Design Wizardry

Architect Jinal Kantharia of Many Gray Stories swears by the power of grey and her recently designed office for Skaps Industries in Halol, is the perfect illustration of it.

Text: Carol Ferrao
Photographs: ©2019 Photographix I Sebastian + Ira, Courtesy Many Gray Stories

Architect Jinal Kantharia

Imagine creating a level of trust wherein a client entrusts a brand new 7,000 sq ft office project without any brief and simply asks you to “do your magic”. It’s not an everyday tale that most architects would narrate but that’s how Jinal Kantharia recounts the genesis of the Skaps office to us. Paresh Vyas (known as Perry by his family and colleagues) has been a long-time client — Jinal designed his house and previous offices — who never provides any requirement or design brief. This time was no different. His fibreglass manufacturing company Skaps Industries, located in the industrial zone of Halol in Gujarat, was performing exceptionally well and it was time to set up an avant-garde office space within the manufacturing facility.

Having worked as an associate architect since 2009, Jinal established Many Gray Stories in 2018. Her approach to design is all about striking a rhythmic balance between interior and exterior spaces. She elaborates, “The day I draw a line in my architectural layout, I am clear about what kind of furniture I am going to use later. I don’t like to think about interiors after finishing the building. I like to sculpt every space, right from the door handle, artwork, landscape to the facade, which restricts me from undertaking many projects.”

In order to give the perfect first impression, the ceiling above the reception was opened up to create a double height space. The green wall and planters around the concrete stairs lift the minimalistic ambience.

In this case, Skaps had purchased the building two years before — an unfinished structure with an office block in front and an attached production unit in the back. “I told Perry it’s challenging,” Jinal shares about her impression during her first site visit where she found the building, with its uninspired form, in a bad condition. No wonder Perry’s only brief was to create “magic”, for clearly a certain sleight of hand was needed to redeem the structure. As for the practical brief, Jinal was aware of the typical Skaps setup that involves conference rooms, workstations, a cafeteria, a production unit and washrooms. She also adds, “To maintain their international standards is now default knowledge for me when it comes to Perry as they have guests from abroad visiting often.”

A major overhaul was the need of the hour. Unnecessary additions in the interior portion were demolished first, and as for the exterior, the sills and lintels were removed to create a bare frame. It was imperative to scale down the elongated, horizontal proportions of the building, so the facade was upgraded with vertical features. Metal fins were added to hide the existing ducts as well as create a canopy at the entrance. Two smaller buildings on the site, which had previously been used as a canteen and washroom, were also demolished and replaced with a landscaped area.

Each feature in the conference/meeting room reflects the company’s culture. Whether it’s the uniqueness of the imported and customised light fixture, the modern set-up or the vinyl wall chronicling the company’s growth, the space aims at impressing its guests who visit the office from around the globe.

Jinal’s design sensibility gravitates towards minimalism and that’s the route she took for this office space. “The absence of more can end up giving the space a grand effect,” she says. The strategy was to play with height, use fewer materials and less furniture and rely on subtle colours. Echoing the name of her firm, the colour grey plays a prominent role in the palette, whether it’s the floor, walls, ceiling or facade. Exposed concrete surfaces, light, veined wood texture and a splash of ochre together form the aesthetic of the office.

When it came to the demarcation of space, Jinal was mindful of the orientation of the building and used it as a guide. The west-facing facade was bringing in a lot of glare and heat in the latter half of the day, which got worse during the harsh Gujarat summers. Hence, a long passage was created adjacent to the exterior wall, and the working bays were placed at a safe distance wherein they enjoy the outdoor view but are protected from the heat. Areas such as the cafeteria, washrooms, kitchen, locker room, store, etc, were strategically planned on the north side.

The long passage adjacent to the raised work area not only separates two functions but also shields the space from the glare and heat streaming in from the outside.

The reception area captures Jinal’s minimalist design intent and her well-defined colour palette to perfection. To create a feeling of grandeur, a double-height space was created over the reception. An old staircase was broken down and reimagined in concrete, engulfing the sleek slab that functions as the front desk. A green wall serves as a stunning backdrop in this setting. Another standout feature, which stretches into the work bay, is the ceiling in what looks like a striped wood. “It’s a metal ceiling coated like wood. We worked very hard in customising the colour tone to match our floor and furniture,” Jinal clarifies. There were three reasons behind this ceiling: to soften the linear feel of the 100-foot-long passage; to visually separate the working area from the passage; and to hide services like AC units and electrical cables.

Each design element aims at dissociating the office typology from its perception as a stressful environment. “Here the concept allows a person to feel calm and relaxed. If you see the workstation area, you will notice layers of design approach. It starts with the play of shadows through the windows which, at the end of day at around 5pm, penetrates inside the workstation, and is so beautiful,” points out the architect.

The right side of the corridor connecting the office to the production unit lockers for workers that almost look like wall panelling.

From the elevated work area, you can also enjoy the view of the sprawling landscape without worrying about the glare or heat. We notice, however, that there are no cabins. “Skaps has a beautiful concept for all their offices. Perry doesn’t believe in hierarchy, which I respect the most. There is no manager cabin — it’s all transparent.”

Turns out, you can get the design perfectly right even when not given a brief. Magic is what Jinal was asked to deliver. And like all good illusions, the result is astounding in every way.

To create an avant-garde office space with fewer materials and minimal furniture within the defined palette of exposed concrete, wood and hint of ochre.

Floor: Laminates, cement tiles
Walls: Concrete finish, paint
Ceiling: Metal
Facade: Exposed concrete
Partitions: Glass

Project: Skaps Office
Client: Paresh Vyas
Location: Savli, Halol (Industrial zone), Gujarat
Area: 7,000 sq ft
Principal architect: Jinal Kantharia
Contractor: Avaska Projects