Secrets of the Sea

Designed by the experimental team of architects from Zero Studio, Kadalas, a cafe in Kozhikode encapsulates all the beauteous elements and sublimity of the sea within its four almost-transparent walls.

Text: Deepa Nair; Photographs: Hamid MM, courtesy Zero Studio

Architects Hamid MM and Hafeef PK

Sun-drenched sand, glistening waves, boats dancing on water and the infiniteness of the ocean…
A comfortable seater, a favourite cocktail, a plate of the best fare, some soothing music, conversations with someone, or a book to get lost into…

These dreamy, almost paradise-like scenarios are what most crave for after a long day’s work or on a holiday. Imagine if one gets to experience all these charming attractions in a single space, from morning to night, day after day… Well, there exists a cafe where one can do just that in the coastal city of Kozhikode, Kerala which goes by the name — Kadalas. Opened last October, Kadalas is a portmanteau of the two words Kadal (sea) and Kadalas (paper) in Malayalam, and was started by four friends — Ahammed Shihab, Abdul Haseeb, Suhas Ahammed and Muhammed Shahin — who love their food and wanted to give their hometown a space where great food met superlative ambiance, and yes, good books.

An old warehouse which was partially used for storage was revamped to create the Kadalas cafe. With minimal changes to the structure, corrugated cement sheets were added over a roof which was enhanced to create a voluminous interior. Glass, metal, exposed cement and corrugated metal sheets were used for the structure of the building. Note the cement block at the entrance which highlights an old-world window design — it’s actually a space for takeaways. The minimal zen-like landscape outside reflects the mood of the exteriors and sets the tone for what lies within.

The owners’ quest for the right design synergy for this venture ended with the young and dynamic team of architects from Zero Studio, a creative design practice based at Malappuram, Kerala, led by principal architects Hamid MM and Hafeef PK. The team experiments with architecture keeping user needs at the epicentre of all their creations… the perfect clincher for this project which required a fresh perspective in design and outlook. Another factor which impressed the clients is Zero Studio’s sensitivity towards nature. However experimental their architectural design is, “they try to converse with nature, to know it and to hurt it less and while doing so, always attempt to add something that makes the end product unique.” The design story of Kadalas cafe embodies all that Zero Studio stands for, and what they want to create.

Right from the entrance, a jaali crafted out of locally-sourced traditional clay blocks leads you into the ground level of the cafe. Besides adding a design element, the jaali also offers ventilation.

For the Kadalas cafe, the architects were handed an attractive challenge which required them to refurbish an old warehouse that was partially modified with steel elements to rent out for storage purpose. The biggest plus of this property was its location — it is close to an old street with an enormous history — the Gujarati Street in Kozhikode. But, the architects point out, “it had very little to do with the past or present of its context; even being one of the few structures that lie within the permissible areas abutting the primary influence factor later in the design process — the beach.” Apparently the foremost requirement of the clients was for Zero Studio to create something unique, unlike many recently popped up eateries in town.

Twilights are best enjoyed at the Kadalas cafe with a mocktail by the table — sun dawning gives way to interesting silhouettes inside the space too.

“All over the world, food aficionados are having a great time since cuisine these days isn’t exclusive to the region where it belongs to but has become a global concept. Cities and small towns also have their own regional versions for specialty eating spaces, bringing to the platter, local as well as foreign cuisine, and at times fusing together different varieties,” says Hamid. “Enthusiasts are now being offered much more than just a nice meal. Calling it by the name of ‘experience dining’, restaurateurs put forward dining as a wholesome package. Thus, along with ‘what’ you are eating, ‘where’ you are eating has also become important in deciding your satisfaction level as a customer. This is where ambience becomes highly important sometimes to the extent that it can overshadow the food itself,” adds Hafeef.

The surreal Lensball art installation which is placed next to the deck on the ground floor captures the inverted images of the surroundings, inside a glass ball.

The first exercise which the design team tackled was the refurbishment of the available three-level building, albeit without changing the existing area or structural elements but by altering the roof heights and thereby its volume. In terms of spatial demarcations, of the three levels, the quaint base level (which is named Sands) features a finely detailed curved jaali (made from clay blocks) which orients the circulation and view towards the beach. The middle level (called Waves) is a bright, happy space which offers an elevated view of the sea filtered through the foliage of an old tree. The third level (aptly named Skies) is a casual lounge space with a barrier-free view of the horizon. “Though a standalone at first look, a closer observation reveals that the cafe, in its attempt to deliver dining as a full experience, has its ‘platter’ of design derived from the context itself,” the architects point out.

The middle level has two seating zones — a large bright space which affords a view of the beach on one side and the road on another. The other is an intimate space with a large wall covered in artwork. Here, a traditionally borrowed design is applied on the furniture which has been customized in wood and cane.

The material palette used at Kadalas was consciously kept to the minimum so that patrons are not intimidated by the display of elements (read furniture, claddings, lighting etc). Rather, the luxury here is the space, and the privy of a vast expansive sea with its ever-changing colours — which is framed through large glass walls on the western side of the building. Therefore, you’ll find the roof clad in corrugated cement sheets… it flows into a large part of the facade too which also sees exposed cement, coloured glass and metal at work. Inside, the material palette echoes the colours of the sea — shades of blue oxide and plain cement form the flooring. Finishes and accessories (most of them being antique or obtained from old buildings nearby) reminisces a bygone era, thus reconnecting the structure with the past. The choice of furniture is mostly traditional — designed with a minimalistic approach to echo the concept of the interiors. So you’ll find gems like old teak wood panels — which become a table top, or a seat — used without polishing off their patina, thereby retaining their old-world charm. The furniture pieces also tread the minimal, simple line of design in order to maintain an unobtrusive view of the beach and sea beyond.

Skies, the rooftop level, has a blue oxidized floor and a glass railing which merges with the surroundings and gives one the surreal feeling of a walk in the clouds or on water. Cosy bean bags in a shade of happy yellow make for seating here.

The finer details can be experienced only once you sit in the embrace of this charming cafe and look around while sipping on your mojito, or devouring a bite of a delicious pasta (note, the cafe serves continental food); or taking a leisurely stroll through all the three levels. Look out for the art installations of the yacht and lens ball at the ground level, wind chimes, the large industrial clock, the splendid wall art at the mid-level, old lantern lamps, metal suspended lamps, a collage of decorative mirrors, the old-world brass taps and an old oil hand-pump turned into a faucet… All the elements inside, much like the sea, will take you by surprise, awe and a feeling of being one with nature — just what the mavericks at Zero Studio set out to achieve from the word go.

To create a unique experience, unlike typical eateries in town. Basically a space for great food and good books.

Facade: Corrugated cement sheets, exposed concrete, glass, metal, wood
Walls: Corrugated cement sheets, paint
Floor: Blue oxide cement floor, cement floor
Jaali screen: Clay blocks
Furniture: Metal, wood, cement planter, cane

Project: Kadalas
Clients: Ahammed Shihab, Abdul Haseeb, Suhas Ahammed and Muhammed Shahin
Location: South Beach, Calicut
Area: 3,230 sq ft
Principal architects: Hamid MM and Hafeef PK
Design team: Nidhin Raj, Muhammed Shameer, Issudeen TM and Shafeek Ahamed
Structural engineering: Ramees Ali
Mechanical and electrical engineering: Elmek Solutions
Metal fabrication: Mansoor
Electricals: Jibeesh
Landscaping: Banyan tree
Furniture: Simple Furniture, Abbar Industries
Glazing: Kevi Glass
Carpentry: Sunil Kumar