Written by: Staff Wednesday, May 25th, 2011 .
Today we’d like to welcome back Chris Lee and Kapil Gupta from Serie Architects. The last project of theirs we featured here was a mind-boggling ceiling installation at the Kennedy Center. This particular project, The Tote in Mumbai, is much larger in scale, but in it we see similar references to the natural world. For the design of this mixed-use space, which includes a banquet hall, a restaurant, and a bar, Serie found inspiration in the local trees of Mumbai.
The site of the Tote is a collection of disused buildings from Mumbai’s colonial era. Due to the historical status of the buildings, strict conservation guidelines had to be followed during the remodeling. Regulations required that three-quarters of the roof profile be kept intact and one-quarter of the entire structure be preserved. The inspiration for the project was found not only in the historical buildings themselves, but the groves of rain trees that populate the open spaces around the buildings. Their tightly woven canopy creates a natural banquet hall, as noted by the architects in their program of the site: “These spaces are shaded throughout the year by the thinly wide spread leaves of the Rain Trees, allowing almost the entire proposed program to occur outdoors.” It is the shape and patterns in these trees that are featured in the key architectural elements of the Tote.
Essentially, the architects brought the grove into the shell of the old colonial building with their architectural interpretation of the trees. They created a unique structural system that branches off a central post based on the rain tree’s shape. Different branching systems were developed to define the various spaces in the Tote. The banquet hall is relatively simple and most resembles the surrounding grove. It is a long hall with floor-to-ceiling windows that allow for full views of the trees in the courtyard. The simplified branching structures are all a cool white color that makes the space seem light and airy. While there is definitely a high-level of refinement in the design, it is also playful; it recalls children’s stories where walls morph into the trees of a wild jungle.
The technology used to create these natural looking structures is anything but child’s play. The steel branches were precisely modeled and laser cut to maintain the highest degree of accuracy, while reducing the number of visible seams. Where the angular trusses meet the ceiling supports, they form a complex arrangement of openings and coves. These openings hide three different types of lighting systems that can operated according to the client’s needs. Through this lighting arrangement, Serie was able to recreate the effect of light filtering in through the canopy of a rain tree grove.
The real eye candy here is the bar. A much more abstract approach was implemented here, but the design still draws on the form of local trees. Three-dimensional wooden panels with walnut veneer create geometric shapes all up the wall and ceiling. A tree-like pattern is brought out by bronze channeling that borders the shapes, but it is a much looser representation than in other areas of the Tote. But hey, where better to loosen up a little than in the bar!