Shimul Jhaveri Kadri’s new Colaba office is within a heritage building, with gorgeous views of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel & Towers and the Gateway of India. It is also representative of the evolution of her 30-year-old practice
“Ten years from a bedroom in my home
Twenty from an industrial estate in Byculla
Two from home…..
The two years at home helped us realise many dreams;
That we did not need to brave trains and traffic every morning
That we could enjoy freedom of time and space
And realise dreams
Professional and personal
Without tying ourselves to a desk or a routine
We sold the spaces we had struggled to buy
We dithered and worried
Until we found a space we loved
Stripped it bare and restored it
To be about cosy corners
collaboration and conversations.
Creation is a conversation
Between I, us and the earth.
32 years later, 32 of us share the space….
Some glimpses of how……”
Shimul Jhaveri Kadri
When we began thinking of this series The Way We Work, we wanted to explore the connections between design practices and the spaces they occupy. Spaces are powerful silent actors in our relationships with other people and ourselves. Chaos, joy, contentment, pride, insecurity, all sorts of emotions silently accessorise our homes and offices. Even if unknowingly, we create environments in our own reflection, representing our lives at a particular moment in time. Architect Shimul Jhaveri Kadri’s office has changed three times and at pivotal moments in the evolution of a practice that she set up 30 years ago, out of her children’s room.
It is quintessential Shimul to be so practical about something that was both incidental and essential to the firm. The evolution of spaces went hand in hand with a career that has objectively established her as one of the best architects in India. Her projects, spanning factories to residences and hotels, are peppered across the country, and the studio has garnered dozens of awards and citations. Recently, as an acknowledgement of the role of her associates in its success, the firm SJK Architects became a partnership of four: Shimul, Vaishali Shankar, Sarika Shetty, and Roshni Kshirsagar.
It was then a collective aspiration to occupy an office that better represented the sort of firm it is today. The quartet’s dream location in Mumbai was the art and heritage precinct of Colaba, which is a quintessential Maximum City neighbourhood of chaotic urban beauty, filled with hotels, art galleries, hip restaurants and coffeeshops. But then it was Covid, the phenomenon that broke our illusion of office-bound 9 to 5 work culture, that created an opportunity for SJK to settle down into a new space, which they found in September 2021.
This new office is within a heritage building whose neighbourhood offers views of icons: the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel & Tower and the Gateway of India. The SJK front door opens to enviable 14ft-high ceiling rooms left open-ended, giving the impression that people can occupy and leave areas at will. Save for one long work desk with computers, other spaces allude to congregation but don’t specifically articulate what sort; you sit and have a coffee or a meeting, the choice is the occupants’. Roshni, the youngest partner-inductee who’s been at SJK since 2007, leads the practice’s interior design vertical and oversaw that function for their new office design, which she says represents the firm’s amalgamate aesthetic.
The office rarely sees all 30-plus employees at the space together at the same time, since the practice adopted a hybrid model of functioning back in 2020. Vaishali, who has been with the firm since 2000, says the pandemic and new style of working taught them to function with a healthy dose of mutual trust. “It isn’t about efficiency or saving time, it was a leap of faith,” she says. Faith backed by new systems to cope with an online-offline model. The team now has what they call a virtual ‘standup’ via Zoom in the morning and evening to check in on one another, while time at the office is kept aside for discussions about bottlenecks, client visits, and for fostering office culture among the staff, so deliberately followed because without it, the essence of the firm would be lost. Sarika, who joined this practice as a 21-year-old intern back in 2001, says the firm manages to evolve by adopting new technology learnings from young talent that join. And then combine that with organisational processes and a strong sense of culture that’s translated through simple activities like shared meals and stories. “It is important so that new people joining don’t feel lost and left wondering what’s in it for them,” says Sarika.
The Beautiful Homes team filmed the SJK office on a Friday; by lunchtime there’s a buffet of homemade foods on the central meeting table, an online client meeting is taking place in the office’s only closed-off meeting room, people are at their work desks while others are chatting around the food. The open windows are allowing in the unfiltered sounds of the neighbourhood along with the sticky humid heat. Some folks are planning to get some coffee at the Kitchen Garden coffeeshop down the street after lunch, and there’s going to be a Friday get-together at the office later that evening. A new space and location offering a group of colleagues new ways to work and bond together.
All images by Andrew Fernandes
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