An eye for detail and boundless creativity define the work of reD's Apoorva Shroff, Maithili Raut, Rajiv Parekh and Ekta Parekh, even as they continue to examine and tweak their approach to create even better projects
Although the moniker has a deeper meaning, the colour association is obvious – and not a bad connection to make either. After all, while reD stands for Research & Enquiry into Design, the practice as well as the four partners that helm it, symbolise all the great qualities of the colour red. Passion, energy and adventure certainly reign supreme when it comes to the work that this young studio carries out, but – above all else – there is a powerful force that seems to drive them forward, propelling them to question, analyse and innovate with each new project they create. At a time when cookie-cutter designs are becoming the norm, this is undoubtedly a welcome approach to architecture and its connected disciplines.
And reD certainly indulge in the whole gamut – from product design to interior design in addition to architectural and urban design, making their practice a truly multidisciplinary one. Despite this, the process for and approach towards each of the above is equally rigorous and comprehensive, a sentiment that all four partners at reD share.
“We have strived hard as a practice to not get slotted in a specific niche and believe ourselves to be pure designers – not limited by typology or scale,” says Rajiv Parekh, partner, reD. He co-founded the firm in 2004 with his wife Ekta, who is also a partner at the firm and an alumna of Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute of Architecture and Environmental Studies (KRVIA), just like Rajiv. The duo followed their undergraduate degrees with postgraduate degree courses in the USA. While Ekta chose the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, majoring in theory and design; on the other hand, Rajiv picked Pratt Institute, New York, to study architecture. The pair returned to India and set up the practice with an aim to create a purpose and process-oriented international benchmark for contemporary architecture and design.
Subsequently, they were joined by Apoorva Shroff in 2006 and Maithili Raut in 2011, both of whom are partners at the firm and bring a unique perspective to the multifaceted practice. In fact, the foursome pride themselves on being able to design anything from the most miniscule hinge – which would play a pivotal role in the way a project feature functions, to setting out the master plan for a 100-acre educational campus, all with the same zeal and attention to detail.
RED-Y TO ROLL
In fact, Rajiv and Ekta’s first independently-handled project was a 110 sq-ft bathroom in Chembur, Mumbai. “Of course, since we had a free hand and the implicit trust of our client, we went all out to do all the things we had imagined, blurring the larger picture of it being just a bathroom and not the master plan for a city! Needless to say we learnt that restraint is a quality worth honing,” Ekta recalls fondly.
As far as lessons learnt go, it was Raut’s maiden project – the interior design of a small clothing store, which she worked on with good friend Shefali Balwani of Architecture BRIO – that taught her the importance of design collaboration with someone whom you have a synergy with. “So many years later, our long-standing practice at reD is a testament to this as well,” professes the alumna of CEPT University, Ahmedabad, and Columbia University, USA – where she studied architecture and urban design.
For Shroff, who completed her undergraduate studies at KRVIA and went on to earn a postgraduate degree from the University of California, Los Angeles, USA, it was her own home project that constituted her initial big break. She states: “It was challenging for there was no client to hide behind. To this date, I marvel at the multiple decisions I took despite my complete lack of experience and, 10 years later, the fact that I’m still proud of it, makes it memorable for me.”
Despite the varied ways in which they kick-started their design journeys, and the unique personalities – their own distinctive cabins reflect this best – and perspectives they bring to the table, this foursome has tons in common. Besides their enviable educational backgrounds, each of them has benefitted from an international exposure to architecture & design through their stints in the USA (all four) & France (Ekta & Raut), something that also became a fine starting point for the young architects.
TAKING OFF ON A RED-EYE
Of course, there has been no looking back since, with hard work and sleepless nights paying off as the practice has made a name for itself. Obviously, the field of design has changed dramatically – in many ways – during this time. “Whether it is having a more aware client today, or the influence of travel and social media in bringing the world much closer, or even the sheer number of trade fairs and art exhibits that everyone has access to, the general awareness among people has risen,” acknowledges Raut, who admiresRenzo Piano’s projects for “offering an incredibly sensitive response to the context that they are placed in”, and has even had the good fortune of collaborating with his office in the past.
Keeping in mind the need to stay ahead of the curve, how architectural practices are run has evolved too. “Designers are working more in collaborations both within and across professions and that surely enriches the practice. We are working with lighting companies and rug makers to launch a new series of products for them, something that we would not have imagined doing earlier. It allows us to change the scale of things we work on and get a better understanding of that aspect of our field, while it lets the product manufacturers gain a fresh approach at designing a product,” explains Shroff, who admits to hero-worshipping the late Zaha Hadid for her use of clean lines and iconic structures, and also for being the trailblazer that she was.
As is intrinsic to their practice, reD never shies away from freshness. Of late, they have been quite fixated with the idea of 3D printing in concrete. While the material is not new, the technology associated with its use, surely is. It exists in the country, but on a very small scale, and usually for building products alone. “We have been trying to find resources to be able to print buildings in concrete. It does exist elsewhere in the world; the technology needs to find a way into our construction system. It will be a far more sustainable way to build in concrete, simply by the calculated and responsible use of the bare minimal material required for construction,” observes Ekta, who is a fan of the American interdisciplinary design studio Diller Scofido + Renfro for being able to integrate architecture, visual arts and the performing arts.
Having said that, the foursome is equally passionate about revisiting old materials and putting them to good use. Rammed earth is a favourite. As Rajiv puts it: “It exists at the beginning of every new architectural construction site and what better way to adapt, repurpose and reuse.” He is personally inspired by Rem Koolhaas, whose lesson that “collaborations in the studio should be a constant way of exploration” have stayed with Rajiv and become an inherent part of reD’s practice.
As a matter of fact, the common factor in both the above approaches to use of material is the enriching dialogue that never dries up at their office. To that end, the brand reD is all about a creative process involving stimulating discussions resulting in innovative designs. “We think of ourselves as designers who are constantly indulging in critically evaluating our own work and drawing inspiration from parallel creative fields to stay aesthetically motivated and challenged, to exceed client expectations as well as our own,” Shroff states.
RISE UP, STAY GROUNDED
Despite its many successes, the practice is still very much rooted in research and innovation that are aimed towards the goal of serving a purpose – often a higher purpose. “Architecture has the ability to influence the way we live, work, educate ourselves, entertain or even get treated medically. It clearly has a bearing on our lifestyles, and we must consider it our responsibility to build with empathy,” says Ekta.
The studio is currently designing an extension to the existing building for street children in Byculla, Mumbai. It is a place that shelters 250 street kids – feeds them, educates them, looks after their medical needs and even gives them a vocation when a little older. It used to be able to house only 25 children on its premises due to space constraints, but now it will be able to accommodate at least 100. A small, yet meaningful, step towards making a difference to the lives of these deserving youngsters.
Even within their own the studio, the four partners nurture young talent, ensuring that they maintain a collaborative, equal platform. The camaraderie is almost palpable in the workplace, where the team like to refer to themselves as ‘TeamreD’ or ‘The reDs’. “While we do come with the experience of being in the field longer, that is just a part of one’s growth as a designer. Some of the younger talent has the software skills and expertise we would only hope to acquire," points out Raut. "Also, students that are fresh out of school are not jaded with real world problems, and hence have the ability to dream – which is required for every designer,” adds Rajiv, further stating that they often have students from various colleges across the globe coming by the studio to shadow some of the partners, and the resultant growth is always mutual in different aspects.
Ask them how they wish to be remembered, and the foursome has a unanimous reply: “A well synced collaborative practice, which gave equal opportunity within the studio to be your own person and never tired of experimenting and innovating while remembering to have fun!” Seems like a tough ask, and yet this appears to be exactly the legacy reD will leave behind.
WORK BY THE BAY
This 9,000 sq-ft office space enjoys the luxury of being spread over indoors and outdoors in generous proportions. Owing to the fact that this was the last floor of the office tower, with vast sea views from various vantage points, the barren closed shell was broken down to heighten the experience of the expanse.
Since the office covers the entire top floor, once you step out of the elevators you are greeted by a signage wall of the company with a large sculpture – designed by Seema Kohli – from the Elephant Parade. This is flanked on either side with small meeting rooms comprising different kinds of seating formats in order to host meetings of varied types.
Running along the periphery of the indoor space are cabins enveloped in glass to ensure natural light filters right into the belly of the space. The central working core also has a lush green landscaped area to reflect the indoor/ outdoor feel that the cabins experience.
A homogenous colour palette is maintained throughout the office with a neutral dark grey carpet on the floor and a single type of veneer for all spaces. Accents are brought in by way of art to add pops of colour and flair to the entire space. Customisation has been carried out right from decorative light fittings in certain strategic locations to the kind of door handles used on certain keys doors, which are sure to draw one’s attention.
One the most skilful innovations have been to hide the HVAC system completely, so that you have no sense of where and how they are placed. The indoor AC units are hidden on the terrace by building a cover over them and above the window line, thus making an overall running canopy feature that flanks the terrace on all sides. This affords a dual advantage – it prevents rainwater from lashing in, through the floor-to-ceiling, openable glass windows and it also keeps the serviceable parts of the AC system outdoors – for ease of service, even when the office is fully functional. Additionally, wooden louvred shutters are provided outside the windows, to maintain shade as required during harsh times of the day. The wood adds warmth to the space, unlike traditionally-used roller blinds. These shutters, though, have been engineered to lift off the floor completely on a ceiling pivot, thus forming a sort of roofing system over parts of the outdoor furniture.
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM
This 3,100 sq-ft apartment spreads itself over two floors, efficiently segregating the private functions from the public functions. The entrance at the lower level leads you into a double height space, where the dining area is positioned along with a pantry-style open kitchen, an ode to the homemaker’s love of cooking. A granite floor is used throughout the lower floor to maintain homogeneity of material, but it has been treated with four different textures to add some dynamism to the space. Set against this neutral base, a bevy of different wallpapers are used across the walls and ceiling to add pops of colour and frolic to the space.
In contrast, the upper floor has three bedrooms and a walk-in wardrobe. Each bedroom possesses a different ceramic tile floor and varied wall treatments that make every individual space characteristic of its end user.
THE OCCIDENTAL HOUSE
Panoramic views envelope the apartment, offering an untiring blend of vibrant cityscapes and the vast endless ocean. The project’s Indian context is defined by a landmark heritage structure of the blue dome mosque, which dominates some of the most critical views.
The apartment was originally a five-bedroom space that was converted into a three-bedroom home with a den and study. The liberty of this spatial decision along with the 14’ high ceiling make for an even larger depth of plane.
The use of a variety of motorised, sliding, electronic and foldable partitions, transform the spatial experience. A Privilite glass separates one of the guest rooms from the bathroom, where – at the flick of a switch – the glass changes from opaque to transparent, allowing the spaces to unite. The placement of the bar at the edge of the den – bordering the living room balcony, makes watching the sunset while you sip your martini, simply breathtaking. This has been facilitated by a motorised rolling shutter, allowing the bar to be a true indoor-outdoor experience. The intensity of detail has followed through into the kitchen as well, transforming the utilitarian nature of the space into a dramatic experience. The open format kitchen can be made completely private by a remote-controlled back-painted glass partition that slides down from the overhead cabinetry so effortlessly that it seems to have been stowed away in the ceiling.
Not to mention, the house is completely automated, right from its lighting control, curtain control and entertainment system to the drip irrigation for the outdoor plants, all of which can be accessed from a mobile touch screen panel.
PREAMBLE - 2 WAYS
Much has been said about the socio-political environment – both in the country and globally. And although one is ever eager to judge the situation we’re in, reD felt it might be a good time for some introspection.
We all studied the preamble to the Constitution back in school. It had some pretty significant and salient aspects to it, which might be beneficial to abide by. Though one doesn’t need to agree in totality with what has been said, the intent can be distilled and imbibed into our interactions with people around us. This, hopefully, can trigger a chain reaction or even just remind us of the people we had sought out to be.
The best way to have something etched in your memory is through repetition. Sometimes, the menial act of physically writing (as seldom as it may happen) something over and over again ingrains it into our conscious and subconscious selves.
Hence, reD hoped that the preamble, if written repeatedly, would help us learn and imbibe its values.
However, being present day practitioners of design, there is a certain ease of access to the many tools of modern living – hence, a hand written note is unequivocally replaced by a gadget. Also, in keeping with the modern day methodology of construction, the team intended to use a 3D printer to simply pour out and trace over a computer-generated template, in concrete. Each time the preamble is written, it is allowed to dry, before the entire process is repeated over it again and again, to gain the desired height – sort of like a child being made to practice pattern writing.
In order to make the experience shared and interactive, the team’s intent was to have the machine made platform on display and, over the course of the exhibition days, have visitors to the gallery write out the same preamble over a template, by using fast setting concrete-filled cones. Each visitor would write to his or her capacity – a word, a sentence or a paragraph. Owing to various strength capacities of the individual, the amount of concrete that gets pushed out of the cone would vary and hence cause a certain organic development of the table.
This is reD’s democratic attempt at building the preamble platform as a group – coming together to make a difference.
An old, dilapidated, once thriving garment warehouse, was chanced upon during the reD team’s local scouts for spaces to repurpose. This 5,000 sq-ft abandoned structure seemed most appropriate to build their own studio.
In essence, the raw beauty of the space was maintained along with existing features like the timber ceiling and mild steel columns. However, due to the cavernous nature of the existing space and the abundance of existing natural light around, both the peripheral walls were opened up using mild steel to build arches, in keeping with the character of the space. Furthermore, the asbestos roof was removed in two areas to make room for an internal courtyard that acted as a lantern light for the studio.
The plan was developed as an open format office, with the main workstations being reduced to mild steel cross sections supporting glass table tops. Three conference rooms opened up into this space and were merely screened off with notional partitions made of oversized, stretched rubber bands and multicoloured darned yarn in old wood frames. The four cabins for the four partners were walled off merely with glass partitions, having the language of the mild steel arches or painted wooden mouldings stuck on their surface, as a tribute to the elements of the past. Each of the cabins was individually designed, reflecting the specific personality of the person occupying it. To maintain homogeneity in the space, a neutral coloured poured floor – made of an epoxy concrete compound – was used. The walls were also painted in the same tone, so that the bare shell could be used as a backdrop to the vibrant design elements that were constantly added or removed to keep the nature of the space perpetually intriguing.
A SPANISH HACIENDA
Creating a Spanish Hacienda, amidst the densely wooded site in Agarsure, Alibaug, was the client’s brief when he approached reD with this project. The house has since evolved into a series of sloping cowl-tiled roofs housing semi-private, semi-open spaces that attach themselves to each other sequentially, and are adorned with vaulted ceilings, exposed brick roofs, as well as panelled doors and windows. Ornate wrought iron grills form the gateways for vistas into the internal courts and external landscaped grounds. Polished and river-washed stones form the flooring in the public spaces, while different coloured IPS is used in the bedrooms and bathrooms to create a homogeneity of the floors and walls.
The house spreads over 12,000 sq-ft and two floors – the ground and the first. It is built around a central courtyard. The living room flanks one side of this courtyard, while the dining area and the kitchen are on the other side. Beyond the living room is the swimming pool with a large outdoor deck. At the back of the house, on the ground floor, lie two guest rooms. A flight of stairs in this part of the house takes one up to the mezzanine, where there is a cosy library, with a black-and-white chequered floor that is strewn with beanbags. The first floors houses the master bedroom, kids’ room and another guest room. There is an open verandah connecting these spaces and overlooking the central courtyard, leading to a 'machan space', which is where a large part of the family’s causal interaction occurs.
A HOME IN THE CLOUDS
The site is located on the outskirts of bustling Mumbai, in the quiet of the Sahyadri hills. The sweeping views of the Western Ghats – in almost any direction – are the highlight of this otherwise simple parcel of land. As a result, the capturing and framing of this picturesque landscape was the primary inspiration behind the architecture.
The rubrics of the various levels of the house are derived from the natural terracing of the land. The arrival is planned at the highest level under a large canopy that almost acts as a wing framing the first glimpse of this house in the clouds. The entrance view is that of a floating lotus pod that breathes in a degree of freshness upon entering, after a long drive out of the city.
Each of the three main intersecting blocks house individual functions – living spaces, entertainment and private bedroom spaces. The intersection of these blocks results in interstitial spaces of varied scales that then form courtyards, which may be habitable or form vantage points. The pool, although heated, has been planned as an indoor/ outdoor one to optimise its use in different weather conditions.
Two parallel concrete walls act as the main axis, cutting across the house and seamlessly connecting the three intersecting blocks.
The circulation works in a way that as you move through the house, you feel as though the house moves with you.
Materials have been strategically planned for the various blocks – glass and steel are reserved for the public areas and slate stone for the private ones, both of which get anchored into the concrete spine, thus tying together the entire space.
Cardinal One is a 22-storey residential tower in Bengaluru. It has 120 apartments split into three wings, two basements with parking for over 250 cars, and amenity spaces of almost 30,000 sq-ft.
The building is surrounded by an 8 m wide driveway and vehicular movement is planned in one direction. Additionally, since the building is split into three wings, drop offs are on three different sides. The driveway is treated as an extension of the landscape to eliminate the feel of a traditional roadway, and is further surrounded by an 8 m wide green space and seating areas interspersed within the trees to create an idyllic setting far removed from the frenetic pace of the city outside of the compound walls.
The ground floor has two large banquet spaces, separated and connected by a large lawn and dedicated drop offs for visitors. Towards the centre is a large outdoor café. These spaces are planned to allow maximum flexibility and can be used in various combinations based on the size of the function.
The spaces around the inner side of the courtyard are dedicated to more private activities. One side caters to younger residents. This includes a crèche and play area for smaller children, and a games room, library and theatre for young adults.
On the other side, a gym, Zen garden, meditation lounge and spa rooms cater to the wellness of the older residents.
Apart from these spaces, the ground floor contains three dedicated lobbies for the three towers. These are access-controlled to ensure that residents and their visitors can only access their own apartments on the upper floors.
The living spaces and bedrooms are all planned with windows on both sides, ensuring cross ventilation.
The architects also managed to remove columns and beams from the inside of the homes and keep them at the periphery to allow for maximum flexibility for the end user. The plumbing is all under slung, for ease of maintenance and also to eliminate the need for a traditional sunken slab, further enhancing this flexibility.
Finally, the terrace is also planned as a public space. A third features the pool deck with a large heated pool for adults and a smaller heated pool for children and dedicated changing rooms. The rest of the terrace is treated as a lawn with some built in seating and landscaping along the periphery, ensuring a varied use of these spaces in good weather.