At first glance, the almost 20-year-old set of dilapidated warehouses, with crumbling roofs, walls and floors, may just be one more of those decaying and light-deprived sites that dot our cities. But, for Kalhan and Santha Gaur Mattoo, directors of Planet 3 Studios Architecture, the rundown cotton mill warehouses at Mumbai’s Reay Road offered a chance to showcase their skills in reviving a defunct structure.
The project was to convert the 20,000 sq. ft set of warehouses into a fresh retail space for building materials, without bringing down the original structure. Santha says: “The client (Deepak Shah of Sumer Infrastructure) attached a three-year lifespan to the project. We knew that it has to be built more like a large exhibition hall than a retail space. We also knew that we’d be working with a stringent budget, yet there was something about the project that excited us. The height of the building, the trusses, the sheer volume…we wanted to make something out of this rundown ruin, and revive the architectural magic of a bygone era.”
The result? The Sea Horse Building Product Mall. Everything about the mall is different. The conventional formula in retail space design—where space-treatment takes a back seat and the products do the talking—was given a fresh spin. The architects kept the basic shell, including the walls and ceiling, free of product display. Instead, display panels, pedestals and visual merchandising displays were parked as island units across the space. Task lighting, electrical power and even mechanical ventilation was derived from free-standing steel columns anchored on the floor. This architectural model was also practical: being modular, the client could dismantle everything and shift it to a new location.
Says Kalhan: “Considering our target audience, we presumed that we would be engaging the interest of the people who might be willing to accept something that was a little off the beaten track.”
The original structure was retained. It wasn’t realigned, nor were the uneven windows levelled. Even the decades-old electric box (at the far end outside the warehouse) has been retained. It has been painted red to gel with the overall look of the facade.
Skylights were cut out in the 50ft high ceiling to bring in the sunshine and large exhaust fans were installed to pump out stale air. Wall-mounted fans (which weren’t part of the original plan) were added to increase air movement and enhance the cooling of this non-air-conditioned space. On the free-standing modular display panels, the architects added the essential task lighting.
The design for the first godown draws inspiration from Sumer International’s logo unit: the corporate colours of blue and red, and the tail of a sea horse.
So, the conjoined halls are given an exaggerated scale, with curled, tail patterns cut out from plywood and painted in the company’s brand colours. This graphic pattern also makes its way to the external facade.
The idea for the second warehouse space (that bore wooden trusses supported on cast-iron columns) came from a tree growing along the front facade.
Making it an important design element, the architects created plywood tree cut-outs that line the ceiling and walls. Painted red, the trees stand out against the monochrome background of the space. “Someone in the studio thought of leaves, and we added cut-outs of leaves on the walls. The autumn came, and we painted some leaves on the floors,” says Santha.
The symbolic tree in the centre of the warehouse with leaf motifs painted on the floor for a more dramatic effect
The architects retained the original warehouse structure
Skylights in the 50ft high ceiling provide plenty of natural light.
Project: Sea Horse Building Product Mall
Location: Reay Road, Mumbai
Area: 20,000 sq. ft
Architects: Kalhan Mattoo, Santha Gaur Mattoo and Hina Parmar
Duration: 3 months
Project cost: Rs1 crore
Text: Deepa Nair
Photographs: Mrigank Sharma
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