Corporate Zen

With SoftBank Energy’s New Delhi office, architect Vivek Gupta and his team at Arvind Vivek & Associates set out on a design expedition that proves that minimalist offices in their apparent simplicity can also exhibit a complex programme.

Text: Carol Ferrao
Photographs: Vibhor Yadav, courtesy Arvind Vivek & Associates

A homogeneous volume designed in micro concrete, the reception area sets the ‘zen’ tone for the minimalist office.

Rarely does one think of a workplace as a sanctuary. But when it is one inspired by the Japanese concept of shibumi, there is bound to be aura of tranquility about it. Shibumi is a kind of aesthetic that is simple yet complex. For architect Vivek Gupta, principal of Arvind Vivek & Associates, who has explored other Japanese themes in past projects, this was an apt response to SoftBank Energy’s requirement for a new office space. He was approached by the client to design a barrier free workspace at a new location — a perfectly blank canvas that was ideal for this zen design exploration.

An initial inspection of the site yielded a favourable impression. “We liked the location, which is Aerocity in New Delhi, a commercial hub adjacent to the international airport, comprising office spaces and several hotels. The second thing that appealed to us was the unused terrace space that has (now) become the centre of attraction for this office,” says Vivek. The site was rectangular, it had the building’s utility and service routes on one side and an elongated terrace on the other. Keeping in mind the concept, the linearity of the space was ideal to create a simple, open layout that didn’t demand theatrics in its form or aesthetics.

Inspired by the Japanese principle of shibumi, the SoftBank Energy office maintains a barrier-free, linear design, which makes the space ergonomically viable.

You are immediately drawn into the Japanese leaning design as you step into the reception area, perfectly placed at one corner of the rectangular office. The reception desk, its backdrop and flooring appear as a homogeneous volume with informal mustard coloured seating and layers of pendant lights adding to its restrained charm. The tranquil narrative is continued by the Zen Court — an intermediary space between the reception and the rest of the office. It is composed of a quaint sand garden with a lone champa tree at the edge, illuminated with diffused light. From this spot, you witness the straight flow of barrier free workstations in the centre with meeting rooms and private cabins placed on either side. The columns in between have been treated with a special film, transforming them into writing boards for creative exercises. The central spine of the office enjoys an envious view of the landscaped terrace, which connects the fifth-floor office with nature. Vivek and his team describe the resultant design as a “melange of modern architecture and natural ornamentation.”

“The word shibumi translates to ‘effortless perfection’ and that is what the office reflects. The workspace is well-organized with a minimalistic design approach towards the colour palette and furniture,” notes the architect. Further highlighting the simplicity of the space is the subtle material composition. There’s concrete, which according to the architect was employed because it signifies strength and lends a subtle tone. Pine wood — in the form of randomized panels layered over the window and furniture — adds a touch of warmth as well as functions as an element of design. Glass ensures the office is not boxed in any way and illuminates the space with its transparency. Finally, there’s a hint of nature in the form of indoor planters to add to the zen atmosphere.

Located in the central spine of the office, an elevated desk space for individual employees overlooks the terrace, giving the fifth-floor
office its own green landscaped view.

Coupled with the materials used, the colour palette gently balances between cool and warm tones. Grey, blue and white define the entire office — each colour is significant in the conceptual story behind the space. Grey, the architect points out, exemplifies sophistication, while blue helps to create a cool atmosphere inside. Grey is liberally used on the exposed bare ceiling as well as the flooring, blue accents can be seen in the upholstered chairs. Balancing the two is the interspersion of white spaces, which signify calmness and focus. “The overall attempt to use these colour schemes is to relieve stress and thus increase efficiency in the workforce,” highlights Vivek.

Efficiency is the underlying narrative in this workspace. Most offices rely on modular furniture but at SoftBank Energy ergonomics was of paramount importance. The design team, thus, had to consider factors such as height, width and design of each furniture unit. To maintain firm ergonomics and continue the restrained perfection in design, each piece of furniture was customized in-house by the design team. The furniture can also be configured into endless setups as and when required.

The cafeteria is actually a generous 420-square-foot (approx) space located in the central spine of the office and cleverly separated by a porous metal and pine wood divider.

If ergonomics ensures the office is optimal physically, the terrace aids the mental well-being of the employees and functions as a recreational space. “The design of the adjoining double height terrace commenced with the treatment of a monstrous black metal plate (view-cutter) which was converted into a green wall turned a liability into an asset,” explains Vivek. Triangular parasols with a cluster of benches assembled around the ‘trunk’ allude to a typical meeting point under a tree as seen in villages. The pergola casts slow moving shadows through the day, animating the AstroTurf underfoot. “A water body on the terrace contributes towards evaporative cooling along with wind movement creating a micro climate and hence, reducing the ambient temperature,” adds the architect.

Imbibing a shibumi-inspired aesthetic not only helped the architect stay away from enclosed, cubicle designs “which create a mundane style of working” but also provided insights into how spaces affect the senses and our perception. The decluttered office is subtle in appearance as well as rich in programme and underlying functional attributes such as ergonomics and employee well-being. No wonder Vivek sums up the design experience by saying, “Our key learning from this project was all about how a space can affect human psychology and can create an excellent work environment.” We would rephrase it as excellent “sanctuary”.

An “effortlessly perfect” workplace inspired by the Japanese concept of shibumi — a term describing subtle, restrained aesthetic.

Floor: Carpet
Walls: Paints, writable surfaces
Display units: Metal, pine wood
Partitions: Glass

Project: SoftBank Energy Office Interiors
Client: SoftBank Energy
Location: Aerocity, New Delhi
Area: 12,000 sq ft
Principal architect: Vivek Gupta
Associate Architect: Amruta Turkhud