Design Fortress

Project: Studio Archohm, Noida

Whatever we build ends up building us.’— Jim Rohn

Studio Archohm, the architectural practice, shaped Studio Archohm, the building. Both of them speak about architecture that transcends making just a shelter for an office that produces more architecture. They speak about architecture that attempts to be a voice for contemporary India even as they strive to fan a fundamental human desire to learn, interact and live.

Louis Kahn always believed that getting in light into one’s building is like claiming a slice of the sun. The building attempts to design darkness in order to tame light. Because, like it or not, in the Indian sub-continent, even a small hole in a wall brings in strong light, a slice therefore is more than what may be easily consumed. Getting in moderate and uniform light, remaining ecologically conscious and moulding light to become sensorial — is what has been attempted at Studio Archohm. Materials used are appropriate to the cardinal directions with their parameters of heat and light and play a key role in the greening of the building.

The building shades itself so that the light let in is always indirect and muted. The huge expanse of glass, fortuitously facing the north, brings in diffused light perfect for working conditions, filtered through the collage of books and files. As the day progresses, light penetrates further. To ensure that sufficient daylight enters the floor below the ground, the front garden is given a slope and the ground level is given a greater height. Glass is a hundred percent recyclable material.

The spartan wooden patina that forms a jacket to the glass box from the outside, on the eastern side is actually a layer of insulation to the drywall concrete paneled construction behind it. Wood insulates six-fold more than brick.

In the south-eastern corner, the solid two-brick thick, load-bearing walls take in all the circulation and convenience services and relieve the other volumes of this rather cumbersome burden. They also keep out almost all of the heat, so the contained space remains cool. The stairs conclude by revealing an open-air amphitheatre up in the sky. Cooling the water-tank beneath it is this hot-bed of ideas, the think-tank. Draped in china mosaic, the roof reflects a huge measure of the heat as well. A block of stone forms a 3m-thick wall and blocks the hot, south side of the studio and offers insulation from sound and heat all along its extensive length.

The construction of the whole building has been done without the usage of harmful chemicals. No paint has been applied to give a raw and pure feel of the materials and to ensure minimum carbon footprint. The stone used in the stone block has been quarried from nearby Rajasthan. The project celebrates the usage of stones like Red Agra, Kota and the local quartzite.

Alang, the world’s largest ship-breaking yard employing 40,000 people in 400 yards generating 3 million tonnes of scrap metal annually did yield
a treasure trove of ‘stuff’, ranging from mild steel plates, black steel doors, hardwood that had spent over 50 years underwater, timber sleepers and installable products as stainless steel counters, cabinets, washbasins, showers and even reclining sofas. Some of these purchases were re-fabricated, some such as steel doors and sanitary fittings were used as they were.

The roof is a garden that cools the floors below. There is even a swimming pool that adds to the actual and virtual cooling. Under the umbrella of a membrane canopy, the swimming pool along with a glass floor provide diffused light and coolness to the main design studio in the concrete volume beneath.

Providing respite from the dense, depressing and noisy milieu outside is a luxurious nine-metre wide front setback now a lush green garden. At the very entrance stands a ‘red and black pond’ that is a welcoming gesture as much as it is soothing. The outer facade of the service stairs is a several storied high ‘green wall’ in the form of plantations up a mesh. Elements also share the responsibility of being ‘green’. Large vertical fins in aluminium act as louvers on the eastern facade, shading the galleria and workspaces as the sun gets ‘hotter’.

Large volumes in themselves are clever solutions for cooling as they enable hot air to rise up. Fins at the upper levels, for example atop the massive corten steel door further become exit points for the hot air. Large circular cut-outs in floors of the work spaces, staggered in position not only provide visual connectivity within the ecosystem but also assist hugely in air circulation.

Lighting from tube lights and other light sources is done at an optimum level to reduce artificial light pollution. Lights have been installed such that they throw light from a height of not more than six feet to qualitatively and quantitatively light the workstations. Meeting rooms are ‘led lit’ and circulation areas under-lit to preserve energy.

Even as the new office was being conceptualised, the decision was taken not just to reuse all the existing furniture, but also to adapt it innovatively in the new premises as compact self contained modular units. Similarly, all old fixtures were utilised before new ones were purchased. What emerged out of this very relevant exercise was the laying of the foundation of the ‘mad and fun quotient’ of design on one hand and raising the plinth of the ideology of conserving resources.

At the centre of the atrium stands a metal sculpture, christened ‘the hand’. This ‘out of the box’ ensemble of seemingly random elements was made from scrap material collected while the building was being constructed, welded, given a splash of colour. When lit, by some quirk of fate, its silhouette is a near replica of Le Corbusier’s ‘open hand’ sculpture at Chandigarh. ‘The hand’ is also just ‘a human hand’; a hand that has the attitude to hold a pencil, draw bold lines and strive to create responsible architecture.

The IIID Studio Walks are designed to foster a meaningful discussion and dialogue space between the members of the design community and established design practices.

On 24, November 2018, IIID Delhi held its second Studio Walk at Archohm Noida, led by Sourabh Gupta, the principal architect. Prior to the walk, a few members of the managing committee of the Delhi Chapter conducted a workshop
with the students of the Design Village. The objective of the workshop was to sensitise the students to engage with their city and interpret contextual references in space and time through design. The students used the week preceding the workshop in exploring and understanding various contexts they were familiar with, such as the slum adjacent to their school. Interactions with students revealed that they had spent time at the slums talking to the inhabitants and understanding their concerns. The presentations were in the form of sketches that were pinned up on the walls for discussion.

The members of the Delhi Chapter assembled for the walk early in the evening. Sourabh Gupta was gracious enough to personally take the group on a guided tour of his office. It was interesting to see the various scales of projects handled by Archohm that included urban design, architecture, interiors and product design. As we meandered through the office, passing interesting suspended mobile sculpture, several wooden models, memorabilia designed by master artists and architects, we engaged him in conversation, and observed his design process and ideology. The challenges of conceiving the office building unfolded, the site being triangular in shape and located at the edge of a slum facing a gutka factory. The first grand impression was in the double height lobby as he stood in the shadow of the open hand, a magical transformation of a clever sculpture made of pipes, reinforcement rods and other construction material that came to life as light fell on it. Added to this drama was panel hugging the roof, that described every material with quantities that went into the making of the building.

The event culminated in a visit to the Design Village, which was the transformation of the gutka factory, where Sourabh made a presentation of his work through which he explained what defining design (the mantra of IIID this term) meant to him. Since the group was small, it gave the members the opportunity to interact closely with Sourabh and the flow of conversation was uninhibited.”

Radhika Viswanathan, Chairperson IIID-DRC

Photo credit: Andre J. Fanthome

Factfile
Design Team: Sourabh Gupta, S.P Gupta, Anindya Ghosh, Mohit Mathur, Girdhar Singh Rautella, Tanushree Lakhotia, Shivdutt Sharma Cost: INR 1 Crore
Built-up area: 4,000 sq m
Year of completion: 2011