Into the Light

Squelette Design show us how an unorthodox idea and an experimental bent in design can help mitigate poor site conditions in the combined office of Ahmedabad-based Surya Enterprises and Varnika Components LLP.

Text: Carol Ferrao
Photographs: © 2018 Photographix | Sebastian + Ira, courtesy Squelette Design

Imagine being trusted with a site that had more constraints than positives while the brief demanded “distinctive and unconventional interiors”. Surely such a scenario isn’t unheard of in the world of design, but it’s interesting to see how Saumil Patel and Prashant Trivedi — principal architects of the barely two-year-old Squelette Design — tackled this challenge. It was in a chance discussion with the client, who mentioned his plans to shift his office to a prime location in Ahmedabad that led the duo to this project. When the architects visited the site for the first time, they found the space “too gloomy”, the ceiling too low at a mere 8.6 feet and a lone fenestration at the north end overlooking a busy main road. The only consolation was that there were no ugly offsets on the walls or the ceiling. What worked to their advantage in the face of these obstacles was that the client was open to new ideas.

Before they could transform the abysmal site, both Saumil and Prashant considered it imperative to study the previous office. “Analyzing their working pattern and type of work they are involved in made it obvious how the interiors could be moulded,” mention the architects. In itself, the brief was basic: a cabin, a conference room, an employee’s area, a pantry, a reception and a waiting area had to be accommodated. The client also wanted the office to be vastu compliant, and emphasized on minimum usage of hardware and fixtures. While the space had to function like any other corporate office, the design had to be informal in comparison.

The office design begins with a dark toned reception and gradually makes its way to a light, luxe MD cabin at the very end. The monolithic reception desk here is crafted with plywood, veneer and copper that is treated with acid to give it a rusty look that’s in harmony with the copper wall adjacent to it.

The architects started by analyzing how the site could work to their advantage. Instead of extreme interventions, they decided on maintaining the original — and linear — essence of the 800 square-foot site and enhance the space quality with a thematic design. “The interiors were designed such that the area that received the least natural light was maintained dark, the next a little brighter, and the space that received most light was designed in a very luxurious manner,” explain the architects. It sounds unusual to choose such a reverse gradation of dark to light, but the result speaks of its effectiveness.

Within a pragmatic framework, the office unfolds into a series of three consecutive divisions. From the entrance foyer one proceeds to the first section of the office that houses the reception, waiting area and a discreetly hidden pantry and washroom; followed by the employee area; and finally, the MD’s cabin that includes a conference room. “The spaces visually integrate yet are functionally divided,” the architects explain. By using glass partitions, both transparent and frosted, the design connects the three zones yet lends a sense of privacy where needed.

The interiors were moulded to give a snapshot of the company’s work, which is to manufacture capacitors. Capacitor batiks fabricated in wood are arranged in an abstract manner on a wall that cleverly hides the pantry and washroom. The wooden paneling is so crafted such that a door fits in perfectly and the groove itself acts as the handle.

Glass panels over a dark toned partition not only separates the reception area from the rest of the office but also provides a glimpse of it. The transparency of glass is matched with the richness of wood and a copper finish to create a refined ambience. Complementing the raw ceiling and homogeneous flooring surface, the soothing blue shade on the walls spills over from the reception into the employee area, creating a sense of continuity in the two spaces. The employee area, however, is made distinct with grid-like textures on the seamless storage cabinets, while built-in planters from which vines of pothos gently hang adding softness to the professional space.

The MD’s cabin enjoys a generous floor space and northern light from the only fenestration in the office. It takes the same elements, materials and colours from the rest of the office but builds a more luxe ambience. Whether it is through the natural stone that clads one of the walls or the mustard upholstery, the room has an intentionally lighter palette that the natural light further enhances.

In the workspace marked for the manager and the accountant of the office, the client’s request for pictures of deities was addressed in an artsy manner. Wall plates with prints of Ganesha, Krishna and other abstract drawings sit over a seamless storage.

The cabin includes a conference set-up merged within its space. “The office space is just 800 sq ft and creating more partitions would make that space look really small. Merging the two enhanced its character,” share Saumil and Prashant. Though undivided, both spaces are clearly distinguishable: the cabin ceiling is industrial and bare whereas the ceiling over the conference area is clad in wood.

The carefully crafted interiors use an amalgamation of wood, copper, glass, brass and grey stucco in different textures to create a cozy, informal office space. This otherwise dark palette is matched with a soothing colour scheme of blue, mustard and neutrals. There is a subtle hierarchical pattern in the design too. “The material and colour palette change as per the theme. All the divisions vary but are still in harmony with each other,” point out the architects.

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of this design was working with only one source of natural light and addressing the need for appropriate lighting in the rest of the office. The low ceiling height prevented the possibility of a false ceiling. Instead, the architects decided to opt for studio track lights and cylindrical lights with the channels positioned in an upright manner.

To add a sense of calm to the cabin, natural stone clads one of the walls while wooden panels cover the structural elements. The stone wall is offset with sculpted birds, while a capacitor-inspired wall art is visible on the wall opposite to it.

Wires run through that channel in a neat, linear fashion and create an uncluttered, exposed ceiling with the VRF unit running along the periphery. For the MD’s cabin, the architects customized a light fixture with a wood profile that provides white, warm white and intermediate glow options.

Both Saumil and Prashant believe that good design requires “diligent trial and error experiments” which in turn require time and thought. From working with the undulating texture of copper sheets for the entrance wall, creating a pattern with wooden blocks on the interior surfaces, discreetly wiring the track lights, customizing the light fixtures, using tiles as a table top for the MD’s cabin, to achieving an overall seamless finish in the final design — each process was born out of careful speculation and skilled execution. “All these were audacious experiments we took up to channelize those constraints into opportunities,” say the architects. The final look of the office testifies that not only did the experiment pay off but it also successfully transformed the disadvantaged site into a workable, inviting space.

A pragmatic office design that maintains the linear nature of the original space and builds on a dark to light gradation of material and colour palette.

Floor: Ceramic tiles
Walls: Exposed plaster, metal
Ceiling: Exposed plaster
Display Units: Metal, Wood
Partitions: Metal, wood, glass
Furniture: Metal, wood

Project: Office of Surya Enterprises and Varnika Components LLP
Client: Vishal Patel
Location: Ahmedabad
Area: 800 sq ft
Principal architects: Prashant Trivedi and Saumil Patel
Design team: Akanxi