Free flowing

Free flowing
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First Published: Thu, Nov 26 2009. 12 00 AM IST

Suspended at the centre of the hall is a giant lampshade crafted from cloth and wire, rigged within by a panel of industrial lights. The single source illuminated by multiple light bulbs yoked togethe
Suspended at the centre of the hall is a giant lampshade crafted from cloth and wire, rigged within by a panel of industrial lights. The single source illuminated by multiple light bulbs yoked togethe
Updated: Thu, Nov 26 2009. 12 00 AM IST
Tucked away at the end of a quiet suburban lane in Bangalore is the office of Idiom Design and Consulting, the firm which has put together the “design kit” for next year’s Commonwealth Games in New Delhi—the kit includes the logo and mascot designs, as well as pictograms, motifs and patterns. For Idiom—a strategy, business and brand design consultancy firm—design is not restricted to tangible physical elements, but is an expression of collaboration and the free exchange of ideas and thoughts. And in a bid to ensure that both clients and employees buy into this integrative philosophy, the firm has crafted a work area that reflects its work culture.
As we walk down an airy, open corridor into an expansive, seamless space, Sonia Manchanda, principal designer and co-founder of the firm, says: “We decided early that we would have no walls or doors here. This is the business philosophy of our firm—allow for a free flow of energy, ideas and give the whole place or a concept a clean, clutter-free look.”
Click here to view a slideshow of photographs of the Bangalore based Idiom office
The green screen
Suspended at the centre of the hall is a giant lampshade crafted from cloth and wire, rigged within by a panel of industrial lights. The single source illuminated by multiple light bulbs yoked together is idiomatic of the way this design team functions. Hemant Mishra / Mint
Looking at this office space today, it is difficult to imagine that at one time the two-storey, 20,000 sq. ft building used to double up as a wedding hall and technical training institute run by the local parish of the Church of South India.
Five years ago, when Idiom started out, the firm didn’t have much cash to spare to hire designers for its office space. So after it took this building on a long lease, the management team doubled up as designers and decided to work with the ready structure. It kept the exterior intact, not touching the asbestos roof and the outer walls studded with rolling iron shutters. But it decided to knock off the interior walls. “We wanted to be able to see from the entrance to the end of the office,” says Manchanda. The team made the huge Rain tree, which is on one side of the backyard, the focal point of the office and planned a circular seating area at the centre of the courtyard, under the shelter of the tree. The cafeteria is to the right of this courtyard.
“We tested the skin temperature (or the inner surface temperature) of (the) asbestos roof when we moved in and found it was 53 degrees Centigrade (Celsius). We needed to find a method to deflect this heat since we wanted to minimize the use of air conditioning through the office space,” says Jacob Mathew, founder director and chief designer of the firm. Sure, the no-walls concept allowed for airflow through the building, but they still needed to find a way to make the space cooler. High albedo paint that has glass balls embedded in it to deflect heat was the answer.
“We got the (outer surface of the roof) coated with it and this brought down surface temperature by nearly 15 degrees Centigrade. But at 39 degrees Centigrade in summer, the office was still unbearable,” says Mathew. Eventually, they found the answer: Lining the roof from within, using silver foil with a bubble wrap sandwiched between the foil layers, would not only make the roof look good, but also “bring the temperature down to a steady 30 degrees Centigrade across the hall,” says Mathew.
No place for a pecking order
“Design can happen only in a spirit of co-creation. We need to constantly interact with a diverse set of people such as students, clients, entrepreneurs, and this can only happen in an open office in an open atmosphere,” says Manchanda, explaining the logic behind the no-walls design and lack of rigid hierarchy in the seating arrangement.
More than a hundred designers, grouped in teams, work across from each other without any walls or soft-boards separating one work bay from the other. Manchanda believes that custom-designing the office furniture also reflects the collaborative work style at Idiom. “We designed 8x4 (ft) tables that seat four people comfortably and provide storage for each. There are no cabins or work bays, just these open, shared seating arrangements,” says Anand Aurora, Idiom’s mentor and co-founder, who worked with Manchanda on the office design.
The management team also has an open arrangement for seating. The only difference is that this part is screened off from the central corridor by storage units on one side. “On the other side, our (the management) space opens out on the private veranda, where we meet every day for lunch to discuss companywide developments,” says Manchanda.
Creativity unbound
The main office space has just four doors in the business area of the office: the door at the entrance, the one that leads to the backyard and the two doors that lead to the only enclosed spaces within the office—the Think Tank (or the A/V room) reserved for interaction with visitors, for classes that Idiom conducts for design students and for intra-office breaks to watch the occasional movie. The second and only other enclosed space is Idea Exchange—a conference room used for client presentations and team meetings while working on specific projects.
The Think Tank room is lined with rexine sofas filled with foam in green, pink, mustard and grey crafted by a local shop that makes seats for autorickshaws. “Initially the sofas for this space were designed by an in-house designer and reflected a more Scandinavian or Finnish feel. There was nothing Indian about them,” says Manchanda. In the course of conversation with the designer, Manchanda asked why she could not look beyond leather to a more hardy option, such as the seats found in the city’s autorickshaws. “We then sent a team out who met rickshaw drivers and asked them where they got their seats from and got ours custom-made.”
Employees are free to work any time of the night or day, since the office stays open 24 hours, seven days a week. “We don’t fuss over what time a person comes in or how long he works,” says Manchanda. Idiom, in fact, has a unique way of keeping leave records: On the landing that leads up to the first floor is a pictorial collage of everyone who works at Idiom. When someone is travelling on work, their picture is moved to the travel board on the side. When someone is on vacation, their picture too travels across to a holiday chart at the far side. It takes just one glance to know who’s at work and who is away.
“We do very complex things in a very simple way,” says Manchanda.
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First Published: Thu, Nov 26 2009. 12 00 AM IST