Planet 3 Studio a multidisciplinary design firm in Mumbai boasts of an eclectic portfolio. In conversation with Sapna Srivastava, the husband & wife duo Kalhan Mattoo & Santha Gour Mattoo, founders of the firm, talk about their non-conformal design approach, the importance of constructability of ideas and the architectural scene in India.
As one enters the Planet 3 Studio office, it is hard to miss the plethora of awards and certifications displayed on the wall at the reception. The driving force behind the energetic internationally award winning practice is Kalhan & Santha Matoo. The architects believe in a collaborative work methodology for each of their projects. As Kalhan puts it, “At our studio, there is no authorship to any design rather it’s a team sport where all designers including us, brainstorm and come up with concepts. The most appropriate of the ideas is taken ahead.”
Not the ones to be afraid of experimentation or going beyond the conventional wisdom, the designers also do not believe in a signature design style. Santha equates it to being repetitive. She elaborates, “It is like telling your clients that whatever be the project requirements, this one design element suits all. The essence of our way of working is to address each project individually and offer solutions that are fresh, functional and have distinctive visual appeal.”
Talking to these designers instinctively invokes a progressive way of looking at some age old concepts in architecture. They question the fundamentals, disregard creative promiscuity and are not satisfied with just doing one kind of project.
We work in a non-hierarchical environment, sharing and debating insights informally. With our interdisciplinary approach, project teams sometimes include behavioral psychologists, sociologists, MBAs as well as necessary technical consultants. This inclusive and open attitude is characteristic of our studio.
“Our studio does not specialize in a particular field. Anything that challenges our design sensibilities, interests us. We believe what we can learn from one type of project can be helpful in another completely different type of work. Learnings from one situation, context, and type can be applied elsewhere, usually with surprisingly refreshing results.” says Santha Indeed, this belief has led to an assortment of projects by studio, ranging from institutional, housing, commercial, retail, IT complexes to mixed use developments, adaptive-reuse projects, corporate offices, hospitality, nightclubs and even furniture and industrial products designs.
“We do not follow any design philosophy but call it a design process composed of firstly identifying the needs of all stakeholders in the project from promoter, developer to operator and end user then considering the given budget, time period and other parameters.” briefs Santha. An example of such an approach is the Vidyalakar Institute of Technology in Mumbai where designers instead of going by the brief given by the client for G+14 building – a conventional institutional building model, took feedback from teachers and students as well. “Rather than following the trend we looked at the project from a new perspective. Asking a different question will give a different answer.” Not surprisingly, this radical rethink of the campus architecture has paved way for non-traditional designing of institutional buildings.
Another example of vanguard design rational is the Panoramic resort near Mumbai where client wanted combination of a core building design as well as the spread out resort development. The studio came up with a turbine like form with the arms radiating from the central core of hospitality services comprising the guest rooms. Extending into the landscape, it allows the rooms expansive green views of the landscape.
When faced with the challenge of fitting 750 employees of varied work profiles under a dozen media verticals of Viacom 18, the designers flipped the conventional office design on its head. “After speaking to the employees, we realized the need for social interaction. Discussions are no longer restricted to conference rooms. So, we created casual breakout areas for informal brainstorming sessions. Integration of disparate work cultures and demographics was brought together by standardized furniture, finishes and planning balanced with numerous channel specific breakout areas lending distinct character to each cluster.” describes Santha.
Kalhan explains the designing of M – Auditorium in Central Mumbai where they simulated the wave pattern within the structural volume to understand its effect as it travelled through the 300-seater space. A contoured volume rendered in wood faced acoustical board engages sound right to the back of the auditorium without perceptible drop in intensity. The contouring creates a sculpted feel on the ceiling and the walls and an interesting sense of space inside. In addition, the natural tone of the wood, contemporary grey and orange seats in a V layout evoked the logo of the company.
While the endeavor of the design firm is to focus on the context, the constraints and the opportunity that a project presents, it has certainly not forgotten bringing an element of fun in its designs. “I believe that designs should be serious but not solemn. Humor is vital to bring out the joy and pleasure of creation as designs are a vehicle of making things easy, accessible and interesting for users. This conceptual designing I termed as “Punceptual”, meaning a pun with some sense to evoke a playful engagement. A lighthearted design sometimes help challenge a status quo or question the motions that are being followed. An extreme example of such an attitude was our half serious attempt at giving solution for Dharavi slum development. As the present occupants have different sizes of accommodation, we suggested ‘plots in the sky’ –
buildings that come out like plots in the sky. The Punceptual idea was to create communities by accepting the character of existing development where residents have differ plot areas, volume or square footage and the new buildings will allow for such odd plots sticking out.” explains Kalhan.
A more realistic application of Punceptual can be seen in the office of The Baya Company in Mumbai. Asked to create a sales meeting area in the lobby, the designers produced a nest-like structure influenced by the birds after which the client company is named. The nest’s organic form provides a sculptural presence in the lobby, while providing private meeting space fulfilling the functional requirement. “Our key idea was to build a sculptural, dynamic, fluid form that evokes the Baya nest in an out scaled way.” quip the designers.