When Amit Dhanani and Vishal Shetty of Thyme & Reason Hospitality and Bad Management sat down with architect Nuru Karim to discuss their new café in Mumbai, neither of them expected magic in cardboard.
Located in Mumbai’s central business district of Bandra Kurla Complex, the cafe Cardboard is one of the two shortlisted entries from India for Dezeen Awards 2019. Arguably India’s first cardboard cafe (excluding core, shell and services), here the design concept quite literally explores ’out of the cardboard-box thinking’. Unpackaged into a 100 per cent-submersible cardboard experience that advocates usage of environment-friendly products and renewable energy to combat climate change and global warming, the unexpected interiors make you stop and stare as soon as you walk in the door.
The café took approximately nine months to complete, including three months of intensive research and development. “The project is sited in BKC, Mumbai, prime real estate, which commands extremely high rentals. Time is money and the pressure was on us to deliver in timely fashion not only a radical idea, but also a working self-sustaining solution,” says Karim.
So tell us more about the learnings from the R&D. “The idea is to have continued conservations amongst various stakeholders about the environment and collectively combat climate change. To cite an example, the United Kingdom has an impressive ’recycling‘ policy, where approximately 67 per cent of paper and cardboard is recycled every year. That’s close to 3.5 million cars taken off the roads annually! The construction industry is one of the largest contributors of greenhouse emissions and it was important for us as designers to probe for a higher cause impacting the environment through innovative use of material.”
It only gets more interesting with their finds. “Treated corrugated cardboard was subjected to the elements - extreme temperature, heat, humidity, moisture, water, oil, coffee, and even saucy spaghetti! Corrugated cardboard displayed incredible character, standing tall, its corrugated heartbeat beaming with pride. I am happy to state that corrugated cardboard withstood the elements much to the delight and satisfaction of our clients,” says the architect.
So how much cardboard did they use in the 152 square metres area of the café? “Corrugated cardboard was sourced by Jayna Packaging - and approximately 20,000 square feet of the cardboard of various thicknesses was used. Products, light fixtures, branding, panelling, mirror frames, signages, furniture, accessories, and even structural skin were fabricated from it.”
That is an incredibly hardworking material - one wouldn’t have expected this much out of the humble cardboard. Whose idea was it? “It was a collaborative effort where concept ideation was concerned. However, I would like to give Amit Dhanani and Vishal Shetty all the credit for this incredible journey that we have had and continue to have. Cardboard is, as a matter of fact, 100 per cent recyclable and bio-degradable. It is an extremely versatile material, which exhibits excellent sound absorption properties. It is also comprised of approximately 50 per cent air, which makes it light weight and durable,” adds Karim.
The fun part is that it is not just hardworking, it is also good looking! The sinuous volumes of the material wrap around the existing masonry of the structure and its columnar footprint to create free-flowing circulation trajectories. “The idea was to meander through ‘corrugated cardboard caverns’, which are sensory, tactile and immersive in nature,” explains Karim. “There exists a strong co-relation between the geometry of the ‘micro’ sinuous flutings of cardboard sheets and the ‘macro’ sinuous free-flowing forms created for the cafe. Intricate patterns and textures were created by deliberately slicing the cardboard flutings at different angles and curvatures governed by geometric discipline.
Elaborating on the design stage, Karim tells us, “The entire landscape of the café, including the cavernous geometries, bespoke furniture and light fixtures, among other detailing, have all been sculpted from cardboard. Building with cardboard meant constant exploration and inquiry into material’s performance. The most exciting part was that we were required to approach the material as students, constantly diving into study and research, which included prototyping and testing the material in real-world constraints including humidity, water resistance and temperature fluctuations. For example, the table-tops are impregnated with wax treatment to prevent water absorption and facilitate ease of maintenance.”
To sum up the experience that is Cardboard Bombay in the architect’s own words, “Cardboard, a material of humble origins has stood the test of time and has been deliberately injected into the glass monolithic architecture of Bandra Kurla Complex, Mumbai’s prime central business district, to advocate the environmental imbalance of recent trends of urbanism. We are hoping that this space evolves into a vibrant hub for dialogue and conversation on the role of design, material and technology in protecting the earth’s resources towards a sustainable future.” We are hoping too!