Spa Design build what is essentially a factory to such a high standard that it could easily be used to host fashion shows. Photography by Edmund Sumner
Similar in some ways to Devi Art Foundation, the Tahiliani Design Headquarters reflects its client’s entrepreneurial and highly personal pursuit of an alternative to conventional commercial norms. Located in the bleak, industrial and characterless Sector 37 of Gurgaon - Delhi’s mega satellite city, commonly referred to as the call-centre capital of the world - this new building seeks to create its own ambience through the use of robust self-finished materials and a calculated sense of scale and monumentality.
It was commissioned by Tarun Tahiliani, the first Indian fashion designer to be invited to the prestigious Milan Fashion Week, and the man who created socialite Jemima Goldsmith’s wedding dress for her marriage to Pakistani cricketer Imran Khan. In many ways this building reflects Tahiliani’s work, which draws upon traditional Indian motifs and adapts them for contemporary use.
In this instance, the historic references relate to the setting of his former premises, near the much admired Mehrauli Archaeological Park. Especially influenced by Delhi’s Jamali Kamali Mosque, the architect has tried to adapt certain Islamic architectural features into a contemporary design, such as the grandeur of the arches, the formality of entry, the sculpting of large volumes, and the use of natural light.
Designed by Stephane Paumier, a French architect who came to India 12 years ago to belatedly fulfil his national service by working as an architect in the French Embassy, the building provides 4,000m² of production, office, studio, sampling and showroom space for Tahiliani’s now internationally renowned fashion label. Articulated by corbelled brick arches, the double T silhouette on the front and rear elevations can almost be forgiven, as Gurgaon is typified by far more vulgar manifestations of signage.
‘As it is, the building’s brick skin is conspicuous only for the uplifting quality it brings to this locale, more typically blighted by shabby industrial workshops and sheds’
The client called for a building with a monumental demeanour, so the architects saw the possibility of exploring a hybrid type that is part factory, part institution. ‘We treated the building as an institution where people and skilled tailors learn and enhance their skills,’ says project architect Shaily Gupta. ‘Different classes of people from different professional backgrounds work together, and the production process becomes the pivotal aspect of the building.’
So, instead of hiding the workers away ‘when any elite clientele come to the showroom, they go through the production spaces and ultimately gain respect for the hard work involved,’ says Gupta.
Yet the four-storey building does have a clear spatial and structural hierarchy. Situated above a basement designed to provide a sizeable staff canteen, the largest and most prominent space is given over to the majority of the workforce, with a vast production hall dominating the ground-floor entrance level.
With a strong central axis, both plan and cross section are symmetrical, contributing to a rather conventional interpretation of monumentality. However, in relation to operational requirements, this simple layout works well. The axial rooflight unifies production and design areas around a central double-height atrium, leaving space for a secret rooftop garden that provides a much-needed focus for the uppermost executive offices and couture salons.
Brick predominates the building, with walls, floors and even the stairs employing the same standard red variety. Concrete is used elsewhere, with a structural frame set out on a 5m grid that optimises space for the 200 or so machinists who occupy the ground floor. Mushroom columns were used to avoid the need for downstand beams which, together with the split section barrel vault, bring a pared-back but nonetheless ornate quality to the space.
‘Though this is essentially a factory, it is built to such a standard that it could easily be used to stage fashion shows should the opportunity arise’
On the uppermost floor, in collaboration with the client, greater finesse has been afforded to create a series of more intimate salons where clients can enjoy private shows, or ‘try-ons’. Based on the same 5 x 5m structural module, these spaces complete a circuit of bays that run around the hidden garden.
Tahiliani’s own office occupies the central on-axis office that mimics the main hall’s barrel-vaulted section. Letting the materials speak for themselves, the architect’s aim is that his building will help improve the quality of this characterless industrial enclave. Gupta concludes with the hope that ‘in future, money-minded builders will think twice before creating yet more glass or aluminium-clad buildings.’ Curiously, not all agree. Many of the workforce say they prefer more ‘conventional’ architecture, as a bare brick building is perceived as incomplete until smoothed over with render.
Architect SPA Design, New Delhi, India
Project team Stephane Paumier, Shaily Gupta, Abhishek Shishir Sinha, Krishnachandran Balakrishnan
Structural engineer Mahendra Raj Consultants
Services engineer ESCON