The idea of the modern Indian office is a theme that fascinates us in our exploration of innovative design. The office in its current form—with automation equipment, modular furniture and carpet tiles, false ceilings and air conditioning—is a largely Western invention. Merely adding an element of “Indian-ness” to this prevailing view of the ideal work environment might seem contrived.
However, we occasionally encounter spaces where a distinctly Indian ethos has been integrated into the design of buildings, or interiors, in a very natural manner. TCS’ stone-clad deccanpark is a high-profile example of an architect’s response to local materials and environment. Below are two more pioneering approaches to making workspaces look and feel “Indian”, from the inside and the outside. Interestingly, all three design solutions arise from aspects of the client’s brief, or the architects’ understanding of the client’s business and work culture, not from a specific mandate to “be Indian”.
Classic furniture, cutting-edge technology
The office design for Media Lab Asia at IIT Chennai, designed by architectural firm Varsha and Pradeep Architects, establishes a modern Indian aesthetic in an environment dedicated to cutting-edge technology. Quintessentially Indian material, décor (terracotta statues and chiks) and furniture (cane-backed task chairs, basic free-standing wooden desks, see alongside) integrate seamlessly with all the fittings of a modern office.
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Since research teams at the lab were likely to vary in size and configuration over time, they needed flexibility and mobility to work in different parts of the 2,500 sq. ft office. The architects provided two sets of hanging raceways, with mounted data and power sockets, and high-quality extension boards to which users could plug in multiple sockets. Each storage system was designed as a free-standing mobile unit, which could be pulled along by the user and placed alongside any table. With softboards to pin up paper and a whiteboard at the back which could be raised on demand, it served as a conventional workstation. A “false ceiling” made of timber joists and cement boards in the style of traditional Chennai terrace roofing facilitated the air conditioning and was easy to maintain.
Photograph courtesy the Architects
By placing modern technology in a familiar, almost domestic, environment, the laboratory is a stunning example of a contemporary and resolutely Indian workplace.
The eastern front
Most contemporary buildings in India wear a metal and glass façade. It is perhaps the defining attribute of modern architecture, though it can trap heat and light if not well-planned. Nitin Killawala of Group Seven Architects demonstrates that a building façade can be contemporary, visually appealing and uniquely Indian, without a glass front.
Asked to design and construct a 30,000 sq. ft building in Pune for the non-profit arm of media group Sakaal, he layered the exterior of the building with a graphic template of letters in the Devanagari script (below). Achyut Palav, graphic artist and Indian calligraphy expert, was commissioned to design the cut-outs, made in plywood and finished with exterior paints. The bold lettering and clean lines draw attention to the facade, and “literally” establish a connection between the edifice and its owner.
Aparna Piramal Raje is director, BP Ergo. Radhika Desai is a Mumbai-based interior architect.
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