An Experience Center Creating An Emphatic Built Presence | Utopia Designs
The project for Shivshakti Laminates involved creating a distinct, memorable experience center for leading Surat-based purveyors of laminates and veneers. This was aligned to the client’s brief, which indicated a desire for an entity with a unique and high recall value, one that would maximize and experiment with merchandise display strategies.
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The site was a disused textile manufacturing plant located in one of Surat’s industrial precincts. The ground floor, which was outside the scope of the assignment, is a warehouse/storehouse used by the clients. The EightxFour Experience Centre by Shivshakti Laminates and the allied office activities were to be housed on the first floor. With the aim of creating an emphatic built presence in a miscellaneous urban fabric, the facade was clad in materials that stood at the intersection of pragmatism and aesthetics: low-maintenance grey tiles, accented with faux wood HPL (high-pressure laminate, an external grade material) and ACP.
Barring the entrance to the experience center, the treatment to the ground floor largely ‘erased’ it from the overall visual scheme. The entrance portal, situated at one side to minimize the disturbance to the functioning of the warehouse, was designed as a canopied block recessed within the main structure and further highlighted with the HPL. The long row of windows on the first floor was outlined, again in HPL, emphasizing the low-slung, rectilinear volume. ACP jaalis, installed at regular intervals, shield the outdoor units of ACs.
Inside, the constraints posed by two elevators (a passenger lift and a goods lift) in the compact foyer necessitated interpreting the first flight of stairs as a simple folded aluminum sheet — which then ‘blossoms’ into a sculptural teakwood and glass element when it gets enough space as it progresses upwards. Here, a cultured stone-lined wall seems to ground the light, graphical series of steps. The stylistic quotient of the entire composition is heightened by cascading illuminated glass orbs.
Back in the foyer, a cladding of black mirrors around the elevators alleviates the tightness of space by adding a reflective lightness. This design attention lavished on the entry was deliberate — and was done to reduce the discomfort that could have sprung from having to enter a warehouse before stepping into the experience center proper. Designing the entry, according to the architects, was one of the challenges in the assignment owing to its compact nature, the presence of structural members, and the fact that it had to be Vaastu-compliant.
Upstairs, given the programmatic requirements, the architects positioned the office/admin block along with the windows, leaving a large part of the 6,500-square-foot area for the product display. This way, the areas used by the staff and the management could benefit from natural light that flowed in from the plantation-lined windows, creating a work environment that was conducive to the wellbeing of the users.
The shell of the experience center was kept subtle, to maintain the focus on the products on display. The earlier industrial flavor of the space was kept intact through exposed ceilings and services, its gravitas toned down and warm up with wood and wood finishes. While some display strategies — like configurations that allow customers to turn sheets of laminates much like the pages of a book, and small ‘swatches’ of basic laminates being arranged in a grid-like fashion on a wall — toed the tried and tested routes, others took a less-beaten track.
Among the latter are groups of MS frames (taller than is the norm), orchestrated in a maze-like fashion. Within these are inserted sheets of laminates in pairs (back to back), leaving the edges open. This creates visual porosity, offering the visitor edited glimpses of other parts of the showroom. While the double-sided display invites the visitor to walk around and explore, often releasing him to another part of the center, the height of the frames subliminally celebrates the generous 13-foot height of the ceiling.
Another innovative strategy is treating ‘swatches’ of laminates as objects of ornamentation, by deploying them within an MS partition that allows such small pieces to be arranged in different ways within its framework. Coming up with innovative display ideas that balanced newness and fulfillment of purpose was the second challenge posed by the project.
Interspersed among the display are seating clusters, as discussion tables and benches, that allow customers to discuss intended purchases or view products in comfort. Flexible track lighting puts sheets of veneers and laminates in the limelight, much like art in a gallery.
The response to the design has been more than encouraging. The client states that the appreciation from visitors had crossed expectations. The success can also be gauged from footfalls that are now from pan-India — which was not the case earlier. The sale of products across old and new verticals has seen an upward trend.
Treading the path between the known and the new, the Shivshakti Laminates Experience Centre has successfully dovetailed user comfort, innovative showcasing, and efficient display into a distinct narrative.
Designed by: Utopia Designs
Project: EightxFour Experience Centre by Shivshakti Laminates
Project Type: Retail (Experience Center)
Year of completion: 2020
Area: 6,500 sq. ft.
Principal Architect: Ar. Apurva Desai, Id.Urvakhsh Chichgar, Id. Bhavin Swami, Id. Vipul Nakrani
Design Team: Abhishek Ribinwala & Kaushal Savani
Photography: Photographix India