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Craft Cafe, Kurla Marketcity

The view from the outside

The view inside the Café

Diagrams showing the development of the entrance facade

Lattice House, Jammu

Sectional view showing the circulation of the two floors

Views from the street outside Lattice House, Sidhra

The beautiful house illuminated in the night, yet concealed by the wooden lattices.

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Workspace 21 Jan 2017

Practices: The Woodworks of Craft Cafe & Lattice House

From the unmistakable image of the fluid, coffered wooden ceiling of Indigo Delicatessen at the Phoenix Mall, Lower Parel, to the various other hyperbolic creations of Sameep Padora, exploring materials that suit the context and the uniqueness of each brief and each project is characteristic of sP+a’s architecture. Here we explore more on their usage wood in two projects: Craft Cafè & Lattice House.

‘Practices’ is a series exploring the various interesting construction methods, techniques and materials that are being used by design practices across India and the world. Talking of materials, façades or certain elements of architecture in isolation is a skewed view on the practice of design. While we do not attempt to do so through this series, our motive is to find a sense of appreciation in the crafting of materials. Wood, goes back centuries, not only in India but everywhere. It evokes romanticism as stone does strength, or steel does industrialisation or our perception of progress, but wood is also an age-old part of our crafts. From carpenters who nails two battens on a door frame together to woodworkers who carve out snake boats in Kerala, our affair with timber goes back centuries.

Craft Cafe, Kurla Marketcity

The view from the outside

The view inside the Café

Closer to the present, we look at architect Sameep Padora’s Craft Café, set inside the bustling contemporary Phoenix Marketcity mall, Kurla, Mumbai, and then at Lattice House, located in Sidhra, a suburban settlement in Jammu – two very diverse contexts. Craft Cafè, with its elegant and confident façade, is sure to stop passers-by by showing more character than the placidity of the mall it sits inside. Arcaded booths overlooking the corridor shield the casual dining inside.

On stepping in, one traverses past the casual dining to the alfresco seating, directly opposite the entrance. In the centre of the programme is the food prep and serving function aka the bar counter and the kitchen. As one moves towards the long tables, the thick cluster of overhanging lights and vibrant flowering decor, the open environs enrich the drained Bombay local. “The Alfresco space itself is defined by a metaphor of an environment of fireflies, tiny lights that create a mystical and surreal enclosure,” describes the architect, of the night time ambience.

Diagrams showing the development of the entrance facade

To produce the designs to precision, once the design drawings were produced, the form was digitally modelled. Then the wooden sections were CNC cut and the prefabricated fins were brought to site and assembled. A CNC router, or in other words: Computer Numerical Control router, is a computer controlled routing system, which is similar to the handheld method of routing; except that a CNC router can perform all sorts of carpentry tasks such as sawing, moulding, and boring or even cutting tenon and mortise joints. CNC routers can work on a variety of materials such as plastics, metals, composites, foams, boards etc., apart from wood. “It was a question of providing the ?right set of drawings, as required, sometimes even at full scale,” remarked Sameep, who in the past has worked with other CNC routers in other projects in Mumbai as well.

The completion of the Café/Bistro interiors took about 9 months, of which 2 months went into the making of the fins. The next question arises, how hard is it to get skilled craftsmen to execute this with precision, and that’s where the collaborators make the difference. For executing the interiors of Craft Café, sP+a worked with ?Greensquare Architects, a one-stop point turnkey solutions provider, located in Mahim. Greensquare is led by Sanjay Baykerikar, an architect-contractor, and therefore they had the advantage of having a contractor who knew the design intent and could discuss the process of execution in detail. The insights brought in by his experience in the field, invariably made a difference.

At the Lattice House, Sidhra, Jammu, the slit façade and boundary wall take on a completely different function. In a place of scattered urbanity on the outskirts of Jammu, the house creates a striking statement to the surroundings, a standalone of sorts. Architecture is primarily informed by climate, and Jammu, unlike Kashmir, is hot and dry for 6 months, heavily overcast and rainy for 2 and extremely cold for the other 4 months. This extremity is similar in nature to the river plains of the north than the mountains. Wood becomes an interesting choice then, although historically the great old palace and complex of Mubarak Mandi did use wooden Jharokhas (projected balconies) but only in combination with bricks and stones.

Lattice House, Jammu

Sectional view showing the circulation of the two floors

On the context of Lattice House, Sameep explains, “?In this case, the site was featureless but the local character was important in giving cues to developing a staggered profile. Kashmir is known for its wood work, so it was an obvious choice in terms of material availability and skill.” Majority of craftsmen employed for the project were locals skilled in woodworking. They were helped by Hridaykumar Vishvakarma who has worked with Sameep in the past, in guiding the craftsmen to understand and execute the designs. To counter the extreme weather, seasoned wood has been used, since it doesn’t undergo too much weathering and even if it does, “the building ages gracefully.”

Views from the street outside Lattice House, Sidhra

When it comes to function, the house is used by different families on each of the two levels. “Horizontal bands of vertical wood lattice screens encompass balconies, sun-breakers, storage etc., in an attempt to scale the mass of the house as a series of sectional horizontal shifts.” Since the family entertains many guests, their privacy is maintained by placing the bedrooms at the rear (innermost) part of the site, and in front are the lawn, the living areas and dining, and the kitchen. Thus the outsiders experience some parts of the house without interfering with the private areas, and “all programs whether private or public, open into side or front garden spaces.”

The first obvious distinction between Craft and Lattice is purpose: retail vs. residential, and another is with relation to usage of wood: interior vs exterior. “The conditions that wood will be exposed to determines what quality and kind of wood is to be used. Well seasoned wood is always preferred to cheaper options that may warp or react adversely to moisture content and temperature. The Lattice House wood was purely local, which made it economical as well as able to weather the climatic conditions. In Craft, we used CNC-ed Rubber-wood cut from sheets,” explains the architect.

The beautiful house illuminated in the night, yet concealed by the wooden lattices.

The challenges of working with wood are reasons for its beauty too, since no two leaves in nature are identical. But there is always the question of skill, and availability. “Getting the right type and shade of wood for a particular design, having it be workable to the extent we would need it to be and finding the craftsmen ready to push the limits of their technical understand and known skills to produce designs that they are not familiar with,” are the challenges Sameep lists down. The advantages are its tactility, its warmth as a natural material, the availability of carpenters in almost all parts of the country, and its availability of local raw material in most places. “Is there an ongoing process of experimentation with wood [at your practice]?”, we ask him, and Sameep responds, “?We are constantly examining the potential of material, the inherent technology and craft associated with it. Material or experimentation is not really the cornerstone of our process but our design processes are definitely informed by them.”