that the boxy rectilinear stone quartz which forms a geometric composition at the ground level is also used for seating. Randomly arranged Sal wood slats form a long table used for informal discussion sessions, its strong linear lines completing the minimal arrangement.
The material palette for the building comprises marble in grey undertones, carpets, natural Indian stone, aggregate and Sal wood. “Being an industrial premise there has been abundant use of raw metal,” says Deepak.
The interiors are mainly white, with punches of colour coming from the pin-up boards. The ceilings are in Shera wood, finished in lacquer, while some of the lights have been customised in metal. A display gallery for the products is a white space with sculpturesque shelving – an assemblage of boxes and voids – which contrives to highlight the product without any other distraction. “Buyers come from Italy and Japan, so this space had to be sophisticated,” says Deepak.
“We asked ourselves why an office should necessarily consist of cubicles and glass. In a polluted city, a small garden provides a respite, infusing natural light and nature in the corporate environment,” says Deepak. But, as they say, there is no great design without great clients. “This client was quite clear that he didn’t want a regimented, conformist approach. With a strong aesthetic sense and keen interest in architecture, he gave us a mandate which enabled the experimentation with the form and the design of the interiors,” says Deepak.
Text By Devyani Jayakar
Photographs Courtesy Hemant Patil