A GRAND DIALOGUE

truly great experiences in life, and are integral to a design sensibility that seeks to create a visual dialectic between the past and the present, such as in ThreeSixtyThree° and The Bar at The Oberoi Grand, Kolkata

rchitecture is perhaps the only profession that works with the memories of a world that is thousands of years old while simultaneously demonstrating the relevance of those memories to the future. What it offers to the present is a discourse. As an architect, I believe that a preservation of the past is the way forward – so, time is a very real dimension in my work and my tools are space, material, texture, colour and architectonic relationships. As a trained modernist, I believe in progress, continuity and dialogue through research in the real world. We need to be intellectual, but we need to remain relevant.

Contrary to what many people believe, I am not an energetic person. The beginning of every commission is marked by the fear of not doing the project justice. The first few weeks are always exploratory – we travel, experience the surroundings and attempt to take it all in. Then, we set out to design the space, complete the design of the project and then proceed to scrap it and begin again. It’s alright to arrive at a mood early; as a matter of fact, you must find the essence of the project quickly lest it become too intellectual and not emotive enough. But, arriving at a complete technical solution early, is dangerous – it may lack depth and dimensions. A project must outlast us.

When I began work on ThreeSixtyThreeº and The Bar at The Oberoi Grand, Kolkata, for instance, there were certain principles that were foremost in my mind. Juxtaposition, counter points, construction techniques and polyrhythms – these are integral to my compositional technique. My team at Architecture Discipline and I used these to create layers that talk to each other, sometimes harking back to the past, often presenting its case in a new manner and sometimes contradicting the statement with a fresh element. The exaggerated wainscot is one such element – it is not a typical wainscot, the pattern having been borrowed from the columns in the hotel’s lobby. The vaulted ceiling is an exaggeration of the same form, so when your eye sees them on different planes, a visual dialogue is created. The vaults then terminate into a fluted band that mimics the wainscot.

Timber floorboards and brass accents, along with turned and patterned furniture stained with India Ink are a hat-tip to tradition but exaggerated as an expression. We’ve exposed one of the old structural steel columns and wrapped a wine story around it, that’s as obvious as it can get when you’re dealing with an old structure. Context and memory play powerful roles in all the truly great experiences in one’s life. The Oberoi Grand, Kolkata is a building with tremendous historic significance, and so it was important for us to retain a memory of its materials and constructed history, while also suggesting a direction for the future. For me, this was also an opportunity to charge the space in a manner that connected with the rest of the hotel. Continuity in discourse is of great interest to me. What we have been, informs what we are. All architecture that informs this dialogue is timeless, especially when it is executed with skill. The Centre Pompidou and the Louvre are examples of such work, that is in dialogue with the past but not buried under it.

Through our work at Architecture Discipline, we attempt a dialogue that will create a value system that goes beyond the homogenisation imposed by globalisation. Any aesthetic sensibilities that are informed by an exploratory approach to a time or a place, is of interest to us. The interesting thing about this approach is that it has led us to find treasure everywhere we’ve looked.

About the author / Akshat Bhatt

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