The Design Trinity
With a wide array of projects under their belts, Kanhai Gandhi, Shresht Kashyap and Neemesh Shah of KNS Architects are fulfilling the objective that they began their practice with – creating contextual, artistic and bespoke design solutions
The year was 1996; three college friends came together to commence a business venture for the manufacture and retail of hand-made ceramic tiles. It was around the same time that the trio of architects also got an opportunity to work on a massive architecture project that was to represent ‘a walk through Indian history’, for which they conducted a detailed study on the history of Indian architecture and all its eras. While the project itself did not take off, it led to the formation of an architecture and interior design firm – KNS Architects, which was officially launched in 1997.
Named after its founders, the firm has – since inception – carried out an extensive spectrum of design projects. These range from master planning to hospitality and retail, as well as residential to commercial, and are located across India and overseas – in the United Kingdom, Singapore and now the USA. Over the years, they have worked on bungalows, second home schemes, high-end apartments, commercial interiors, restaurants, clubhouses and showrooms. Yet, in all this time, the firm has never limited itself to a design philosophy or approach, probably why they have survived and shone in this competitive industry.
“We are constantly working on new ideas and out-of-the-box concepts, as well as exploring different materials. We do not have a signature style, and that gives us the freedom to create and innovate,” states Neemesh Shah, co-founder & principal architect, KNS Architects.
Shresht Kashyap, also co-founder & principal architect at the firm, adds that their practice lays special emphasis on “creating a personality for the site,” an endeavour they strive to achieve with each and every project they undertake.
“For us, the site context plays a major role in defining the design of a building or a space. All our designs are contextual. We even have a theory based on it – ‘my space, your space and our space’, wherein, ‘my space’ refers to the architect’s perception, ‘your space’ refers to the client’s outlook, which eventually becomes ‘our space’, since the final output of the project is the amalgamation of the designer’s perception and the client’s outlook. Our belief is that all these elements cohesively engender the design of a space. We, per se, don’t believe in limiting ourselves to a design style. That’s how we tend to do a lot of diverse work,” confesses Kanhai Gandhi, the third pillar of the triad and co-founder & principal architect at the firm.
Interestingly, all three founders chanced upon architecture, never really deliberately intending to pursue it as a profession. While Kashyap hailed from a creatively-inclined family, he was personally more inclined towards sports. However, when his best friend mentioned that he was planning to be an architect, it piqued a young Kashyap’s interest, leading to an exploration of architecture as a subject and the realisation that an architect’s imagination translated simple lines on paper to physical structures. He was attracted to the idea that spaces thus designed would exist for people to see and interact with, and he was convinced!
At the start, it wasn’t all smooth sailing though, as he was still not completely inclined towards architecture. “My professor once called me a visiting student. Then, in the third year, while doing an ‘eski’ – an assignment you are given at the beginning of the day for which you must submit the entire design with all relevant drawings by end of day, the same professor saw my work and remarked that if I can work like that, then why am I wasting my time. That’s when I got serious and started working towards learning what architecture truly was,” he says about his wake-up call. Kashyap was ultimately rewarded for his hard work when, many years later, the very same professor was so impressed with a project he saw that he asked who its designer was, and upon realising that it was his former student, he was extremely happy and proud, which served as a great source of motivation for the young designer.
For Gandhi, whose family had a business background and consisted of consulting chartered accountants, the decision to pick science as a stream over commerce was a monumental one. At the same time, he had always been curious about the history of art, architecture and culture, and how it influenced the evolution of mankind. Also, his teachers saw his natural ability to innovate and create, encouraging him to pursue art and crafts. Finally, Gandhi opted for science, drawn by its ability to answer the unknown and offer logical solutions for the same. During his junior college days, this curiosity about how structures were built and their impact on society, led him to take up architecture and design as his chosen career. “I believe that architecture and design have a lot to do with common sense and one’s observations. They require a lot of self-learning, something that I have strived to inculcate within myself,” admits Gandhi.
Shah too had never harboured any dreams of becoming an architect, despite the fact that his father belonged to a creative field. He was contemplating his career options, when a friend suggested that he check out an architecture college and take the entrance exam. It was during that visit that he observed the other students’ work and was left inspired. Realising that design too is a form of expression and a language in itself – with every structure depicting something, his mind was made up to study architecture, and the learning curve has continued since. “It’s a never-ending journey; as a designer, there’s always more to learn. There’s so much to absorb in every project, right from designing to completion,” Shah feels.
Three Wise Men
In fact, despite their long innings and vast experience, the trio still consider themselves to be students of architecture – a prudent attitude indeed. Antoni Gaudi is a mutual role model, admired for his free-flowing forms, imagination and creativity, supported with thorough engineering prowess, as well as for the vast repertoire of work he created. In fact, Gaudi’s fluid forms resonate across myriad KNS projects, making them a real treat to behold.
Among Gaudi’s projects, Kashyap considers the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona his muse, inspired by its detailing, engineering, and – most of all – expression of the architect’s creativity and imagination. Having studied the methodology of how the dome for the Sagrada Familia was perceived and constructed using mirrors and pendulums – no doubt an impressive feat at a time when its makers didn’t have the computer software to assist in realising their vision, Gandhi too became a fan of the iconic structure. For Shah, it is Gaudi’s Casa Mila and Zaha Hadid’s Guangzhou Opera House that have always been favourites, both for their graceful forms.
Speaking of flowing forms, Kashyap observes: “We can let our creativity flow limitlessly; the only restriction it has is in its translation and implementation, which science takes care of. Hence, both have to work hand in hand.”
Gandhi thinks that architecture is a delicate balance between science and art, stating that: “To augment and translate intangible creativity into a tangible, functional design is the balance between the two.”
“While designing there are a lot of factors which need to be considered, for e.g. location, climate, wind pressure, etc. Science helps in implementing the design,” adds Shah.
A Fine Balance
“If we look back in time, we see how architecture has evolved from the Indus Valley civilisation to the temples of the south to Mughal architecture; the technology was so advanced. Those structures have stood the test of time – aesthetically as well as technically,” Kashyap points out.
In that sense, we reside in an exciting time with the advent of technology empowering architects to create all sorts of magic with their designs. The three architects are particularly fascinated by prefabrication methods and digital printing technology, suggesting that their use offers a combination of sustainability and upcycling choices, making it a great way forward.
Shah further states that designers have evolved in the past few decades. “Technology, travel and awareness play a very important role. People are more open-minded now and are ready to explore; they are ready to accept and appreciate designs that have never been implemented. It’s a constant learning process and it’s only getting better with time,” he opines.
Positive change is certainly here to stay, and Gandhi welcomes it, saying: “Even after 40-50 years of independence, the architecture industry in India was not moving. There was a regression in the overall design quality, where we were just aping the west. However, now we can see architects – as a community – becoming more responsible and responsive when it comes to protecting the climatic and cultural essence of the places where their designs will be executed.”
In this regard, KNS understands that materials and concepts have a strong correlation. For instance, one such material of their preference is wood. At KNS’ 30,000 sq-ft villa project in Washington, the five-acre plot is surrounded on all sides by conifer trees. It’s a modern contemporary residence, built as a composite structure of steel and wood. Of course, wood was picked for its sustainable, biophilic and contextual qualities. Similarly, for the Modi Yoga Retreat, a wellness retreat on the banks of the Ganges river in Rishikesh, the colour palette was inspired by the natural surroundings. Wood has been incorporated along with glass, lending the space a modern touch within its natural setting.
Whether it is marrying science with art or merging old and contemporary, KNS Architects strike just the right chord. As a matter of fact, their dream project – Urban Forest – is a perfect melange of technology and sustainability. A conceptual project designed to represent the future of commercial spaces, this office building has been visualised as a kalpavriksha – a living tree that is significant in Indian mythology. People can live on it and off it. Adding to this, another concept that KNS wished to incorporate in the design was that the human mind always wants to do what it cannot do, such as fly. Therefore, they imagined the work pods as fruits of a tree – hanging atop the structure; from here, you can look at the sky, get a feeling of being on top, and also gaze down at the ground as if you are suspended in air. A delightful idea that would catch the fancy of many if it came to fruition.
While only time will tell if and when this concept takes shape as a reality of our times; in the meantime, KNS Architects’ three musketeers continue to champion the cause of contextual architecture and design with their unique brand of creative thinking. After all, this is in keeping with their greatest wish: to be remembered as architects who respected the site’s context and produced designs that are a reflection of that context rather than the firm’s imprint. And, truth be told, such selfless design is bound to leave its own print!
This sprawling apartment forms a show flat in an upcoming luxury tower that is situated in the western suburbs of Mumbai. The orientation of the apartment was such that it was open on three sides with great panoramic views. Also, the apartment had to be designed keeping in the mind the clientele it would cater to. KNS Architects and HBA Singapore came together to design the space, championing the colour gold in their design.
The idea was to design a project that was spacious, luxurious, glamorous, bespoke, detailed and breathtaking to look at. “To create a home that can be expressed as nothing less than an inviting and dream-like space” is how they describe it.
Exquisite materials and forms are amalgamated to form a mystical, flawless and timeless space. The neutral scheme blends with the views and surroundings, while the carefully selected fabrics, textures, colours and materials bring warmth, style, panache and a definite design statement to the space. Decks – being the main connect between the interiors and exteriors – have been treated as a perfect space to unwind with one’s family, friends and loved ones while enjoying the breathtaking view that is on offer.
Located in an urban zone with other villas abutting the site, the plot was a barren piece of land with no immediate views. Therefore, the concept embraced by KNS Architects was to create an ‘urban oasis’ within this dry and arid piece of land with internal view sheds.
Clean lines and angled geometry dictates the design for this 1,500 sq-m villa. The architectural vocabulary integrates the principles of modernism with traditional responses to the local geography and climate. The design envisages the top floor as a floating white mass with an interplay of scooped hollows. In order to infuse movement and dynamism into the structure, angular planes were introduced in both the horizontal and vertical dimensions. At some places, this profile flows forward and lifts up to create sharp angles along certain façades, while it also flows down extending to form the linear lines of the landscaped flower beds.
In response to the harsh climatic conditions, a number of passive design principles were adopted. Double walling on the first level helps insulate against the harsh summers and cold winters, while offering weather protection for the glazed openings. Additionally, the first floor is cantilevered outward, thus providing a weather shade for the ground level. Maximum glazing has been introduced along the north façade, while the south and west faces have been kept impenetrable.
The house was positioned at the southern end of the plot, away from the entry, giving enough depth to perceive the structure. This also doubles as a grand entrance with manicured lawns leading to the entrance porch.
The habitable spaces are planned around a central courtyard, enabling cross ventilation across maximum rooms. A shallow water body, which wraps along one side, helps cool the cross breeze, thus lowering the ambient temperature and creating a comfortable microclimate.
Landscape was a key element considered while designing. It has been used to define direction as well as connect the landscape with the built structure. Strategic placement of trees along the fringe of the double height spaces enable sun shading and cooling, while a thick plantation along the periphery of the plot helps to provide privacy from neighbours.
The material palette was chosen to complement and add to the elegant, clean lines of the structure. Wood cladding was used to bring warmth to the ground level and white paint finish to lend a lightness to the first level. The interiors have been kept simple, uncluttered and minimalistic, being designed in a homogenous colour scheme.
Amalgamation of styles
A family-run firm that had been in the industry for over two decades was changing hands from the father to the son. Carrying forward the firm’s values, the new head wanted a modern workspace that reflects the current directions of the organisation.
Located in a busy and congested area of Mumbai – Fort, the building is a heritage structure surrounded by similar construction on three sides with the adjoining structures being less than 5 ft apart from one another. The internal spaces lacked light, which resulted in a less motivated atmosphere for its employees.
The design concept revolves around an amalgamation of styles, i.e. heritage with modern – a merging of two generations of the company hierarchy. First, the colonial look of the structure was restored. Wooden louvres were added in the façade design to enhance the fenestration. Keeping the external skin intact, the internal structure was broken down to create a work environment that was stimulating and inspiring to work in, and where interaction and collaboration were valued. Sandwiched between other buildings, skylights and voids were introduced in various areas to bring in nature and daylight as well as to create a better visual connect.
A cut-out in the first floor slab has been created for a double height entrance space. This not only helps ample daylight flood in, but also creates an impactful arrival point for visitors. The blend of heritage with modern is reflected in the reception area, where the play of light and shadow adds an interesting visual dimension to the space. Another void created in the staircase shaft is partially filled with an interconnecting art form, which enhances the visual connect within floors.
The interior scheme chosen is young, energetic and artistic. Bold colours such as blue, red, orange and yellow fill the interior spaces with an atmosphere filled with liveliness.
An important architectural element from the façade of the structure – the colonial arches – has been used inside the boardroom to create a sense of marrying old with new. It emphasises how the two styles of design have been amalgamated, while the essence of art has been carried through.
A skylight – along with a courtyard – was planned on the top floor to flush the interiors with a soft glow of natural light. An open-to-sky courtyard helps to seamlessly connect the indoors with the outdoors, keeping the environment fresh for its inhabitants.
An additional floor was a requirement, which was made as a glass enclosure so that it does not interfere with the overall essence of the existing architecture. This houses the lounge area, which opens out onto the terrace. This place is a breakout zone for its employees and an entertainment area for the company’s clients.
The clients’ passion for art combined with KNS Architects’ love for it, made art an integral part of the design. A mural designed at the entrance integrates the double volume space. The design is derived from the company’s other business. In addition, a world map in metal placed beside the reception showcases the client’s global network and presence. The ‘virtual tree’ artwork runs through the staircase, depicting continuity and symbolising ‘growth and binding’, whereas the mural on the fourth floor denotes the mission of the company: ‘Emerging – Stabilising – Reaching for the sky’.
Overall, the design is a perfect amalgamation and representation of the company’s legacy and its contemporary outlook, while an infusion of art also makes the office a refreshing space for its employees to operate in.
Back in 2005, KNS Architects had designed this very same space; however, at that point in time, the clients’ company was relatively new and had just ventured into the development and construction vertical. At the time, the space was conceived as a contemporary, bright, open office space, one that reflected the ethos of competency, strength to deliver and timely completion of projects.
For its revamp, after a gap of almost 15 years, the same space had to be redefined. Given that the company is now an established one and functions in different genres of development like luxurious residential properties, hospitality projects and more, KNS Architects had a task at hand.
They treated the space like a blank canvas and approached it with a new perspective in order to define its current status. The primary idea was to fashion a space full of warmth and assign designated areas, rather than retain the earlier open format, with a touch of glamour and elegant comfort added to the mix.
As a result, the workspace was designed like a luxurious residence – one that would emanate a feeling of home at work, thus redefining the traditional look of an office space. Key aspects considered to achieve this outcome were: the right balance between the colour palette, the materials, the lighting and the soft furnishings, as well as emphasising the form at the right places.
At the entrance, the double clear glass doors, framed with shimmering golden metal sheets, reflect transparency and luxury at the same time. A dark brown, Armani bronze marble covers the entrance area, flowing into the reception and waiting spaces, accentuated by wide brass inlays defining the transition from the lobby into the reception, and complemented by a fluid ceiling. The reception table is perceived as an organic fluid form complementing the entrance ceiling, finished with copper-finished PU coating, depicting luxury with a modern twist. The waiting area is divided into two seating zones, while a nice console with a leafy brass-finished chandelier adds to the drama. The colours – chosen intentionally – are hues of peach, lending a sense of softness and a degree of warmth to the space.
Another twin door in a similar finish divides the main office and the reception area, a feature included primarily for security reasons. As you transit from the reception – through these doors, a linear passage with a wenge-finished wooden floor separates a semi-enclosed staff area on one side and a massive boardroom on the other.
Shades of brown and mushroom add to the warmth, whilst also creating a great work atmosphere. Moving further along, the passage opens up to a massive square, which acts like a courtyard, with light filtering through the skylight in the ceiling. This space is kept open and uncluttered. The main areas are complemented with art, artefacts and shimmering consoles. The courtyard leads to the various cabins, a lounge, the director’s cabin and the chairman’s chamber.
The lounge sports an elegant and cosy look with the walls finished in a shimmering peach wallpaper and a well-curated white sofa serving as a comfortable resting spot. The cabins meant for the director and the business development function, follow a similar language as the rest of the office, with the furniture in the director’s cabin coming from the Italian brand Giorgetti. The chairman’s expansive cabin is close to 2,000 sq-ft in size, with the huge glazing on its two sides reflecting the skyline of the city. All four zones – a formal table, a lounge, a private conference room and a tucked-away dining area – are clearly defined and none of them intermingle or interfere with one another. Well curated furniture from Italian brands and bespoke pieces feature in these zones. One wall displays a collage of completed projects by the developer, while another sees the use of leather panels with brass inlays.
The luxurious penthouse utilises a darker colour palette with a touch of gold. A homogenous colour scheme has been incorporated, wherein a single shade is repeated throughout the expansive apartment, with splashes of colour coming in the form of upholstery in hues such as burgundy, orange and red. Emphasis on gold and brass helps to highlight details and add opulence.
As soon as visitors land on the 10th floor, the lift lobby greets them with its customised 12’ long chandelier. A bold, black double door welcomes one into the lobby with its patterned marble flooring, wallpapered ceiling and, of course, elegant chandelier. A hand-painted Radha Krishna depiction on canvas forms a partition, lending privacy to the dining area behind it.
Through the cut-off lobby, one walks into the double height, contemporary living room on the right. Here, the veneer panelling camouflages the door to the daughter’s suite, which comprises a walk-in wardrobe along the length of the bedroom and bathroom. The kitchen and mandir are adjacent to it. On the other side lies the entry to the powder room. A small, transitional space takes one to the master suite, which comprises a den room and the master bedroom along with a walk-in and bathroom.
On the left-hand side of the main door is a small sitting area and an entertainment zone, from where one can take a flight of stairs up to the family room. Along with the family room, the top level houses the son’s suite with his home theatre, bathroom and bedroom, a guest bedroom, an outdoor terrace, a massage room and a gym. The entertainment area is treated as a casual hangout space, hence the interiors of the same are rustic and unfinished as compared to the finished and opulent interiors of the rest of the home.
Modi Yoga Retreat
Situated in the spiritual town of Rishikesh, the site overlooks the picturesque landscape of the Rishikesh Valley with the River Ganges at a stone’s throw distance. These majestic environs made for the perfect backdrop for this hotel. Keeping the location and its splendour in mind, KNS Architects thought to create a space that blends with its surroundings rather than one that stands out. The idea was for visitors to experience nature and its beauty, letting the serenity of the environment work its magic to create an unforgettable wellness experience.
Keeping this in mind, the façade of the hotel is designed as a mural with an undulating form – a wave – meant to echo the flow of the river. The exterior of the hotel is clad in wood as a way to seamlessly merge the structure with its landscape. With décor intended to resonate a relaxed feel, the spa is also strategically placed overlooking the pool and the lush green landscape in order to induce a calming effect. This space is designed to enhance the holistic health experience; therefore, the colours, materials and lighting follow a soothing scheme. The flooring is wooden, whereas the walls and ceiling adorn contemporary wallpapers. The colours that are picked are in total harmony with the surrounding natural environment. The overall scheme is muted; however, splashes of colours such as blue inspired by the river, greens from the forest, and pinks drawn from the colour of the sky when the sun sets in Rishikesh, are blended in and assist in enhancing the experience that the city has to offer.
The lighting concept is geared towards the guests, helping to provide them with a tranquil and cosy vibe. In fact, to set the mood for a space which is meant to lead to rejuvenation, a lot of indirect, soothing recessed lights have been used. In the treatment rooms, indirect, soft yellow lights are used to add to the comforting effects of the various rituals offered by the retreat.
Overall, the design of the Modi Yoga Retreat is inspired by the landscape that it is set in, striking a fine balance between humans and nature.
A fine dine restaurant/ lounge spread across a single floor plate of 7,000 sq-ft, this intriguing space is situated in Bhubaneswar. The brief was to create a free-flowing space, one that would amalgamate yet delineate the two activities. The challenge lay in addressing the dense structural grid along with the low ceiling height, so as to create fluidity between the spaces.
Bhubaneswar being a coastal town, the entire concept has been developed around the characteristics and behavioural patterns of water. Dynamic forms of water have influenced the design while the palette is based around the colours of the earth and the sky. Water is interpreted in some of its physical and perceived forms such as a wave, the rain, a splash, and a ripple.
The bar – conceived as a flowing wave pattern with its periodic rise and fall – is created as the visual identity of the space. It is painted golden to correspond with the colour of the sand. A light installation placed above the bar is an interpretation of sheets of rain pouring down. This has been achieved by crystal and metal tubes suspended from the ceiling at various heights. It is designed to make the space appear like an orchestra of light. The space is otherwise lit by an array of ceiling suspended glass globes. These globes are hung on the ceiling and, with the aid of light and sound, a multiplying effect of a water drop is cast on the floor.
Private dining rooms are enclosed in forms that are organic in nature, reflecting the behaviour of water when it splashes. The entire structure is punctured in such a way as to create openness, yet retain privacy. The private dining rooms are painted golden on the outside to blend with the colour of the bar, whereas the interiors are treated with vibrant colours such as red and blue that signify the shades of the earth and the sky. All the forms used are very organic in nature, which creates a free-flowing visual and physical experience.
Oriana is a standalone commercial building based at an intersection of two roads in Thane. The location was extremely strategic with a well-established landmark building situated just across it, meaning that Oriana would not only have to compete with it, but also create its own standing. The other building has a more spread-out floor plate, whereas Oriana has a relatively smaller floor plate.
The entire concept revolved around creating verticality and, at the same time, giving the end users functional and useable spaces. KNS Architects started by working on the floor plans. The corner where the site was located gave the building a great vantage point in terms of visibility. The plan was to assume a setback, thus creating a foreground to absorb the building design. The ground level was given a double volume to make it more visually appealing as it was going to be used for retail purposes.
Working on the elevation, the architects used clean and simple lines, which travel from the lower level towards the top floors. This is accentuated by adding a bullnose with lights on all the glass joints, lending a vertical feel to the building. Additionally, the vision is carried through the vertical lines from the building into the sky, giving a rising perspective.
The selection of material finishes is also done in a manner as to express the design intent. River-washed black granite on the base and the podium is used to give the building a strong and stable foundation. The granite is clad in a staggered joint formation, inserted with lights, which gives the façade a touch of warmth within its solid frame. Beyond the podium, the granite is replaced with a customised shade – a deep gun powder grey – of aluminium composite panel on the side façades of the building, creating a firm backdrop for the glass with the bullnose. The colour of the glass – a neutral tint of grey glass is used instead of a colour-tinted glass – has also been specifically selected to complement the surroundings. The intent was to make the building more visible by the use of a bold colour for finishing along the clean, minimal lines of the main façade, which would give the building a more vertical visual effect – a task that has been expertly carried out.