When an advertising agency constructs a corporate office as a proclamation of its new brand identity, one expects the space to crackle with creativity. The eight-storey Mudra House, in Mumbai’s Kalina suburb, does not disappoint, in most respects. The single largest stand-alone building owned by an advertising services company in India, it is as slickly packaged as a big-budget television advertisement. And like almost any form of advertising, its brand promise slightly exceeds product performance.
New look, new space
The Mudra Group decided to strike a different pose for its 30th anniversary. A new business address and a relaunched visual identity seek to highlight the group’s progressive outlook, and its distinctively Indian ethos.
Art effect: The office of Madhukar Kamath, group chief executive officer and managing director of Mudra House in Kalina, Mumbai. Kedar Bhat/Mint
The physical relocation was prompted by both strategic and pragmatic concerns, according to Madhukar Kamath, group chief executive officer and managing director. “We have future-proofed the business by transforming ourselves from a mere advertising agency into an integrated marketing communication group, with a four-agency network that has specialist SBUs (strategic business units) serving all consumer touchpoints,” he explains. Mudra’s four agencies—Mudra India, DDB Mudra, Mudra Max and Ignite Mudra—house 26 SBUs between them, each offering expertise in a distinct form of communication, such as digital, retail, design, outdoor and field sales.
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A common building was subsequently considered essential to unite the group’s 466 employees, previously operating from four locations in Mumbai. “Physically being together results in closer working,” believes Ajit Menon, executive director-organizational development. Menon hopes a more comfortable work environment will enhance Mudra’s scores in human resource surveys, particularly on parameters related to “credibility, respect, camaraderie, pride and fairness”.
Another equally compelling motivation was the desire to “make a statement, and change external perceptions of the group as an Ahmedabad-based agency”, says Kamath. This is understandable—although Mudra ranks highly in Indian advertising’s premier league, front-runners such as Ogilvy and Mather, and JWT, all members of global media conglomerates, have consistently outshone Mudra in winning advertising industry awards.
Finally, “having existing land on Mudra’s books” eased the real estate investment decision, adds Kamath, saying that he “projects” recovery of the construction and interior fitout cost within “five to seven years”.
Warli, Warli everywhere
The innovative use of graphic design to highlight the company brand and corporate culture in its work environment is the single biggest achievement at Mudra. A contemporary, versatile interpretation of Warli art animates Mudra House and binds sibling agencies, without strait-jacketing them. “Warli art is collective, entrepreneurial and a symbol of co-creativity, with the village working together to finish it,” says Utpal Barve, the creative director of Water, Mudra’s strategy and design consultancy, who jointly conceived the Warli theme with Mudra’s advertising arm.
The stick-figure painting technique inventively permeates surfaces and materials. There are vinyl stickers on floors and doors, hand-painted textured walls, fibre frescoes, raw silk upholstery on sofas, aluminium signage and even a Warli-style installation of the Mudra “family tree”, with each employee’s photograph (photographs can be removed when an employee quits). Varied scenes, such as a day in the life of a communications CEO or modern-day urban communities, are depicted on each floor, ensuring thematic consistency, without repetition. As a branding device, it delivers the desired message of “communities in action” to employees, and wittily communicates Mudra’s creative capabilities to outsiders.
The visually arresting red-brick external cladding of Mudra House also illustrates the company’s earthy origins, and distinguishes it from the more conventional metal-and-glass boxes populating the neighbourhood. Modern technology—each business head has his own individual, en-suite video-conferencing facility—and a LEED (Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design) gold rating endorse the group’s credentials as a forward-thinking organization. The facility is well-stocked in terms of employee amenities, with a beautifully landscaped terrace garden, cafeteria with al fresco tables, gym, library, auditorium, and table tennis on alternate floors.
Yet it is surprisingly old-fashioned in some respects, particularly in terms of its floor plan and spatial layout. The followers of Mad Men, the hugely popular American television series portraying a 1960s advertising agency, might discern unexpected similarities with Mudra House. Cabins line the windows and rows of workstations are placed at the centre, echoing a 50-year-old trend. The top management has, predictably, the best views and the managing director’s office is a 300 sq. ft oasis of serenity, luxury and authority; design decisions that fly in the face of today’s flatter, more egalitarian organizational structures. Although employee collaboration was an explicit goal, the building lacks any specific architectural device—such as a common atrium, major circulation spaces or flexible meeting spaces—to allow co-workers to spontaneously encounter each other.
“The layouts were driven by the plot’s compact footprint, which necessitated space-efficient planning,” defends Sandeep Shikre, president of Sandeep Shikre and Associates, Mumbai. While the building’s floor plates are certainly small and narrow—from just 7,500-9,500 sq. ft each—it appears that the company has missed an opportunity to imaginatively re-configure its hierarchies, when developing its existing physical assets. Nevertheless, Mudra House’s lively atmosphere will undoubtedly result in a happier workforce, hopefully enough to propel its owner into a higher stratosphere.
Architects & interior designers: Sandeep Shikre & Associates, Mumbai
Client: Mudra Group
Built-up area: 100,000 sq. ft
Cost of fitout: Undisclosed
Construction start date: October 2008
Occupation date: September
Accommodates: 585 people
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