Rural roots, social space

Rural roots, social space
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First Published: Thu, Jan 22 2009. 02 52 AM IST

Updated: Wed, Feb 18 2009. 01 09 PM IST
Office Design: Tata Chemicals, Mumbai
Tata Salt is a household staple, but few consumers know that Tata Chemicals, its manufacturer, is the second largest producer of soda ash in the world. Or that it recently won a national award for excellence in water management. Or that it honours its social responsibilities through sustained investments in the rural communities surrounding its facilities.
Yet, these factors influenced its brief for the renovation of its corporate headquarters at Bombay House in 2002. “Tata Chemicals was going through a transformation, culturally and businesswise, and we wanted the new office to have a fresh look and also symbolically have a feel of the businesses we’re in,” says Prasad Menon, then managing director of Tata Chemicals, now MD of Tata Power. “We didn’t want pigeonholes or standard boxes but spaces that broke hierarchies and reflected what we are, as well as our aspirations to grow and change,” adds Vivek Talwar, a vice-president with Tata Power, who was a Tata Chemicals representative on the project team for the renovation.
The office as ‘work village’
Matrix Architecture and Design drew on the rural roots of the business to suggest a thought-provoking concept: the office as ‘work village’. Matrix founder Anuradha Parikh says, “We tried to create a habitat with community spaces for interaction and engagement, avoiding repetitive or mechanical forms.”
Parikh integrated fundamental elements of interior design with the notion of a village space in a contemporary business setting, making the most of the double-height ceilings and natural light already available.
Employees at Tata Chemicals are not boxed into workstations, but sit in gently contoured cubicles. They move through the office on pathways with a more organic feel, not along straight-angled corridors. A central chauraha (literally, crossroads) becomes a natural meeting point for informal interaction, much like the prominent chaupal under a tree at the heart of a village.
Each “cubicle” (the word becomes a misnomer here) is provided with a low ledge, where visitors can perch for a quick chat. It is derived from the otla, a masonry projection that welcomes guests outside rural Gujarati homes. A cubbyhole flanks the “threshold” to every workspace, similar to the niches for diyas (lamps) in a village home. Employees have personalized these with their preferred deity or art. The cafeteria is a comfortable nukkad (corner), with bench seating.
The office uses an earthy palette of materials: mustard-painted walls, tablets of Jaisalmer stone and ceramic floor tiles that resemble cobblestone streets.
And modern, too
Both client and architect were careful not to stretch the vernacular analogy too far, though. “We did not want to go over the top. The office is not a film set; It had to retain contemporary corporate elements,” says Talwar. Hence the flatscreen monitors, videoconferencing facilities and a glass-encased meeting room.
“It is designed in such a way that any first-time visitor, whether a Rabari woman from Gujarat or someone from our overseas companies, is comfortable when entering the office,” says Talwar.
By subtly balancing cultural imagination, insight (into history and existing work patterns) and practicality, Parikh has created a sophisticated and effective office interior.
Fact File
Interior designers: Matrix Architecture & Design
Client: Tata Chemicals
Area: 7,575 sq. ft
Cost: Rs1.6 crore (in 2002)
Location: Mumbai
Also See More Photos
1) A chauraha is ideal for informal interactions, with a ledge inspired by traditional Gujarati architecture.
2) Workstation clusters do not follow the straight lines usual for office cubicles.
3) The ethnic elements in the office are balanced by a modern conference room.
4) The cafeteria is a comfortable nukkad, with the inclusive feel of a traditional domestic kitchen.
5) There are curved pathways rather than right-angled corridors.
6) Lit niches encourage employees to personalize their workstations.
Photographs 2, 5 and 3 by Rajesh Vora; 1, 4 and 6 by Abhijit Bhatlekar
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First Published: Thu, Jan 22 2009. 02 52 AM IST