It’s interesting to see how an office building can communicate a corporate philosophy through its design. At Quark’s India Development Centre in Mohali, near Chandigarh, the spaces have been designed to bring people together through an orchestrated layout.

Ask Fred Ibrahimi, who founded Quark Inc., a publishing software company in Denver, Colorado, in 1981, what kind of an office he had envisaged for Quark in India and he replies, “one that encourages interaction."

The open central space allows both interaction and engagement

Quark started overseas operations in 1988, and in the late 1990s, Ibrahimi zeroed in on Chandigarh and its suburbs as the home for the company’s software development centre in Asia. He then looked for an architect who would render a design that would encourage interaction among employees; project the lavishness of space available in a smaller city, while respecting its unique Corbusian heritage. It was also important that the design should be contemporary enough to engage and attract those who would work in and visit the building.

Sohrab Dalal of Spazzio Design Architecture Pvt. Ltd, a New Delhi-based firm, had just finished a building for the Confederation of Indian Industry in the city and was packing his bags when Ibrahimi came calling.

Ibrahimi’s brief to Dalal was succinct. “He was clear that the facility was to be more than just another back-end office, in fact it was to be nothing less than any full-fledged facility in the US," says Dalal. Ibrahimi cheerfully chips in, “In short, I wanted a box with an atrium and I told Sohrab, it’s your job to make it look good and perform effectively!" That the building has been in use for more than five years and still looks spanking new, speaks about a design and choice of materials that has not just catered for expansion but has also weathered time.

The steel, glass and pink sandstone envelope wraps around a building spread over a basement and three levels. High ceilings at the entrance and the foyer merge with the atrium and create a sense of expansiveness. While the public spaces, which include the atrium, the corridors, coffee break areas and the cafeteria, are generously laid out, the work areas are more modestly spaced. “Office work that follows a certain regimen needs pathways that don’t disturb the designers and others at work", says Dalal. So, while the work areas exude a no-nonsense “classless" set-up, the moment one steps out into the public areas, there’s a mood of relaxation and openness, an atmosphere that encourages conversation and interaction.

The plan is organized around a defined central zone. The requirement was to accommodate teams of 50 with the team leaders, and this has led to the formation of square modules. These along with their inclined planes on the exterior, became the defining elements of the built form. The corners are linked through a central atrium, with a large skylight defining the central courtyard. All common facilities such as coffee areas, reprographics and restrooms are accessed through the common areas, making the work zones secure and private.

The four corners of the building house the work-pods—out of the 16 pods, 13 are used for office work, and one each for the café, corporate offices and a store: a simple plan that allows easy access and movement.

Given the design and the location of the pods, the design demanded an equal amount of glazing on all sides. In hindsight, Dalal says that this was not such a good idea in terms of the environment, a lesson he has incorporated in subsequent projects.

Besides the floor space devoted to office work areas, a substantial area has also been devoted to creating spots that nurture the employees’ inter-personal and professional growth. A good example is the cafeteria where 2,200 meals are prepared, not just for those working in this building but for on-site workers of the upcoming Quark City in an adjoining plot. A generously sized swimming pool and a well-equipped gymnasium also allow for quick recreation and recharging of batteries. All these are good examples of how physical design can actually aid an organization in attracting and retaining talent.

Stone has been used in combination with steel and glass to anchor the building in its Indian context. There are some controlled accents of warm colour, that break the impersonal tones of steel, glass and stone. The central space comes alive with K.S. Radhakrishnan’s sculptures, which remain a focal point.

Visitors cannot but be struck by the effect the building creates—the landscaping integrates waterbodies and sculptures, and the vast open foyer leads into an area of stillness, hardly revealing the fact that more than 500 people work here.

And for Ibrahimi and Dalal, the association continues—they are currently working together on developing Quark City. This is a 51-acre IT/ITeS special economic zone development in Mohali that includes residential, commercial, retail and hotel projects. The first building, Landmark Plaza, is a 14-storeyed, 600,000 sq. ft building that will open in early 2008.

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