Building Contemporary Dreams with Oscar & Ponni Concessao

With a common dream that they shared for buildings, design and architecture, Oscar & Ponni Concessao have set-up India’s most admired architecture firm, OCI in Chennai in ’96. Today, after much recognition, they have immersed themselves into building beautiful buildings, giving back to Mother Earth and living their dream of design…


Power couple, Oscar & Ponni Concessao, are founders of Oscar Concessao International (OCI) and Ponni Concessao Consultants, India’s leading urban design and interior design practice. Today, they are known for creating aesthetically pleasing and immaculately planned spaces with an eye for details. Their portfolio boasts of architectural projects shaped by the virtues of Indian traditions, purpose and oriented towards excellence in planning, design, aesthetics and quality finishing.

The Company has won more than 77 International and National Design awards since its inception in 1996, which started in a small room with just five people. Today, they have grown by leaps and bounds with a current team of over fifty employees, numerous awards and are focussing on designing more challenging building typologies, eco-friendly sustainable, smarter buildings and cities in the coming years.

The husband and wife team completed the B. Arch Degree from the Regional Engineering College, now NIT Tiruchirapalli in 1986, and 1987.

“As a child, I was always fascinated by structures, particularly of the architecture of his home town Mangalore which had a strong Portuguese influence. My school holidays were all about building miniature houses, built with the construction material lying around back home.

This inspired me to take up a course in architecture and the rest just followed suit,” Oscar shared. After their graduation in India Oscar went to the USA on a scholarship to the University of Oklahoma, Norman and did his Master’s degree in Architecture in Urban Design in 1987.

Ponni also followed to the USA, with a Tata scholarship and completed her Master’s in Architecture from Cornell University in 1989. They returned to India and settled in Chennai, Ponni’s hometown and started their Architectural and Interior design practice on 1996. Over the years they built their practice designing versatile projects such as Universities, Engineering and Medical Colleges stadiums at Doha, Qatar, several Information technology Parks, Bio tech Parks, Nano Technology parks, townships, hospitals, apartments, Hotels, Resorts, Malls, Corporate offices, luxury Bungalows, Factories, SEZ, several Government and State buildings.

The diversity of experience in the team and its multidisciplinary character is its strength. Their blue-chip client list is testimony to the design and quality standards offered by them.

While Oscar handles the architectural aspects of a project, Ponni looks after interior designing. They commitment towards design integrity and a constant search for design excellence is evident from their work which ranges from large scale urban planning projects to meticulously detailed interiors. Their portfolio comprises of projects such as three to five star luxury hotels, resorts, factories, stadiums and luxury villas. Adds Oscar, “My buildings speak a contemporary language. It is a language based on creativity and logic that appeals instantly to people who understand and love buildings.” Both Oscar and Ponni have been conferred with Honorary Doctorates from the University of Malaysia and Universita of Milano for Modern Architecture and Architectural Science. They both worked in New York City with leading architects specializing in Skyscrapers, Institutional buildings, Hotels, Hospitals and Stadiums.


According to Oscar Concessao, “Our understanding of architecture and the environment compels us to appreciate and study contextual character, which then influences our design solutions for buildings and places. These are the foundations of our architectural practice. Our core belief is that architecture and place-making matter, as much today as ever before. We believe that great buildings and spaces can inspire, influence and enhance the lives of their users and the community. At its most basic, architecture is a response to fundamental human needs and a way of organizing space while meeting practical demands. At its most exalted, architecture can introduce new perspectives and new dynamics, reinvigorating both landscape and cityscape.

We strive to synthesize these two goals, to create buildings that perform as well as excite, buildings that uplift the spirit and are memorable.”Oscar & Ponni Architects approach is built not on a pre-determined aesthetic or a rigid “signature style.” It grows naturally from a quest for ideas and answers. Designs are never imposed. They evolve from a rigorous inquiry into the particulars of location and program. They represent a determined belief that they can transform problem-solving into art. At Oscar & Ponni Architects, the design process begins with a careful, in-depth study of each project’s requirements and constraints, its use and users. It is then analyzed, evaluated, and interpreted through the prism of their core principles-the formal propositions of spatial relationships and adjacencies, symmetry and asymmetry, use of exterior and interior materials and sense

of order that constitute the discipline and practice of modern architecture. With this inquiry and understanding as a starting point, they build a rationale of ideas and experiences, a program of needs and goals, and a carefully constructed collage of forms and spaces that is at once dynamic, aspiring, and meaningful.Oscar & Ponni Architects practices designing in a manner that best incorporates the context of the building into the design in a very substantial way. They add, “Our buildings are never decorated to fit into their settings. There is always an overall integrity in the relationship between functional, programmatic, environmental and contextual needs. Along with strong conceptual and historical awareness, nature’s forms and shapes appear as a recurrent source of inspiration for Oscar & Ponni Architecture and Interior Design. It includes attention to physical contexts and landscapes and fine detailing.”

Oscar adds that, “My best advice for someone starting a practice is to find a place that you like and stay. Everything else will work itself out. As we did, you can overcome the lack of connections and people you know. Those come naturally with time. Work hard, have the endurance to do the best design work, but service your clients with the same enthusiasm and dedication. The service you provide, in most cases outweighs the design you create. Focus on a particular type of work, be it housing, commercial interiors, educational facilities, etc. But most of all: be patient! The practice of architecture takes time and it is very difficult to be successful on a large scale without first being successful at smaller scales. Small victories eventually lead to bigger opportunities.”

Most stages of architectural practice utilize the computer for increased accuracy and speed. Architects create presentations, 2-D construction documents and 3-D models in addition to typical business documents on the computer. Computers aid design understanding and implementation of complex structures through computer-solved equations and information generation.

Building Information Modeling (BIM) has become the tool of choice for many architects. However, many firms continue to miss out on the technology’s capabilities by using it purely as a production tool and building 3D models solely to create 2D documents, much like they did with their CAD software.

Building Information Modeling (BIM) has become the tool of choice for many architects. However, many firms continue to miss out on the technology’s capabilities by using it purely as a production tool and building 3D models solely to create 2D documents, much like they did with their CAD software.

Whereas CAD is largely hand drafting on a computer, BIM is much more than the next generation of CAD. It is a tool for the digital age, both a framework and a methodology with a database at its core. As elements are created in a building model, their position and properties are stored in a structured data repository that becomes a treasure trove for the resourceful architect. Also there are plenty of 3d visualization software’s available in today’s market.

Both Oscar and Ponni look forward to some fantastic, dramatic big new buildings and social projects in the work they do. Ambitious cities are good for architects they say, but what about how people actually live? They add, “We must shift architecture towards a humane socio-economic approach, and a human scale. The architectural profession continuously plays a pivotal role in the development of sustainable solutions to the built environment all over the world.

The architect’s multidisciplinary skills and ability to apply a holistic view is vital to tackling the extensive climate change challenges. In this decade, this will be even more evident. Secondly, architects know better that anyone how projects involve a process. Today, we experience a rising acknowledgement of the advantages in user involvement. By involving various user groups in the development and design process of for instance new public buildings, the local community and end-users will bring new ideas and insightful knowledge into the project, and innovative solutions come to life. This forms the important basis of the social dimension in architecture, it is our hope that this tendency will increase in the years to come. Thirdly, architects provide excellent and functional solutions every day all over the world. However, we should never neglect the artistic and qualitative virtues of architecture.

Think about it, architecture frames the life of human beings. We are today looking forward to the birth of new courageous architecture that will capture and reflect the human and social thoughts and values of our age.”

Oscar & Ponni Architects have won more than 68 International, National and State Awards for Architecture & Interiors. To highlight a few, in 2004, Oscar & Ponni Architects won an award for ‘Excellence in Built Environment, awarded by the His Excellency, the former President of India, Dr. A.P. J Abdul Kalam for the Satyam Technology Information Technology Park at Bhubaneswar, Odisha. In 2005, Oscar won the ‘Architect of the year Award 2004’ from then Chief Minister of Pondicherry, Mr. Rangaswamy.

In the year 2008, they bagged the prestigious Indian Institute of Architects, IIA National Award 2008 for the Sastra BioTech Park for Sastra University at Tanjore, Tamil Nadu.They have won the Indian Buildings Congress Award seven times for their numerous designs and work on information technology parks, campuses and townships. In 2009, their project won the Archi Design ‘Best Institutional Building’ Award. In 2012, they won six national awards for their Township and Hotel projects, awarded by ‘Artists in Concrete awards’ at Pune. In the year 2013, Oscar & Ponni Architects won three Indian Buildings Congress Awards for Excellence in Architecture and two awards for Artists in Concrete Awards Asia, 2012. Some of Oscar and Ponni Architects ongoing projects are large affordable Housing Townships, Villas, Hotels, Shopping Malls, Hospitals and Skyscrapers.


India’s construction industry will continue to expand with investments in residential, infrastructure and energy projects. Today, construction sector of most emerging economies, including India, is witnessing sharp growth.

In fact construction industry in India today is one of the major stimulants of the economic and social growth of the nation.

Architectural practices have changed irreparably in the past decade, but those who know how to adapt just might find themselves in a far better place in a few years. Technology has revolutionized the potential of architectural practice.
Design tools such as CAD, Revit, BIM, 3D Printing and new software are transforming its boundaries.

This does not imply that all architectural practices are now doing their work in a revolutionary way. Many architects need and must recognize this transformation and think differently.

Oscar says, “The construction industry is one of the most information-intensive industries, as major construction process requires extensive exchange of data and information between the project’s participants on a regular basis.

In the construction industry, employees must adopt new forms of technology to achieve the time, cost, and quality goals of a construction project. New technologies are constantly changing the construction landscape.

Drones now make it possible to survey and map a site with ease, and at a lower cost. Smartphone’s and tablets make on-the-go communication a breeze. Digital blueprint apps and other project management software’s make it possible to map out a project ahead of time like never before. Even the use of robots seems to be on the horizon. The construction industry globally is slow in adopting technology innovations despite a rise in project complexity and associated risks. For some, the cost and risk of adopting new technologies outweighs the perceived benefits, while others may be reluctant to move out of their comfort zone.”

On challenges front, as India is rapidly urbanizing it faces multiple challenges of finance, construction technologies, skilled manpower and clearances.

The economics of green building has never been more topical. They say, “The 21st century presents us with one third of the earth already developed, much of it in sprawling waste. A fundamental change of attitude, a re-visioning of values must take place. To create sustainability in a community, architects need to integrate the concept of sustainable community development in their actions both as citizens and professionals. While the role of architects as professionals can be defined as a process to preserve, improve and create the required quality of built environment under the particular condition of each community, in an ideal and sustainable world their role as citizens should be to become sustainable members of their own community.” In the building industry, growing interest in affordability and sustainability is stimulating realignment of environmental and economic choices interests. This dynamic has obscured the reality that sustainable development can be profitable by definition, and there has never been a better time for the building industry to embrace rapidly evolving technological innovation.

The delay in adopting such measures is higher up-front costs, lack of knowledge, or potential risks are often cited as reasons developers might reject green development practices. To overcome these barriers, governments, primarily on the local or state levels should offer incentives as a way to minimize or eliminate costs or issues related to their adoption.

Breathe In History with Colonial Homes

Many of us prefer Colonial style architecture when it comes to building our homes in our choice. It could be our ‘colonial past influence’ where we were introduced by the British and their architecture type like Indo-Saracenic revival architecture and era of Neo-classical architecture of India.


Colonial architecture is clean, precise and inspired by the ancient Greeks and Romans. The Britishers used them frequently, roughly in 17th Century and took their architectures overseas where they created a balance between traditions from home and adaptations in a new land.
French Colonial Architecture
French Colonial homes were predominantly built in the South, they feature higher ceilings for ventilation purposes. This typically include tall windows (called French Windows) on the main and second floor, other characteristic like a raised ‘basement,’ a wide porch (known as the galerie), a brick chimney, exterior stairs, second-floor porch that is often accessible through French doors.

British Colonial Architecture
This type of architecture was defined by a high devotion to symmetry, especially the facade. This symmetry was generally achieved through the placement of doors and windows in the two stories of well-to-do houses. Wood and brick were the most common building materials, largely due to the availability of these materials more than anything else.

Dutch Colonial Architecture
Dutch houses also very frequently featured paired chimneys, one at each end of the rectangular house. They were also noted for the use of a Dutch door, which has a top half that opens while the bottom half stays shut. Usually made up of stone or brick.

Major Characteristics:

Symmetrical Design
One of the most notable features of Colonial-style homes is its symmetrical structure. Most structures are square or rectangular in shape with brick or clapboard siding. The most common designs include either two stories or one and a half with dormers.


Pitched Roof
Early Colonial style homes were designed with a steeply pitched roof to shed heavy loads of snow. This characteristic survives today and is one of the most recognizable features of Colonial style architecture.

Decorative Entrance Ways
The entrance way of many Colonial style homes is adorned

with a pediment, which forms a decorative crown and may be extended to create a covered porch. Others may be embellished with classical columns or two-story pilasters.

Balanced Window Placement
Most homes feature a window on each side of the entry way and three to five windows on the second floor. The windows are most often multi-paned, double-hung with shutters.

Morphing into the New: Morphogenesis

Morphogenesis is one of India’s leading award-winning Architecture and Urban Design practices. It prides itself for reinterpreting India’s architectural roots and consistently employs passive design solutions for a unique contextual language. Its work encompasses a range of typologies across Architecture, Interiors and Landscape Urbanism…



Morphogenesis, as the name suggests, is not your everyday architecture firm that is built around a single idea or practice or, the ideology of the founders. The name Morphogenesis as it essentially means refers to the origins and development of form in response to nature which includes process, and structure. Set up in 1996 by Manit Rastogi and his wife and partner, Sonali, built the firm with a shared vision of defining a new emergent Indian architecture. The core ethos of the company is a very bottom-up approach of pursuing process whereby the product would be an outcome of that process. The firm firmly believes that not pursuing a definitive style or to be identified by the work or ideology of the founders but a result of the process that they were pursuing.

Manit studied architecture from the School of Planning and Architecture in Delhi from 1986, while his earlier formative years were spent in Africa and England. Belonging to a family of Engineers, mostly from the reputed IITs, his interest in architecture comes as no surprise. He says in an interview, “I think it just sort of happens, like a generational thing. The expectation is that you would be an engineer and mine was definitely not to be one.

I cannot really say that I went to architecture school because I am one of those people who always wanted to be an architect but I always wanted to make things. I was contemplating Genetic Engineering at one point- Generics more than anything else. But architecture was something that was very close.”
His father is a civil engineer and during his career, spent his work life in building roads, bridges and highways. For Manit, the choice of architecture came more as a choice based on his experiences, knowing and observing his family. He added, “Architecture was sort of that one profession that allowed me the potential to build something and at the same time let me be the generalist across the board. Hence it was architecture. I then gave the entrance and joined SPA.”

After completing their Architecture studies from SPA, Delhi, Sonali and Manit proceeded to spend a long stint at The Architectural Association, London where Manit pursued his interest in the study of nature, evolution and design processes in association with John Frazer. He also acquired a degree in energy and Environment Studies with Simos Yannas. Sonali studied Housing and Urbanism with

George Fiori and at ‘The Design Lab’ with Jeff Kipnis. Bringing together their bouquet of interests Morphogenesis was born with a vision to contribute to the definition of sustainable architecture for modern India. It was during those formative years in London when Sonali and Manit were completing their Masters, that they both first felt the absence of “India” in the global architectural circuit. While it was exciting for them to attend public lectures, the lack of mention of Indian Architecture was pinching. She recollected – it was in that moment when the entrepreneurial instinct first stung them and the desire to tell the world about their perception of ‘futuristic architecture’ triggered- and, thus, Morphogenesis came into existence in 1996, when the two returned to India.

Sonali is ardently interested in the materiality and craft in architecture and is deeply invested in the detail of building. A strong proponent of the arts, she is also a founder member of Manthan, a platform for creative individuals who seek to share, discuss, engage with and evolve concepts and ideologies. A Fellow of the IIA (Indian Institute of Architects) and the RSA (Royal Society of Arts, UK), she also extends her impact on the built environment as council member of the Delhi Urban Arts Commission.


According to the Founders, they have tried their best to maintain the core ethos of Morphogenesis as they had wished when they first started out. They add that as much of their focus is on the process of design, they spend even more time on the process of how they work now. Manit adds, “There are 4-5 things that determine how our working processes function.

Some of the firm’s early work included teaching, helping people organise exhibitions and so on. They had an exhibition in Norway at Galleri Rom and then at the RIBA in London in their initial years.

Mahit adds, “Between teachings and the early days of practice, we got our first project which was a small, 400 square feet interior project. That project sort of did well with a few little things which seemed clever at the time, but probably not and someone saw that. Before we knew it we were participating in our first competition in our first year of practice which was the Apollo Tyres Corporate Office.

There were five very established firms that were shortlisted, from mid to large size firms across India and we were sort of by then just four-person firm that participated in the bid. That was a great, fun exercise and I still do not know how they gave us that project.

It was a reasonably large project at that time and a lakh and a half square feet to give to a start-up practice! I think what they saw in our work at the time was what excited them and all credit goes to the Board of Apollo Tyres as they had the faith that someone who has never built anything more than a 400 square feet interior would deliver a 1,00,000 square feet building and achieve all that we had pledged.”

Needless to say that it was a good break for the new firm especially with a reputed brand like Apollo and of course, they gave it their very best. They did many firsts with this building at that time. Firstly, they deconstructed the idea of the office as a singular building, broke it up into multiple parts, built a type of mini city, brought in everything that they knew about passive design, orientations, courtyards, terrace gardens, 100 percent day lighting, linked all the building services to human occupancy etc.

In a way they were the first to working on building intelligence but linked to human occupancy that had to do a lot of coding at that time. He says, “Probably it is quite common to do these things, but the various bits of technologies did not talk to each other.

So the card access technology did not talk to the chiller plant, which did not talk to the lighting system, which did not talk to the fire alarm! Nothing was talking to each other and we had to write protocols to do this which is generally not an architect’s job and I guess should not be but it was great fun. We started that building in ’97 and finished it in ’99. By ’99 March in 15 months flat, all done- full interiors, everything, won an IA award for it, never looked back.”

At Morphogenesis, learning is an integral part of the experience. The Founders feel that when people leave, whether they leave after a year or after 20 years – this must have been the best learning experience of their life and that is the environment that they constantly strive to create and work towards.

According to the Founders, they have tried their best to maintain the core ethos of Morphogenesis as they had wished when they first started out. They add that as much of their focus is on the process of design, they spend even more time on the process of how they work now. Manit adds, “There are 4-5 things that determine how our working processes function. And we have got names for these processes. The first process is ‘First Time Right’. It essentially means that no architect in this firm, from the time you have finished your 4th or 5th year and you come in as a trainee or as a first year; should be made to do the same thing twice because the instructions were incorrect. It is a very rigorous process of first getting all the information, getting your research right, working out what the metrics are for the success of the project, and then everyone in the team works towards that. The objectives are clear. And the winning team is the one where everyone can sense the way it should be at the right point in time and therefore you pre-empt everything. That is ‘First Time Right’.”

The second principle that they pursue is ‘Jack of All and Master of One’. Here, the team is exposed to everything and then they begin to pick something that they are interested in and then they become a ‘Master of One’. They also have to write and publish research papers on that idea so that this thought spreads to everyone else. This helps architects to cope and they can learn from a successful hospitality project and apply it to an affordable housing projector to a master planning project. The firm believes that there are bits and pieces that fit everywhere and it is that ‘connecting the dots’ that sort of leads to a holistic growth.

Then the third principle is ‘Train to Re-place’ which every organisation can learn from. Manit explains, “As you move through the years, you only move up the ladder so to speak if you can train the person below you to take your place.

And that we found was important so that no one hoards information, and information is not used as means of part. Everyone’s culture here is to make sure that whoever they are working with, they are enabling them to be able to take their place, only then will they be able to take someone else’s. It is a learning cycle which is our ‘Train to Place’ program and then we have the ‘Publish or Perish’.”He says, “In our firm as a piece of advice to anyone who joins it – ‘Doing good work is not about managing your own competency. It is about managing everyone else’s incompetency.’ So you should understand that everyone that is doing work here may not be doing their job and you have to work with that and through that deliver excellence and you will get it right.”

Over the past two decades, the firm has evolved into a vibrant cross-disciplinary team comprised of Architects, Interior Designers, Landscape Architects, Urban Designers, 3D Visualizers and Researchers, with diverse backgrounds and specializations from universities the world over. With offices in Delhi and Bangalore, their work spans across India, SAARC Countries and South Africa.

Morphogenesis has been ranked yet again for the sixth time running, among the Top 100 Architectural Design Firms worldwide in the definitive WA100 2017 list, UK. The practice is the recipient of over 80 awards which include being India’s first WAF award winners, 5 IIA Awards to its credit, and 2014 Laureates of the Singapore Institute of Architects Getz Award. Its work has featured in over 600 publications, both International and National. Sonali and Manit Rastogi have co-authored an architectural monograph released in March 2017; ‘Morphogenesis: The Indian Perspective, The Global Context’ published by Images Australia under their Master Architect Series.

In 2009, Morphogenesis became the first Indian practice to win a World Architecture Festival (WAF) Award and the Laureates of Singapore Institute of Architects (SIA) Getz Award in 2014 for their work.

Some of their clients include Ascendas Singbridge, Tata Housing, TRIL, Mahindra Lifespaces, Maker, Adani Realty, Piramal Fund Mgmt, Ambuja Neotia, TRUMP, Bharti Land, Infosys, Wipro, ITC, BSE, Zydus Cadila, The British Council, Micromax, RP-SG, Ascott, Starwood, Lalit, ITC Hotels, Somerset and IHG.

Manit adds that the firm was set up with the idea that it perpetuate beyond its founders which is why it was named Morphogenesis to begin with. But for that to happen, he feels that practices all around must learn, and architectural practices in particular must learn not only to create buildings but to create environments that bring in talent, nurture talent, and grow talent. More we see the number of schools increase, more the number of students of architecture are graduating. He feels that it is useless to see why everyone in their field must go out and setup a practice to face again the rigmarole that has already been set up.

At Morphogenesis, learning is an integral part of the experience. The Founders feel that when people leave, whether they leave after a year or after 20 years – this must have been the best learning experience of their life and that is the environment that they constantly strive to create and work towards.

In conclusion Manit adds, “Morphogenesis is an incubation centre. It has to be. It is the ‘Old Bold Ateliers’ that lead the school of architecture like The Apprentice. And the apprentice eventually becomes the Master and that cycle and that process has to continue.

Ceilings That Create a Modern Twist to Home Architecture

Ceilings are often used to hide roof construction. They have been favourite places for decoration from the earliest times: either by painting the flat surface, by emphasizing the structural members of roof, or by treating it as a field for an overall pattern of relief…


In modern architecture ceilings may be divided into two major classes—the suspended (or hung) ceiling and the exposed ceiling. With ceilings hung at some distance below the structural members, some architects have sought to conceal great amounts of mechanical and electrical equipment, such as electrical conduits, air-conditioning ducts, water pipes, sewage lines, and lighting fixtures. Most suspended ceilings use a lightweight metal grid suspended from the structure by wires or rods to support plasterboard sheets or acoustical tiles.

Exposed Ceiling
Beams, trusses or system piping are revealed in an exposed ceiling. Wooden beams and trusses found in original construction of older homes lend a sense of history to a room. Fabricated beams made to look like wood can also be attached to a ceiling. Exposed system elements, such as duct work and piping, give a modernist, loft ambiance to a room, creating an open and industrial feel.

Tray Ceiling
A tray ceiling begins as a normal ceiling. The drama begins when it rises, most often in the center of the room, creating a recess of at least 6 inches. Tray ceilings can also be dropped, becoming a floating false ceiling.

Coffered Ceiling
Similar to a tray ceiling, a coffered ceiling has several recesses covering the entire ceiling surface. Often lined with decorative molding, coffered ceilings add strength to the room’s construction. Coffers add height and depth to the feel of a room.

Vaulted Ceilings
An architectural design element, a vaulted ceiling peaks at the center of a room, or follows the roof line. An off-side vault, or a simple angle running upwards to the roof line also adds drama to a room. Skylights and paint enhance the vault.

Barrel Vault
Originating in Roman architecture, a barrel vault looks like a barrel that’s cut in half and tacked to the ceiling. Found in major rooms of a home or down a long hallway, barrel vaults in natural stone or brick are dramatic. A stark, modernist look for a barrel vault is created with lightly toned or white paint.

Domed Ceiling
Unlike a barrel vault, a domed ceiling opens up a specific area of a room. Often found in tight hallways or above a sweeping staircase, the dome is a blank canvas for a mural. Creative inset lighting or a cascading chandelier adds to the cachet of the dome.

Cove Ceilings
A coved ceiling curves up from the four main walls of a room and leads to the actual ceiling. Coving is applied as a molding attached between the wall and ceiling or is incorporated into the architecture of the room. Usually painted white to match the floor molding, a dramatic effect is achieved with paint or texture. Coves are also found as arches separating one living space from another.

Up and Close with Design Architect Shabnam Gupta

In a world of celebrity homes and contemporary design in India, a name oft stands out – Shabnam Gupta. Her brand The Orange Lane today is one of the most recognised design firms that conjures up visual wonders in urban designs whilst maintaining its inspiration from nature and from the rich cultural diversity of India. From urban residential to weekend countryside homes, and from lifestyle stores to hospitality projects, her canvas of work encompasses a wide spectrum. Urban Vaastu explores…


Celebrity designer and architect, Shabnam Gupta founded her pet architecture and interior design firm, The Orange Lane over a decade and a half ago in 2003 in Mumbai. Today, she is well-known in the Indian design and interior circles for her bursts of colours and textures and, a unique contemporary design palette.

After graduating in interior design from L.S. Raheja College of Architecture, she honed her skills in various architectural and design projects by working with architect Tushar Desai before setting up her own practice. Before setting up The Orange Lane, Shabnam had set up a popular furniture and retail brand, Peacock Life in 2011 offering an affordable range of designer furniture and decor products, and bespoke design services.

The store offers a collection of earthy, recycled and environment-friendly products that reflect the aesthetic of both the old and the new.Under her able leadership and creative direction, the brand grew steadily in stature to become a prestigious name in the realm of interior design.

Shabnam Gupta makes use of spaces to tell stories. She has an artist’s imagination, and a visionary’s eyes to articulate narratives through beautiful design.

Known for her versatile accents, Shabnam Gupta has been involved in more than 150 plus projects in India across genres – from hospitality and homes to retail design and commercial offices. Over the years, Shabnam Gupta has carved a niche for herself, drawing inspiration mostly from Indian culture blended with Indian sensibilities and idiosyncratic elements. All her experiences in life till date have added on to her creativity and inspired Gupta to appreciate and celebrate the simple things in life – emotions, people, nature and travel.

Growing up, Shabnam has many memories of her travels in and around India. Her parents, both media professionals, exposed her to the outdoors and nature during their professional and personal pursuits that has surely left an indelible mark in her imagination and allowed her to blossom into the fine professional she is today. She feels that destiny really played a great part in paving the creative route for her.

She adds, “My father wanted me to take up Home Science but I quit within the first week and enrolled myself in design school. So, as they say, I didn’t choose the design life, it chose me!” She reminisces that she was quite a rebel growing up and felt that at some point, her father was quite apprehensive that she wouldn’t turn out to be the lady that he thought she should be.Over the years, her most valuable lessons have come to her from her parents who have also been her mentors.

Like all parents, they have ensured that their daughter was grounded and accepted the realities of life, which they would have known and faced in their active lifetime. “They have always taught me to be disciplined and not get swayed or carried away in any phase of life. From my practise, I have learnt that nothing happens because of a single person in my profession, and it is foolish to think that you are solely responsible for how far you have come.”

From designing celebrity homes and private residences across the country to top hotels, restaurants and bars in the city, she has left no stone unturned in setting very high standards in interior design. Obviously her work has been much appreciated and very well received by everyone which has led to Shabnam amassing a bulletin-worthy of awards and accolades. Her design can be best described as a balanced intermingling of indoor and outdoor elements, elaborate walls with murals along with a drizzle of rare furniture pieces that are unique to her projects and styles. She says that “there is no math. I go with the flow and believe that each space will demand its design for us – and it generally does.” She was listed among the ‘7 Interior Designers & Architects To Watch Out For’ by Forbes India in 2010 and the Elle Club 2012, The IID National Awards for Best Hospitality Project in 2012, the International Property Award in the Residential and Hospitality categories in 2014, the AD50 2017 Award for the 50 most influential architects and interior designers and her works have been published in the coffee table book’s 50 Most Beautiful Homes in India. She also won the Asia Pacific Property Awards 2016-17 for designing Parineeti Chopra’s residence.


She was also featured in one of the country’s first home makeover shows.
With several stellar projects under her name, Shabnam acquired the reputation of being an ace designer with a rare gift of creating visual delights for the spaces she designed. Her forte lies in putting together contrasting elements of design – colours, textures, furniture and decor – and balancing them beautifully with a contemporary appeal.

Shabnam is known to conjure up visual wonders. She is recognised for her personally tailored, client specific interiors that use bursts of colours, textures and other unique elements within a contemporary design palette. Her designs are known to exude energy, vibrancy, and spirit in a delicate but subtle way. “Our design philosophy,” she adds, “runs on understanding the client’s needs and wants, after which we translate them into design reality.

If it comes to a point where a client is being unreasonable, we make sure we get real close to what they imagine and start off from there. Most of the time, the outcome is a better depiction of what they imagined. Being innovative is key.”

Today, The Orange Lane not only acts like a design consultant but it also provides complete turnkey design solutions. Across the properties, Gupta makes it a point to adhere to a specific set of rules. She says, “The process (of interior designing) starts off with listening in carefully to what the client needs. We take their vision further with our design sensibilities and in the process experiment with varied materials, design styles and concepts till we find the right balance between both. In the end, every project is a result of client’s love for design – their needs combined with our signature style.”


Design Motto: Shabnam Gupta, the principal designer of interior and architectural design firm ‘The Orange Lane’, believes in creating captivating visual narratives through her designs.

Philosophy: “We try to declutter and retain as much of the original form. You need to be sensitive to what the space demands.”

Favourite Buildings: Geoffrey Bawa’s Heritance Kandalama, and Lunuganga Estate. “Every project of his is a point of inspiration.”

Influences: Geoffrey Bawa, Frank Lloyd Wright, Takashi Sugimoto

Materials: Concrete, stone, wood and metal, in their raw forms.

Star Projects: Celebrity homes include film producer and director Aditya Chopra’s bungalow in Mumbai, Rani Mukherjee, Parineeti Chopra, Irfan Khan, Kangana Ranaut and Raveena Tandon’s residences, film maker Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Office and so on. Beyond Bollywood, Shabnam has designed art curator and gallery owner Ashish Balram Nagpal’s house in Alibaug, Mumbai’s fine dining restaurant The Sassy Spoon, the office of CNBC TV18 and the Pepperfry Studio to name a few. She has worked for a series of well-known projects in Mumbai that have been noticed and appreciated by a vast spectrum of people. They include Outlets of The Bar Stock Exchange in Mumbai and Bengaluru, Social in Pune, a University in Chandigarh, The Intercontinental Mumbai’s in-house restaurants, game salon SMAAASH, the hip and colorful Bombay Bronx in Cumbala Hill, Mumbai or the vibrant Big Nasty in Khar, Mumbai are two of her many projects.

She firmly believes that “one’s journey in life is a continuous process. It is the journey that matters and not the final destination. Success for different people has different meanings. I am fortunate to be getting the kind of work that gives me the creative freedom and satisfaction to do what I want to do. Personally I do not take these tags seriously at all. I believe that I am a learner and the day I stop learning that will be the end of my creative hunger. More than anything else, the journey so far has taught me to be a calmer person. In our line of work where you have to interact with so many different teams including your own, it teaches you how to handle human relations. Sometimes I joke our job is half of that of a psychiatrist.”


A Naukettu inspired homes making a comeback

Coloured by sepia-toned memories and a strong sense of nostalgia, getting ‘back to our roots’ is in vogue. This heightened longing for the good old days has been instrumental in bringing back many classical architectural styles, and one of them is the nalukettu veedu in Kerala…


NALUKETTU means four blocks and a typical house built in this fashion would be divided into a north, south, east, and west block. The naalukettu was a typical feature of the Kerala tharavadu tradition, where joint families lived together for generations with a patriarch and matriarch overseeing all their affairs. At the centre of the house is a nadumuttam, which is an open courtyard that served as the focal point of interactions between the family as well as various household activities and festivities. The larger and wealthier families had ettukettu or, the rarer, pathinaarukettu houses featured eight and 16 blocks with two and four courtyards respectively. All of these houses were built following the principles of ancient thachu shastra or the science of carpentry and developed during the 18th and 19th centuries, a time when the Nairs and Namboodiris

dominated the society with their power and wealth. These aristocratic families who prided on their lineage and the name of their tharavadu would build extensive naalukettu homes that would feature a grove with a snake mound to facilitate the popular worship of snakes, a basil leaves plant installation made of stone or brick, and even a pond for the exclusive use of the family. Naalukettus can be sprawling, entirely built on the ground floor or can go up to three storeys high.

Typically made of teak wood or the wood from wild jackfruit trees, brick, and mud, these houses had superior ventilation and lighting that kept the house well lit and aerated at all times. A padippura is a distinguishing feature

atop a naalukettu gate consisting of an elaborate, temple-like gopuram. The entrance to the house would have a verandah designed to receive visitors. Inside, the nadumuttam is surrounded by rooms on all sides like the ara, a special room meant to store valuables. Granaries, cattle sheds, kitchen and utility, dining halls, bathrooms, bedrooms, puja rooms, wells and other purpose-built spaces filled all the corners of a naalukettu. Another feature that showcases the technical ingenuity of these complex yet very thoughtful structures is the roof. Gabled windows on the top of all naalukettus ensured cross-ventilation at all times and let in enough light into the attic while extended rafters gave ample protection from the heavy rains that are characteristic to Kerala.


Naalukettus faded into oblivion as socio-cultural changes swept over Kerala. Education gained prominence, and more women began migrating from a life led entirely inside sooty kitchens to the outside world of work and independence. Nuclear families evolved with men and women settling down wherever work took them resulting in the break-up of the joint family system. Soon, naalukettus housed only the elders in the family and the upkeep of such large properties became near impossible. With the demand for elaborate homes dying, architects lost the special skill sets required for building these traditional houses.
Today, only a few of the original naalukettus remain mostly in the form of museums or heritage homestays.
Modern constructions now sport some features of the naalukettu style of architecture like the sloping roof, a small verandah supported by tall pillars, and a mini courtyard in the middle. Used by not only houses but also restaurants, ayurvedic spas and other establishments that are traditional to Kerala, the naalukettu design is now seeing a massive reprise. It is not uncommon to see naalukettu houses for sale in cities and real estate agencies advertising low-cost naalukettu houses to customers. And although not as glorious and rambling as the older naalukettu houses, they are a treat to the eyes.