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A musical experience through architecture

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Two different spaces, two different aesthetic treatments and the brief to WOW the walk-in customers; Mumbai-based architect, Vinit Nikumbh and his team at Bricolage Bombay took on this challenge to create a complete experience for the client as well as for the customers.

Wikipedia explains Bricolage as; “In the arts, Bricolage (French for “DIY” or “do-ityourself projects”) is the construction or creation of a work from a diverse range of things that happen to be available, or a work created by mixed media”. Vinit Nikumbh, the founder of architectural firm called Bricolage Bombay very accurately and successfully captures the design ethos he wanted to establish through this project – Experience Centre for Oyster Bath and Porcelanosa. As he enlightens us, “We do projects that interest us and encourage our multidisciplinary approach. We are dedicated to exploring ideas in Architectural / Interior Design by employing the mediums of films, games, digital media and virtual realities. The visual ideas come from pop culture, internet art, parametric thinking and elegance of materials and textures.”

The brief from the client was very clear; 6000sqft project space had to be divided into two – an experience centre and a showroom, with different aesthetic treatment, but both the spaces must stimulate the visitor. And the visitors are not the general populace, but the architects and the interior designers – a segment who is well versed with design and what good design can inspire. To create an experience centre for such an audience which will impart an experience of the product and the space meant that the lighting, colours, moods and ideas must be one of a kind. One portion of the space was to serve as a showroom for Luxury Brand called Oyster Bath, that makes Saunas and Bath Fixtures, the other Brand Porcelanosa, is an internationally known Modular Kitchen Market Leader.

With this brief, the architect and his team had to devise a way to create a space that created an experience along with a showroom. Thus, the idea of separation of the spaces. Now here is the main idea which formed the USP of this project – a ‘musical wall’. The wall by itself does not play any music, but the designers envisioned it and built is as musical score which can be read.

The inspiration came from Iannis Xenakis, an architect who later on in his life became a musical composer. His invention of the UPIC Machine or a system that converts drawings to Music is very fascinating. Vinit explains, “I have been reading up and following the work of Iannis Xenakis. Influenced by this we came up with the first version of the wall that would read as a musical score – the length of the wall and the width of the wall lends itself to this. We thought of composing the wall out of a really small element to be able to make moves with it – starting with a conventional brick – the design worked itself to various conditions – of having bath tubs at the bottom, of having a full door in it, of being a sauna dark dimly lit wall on the Oyster side. Eventually, we didn’t use bricks to make the wall – due to structural loading conditions. It also becomes fully illuminated to serve a different kind of décor on the Kitchen Side.” Music as pattern thus became a larger subconscious aesthetic idea of the studio – that work with human perception to generate emotion.

The design of the wall starts at being 2 ½ brick thick at the base and at the top of the wall, it almost disappears. The thicknesses of the wall move from being 2½ to 2 to 1 ½ to being only ½ brick thick on the top. Vertically as the thicknesses change the patterns start becoming ‘massier’ with lesser voids. In their planning, the design team came up with the idea of a wall oriented display – the lower part of the wall has been optimized to work as the backdrop to the bathing fixtures. Vinit further explains the complications that happened while working on the musical wall idea, “We wanted a single small unit – whose modifications would generate the pattern. The simplest grid unit in construction ‘the humble brick’ served this purpose very well. However, we were doing this project in an existing building – there were a lot of load considerations that needed to be taken care of. Upon finishing the design, we realized that we could not do it in brick – we began the search for an alternative – that would be light weight and be available in roughly the same sizes as a conventional brick. Our options ranged from wood to synthetic materials. Some were expensive the others had their own specific issues like joineries. We settled on Siphorex blocks cut to our specific sizes. They help to reduce the weight considerably yet stay flexible for the wall to be stiff and create form.” Ridham Patel who collaborated with the Bricolage team was in charge of prototyping computational geometries for the Ceiling and the Wall elements. These were then tested and prototyped by the Bricolage team and drawn for execution on site.

The main entry for both the showrooms is via a shared reception area. The reception area has elements from both the spaces – light for the kitchen and dark for the saunas. This has been done by having dark walls in black that make the visitors eyes acclimatized to the dark interior to follow – this is in direct contrast to the light white ceiling that welcomes you with its fins and fluid form. In terms of planning – the brief was pretty complex – the Sauna showroom had to have live Bath Tubs and Live showering equipment – that could be showcased to architects and interior designers. “We had to do an entire round of services where the water tanks had to connect to Tubs and Bathing fixtures that were at least 40 feet away from the tanks – these fittings had to receive water at a pressure from the main tanks, explains Vinit. Along with this the design team also did extensive brainstorming with the Client to arrive at the selection of pieces from the entire product range. Displays were planned as mock-ups where the consumer would be able to visualize the same in his/her house.

The Overall color pallet for the Sauna unit was dark – there were only a few lights and most of the lights tried to illuminate the products such that they stayed highlighted. Due to this fact, the elements in this space were made in colors that would do with the dark ambiance prevalent in the whole space. The only two shades that are used in contrast to the Black Color are White and Dark Orange. The strongest color selection that has an effect on the look of the whole project was the selection of orange – as the color of visual identity for the wall. “We found from a lot of studies and samples – and computer simulations that Dark Orange is also reminiscent of the earth tone and is in direct contrast with the brand color blue – also it goes well with the feature color of most of the bath tubs etc i.e white.”

“This was new for us and difficult to find resources to execute the design. Clients are scared to enter into such bold design ventures because of the lack of accurate costing predictions and production/fabrication support. Lack of structural understanding on the part of most of the execution team. Lack of finishing materials for such complicated designs and also the challenge to light up such elements. To overcome all these issues, we did a lot of prototyping for the Design and made scaled models of the design – to check issues like the center of gravity etc. A lot of sampling was done to check colors and lights before we finalized on anything on the actual design”, says Vinit.

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