Moulded to Modernity

With the design of Terracotta, a restaurant in Gandhinagar The Grid Architects, have proved that the simplest of material — clay in this case — when cleverly used can render a luxurious, modern effect despite the rusticity one usually associates with it.

Compiled by: Alifiya Mehamdabadwala 
Photographs: Photographix | Sebastian + Ira, Courtesy The Grid Architects

 

The architects chose an old-fashioned stone table with vintage water vessels to highlight the entrance — a subtle reference to the ability of clay, the core material used in the decor of the restaurant, to be interpreted in countless ways.

When Snehal Suthar and Bhadri Suthar, the principals at Ahmedabad-based The Grid Architects were commissioned to design a restaurant in Gandhinagar, Gujarat, they were faced with a daunting task: to complete the project in a mere 45 days and on a shoestring budget. “We resolved to meet these challenges with tremendous positive energy, and that’s what drove us to choose natural and earthy materials which are charged with the energy and the spirit of the universe,” the duo explains.

After searching for affordable, rooted-to-the-earth, organic materials to work with, they settled on clay. “Soft, malleable and mouldable, it’s a material that finds use in daily life, yet has great aesthetic value and is evocative of craftsmanship. The endeavour was to create a contemporary space that was simple but arresting with the help of locally sourced materials such as brick, clay, terracotta and raw wood,” asserts Brinda when asked about the basic design philosophy of the space.

At the entrance, a lighting installation composed of terracotta bowls on the wall attracts the eye with its play of light and shadow.

The restaurant’s name — Terracotta — was suggested by the architects and alludes not only to the material palette but also echoes the suppleness and tactility of the design process. The 2,700 square-foot space is a thoughtful blend of traditional elements overlaid on an essentially contemporary, clean-lined base and impactfully establishes the presence of the focus material — clay. The logo of the establishment on the exterior resonates the energy within. At the outset, the lighting installation of terracotta bowls against a Corten steel screen on the wall attracts the eye with its play of light and shadow. Close to it is an old-fashioned stone table that holds water vessels, a subtle reference to the ability of clay to be moulded in myriad ways. Another design highlight at the entrance is the terracotta wall panelling, which resembles upturned tavas or pans and is backlit, so the focus is on the light and not the source. The frames on the wall and the jharokha (a recycled medieval door) overlooking the passage that leads into the vast space (read, the main restaurant), add more vignettes of times gone by.

An earthy colour scheme has been used throughout the restaurant and reflects the name of the restaurant — Terracotta. While the expanses of the walls have been painted in reddish ochre, bright red cotton fabric has been used for the upholstery of the teak wood chairs.

The overall flow of the restaurant is seamless as there are minimal barriers. Two-millimetre-thick Corten steel laser-cut screens that are evocative of jaali work create visually semi-permeable partitions that simultaneously connect and delineate the different spaces. The spatial planning facilitates easy movement — the restaurant zone is free from the service pathway and access to areas such as the restroom and kitchen and banquet area has been artfully planned so as not to disturb the main
dining space.

Similar to that at the entrance, the lighting here creates mystery and intrigue with the play of shadow and illumination. The imaginative and subtle positioning of lamps and wall-washed lighting partition the restaurant without the aid of physical contrivances. Soft pools of light from perforated terracotta pendants (also reminiscent of a jaali) suspended over individual tables engender a feeling of intimacy and seclusion, while the rest of the space stays dimly lit. “We designed low-budget lamps with LEDs and black stickers to reduce the lumens and achieve the aura envisioned,” adds Snehal.

A mocktail island made of fired bricks stands in front of a wall covered in wooden panels in the dining area, adding texture to the space. A feeling of intimacy and warmth has been created by the perforated terracotta pendant lights that have been suspended over individual tables.

The rustic palette is ruled by the material that has given this restaurant its name. Unglazed earthenware makes an appearance in the form of lamps, pottery and installations. The walls and columns feature fired bricks, while the floors are lined with burnt sienna-grey ceramic tiles, which are analogous with the natural weathering of the Corten steel screens. The low ceiling has been partially covered with timber panels of recycled wood which offers visual grandeur and serves the practical purpose of camouflaging the AC and electrical conduits. The same material has been employed for the table tops in the form of finger-jointed batons laid in frames rendered from recycled mild steel. Wood has also been used in the panelling and detailing of the windows. All painted surfaces feature water-based, non-toxic and environment-friendly paint. The largely earthy colour scheme is punctuated by expanses of walls painted in reddish ochre and the bright red upholstery of the chairs. The plants around the exterior lend greenery and further the natural and organic theme.

Though the project had several odds stacked against it, the architects’ clever manipulation of cost-effective materials and savvy lighting has resulted in an elegant, quietly luxurious space that ticked all the boxes on the
client’s brief.

CONCEPT
To design a modern yet traditionally rooted restaurant within a limited budget and time frame.

MATERIALS
Flooring: Ceramic tiles
Ceiling: Recycled wood
Walls: Terracotta, environment-friendly paint, Corten steel
Furniture: Teak wood, cotton

FACT FILE
Project: Terracotta restaurant
Location: Gandhinagar, Gujarat
Area: 2,700 sq ft
Principal architects: Snehal Suthar, Bhadri Suthar
Design team: Aanal Shah