Recycled, low-cost, youthful office design speaks the language of 'Youth Ki Awaaz'
Youthfulness, simplicity, innovation and economy of materials, and a flowing, democratic space–This is the essence of a new workspace for online media platform Youth Ki Awaaz.
'Youth Ki Awaaz,' whose name translates to 'Mouthpiece of the youth,' is a web-based platform, a community really, that crowdsources, curates and edits a selection of stories and articles on current-day issues that are often bypassed by mainstream media.
With more than 2 million readers a month, it is clear that Youth Ki Awaaz is wildly popular and widely followed in India and abroad. As an organization, they have dedicated themselves to highlighting otherwise unheard voices, are transparent in their workings and vocal about issues that they stand for. This ethos is materialized in the design of their new office space in New Delhi.
My interface with the fresh, barrier-less interiors of Youth Ki Awaaz's workspace was through interaction with the design team behind it–New Delhi-based Architects Rita John and Ruchika Lall. Through furniture and artwork, the two designers made minimal but effective interventions in the 1080-Square Foot rented space. With the exception of the conference room, the entire space is integrated visually and spatially and reads as a fluid whole.
The duo worked hard to create a spatial layout and selection of materials that truly embodies the values of their client. This materialization of an identity, paired with the creative use of recycled, and extremely low-cost materials is what intrigued me immensely.
As I spoke with the two designers, I grasped how determined they had been to use recycled materials. An informal, local industry for recycling and sorting–which is set-up around Auto-manufacturer Maruti’s plant in Gurgaon– provided a solution for them. Pallet wood, which had first been used as packaging material at the plant and then resold in bulk, became the material the duo used to transform Youth Ki Awaaz’s new office.
Not only did they spend only one-fourth (1/4th) of what sourcing conventional, new wood would have cost them, but the available sizes and shapes of the reused pallet wood provided an interesting set of constraints to design unique furniture pieces with.
‘Pallet Wood' is wood that goes into creating supporting structures and platforms (called Pallets), which in turn, are used to forklift, transport and handle large packaged goods for manufacturing industries.
None of this came easily to them, however, as finding carpenters who would be willing to work with this reused, often fragmented wood proved to be a challenge they had to overcome. Another constraint was the short time-frame they had for construction; Since Youth Ki Awaaz had to move into their new space, even before the completion of its interiors. This meant thinking on their feet; a lot of design and detailing while simultaneously building and problem-solving with fabricators and carpenters.
The two created a series of workspaces that range from individual desks to a long, continuous workstation for PCs and laptops which snakes across the office space. There are also a series of informal work spaces like a low height coffee table with cushioned floor seating and a lunch table with benches, and a bar table with stools. This range of anthropometric options creates a flexible and fun workspace for the client’s team while exploring how coworkers interact with each other.
Looking around the office, other remarkable design elements stand out: There is a beautiful, colorful, swing that serves as a porous waiting area, and embodies the youthful, no-barriers philosophy the client has. The cables of the swing are lined with a thick weave of recycled, used plastic-packets–a technique that has emerged from urban villages in the city but has not yet made its way into more upscale design projects.
Along the walls are vividly painted murals, designed and executed by Rita John. The murals–Subtext, Liberation, and #Tree–were made only with acrylic paint on MDF composite wood board. They Dynamically represent many of the issues that Youth Ki Awaaz stands for. Other elements to look out for? The flexible and organic arrangement of work desks that encourages free seating, and speaks to the way that this user group operates–constant collaboration across the room, with no rigid hierarchy between themselves.
From a detailing perspective, an attractive triangular wood detail between desks allows them to flow into each other and create a linked environment.There are also light fixtures made from glass bottles, and existing furniture from the clients previous workspace, which have been repurposed creatively. Other low-embodied energy materials that were used include interestingly cut bamboo pen-holders on the workstations, which double as space dividers, and jute ropes which string a series of pinup boards.
At this point, it is vital to note a key ingredient in what was clearly a successful design process–the relationship between these designers and their client. Duo Rita and Ruchika understood the 'small-group' quality that the client's team wanted to take forward to their new space, despite their growing larger as an organization. In turn, the Youth Ki Awaaz team was incredibly supportive of all design and material experimentation.