Business Standard, India
Gargi Gupta / New Delhi
Crafts of India come together with modern design at the Petro IT corporate office in Gurgaon.
From the outside, B 3, Sector 32, the Petro IT corporate office, looks like a particularly drab example of Gurgaon architecture: squat, block-like and cladded with pink stone. Inside, it’s a different story altogether
The first thing you notice as you enter is a rather large, boat-shaped water body… no, look closer, it’s a real boat in beaten stainless steel and skirted in wood, set right in the middle of the lobby. Topped with gleaming white marble and inlaid with lily leaves in mother-of-pearl and other semi-precious stones, it shimmers so richly in the light of the ring of tall ceiling lamps just above that you might well take it for water at first glance.
Look left, and the entire wall behind the sofas in the waiting area is covered with a gigantic wall panelling in a delicate pink Jaisalmer stone, sculpted in organic whorls and sweeps. There’s stone everywhere â€” the rough, grey granite of the reception space leading to the smooth-polished copper-tinged granite of the waiting area, the two textures and colours set off and held together by thin bands of granite in a slightly different hue running through, while the walls are covered in yellow Jaisalmer picked out by highlighter lamps fixed in a wooden pedestal on the floor.
Those familiar with their work will instantly recognise all over the distinctive stamp of Kaaru â€” the architecture, interior design, furniture and other “art for everyday living” objects firm founded by architect-painter Sanjib Chatterjee and fashion and interior designer Anjalee Wakankar.
Designing, be it a space or a product, is, for this duo, not just about form, function and aesthetics â€” but going beyond it to its implications on the social, cultural and natural environment.
Kaaru works with Indian crafts and artisans (“artists”, Wakankar calls them, dismissing the “art versus craft” dichotomy as an artificial one) down in the villages. “We aren’t an NGO or a microfinance set-up. We work with the craftsmen, understand the process of making, and respect its originality and sanctity.”
As an example of how they work, Wakankar cites the huge undulating frieze on the ceiling of the lobby of the Ashoka hotel in Delhi. In the mandla style of the Gond tribesmen, it is painted entirely by Bhajju Shyam, a master craftsman, and depicts passages of their myth of creation. “This is their tradition; the poet composes it, the artist interprets it and the priest endorses it. It is sacrosanct.”
These artists had never painted on wood, or on small, rectangular surfaces like the tops of boxes. So Kaaru worked around the traditions, learning and innovating through a process of dialogue with the artisans, to come up with a work that was meant to be put up for only three weeks or so (for a Buddhist conclave to be held at the hotel) but has been there for five years now, continuing to add colour and beauty to the space.
“It hasn’t been easy,” says Wakankar. “The idea was to help the artists find real value, to make products such that people were ready to pay for the effort, the thinking that went into making them, where they didn’t have to haggle for five rupees.” Kaaru now works with 15 clusters of artisans, reaching out to over 400 practioners of indigenous craft forms from all corners of the country like the sanjhi paper-cutting and stone-inlay of Agra, Mysore wood inlay, patachitra, mandla and madhubani painting, the bell metal and stone craft of Bastar and Kontillo, tarkashi, wood and stone carving.
Many of these art-forms have been used in the Petro IT interiors, seamlessly flowing into each other in a way that is at once Indian and international, while also fulfilling all the functional requirements of a modern office.
Two spaces â€” the conference room, leading out from the lobby on the ground floor, and the second floor, which houses the offices of the senior management â€” are the most distinctive in the 24,000 sqft area. They are also illustrative of Kaaru’s eye for detail and the way it meshes surface ornamentation, with regard to colour, texture and material, with a sophisticated and imaginative approach to space and how it can be ordered.
A mandla painting in bright, primary colours framed in irregular planks of wood adorns the outer door of the conference room. (This brings us to another of the cardinal precepts of Kaaru’s founders: “a consciousness of source”. In practice, it translates into working around the “natural” flaws of pieces of wood or stone â€” a hole here, an awkward angle or curve there â€” artfully shaping them into a sofa arm or a length of bench, loving polished to highlight the grains of the material.
Naturally, no two Kaaru products are alike.) Inside, the conference room is a symphony of wood â€” the laminated oak of the floor merging into the cork-covered walls; a large worktable in jointed strips of wood with a strip of darker wood skirting and a narrow line of patachitra around the metal wiring flaps at the centre; the lights made of two layers of planks of wood, the lower, smaller one fitted with an uplighter illuminating the bands of different coloured wood inlaid with trees, leaves and whorls in the upper, bigger layer.
There are two long floor to ceiling panels of wood with peepal leaf inlay in wood, a motif repeated again in the etching on the glass that functions as a writing board and the sanjhi paper-cutting that lines the wall above the door.
Upstairs, the peepal-leaf looks even more dramatic â€” a large-single flowing outline in white marble contrasting with the yellow Jaisalmer stone. Dramatic, yes, but in a subtle kind of way are also the large tarkashi panels on the ceiling, the huge dome-like chandelier in beaten copper with hints of green, the burnt wood wall panels representing animals, trees and other motifs from nature.
As much care and attention seems to have gone into the smaller bits, the less frequented areas as the more public, ceremonial ones â€” the round stone tray on the reception desk with a laminated lotus leaf, the jute and other natural fibre pin-up boards in the work-stations, the drawer handles which are little halves of hollowed logs, or the partition made of two sheets of acrylic fixed together with screws and stuffed with dried leaves and little white pebbles.
Every space, says Wakankar, has a character of its own and a good design is one that helps to realise that. By that yardstick, Kaaru has more than succeeded.