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The need for a city, and its dwellers, to be compelled to accept the dynamic design sensibilities that the world had adopted in order to enhance the sensory experience of shopping, is most obvious in the city of Bangalore.

I was more than eager to begin working on the design of a high-end fashion store in Bangalore when the offer to collaborate on the same was put forward by architect Fabian Ostner. The chance of working with Fabian, a perfectionist at detailing, was an opportunity that I could not have refused. The challenge of designing an experience, that would not only stun the perceived notion of a high-end fashion store, but would also draw the attention of one and all, was an appealing incentive offered to us when we first met the client. It only helped to have a client who had an extremely refined perception of fashion and all that it encompassed.

The fact that the store would be retailing international fashion labels like Nina Ricci, John Galliano, Christian Lacroix, Helmut Lang and others, was an overwhelming driving force behind the need to create a unique shopping experience for the customer. Research on various emerging design trends and ideologies and deliberations with the clients on their aspirations for the brand, helped us reach a point where it became inevitable to design the store using experiential design as a tool. The site being located on Lavelle Road, the idea was to create a space that would stand-out in the already brimming world of retail with other high-end stores positioned in the immediate context. Allowing a large amount of flexibility in the visual merchandise design and permitting various permutations and combinations for display became another important aspect guiding the design of the store.

The existing structure and the almost disturbingly sorry state of its insides became central to the design concept.  The unfinished almost dilapidated shell was retained and in some aspects the condition was exaggerated to ensure that the shell though rustic in its appeal, played only a secondary but irreplaceable role in highlighting the merchandise. The plaster was chipped off the walls and the steel used for the staircase and display props was corroded to create this base canvas for the product display. Tiles mimicking the rawness of cement were used for the floor to add to this feel. The space was now ready to accept the ‘crisp’ burgundy panel insert, which would generate a noticeably loud visual buzz. The dynamic panel, beginning on the outside, bends and folds while moving through the store allowing the store to make use of its body, before forcing its way out through the façade glass. The lighting and the display props have been designed and used in a manner that allowed them to be viewed as designed objects without overwhelming the underlying purpose of being functional elements.

The ‘crisp’ burgundy panel, in many senses, would embody the experience, the journey that was envisaged for a visitor to the store. The visitor would enter the store with preconceived beliefs and during his time at the store, his notions and perception would be treated to an unknown, shocking, yet pleasantly exciting world that would let him leave with a renewed, progressive and invigorated understanding of the possibilities that the world of retail could provide today.

‘Crisp’, like the fashion brands that it is related with, was created to be a leader in stimulating and challenging the sensibilities of the most discerning fashion connoisseurs in Bangalore.

Photographs of the completed store.

All photographs are co-owned by Vijay Nambiar Design and Fabian Ostner Architecture Pvt. Ltd.

Photo Credits: Seemal Karthik and Karthik Chandrasekariah

I remember, my first visit to Auroville many years back, like it was yesterday. A friend who was working at an architect’s studio there invited me and that was the beginning of a long and fascinating love affair with this beautiful place. I was overwhelmed by the cordial smiles and the very affable nature of most of the people I met there. But what amazed me the most was how the early settlers had worked on a dream to transform what was once a barren and dry stretch of land into an oasis of green. Sustainability and eco sensitivity were the key words all through those years and even today. Over the past 44 years, Auroville has now grown into this green forested expanse with over a hundred settlements nestled amidst this landscape.

The Banyan Tree, the center of Auroville, 40 years back.

The Banyan Tree, the center of Auroville, with Matri Mandir behind it, today.

On the 28th of December this year, Cyclone Thane, with wind speeds of 85 mph and tidal surges of about 1.5 mts, hit the east coast of south India. Auroville was right in the path of the cyclone and had to bear the full brunt of the winds. I reached there on the night of the 30th of January and even on my way from Chennai, I could see the dark silhouettes of fallen trees all along the east coast road. It seemed a lot worse than I had expected. But then it was dark, I could hardly see anything much through the tinted glass window of the bus and the drizzling didn’t help either. In Auroville, the night seemed to make everything calm and peaceful, like before. Standing on the terrace with the gentle breeze for company and listening to the sound of the waves, I somehow felt a sense of relief assuming that the cyclone hadn’t changed things too much there.

The next morning though was different, very different. I decided on taking a long walk, a walk down memory lane, it had been more than 4 months since my last visit. As I walked through those places which had been so familiar to me for years now, I couldn’t help but feel this enormous sense of pain and grief. The place had changed. The trees which had made everything else seem more beautiful were now lying dead against the land. They had been uprooted or had been bent and disfigured after being hit by the winds. The ones that stood tall seemed to be depressingly lonely with most of the others around them having fallen. Later on in the day, an Aurovillian I met at a café told me that almost 40% of the trees had been hit.  All through the day, I started looking for signs of this devastation wherever I went. Houses which had no roofs, fallen trees, lots of chopped timber lying in huge piles everywhere, shut shops and sudden empty looking patches of land.

The devastation the Cyclone Thane caused in Auroville.

Piles of chopped wood from uprooted trees…

But as always, Auroville didn’t fail to surprise me this time too. Nobody there was really discussing the cyclone and its aftermath. People seemed to have understood that the only way out was to stop cribbing and move on. It was quite evident that the work to restore Auroville had begun and that it was being done quietly and efficiently. Everyone knew that it would be a long process and there was a lot of work involved but then Auroville always believed in working together towards a larger goal. Over the next 3 days, the cheerful faces ensured that the signs of devastation became blurred backgrounds to all that was beautiful there. The fallen trees suddenly became like huge canvases which fostered and brought to life paintings full of beautiful flowers and young saplings in bright shades of green. People working on new and better housing or even repairing their houses seemed to be brimming with energy that was not seen before. It for sure was going to be a long and arduous road and there might be many setbacks on the way, but then what other option did they have? The enthusiasm of the people there and there stunningly positive outlook immediately after such a crippling natural disaster made me believe that optimism and faith would never let us down.

I spent three days working there out of an office in a community named Progress and to say the least, it was a beautiful and phenomenally productive experience. Eating a basic Indian meal for lunch at Indus Valley was more fulfilling than the food that I have eaten at some fancy restaurants in Bangalore. Playing basketball with a ten year old boy on the dusty uneven half-court at Certitude, one of the worst-hit communities in Auroville, on a hot Tuesday afternoon was most definitely more enjoyable than the games I’ve played in some of the air conditioned indoor courts across the country. Chatting with people there and seeing them look at the future with so much hope was better than going to some of the best clubs and spending time with people who were trying to drown their struggles with alcohol only to wake up the next day with bad hangovers.

An architect’s studio in Auroville.

The bright green of the bamboo leaves against the clear blue sky.

After my stay in Auroville, I am now pretty sure that I too would want to struggle all my life but not to earn loads of money or to fit into a system which only demanded more every time. The struggle I want to be in would be the attempt to stay away from the demanding and eternally dissatisfied parts of the machine that we call society! The struggle, for me, began a couple of years back but conviction and belief may have come only now. This might be like a never-ending road trip and may not even make sense to everyone around me, but to me, it will be a wild ride on the highway of life going towards a destination called joy. My glass is half full and it will remain that way. As American author Ursula K. LeGuin so wisely quoted,

“It is good to have an end to journey toward, but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”

In the last decade, the world has been taken over by an incessantly growing swarm of steel and glass boxes which house hordes and hordes of busy corporate workers who have in many ways lost all sense of time and space in the context that they belong to or sometimes are forced into. I say this after having spent a thousand hours sitting on the drawing board trying to understand what would be the best possible design solution to help these corporates attain optimum productivity in the most comfortable work space that they could be created to work in.

The work culture and work spaces today are constantly evolving and no one can really say that a solution or maybe a process that could guarantee the creation of such optimal spaces exists. I do feel though that there are some important aspects that affect the creation of these spaces and there are some don’ts that hold imperative importance to the very basis of office design. I am highlighting some of these here for everyone who in one way or the other is involved with the corporate work system. As this is a subject that can really not be put into one small post or is limited to a specific number of factors, I might continue with this post at some point in the future.

  1. It’s not about the size of the workstation, it’s about the quality.When I say this, I don’t mean the quality of materials used or the products used. The materials specifications are of importance too, but what plays a much larger role in the quality of the space is the planning of the space and the organization of the units. As a trend, when the information technology wave hit the world, it also managed to let the prices of real estate shoot through the roof. This in turn caused the corporate employers to increase the density of workers that worked in these expensive work spaces. That was in the past though, today, as the concerns have shifted towards the comfort of the workers, offices have started allotting larger work stations to their employees in order to allow them a clutter free working environment. What seems to have been ignored here has been the basic necessity of creating a space that was optimal and not large, a space that allowed the employee to work in a stress free environment. It is important to analyze and understand the working methodology of the employee. This would provide with the optimal dimensions that an employee would need to perform efficiently. A larger work space than the optimal would only mean wastage of precious space.

  2. A particular job requires a particular type of workstation.It is imperative to study the available options and choose the right type and size of workstation based on the specific needs of the office. Options like the straight desks, the 90° and the 120° are commonly used workstation types that are easily available in the market and these are available in a set of standard sizes which to a large extent are globally accepted. Certain standards have been set for workstation typologies and dimensions and these are almost blindly followed across the world. What most offices fail to understand is that a lot of these sizes stem from either standards that were set a decade back or from the manufacturing comforts and limitations of the companies that are into the workstation manufacturing business.

    Standard types of workstations

    But then it is also true that there are many leading manufactures that have been constantly researching and creating workstations that are more in-sync with today’s work space requirements. Herman Miller, Steelcase, Vitra and Haworth are some international office furniture manufacturers who have led the market when it comes to providing intelligent work space solutions. Customizing may be at times more expensive than choosing from the available standard options but this difference of cost per unit can be negated or significantly reduced if the number of units required is high. This difference also becomes insignificant when compared to the almost assured increase in productivity.

    Some examples of "intelligent" workstations

  3. Flexible work spaces are the need of the day.Offices today require their employees to work on projects where the team sizes can change dramatically from one project to the other. The level of interaction and communication needed between the team members also varies. Static or regimental workstations can be seen as a major deterrent in the proper functioning of teams. There are options available where workstations can be clubbed or separated based on the need of the project. Mobile discussion tables, projection screens and writing surfaces that can be easily moved to facilitate interaction and discussions have become a must in offices where productivity depends on interaction within teams and the ability of teams to work efficiently and communicate.

    "Arras" platform desk system from Herman Miller is a good example of the flexible workstation options available in the market.

  4. Planned storage prevents clutter in the office.
    Most corporate establishments have very specific requirements when it comes to the number of workstations, cabins, meeting rooms, etc. but the requirement for storage is almost always a grey area which is tackled as an afterthought. In a lot of cases, the only word in the design brief that defines the storage needs of a work space is “substantial” or “as much of space as possible”. As a result of this, corridors, fire escapes and other such spaces have become storage rooms in many offices. This has time and again been the cause of many accidents. Moreover, offices that are new manage to look uncluttered for a few months and then the papers and the files start falling out of the storage units which are in most cases insufficient, unusable or unplanned. Analyzing and defining the storage requirements of a work space help in maintaining the organized feel of an office and this in many ways increases the productivity.

    Storage solutions

  5. The office space defines the work culture to be cultivated.The days of having typical layouts are gone. It’s time to think different. Offices today need ‘attitude’! It has become important to let the employees enjoy and relax when at work and this would translate into them enjoying their work and their work space. Productivity naturally goes up in a happy work space. Work spaces that mimic lounges, cafes, gaming parlours and even gardens have replaced the offices that were stuffed with claustrophobic cubicles that only strive to keep people from communicating with each other and somehow look like contemporary versions of the government offices of the 80s. This doesn’t in any way imply that going completely against the norm would create an interesting office space, but these extreme examples display to what extent one can go when designing an office space. There are plenty of subtler methods or design solutions that allow for a dramatic shift in the feel of a work space. The necessity is to put in that extra bit to choose the less trodden path when it comes to visualizing the space.

    Office spaces with "Attitude"

    If any of you know about other examples of flexible workstation systems, creatively designed office spaces or anything related to work spaces that might be interesting, please do mention the link/product name/project details in the comments.

    In case you have any queries regarding the design of office spaces or about space design in general, please feel free to send in an email to vijaynambiardesign@gmail.com.

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