Ruchi Sawhney visits the office of Kumar Group, steered by celebrated architect Gopakumar and his son Anuj in Kochi. There is an established architectural firm, rooted in the rich cultural legacy of Kerala, ready to take a bold leap forward.
Kerala’s architectural heritage is much celebrated and cherished by its people but sadly, the march of consumerism and growth are taking design trends to a new direction. Kochi used to be a city where the eyes would sweep over the swaying coconut fronds and beyond to the blue skies, but alas that was a good 20 years ago. I’ve seen it then and I’m seeing it now, it’s a city dotted by high rises and there are many more on their way.
In this changing scenario we have the architectural firm of Kumar Group who has seen what was and has anticipated what’s to come. To meet the new challenges, S Gopakumar, Principal Architect and his son Anuj, Chief Architect, have showcased their design approach at their new office premises in Kochi.
A wide road leads to their office and I was in for a surprise when I saw plenty of parking spaces in front of it. In Kochi one is always restricted to narrow lanes and practically no parking space, so it was a good beginning to my visit. A ramp took me to the office with its huge glass frontage. At the reception I was asked to take a seat in the waiting area, from where I could get a glimpse of the office and made a few impressions. The raised seating area had leather sofas around a toughened glass flooring, a tad uncomfortable to be perched viewing everyone, but shortly I was led through a glass door to meet Anuj Gopakumar.
One walks into a very large, double-height office, with sunshine bathing the interiors that are mostly glazed. Sunlight bounces off the white surfaces of this ultra modern office interior where the color palette of black and white has a dash of orange making an appearance at intervals. I walked past a sculpture of two painters working on bamboo scaffolding, an ode to all the nameless artisans who toil to create a building and met Anuj Gopakumar who re-lived the design process for me over a cup of coffee.
‘My father and I collaborated on the design of this office which was completed around three years ago and has won a number of awards. The idea was to create a transparent and a homogenous working environment. The design is simple, with very clean lines. To begin with we’ve used glass extensively — all cabins are glazed to facilitate transparency. The area with the workstations is a double-height space with a mezzanine suspended from the ceiling,’ says Anuj.
I found this an interesting feature and asked Anuj to elaborate.
‘The mezzanine is a very light structure with square steel frames hung from the ceiling and stabilized by diagonal bracing. Fiberboard panels and flooring keep the weight low.’ The cabins of S Gopakumar and Anuj are slightly raised so that they can view the workstation area and the mezzanine, thereby keeping up the visual connect. Anuj has noticed that the office is more connected and alive with higher energy levels and productivity in this new environment.
A traditional Kerala ‘mughappu’, a gable end and wooden pillars adorn the reception area and they assimilate beautifully with the rest of the steel and glass interior. Varied design elements are fused together such as an unfinished concrete reinforced wall and acrospan shuttering frames below the ceiling, both adopted from construction sites. A glass staircase leads to the mezzanine and industrial style lighting fixtures enhance the effect.
The two challenges while doing this project were the steel work for the suspended ceiling and the pantry and dining area accessible from the front lobby. Gopakumar have created an office that reflects their design philosophy and are ready to take on any challenges.