Review: Green, and full of art
Published in French in 1957 and translated into English in 1964, author Gaston Bachelard’s book The Poetics Of Space continues to be a seminal philosophical statement on the “lived experience” of a house; an experience that goes beyond its physical, functional nature. While Bachelard’s theory uses domestic space as its canvas, its thesis also spills over to work spaces, where an employee spends almost 8 hours or more.
A walk through the new Piramal Enterprise Ltd (PEL) office in Mumbai leaves one with a composite experience of work settings, home-like living spaces and beautiful art and design as a backdrop. Called Ananta, it opened in August at the Agastya Corporate Park in Kurla and is spread over 1.4 million sq. ft. It houses 700-plus employees who were earlier split across different locations in Mumbai. This office houses the financial services, information management and healthcare parts of the Piramal Group’s businesses.
The interiors have been visualized by Cormac Lynch, adviser, interior design, at Piramal, and the design firm Space Matrix. Art from the personal collection of the Piramal family and the Piramal Art Foundation is showcased here. “When we started this project, the Piramal family wanted the office to work for its employees’ well being. We wanted to make sure that they feel valued,” says Lynch in a phone interview.
This concern has taken the form of more space, facilitation of better interaction and aesthetics in the work space.
Room to roam
Ananta has three floors, with each floor plan similar, if not identical. The work bays are located in the middle and natural light filters through the peripheral glass walls. Richa Singh, an employee with Piramal’s corporate legal team for five years, says, “When I was at the Vikhroli (Piramal) office, I would go in at 9am and I wouldn’t see sunlight till I left. Here, a little close to where I sit, is an open area facing a glass wall. It’s bright, there’s a garden outside, and I can see the sky. Just having access to natural light improves your state of mind and makes you more productive,” she says.
There are amphitheatre-style stepped seating areas, café-style breakout areas, little nooks for casual conversation among two-three people, and even acoustic-damping pod chairs for those private phone conversations. “Since the 1990s, there have been so many studies on how employees who constantly sit at their desks for 8 hours in a row end up with serious health issues. That’s why inspiring our staff to walk about and work out of different settings in the office was important to us,” says Lynch.
The staircase, often the dull, ignored part of any office, has been turned into an art gallery, with works from artists like Thukral & Tagra.
Ananta has 80 meeting rooms. Yet, in a 45-minute walk around the office, there may have been just one-two that were empty. There’s clearly a lot of collaboration at work here, and the design equips it for a spectrum of formats: from casual, half-open and semi-formal, to closed and glass-walled formal boardrooms. In the main work area, interspersed among a sea of low desks, are casual meeting areas—some bar height and others low-lying, decorated with some iconic design pieces like the Eames chairs and the Snoopy light by Flos. “When there’s a lot of routine work to do, these open areas offer some change. There are spaces where you can hang out, talk over a cup of coffee, and interact with people from other parts of the company; it all adds to your creativity,” says Singh.
The drawer chest at each workstation has a cushioned top. You may wonder why, until you see an employee walk over to a colleague’s desk, seat themselves on the top of the cushioned drawers and have a chat. It makes the collaboration comfortable, explains Pallavi Shrivastava of Space Matrix.
Aesthetics at work
While office design theories like open plan, broken plan and standing desks tend to change every season, one thing remains true: that art and beauty relieve the drudgery of work. “One of the main intents was to create a space that was contemporary, and filled with modern artistic references,” says Lynch. Lean and modernist, versions of 1918-designed chairs by Dutch architect Gerrit Rietveld can be seen in the lounge area. Pottery art is lined along the glazed glass wall of the grand lobby. The office is home to the best of modern art, including works by Francis Newton Souza, M.F. Husain, Subodh Gupta, Krishen Khanna and Jitish Kallat, interspersed with exquisite miniature paintings. Sculptural lights fill the space in warm moody tones. If there is such a thing as foliage art, then this office is a growing landscape for it. Apart from the potted plants lining work bays and tall units, a corner of the office on the second floor has a wall of shrubbery that makes for a quick peaceful getaway.
Bachelard would be pleased.
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