Off the Grid

The Chandigarh outlet of popular hyperlocal restobar chain Social, designed by architect Abhigyan Neogi of Chromed Design Studio, is a maze of spaces and experiences, all tied together by an architectural reference to the planning of the city and the main man behind it — Swiss-French architect, Le Corbusier.

Text: Alifiya Mehamdabadwala
Photographs: Arvind Hoon; Courtesy Chromed Design Studio

The name Sector-7 Social grabs the attention of the onlooker on the exposed brick surface of the front facade. Sanitaryware fixtures like washbasins, WC’s, taps etc displayed here cleverly blend with the surrounding market.

“To be modern is not a fashion, it is a state. It is necessary to understand history, and he who understands history knows how to find continuity between that which was, that which is, and that which will be.”

As the above words suggest, acclaimed Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier believed that modernity in architecture is relevant when the present is aligned to the past and looks towards the future. While this viewpoint forms the crux of the project we are about to dive into, the architect’s influence can be felt in multiple aspects of the design philosophy of the space.

When the owners of the popular Social franchise decided to open one in Chandigarh, they zeroed in on a 10,000 sq ft property in bustling Sector 7. Abhigyan Neogi, the principal at New Delhi-based Chromed Design Studio was roped in to execute the project. Since he had already successfully worked on the design of the Nehru Place Social in the capital, the client-architect relationship was already established and things easily fell into place.
Abhigyan and his team were well aware of the brand’s ideology and the need to make this outlet as unique as its cousins.

The architect also
planned an exclusive
entrance from the
back. One gets a
glimpse of the interiors
through the open
aluminium shutters

The rapid advancement of technology has given birth to an era where most of us live online, our lives connected by the internet. However, being constantly glued to a screen has led to a disconnect from real life. Social aims to provide a space to reconnect with those around us face-to-face rather than via a smartphone or computer. Thus, the decor in each outlet has been used to facilitate that connection by being extremely relatable, whether it’s by incorporating local lingo, culture-specific symbols, or even the aluminum balti and thaali (bucket and plates) that are used to serve food. Therefore, when the architect sat to chalk out a design scheme for the hyperlocal project, the question he asked himself was: “Which theme will reflect the heart of the city and connect with its residents? After much brainstorming, he landed on Corbusier, the man behind much of the city’s architecture and planning.

With narrow lane-like spaces opening out into a larger area, the design utilizes the emotion of unexpected exhilaration to reinstate the feeling of freedom. There is hardly ever a dull moment — every step of the way, the spaces are defined by various types of lighting, textures, colours, accessories, furniture, flooring and
wall decor.

A tram was specially shipped from Kolkata and was installed at the entrance to add a quirky and interesting design element that would leave the visitors in awe.

The architect decided against altering the existing building, though a few changes were made to include cut-outs on the upper floor slab to allow for adequate breathing room. “The facade was planned such that the structure could blend in well with the market that surrounds the building. Hence, we used sanitaryware fixtures as the display hinting at the exposed services (such as air-conditioning ducts, electrical fittings) that define the interiors” explains Abhigyan. The main entrance is through the front, but there’s another at the back that has been fashioned from a tram that was shipped all the way from Kolkata to introduce an element of surprise and awe for the visitors.

As you proceed further from the tram entrance you’re led through a long corridor to three small living rooms that offer private seating. Highlighted by blue walls, brown wood and leather furniture dominate this space. From here, one can view the central courtyard, which has stadium-like seating coupled with a bespoke seating made from concrete pipes. “The bar area has been split across three zones, each of which offer different surroundings to suit various moods and requirements,” informs Abhigyan. So, this outdoor space is equipped with a white ceramic-tiled bar for those who wish to enjoy the open air. Another one can be found indoors opposite the DJ console. This area also includes cosy double-decker seating. The main attention-grabber here, however, is the wall that is covered in a blown-up black-and-white picture of Le Corbusier and the team that worked on Chandigarh’s town planning, partially covered by orange slats painted with the words ‘Corbusier
Was Here’.

The wall behind the seating area has been covered in a black and white picture of architect Le Corbusier and the team behind Chandigarh’s town planning. The orange slats have been painted with the words ‘Corbusier Was Here’.

A young Corbusier peers at you from a painting by the staircase that leads you to the first floor. You’ll find the third bar here alongside the more exclusive co-working section, a long community table and another painting of the architect, this time older. The idea behind its inclusion is so that one can go from work to play come sundown. A state-of-the-art brewery is also part of the upper level and is located right above the indoor bar on the ground floor. Special attention was given to the washrooms as well. The ground floor washrooms are based on a green theme with planters on the flooring as well as the walls. The idea was to keep the bathrooms fresh and distinctive
in appearance.

All the furniture, lighting and accessories have been custom-made in keeping with the identity of the brand and its interpretation at this outlet. Most of the furniture is crafted in wood with romantic curves and modern angles to compliment the surroundings. A number of patterns have been applied in vinyl on the floors to differentiate between spaces and mark transitions. The warm earthy texture of wood is contrasted with a palette of bright mood-lifting colours such as navy blues, greens and oranges, and typography in English and Devanagari cascade over the vertical surfaces like the walls and bar counters, for a bold yet relatable effect.

Chromed Design Studio has done an exceptional job in creating a labyrinth of experiences for those who venture into restobar chain Social’s first outlet in Chandigarh. The quirky yet honest quality of the design and the immense thought that has gone into creating a meaningful connection with the city’s history is sure to give visitors a memorable, much-needed ‘offline’ experience.

CONCEPT: To design a Social cafe that reflected the brand’s ideology in an innovative manner.

Flooring: Mosaic tiles, terrazzo, concrete Pandomo, brick tile flooring
Ceiling: Exposed ceiling ducts, metal truss
Walls: Green wall, graphic paints, brick tiles, Pandomo, exposed concrete finish
Furniture: Wood, metal

Project: Sector 7 Social
Location: Chandigarh
Area: 10,000 sq ft
Principal architect: Abhigyan Neogi
Design team: Shriya Sohi, Tenzin Dodhen

Some more images…