Corporate India, as we know it today, is usually accommodated in incandescent, rectangular structures with rows of mass-produced desks and cubicles, replicated over multiple floors. Monotonous, tall glass buildings that pepper the skyline of every major Indian city have become the stereotype and ideal for international offices. Yet, the recognition of the workplace as a functional organism, responsive to the architecture it is housed in, is relatively recent. It has taken many years for design-led reform to bring change into the workplace as a whole. Spaces and Design, headed by Pooja Bihani, is a Kolkata based interior architecture firm, renowned for integrating architecture and interiors to create an inviting ‘inside-out’ experience.
Based on simple circulation plans, their design philosophy is focused on allowing spaces to flow into each other, capturing beauty through simplicity and symmetry. The firm has designed various office spaces that follow a clear design narrative, influenced by the client brief and responsive to the site context, stamping them with a unique identity, a far cry from the typical corporate ‘box office’.
One such example is their Containers of Joy project, a marketing office designed for a well-known builder called JOY98 in Kolkata. They required a modular office space on their site that could be replicable and transportable for future re-use. Keeping the sustainability factor in mind, the choice was obvious – they would use two 20 feet by 10 feet shipping containers that were discarded. The use of these existing metal structures enhances the brand by adding a fun, young dimension to what could have otherwise been a boring run-of-the-mill solution.
Staggering the two containers longitudinally instead of side by side, helped create two open spaces – the “front yard” that overlooks a pond and the “back yard” which overlooks an empty spot of land. These act as waiting areas and are covered by a pergola so that it’s slightly shaded and semi-covered. The creation of these “open” spaces within the overall structure promotes a feeling of spaciousness.
In terms of the interior palette, each container reflects the two shades of orange and red, as informed by the logo of JOY 98. A conscious choice of exposing the services was also made to highlight the originality and the texture of the containers, while the flooring is cemented.
A clear futuristic view of their long-term goals, is what sets many companies apart from their competition. It is only right that this foresight stands at the center of the design of their physical office environment. The White Grid Office, designed for a renowned builder, and completed during the COVID 19 pandemic, does just that. The concept focused on an infrastructure that would grow as they achieve milestones in their projects. Thus, a thin white vertical grid was designed as a basic element, that would then evolve through the office as shelving, storage or privacy screen as required. The grids can be used to showcase projects, plants or other curios, adding flexibility and change whenever required.
With the windows only on one side of the long room, enclosed meeting areas are located at the farther end, with an open lounge in between. This informal area, with wide views into the city, provides a respite from the modular configurations of the office, necessary for work and efficiency. The dark grey floors reflect the simple and elegant lighting design of the ceiling, distributed above another white metal ceiling grid, a firm nod to the original design approach.
A keen sense of materiality punctuates all of Pooja Bihani’s interiors. The R.A.W office, a functional and tactile workspace for two brothers, is one of her finest works. It features a skillful use of wood, concrete and steel, a riveting combination designed to showcase the two brothers’ businesses – steel trade and construction.
Speckled terrazzo flooring serves as a seamless backdrop to the geometric wooden jaali screens that are a repeated element throughout – be it the walls of the circular meeting room, the detailing of the reception desk or the legs of the worktables that meander through the space. With the ceiling painted dark, the suspended wooden lights cast a warm glow and throw beautiful shadows. Pivotal to the atmosphere of the whole office is the plaza, a lounge area made of curving turf-clad steps, just below the large windows, that provide a break out zone, away from the formal rooms.
Pooja Bihani tells us she had a tough time trying to convince the client to create this plaza since “they were concerned about giving up so much space in the central part of the office”, a decision that they now thank her for making. The attention to detail – be it in the shelving of the cubicles, the steel bearings that make up the base of the conference table, the tasteful green wall covering amidst the strong industrial tones, is what makes this office a true reflection of client personality and design excellence.
The Half Arc Office is another lesson in adaptive re-use, a great example of how a historic property can be adapted to function as a modern workspace. Set in a colonial structure, and accessed through a voluminous colonnade, the office’s entrance is created by the intersection of two distinct half-arcs. A reception, flanked by a massive world map as its backdrop greets you and leads your vision into their meticulously designed workstations and cubicles. The terrace at the end is a well-loved space, offering picturesque views for informal meetings and break times.
The grandeur of this space is its simplicity – all the existing architectural details were retained and the ceiling painted white, a further invitation to look upward at the vast expanse of its interiors. Following a Nordic-Scandinavian theme, colors are kept simple. Wooden tones in the furniture complement the stone of the heritage building and infuses warmth into an otherwise neutral space. The introduction of various textures such as the marble on the walls or the stone of the tables keep things interesting and prevents monotony.
In keeping with its name, half-arcs have been introduced into the space in various ways from the detailing of the staircase railing to the integrated half arc lights in all the custom designed workstations. The office represents a fantastic effort in creating a contemporary workspace – one that utilizes the architectural merits that a heritage structure offers while still incorporating their own identity and style.
Another office space, for a businessman in the chemical industry with around forty employees, is a study in the exploration of texture. Not wanting to limit themselves in terms of materials used, a frame of 18” by 7.5 feet in warm teak wood was designed. This creative solution enabled each room to be punctuated by differing elements and yet carry a similar design aesthetic throughout. The layout is simple with a workstation area spread out just behind the reception. Since the windows were only located at one end, the open plan helped bring in light and ventilation. Two private cabins are situated along the glazing, with the centre left open as an informal meeting area.
The modules have varying infill – high quality Brazilian quartz in the reception, acoustic panelling in the meeting room, stone veneer in the cubicles and wallpaper and Italian marble in the directors’ chambers, among others. The varying materials help distinguish the ambience between the many spaces and are an excellent talking point.
Care is taken that the office as a whole is perceived as a nuanced space – with many layers that unfold as one walks through. The custom curation of small and large design elements such as door knobs, handles and doors – solid wood in a custom Japanese Black Ash finish, is what elevates the experience of this unusual yet incredible office.
Intentional, thoughtful design solutions make workspaces habitable and cater to its occupants in terms of increasing efficiency. They also do much to promote well-being and creativity.
With social media extending its influences to all industries, the need for an aesthetically captivating environment is a relevant modern-day concern. The design mantra at Spaces and Design, as Pooja says is to ‘constantly innovate’, something that is clearly seen across all their projects