“In temperate Bangalore, all we need are shaded verandahs along lush gardens to be comfortable.”
Situated on an abandoned industrial site, traces of the old sheds have been retained contrasting distinctly with the precise metal structure of the retail space. This long structure bifurcates two heavy brick buildings which house the services and utilities (kitchen, storerooms, restrooms, staff areas, etc.). The details and the overall structure are articulated to highlight this repeating theme of contrast.
In a detailed interview with Architecture +Design, Ar.Bijoy Ramachandran (Director- Hundredhands) reveal and share thoughtful insights about their recently completed project ‘Go Native’, located in Bangalore
Nikitha Sunil (A+D): The very short but meaningful tagline of ‘Go Native’ stores/ cafes reads “EAT + SHOP + CONNECT”. Did you relate to these three functions separately or as a whole while conceptualising the project ? How was it articulated into the overall design?
Ar.Bijoy Ramachandran: We didn’t really reflect on the tagline, but the project brief always asked for a place to unwind – generous, open, filled with light and air, and flexible. We capitalised on the required setbacks and the linear character of the site, with the fortuitously placed existing trees, to create a sequence of enclosed, semi-enclosed and open spaces for passage and pause.
This idea of putting together a composition of contrasting conditions is at the heart of the project. One is always encountering different conditions of enclosure, opacity, robustness, colour, stability and so on.
Nikitha Sunil (A+D): What were you very first thoughts about the site ? What were your impressions about the existing trees/ plants, was it retained with specific purposes or was it a general conservation ?
Ar.Bijoy Ramachandran: This is an erstwhile industrial area. Our site used to have a double bay, linear, line-manufacturing facility. Traces of this old building existed and the proportions of the site suggested a series of such long buildings. The existing trees were on the peripheries of the old factory and we incorporated these into the arrangement of our plan, using them to anchor nodes within this long sequence of enclosures.
Nikitha Sunil (A+D): How did the built design/ structure merge or be in rhythm with the surrounding environment and neighbourhood? What were the striking characteristics of the environment that kept resonating while you worked through the design phase?
Ar.Bijoy Ramachandran: Our site has a small frontage onto a very busy thoroughfare, which now also has an overhead Metro line running. There are numerous small commercial establishments across the road from our site. These are housed in nondescript newer buildings – simple low-rise framed structures with glass facades. On the west of our site is a tall office building. The facade of this building towards our site is quite blank, with minimal articulation. On the north and east there are a few single storey buildings – mostly sheds. So in short, there isn’t much of an architectural context to respond to. Our references came mostly from the memory of the factory sheds on this site and a response to a large ‘secret’ garden at the rear where the site opened up to a sequestered open space.
Nikitha Sunil (A+D): After the completion of ‘Go Native’, did you find any similarities in design/ ideas in comparison to the project executed by your practice just before ‘Go Native’?
Ar.Bijoy Ramachandran: A lot of our recent work is predicated on the idea of spatial composition and participatory space. We are interested in what Louis Kahn calls ‘a society of rooms’. Our plans are organised to heighten the quality of the space between programs – that which is unlabelled and incidental. How does one articulate this to engender congregation and a sense of community? In Go Native too, the primary spine, though linear has a varying thickness, volume and extent of the enclosure to accommodate different kinds of inhabitation.
Our other preoccupation is the notion of contrast – in terms of spatial experience, materiality, structure, porosity and so on. By modulating the composition of contrasting conditions we heighten the sense of these qualities. The trick is the tolerance between these to achieve balance and a sense of calm.
Nikitha Sunil (A+D): Also, at any time during the conceptualisation-design phase did you have to purposefully remove or avoid any design elements and features from the past?
Ar.Bijoy Ramachandran: Not really. We would like to believe that our projects are sufficiently different from each other because of their responses to the particular conditions within which they manifest. We often struggle to come to a comprehensive understanding of these conditions.
Nikitha Sunil (A+D): What were the very initial sources of inspiration, references and research you studied about or reflected on for the ‘Go Native’ Project?
Ar.Bijoy Ramachandran: Our work for Go Native drew deep inspiration from B.L. Manjunath’s (our structural engineer) particular genius for creating delicate, refined metal structural systems. We thought of the project as a conversation between his light, porous structure and a series of heavy, ponderous, opaque brick elements. The sense of weight and delicacy are heightened by this juxtaposition. Some of the articulation for the metalwork (railings, layering and so on) draw inspiration from the work of Carlo Scarpa and Allies and Morrison
Nikitha Sunil (A+D): How did you decide on doing the two brick buildings? What were the factors that resulted in its present location (on the entire site) and how did you deduce or design those specific shapes for the two brick-based structures?
Ar.Bijoy Ramachandran: The brick buildings house the main kitchen, staff areas, storage and restrooms. They are designed to present surfaces without any fenestration onto the primary spine. This is done to heighten the contrast between these buildings and the metal structure (which is in a way – all fenestration).
The brick structure along the western side of the primary spine is laid out at an angle to this spine – inflected to reveal, slowly, the secret garden at the rear of the site. One discovers this as one gets deeper into the building.
Nikitha Sunil (A+D): A feeling of movement/ motion is felt from the brick arrangement of the brick facades used in the two buildings, could you elaborate more about the brick bond/ arrangements/ pattern in both of the buildings ?
Ar.Bijoy Ramachandran: Laying alternate courses of the brick at an angle accentuates the sense of the curve and the misalignment of the primary facade of the brick building on the western side of the spine. It took our master mason, Venkatesh and a helper a whole day to lay one course of brickwork for this building.
The other brick building on the east, which houses the restrooms has a much simpler course structure with a special articulation only at the floor slabs due to the presence of a recessed beam here.
Nikitha Sunil (A+D): Are your favourite interior elements- the Kota stone (used on the flooring) and the fabric installations (in some of the ceilings)? Were these on your material palette from the start or was it an evolvement?
Ar.Bijoy Ramachandran: In fact, a lot of the flooring is in Kota (leather finished) or IPS (cement flooring). We used Cudappah for a few thresholds. The interiors (including the ceilings) were designed by Tanushri Dalmaiya of ‘Vayam’, a Bangalore based design agency.
We see flooring patterns as a way to mark the organising structure, create distinct places within the plan with marked thresholds and use different materials to make these transitions.
Nikitha Sunil (A+D): What’s the story behind the clerestory’s and long vertical opening’s?
Ar.Bijoy Ramchandran: The symmetrical butterfly roof gives us the clerestory. Putting glass here helps make the roof float. We have also introduced louvres here to help get all the accumulated hot air out from under these roofs. The linear windows along the eastern side are just to get some light and cross ventilation. The views out onto this side are not great and so we limited the amount of glass on this side.
Nikitha Sunil (A+D): What could have been one crucial challenge you agreed to or said yes to in the ‘Go Native’ project?
Ar.Bijoy Ramachandran: Our work on this project continues. The pandemic really upended the original organisation of the program in the building. Both floors in the front were to be retail, and the rear portion opening out to the garden on the lower floor was to be conferencing and the restaurant was to be upstairs serviced directly by the kitchen. Once the lockdowns began our clients became really conservative about immediately occupying the entire building and restricted most of their efforts to the ground floor of the front half of the building.
New covered restaurant seating was introduced, the primary kitchen was shifted to the ground, and a new service connection had to be created. Now we are redesigning the rear portion to accommodate co-working space and meeting rooms. All of this without changing the organising principles of the plan. We have found that the basic structural grid of the building has proved to be quite flexible in accommodating multiple uses.
We struggled to convince our clients to keep the old gable wall of the factory sheds. They were concerned that the store would have no visible shop front/display windows onto the street. Luckily they saw potential in this as the building was being demolished and in fact, this feature of the store is what really sets it apart from all its neighbours along this busy street.
Nikitha Sunil (A+D): Were there any specific considerations for the design of ‘Go Native’ you made from the climate perspective?
Ar.Bijoy Ramachandran: The building has 3 parts – the enclosed retail space, right at the front, which is air-conditioned because they’ve got fabric and food. The middle section has an open verandah, the waterbody and the two brick buildings which house all the utilities and services (restrooms, kitchens, store rooms and so on). This area is naturally ventilated. And at the rear are two levels of air-conditioned space, conferencing/meeting rooms below and co-working above. In the setback areas around the front portion of the building are ventilated covered, outdoor terraces. The upper floors have pitched metal (insulated galvalum) sheet roofs with clerestory windows and louvers to allow for the passage of hot air.
In Bangalore, one just needs shade through most of the year to be comfortable, and these open verandahs, terraces and balconies work well. Things are changing though, particularly with regards to air pollution. The site sits on the edge of a busy thoroughfare and it is likely that more of these spaces will get enclosed over time.
Nikitha Sunil (A+D): Since we’ve all seen and experienced a covid period, do you now think that there would an additional set of design and feasibility checks going to be involved in the pre-design/ design phase ?
Ar.Bijoy Ramachandran: The big learning from the Covid times is the need for us to think of our buildings as flexible, free of program (to a certain text) and to think beyond type. Our early decision to organise the building on a systematic 4.8m structural bay has proved to be quite resilient in helping us accommodate the different programs over time from retail, to restaurant, to co-working and conferencing. These are in many ways allied types, but going forward we would like to consider our buildings like those wonderful 19th century timber framed masonry buildings in Backbay, Boston, which have proved to be incredibly versatile in accommodating program over time – from housing, to offices, retail, recording studios, and so on, thanks to the general proportions of their structural frames and vertical circulation arrangement.
Nikitha Sunil (A+D): Who or What have been your most important source of support and collaboration throughout the building cycle of the project, that left a remarkable impact on ‘Go Native’ ?
Ar.Bijoy Ramachandran: Our structural engineer, B.L. Manjunath who really furthered our conceptual ideas and brings a real understanding of the experience and spatial import of the structure – playing with ideas of weight, density and levitation.
Tanushri Dalmiya, the interior designer, appointed directly by the client, who brought a careful eye to the project introducing beautiful handmade artifacts, furniture, an elaborate ceiling installation, wonderful lights – all in keeping with the structure of our building and through colour, texture and composition highlighting materiality, scale and porosity,
Santosh T.V. of 3 Fold design, our landscape architect, whose wonderful natural gardens seem to have been there much before we got here – sensitive to our ideas of sequence, enclosure and as response to the brick, steel, glass and water.
Ramesh Babu of SV Constructions, our long time collaborator, who brings a real passion for quality – furthering his own ambitions to do new things every time we start something, and
Sasi Kumar (Star Engineering), our metal fabricator, whose eye for detail, precision and deep understanding of Manjunath’s particular genius helped us achieve a structure of rare quality and delicacy.
Also, I must mention Divyang Sharma, who spent many hours with Manjunath understanding and drawing up axonometric junction details for all the conditions within the building. He was a great collaborator.
Anna Rose, who was involved during the conceptual design phase, brought to the project her incredible clarity and sense of order. We were also lucky to have Anubhav Anurag to help with the technical drawings and Surabhi Banerjee, who designed that exquisite stair tower lantern on the northern corner of the kitchen block.
“All of our work ‘comes from two voices and many voices’ as Tod Williams and Billie Tsien say.”
- INTERVIEW: Nikitha Sunil Vallikad | Contributor, A+D
- PROJECT NAME: Go Native
- ARCHITECTS – Hundredhands
- PROJECT TEAM: Divyang Sharma & Anna Rose Manavalan (project architects) Anubhav Anurag, Surabhi Banerjee, Miqdad Shirazi. Sunitha Kondur & Bijoy Ramachandran (Partners)
- PHOTOGRAPHY: Suryan & Dang | Miqdad Shirazi | Bijoy Ramachandran
- LOCATION – Bangalore, India
- BUILT-UP AREA: 12,000 SQFT
- COMPLETION: 2021