Urban Graffiti

Burgeoning design firm Spacefiction Studio keeps the essence of a Hyderabadi staple — the warmth and familiarity of the city’s once ubiquitous Irani cafes — alive by translating the unmistakable vibe into a contemporary bar, Free Flow-Traffic Bar, in the heart of the HITEC City.

Architects Baba Sashank and Vindhya Guduru

Sardar Patel Road, Hyderabad, 1995. “Let’s meet at the chai cafe.” What’s a chai cafe, you ask? Well, that’s Hyderabadi lingo for an Irani bistro. Not unlike their iconic Mumbai counterparts, Hyderabad’s Irani cafes are replete with closely spaced rickety tables and wobbly chairs; snippets of intellectual conversations on politics brewing from one table mingle in mid-air with profound thoughts on poetry wafting from the adjacent one. The robust, dark sulemani or the light, creamy puana chais from a foreign land are your accompaniments over long hours with friends from different cultures.

Cut to Jubilee Hills, Hyderabad, 2016. “Let’s chill at the bar.” Walk around the exposed brick and concrete streets of Hyderabad and it is common to overhear friends making plans to unwind at their favourite watering hole, more so if you find yourself in HITEC City, which brims with the à la mode IT crowd.

The crammed yet soulful Irani cafes; the spacious yet lacklustre chain of coffee shops that have sprung up this past decade; and the bars and pubs, teeming with young energy are all socio-cultural insignias of Hyderabad; as much as Hyderabadi biryani, the Char Minar and Ramoji Film City. Free Flow-Traffic Bar, is a unique addition to this milieu; unique because it aims to create a new character based on reviving the old in a contemporary setting. Creating this idiosyncrasy out of that which was once pervasive, is a budding design firm called Spacefiction Studio, started in 2014 by architects Baba Sashank and Vindhya Guduru in Hyderabad. The duo unleash their expertise in illustration, graphic designing, script writing, street magic and interior designing; executing spaces with a predominantly architectural thread of thought.

On entering the bar, one is guided by yellow road lines and Solar Cats along the circulation path. The road-like set-up is made complete with salvaged manhole covers and traffic cones.

“The three partners — all in their early twenties — wanted a cosy, energetic place which isn’t just one you visit on weekends or special occasions, like many other places in Hyderabad, but one which is extremely comfortable and conducive to stopping by for some drinks and conversations on a daily basis,” says Vindhya about the design brief. This intended vibe for Free Flow-Traffic Bar echoes the unhurried ambience intrinsic to the old Irani bistros that generously freckled the city. “The imagery that follows the thought of an Irani bistro is filled with colour, clatter and cosiness. A conscious attempt was made at the initial conceptualization itself to bring back this environment whose intimate seating created a cosy, lively setting.”

At the lower floor patrons can choose to sit on the six-seater GI dining and bench, Folix metal chair replicas or the wooden tables.

While the Irani cafes literally and metaphorically softened the corners of Hyderabad’s streetscape for over a century, Free Flow-Traffic Bar occupies the top floor (the 5th) and terrace of a commercial establishment in swish Jubilee Hills.“The site faces north, with a breathtaking view of a national park. The clients wanted another mezzanine floor above the terrace roughly equivalent to half its area. The challenge was to plan the seating on both floors in such a way that everyone gets an uninterrupted view of the park,” elaborates Sashank. A potential design trigger in the guise of a challenge! Seeing opportunity here, the design team raised the north-side flooring on the 5th floor, affording the dual advantage of capitalizing on the view and creating a space that could be converted into a dance floor for private parties. A similar platform is executed on the terrace, but this time on the south side, away from the park; instead offering unobstructed views of this performance stage from the farthest end of the terrace as well as the mezzanine seating above. Consequentially, the seating layout is placed parallel allowing for a glimpse of the park. The roofing system is an example of the firm’s creativity and resourcefulness. “We’ve left the north part of the terrace open to sky. This is because the sun starts moving low in the east, then climbs higher to the south before finally descending in the west. This way, the part that’s open to sky is always shaded by the roof of the covered portion in the south,” explains Vindhya.

The space here is the 1,000 square-foot mezzanine, precariously supported with columns resting on the pre-stressed concrete terrace slab. It offers unending vistas of the national park on the north.

Contextualizing the buoyant vibe, reminiscent of the historically and traditionally significant Irani cafe, the design team set the bar amidst a material palette with a signage system and props that are heavily influenced by Hyderabad’s contemporary urban scenario. “The elements that make up the city’s streetscape are intricately woven into the bar’s interiors,” says Sashank, a keen graphic designer. “Large fire pipes house lights in specially fabricated cages on the upper floor. Painted road signs on metal sheets occupy everything from walls to coasters.” Where the Irani cafes had the visual connectivity and continuous hum of traffic to mark them as fluid extensions of the street, the street is made a part of Free Flow-Traffic Bar via concrete floors luridly painted with road lines and road signs. This urban setting is made complete by strategically placing real traffic equipment, such as manhole covers, warning tape, turnabout convex mirrors, solar cat eyes, sirens and a functioning traffic signal, throughout the bar.

The aforementioned idiosyncrasy is especially evident in the clever treatment of the furniture and seating design. Galvanized iron pipes have been fabricated into railings, light fixtures and liquor display installation to render a convincing portrayal of the transitional state of the city. Collaborating with fabricator Chandu and carpenter Laxmana Chary, the design team have crafted a prototype of a six-seater GI dining and bench. “The GI pipes were connected either by a threaded or welded system depending on where they were used. In the case of the furniture, where two-inch pipes were used, most of the joints were threaded except the back rest joint which was welded onto an L-section metal frame,” elaborates the architects.

Steampunk (a subgenre of Science Fiction) and vintage pop are two key design concepts prevalent in the bar’s decor. The south wall on the terrace with a steampunk-themed car is a major hit amongst the crowd.

Though a young firm, Spacefiction Studio has astutely managed to tap the existential relationship between space and human behaviour, having cleverly designed a space that revisits a characteristic part of Hyderabad’s legacy and triggers that experience through the space and its contents. Experimentation and collaboration result in a smooth flow of design elements — Graffiti art, an engaging illustration of the association between vintage pop art and the urban landscape, and between architectural planning and graphical representation, generously flow along the Free Flow-Traffic Bar walls. Komal, a professional artist with an expertise in painting movie posters, pays homage to Tesla by painting his image under a light bulb. “The only obvious thing that went with the road theme was the DeLorean painting on the white wall. We painted the Mario scene without Mario because it immediately imbibes a sense of nostalgia. The same goes for the Tetris wall storage,” says an excited Sashank. Interestingly, this is the architects’ voice inconspicuously speaking to the patrons. Akin to artists leaving their mark on the canvas, or writers forming a bond with readers through their voice, the graffiti walls speak the loudest of Spacefiction Studio’s design persona. An inspiring blend of interests and design concept, the street art also completes the streetscape of the bar.

Behind the bar counter on the terrace is the Free Flow logo. Sashank uses a fluid language for the logo, one that is derivative of the free-flowing vibe of the place.

Free Flow-Traffic Bar — that’s a catchy name. An apt communication strategy for a bar that is to attract the young IT crowd toiling away at HITEC City and the affluent families from the neighbouring Banjara hills. But spend a relaxed evening at the bar with some beer and friends and you realize its semantic connotation as well. The alcohol is, of course, unrestricted and talks go places as beer takes the front seat. What about Traffic Bar, you ask? That is a part of the free-flowing urban-scape, which through the means of a material palette and street art, takes over the bar and gives it a unique identity. These references often prompt exclamations of recognition of symbols of nostalgia, or icons of popular culture that are slowly but surely making a comeback. Ask them about the challenges of designing the gritty hang-out space and they sign-off with, “We wanted to have fun with this project and managed to create some satisfactory things along the way.”

CONCEPT: To create a bar highly comfortable for social interactions – one that seamlessly transitions from a day bar with themed brunches and light music to a charged, live gigs venue at night.

Paint, exposed wire cut brick (locally sourced), unplastered brick walls painted white
Floors: Concrete (micro-topping), laminate
Ceiling: Black emulsion paint, packing wood finished with PU coat and spray painted exposed corrugated sheets
Doors: Wooden flush doors painted in metallic red, distressed finish, customized handles and ornamentation by artist Khaled. Main door has glass within a wooden frame with a GI handle fabricated by Hemachandar Rao
Furniture: Four-seater bunk dining units made with GI pipes, finished with wooden top and foam cushioning; wood; industrial metal drums painted red
Lights: Industrial light fixtures with various sized Edison Bulbs bought locally; industrial light fixtures sourced from Bombay

Project: Free Flow-Traffic Bar
Location: Jubilee Hills, Hyderabad
Area: 4,700 sq ft
Principal architects: Baba Sashank and Vindhya Guduru
Design team: Santhosh Kandanala
Carpentry: TL Chari
Fabrication: Bhavan Kumar (Jayvee Tech), P Hemachandar Rao (Lakshmi Sai Fabricators)
Air conditioning consultant: Zamil Air Conditioners India Pvt Ltd
Traffic equipment: Deccan Safety

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