The home of Lookup’s new HQ is Koramangala, one of Bangalore’s largest and most cosmopolitan districts. “The new app is all about connecting consumers with local services, like restaurants and bars, so it made sense to have all of this activity happening around them,” Shwetha Devidas, project architect at Bhumiputra Architecture explains. Lookup is a fast-track startup. It had just 50 employees when the CEO commissioned the project – he learned of Bhumiputra Architecture through a mutual friend, visited the practice’s own office space and the project took off from there. The new space, measuring 465sq m in all, can generously accommodate 100.
“Lookup’s workforce falls into the 25-28 year old age bracket, and that includes the CEO,” Devidas explains. Bhumiputra Architecture seems to mirror that profile – at the time that the project completed, the practice’s principal architect, Alok Shetty, featured on the cover of Forbes Asia magazine’s list of 30 social entrepreneurs under 30 years old as a pioneer of affordable housing. “Lookup are very ideas driven. The project was the perfect opportunity for us to be experimental, and we went all out,” Devidas explains. As well as being creative, the team very carefully observed, and responded to, the company’s working practices.
The first thing of note in the new HQ is that no one has any fixed desk space; people come in and work in different environments throughout the day. This could involve some time at the high tables, or standing desks as they are called, some time solo working in one of the cosy wall seats, some time in the brainstorming arena – the semi-circular amphitheatre in the centre of the space – and perhaps a Skype call in one of a cluster of bright red, old-school telephone booths to one corner of the main office space. There are also banks of shared desk spaces, cushioned benches and a dedicated conference call room. “Since we went back to visit the space we found some people sitting underneath the tables, leaning against the high stools,” Devidas recounts. “You can never quite predict how people will choose to work in the space that you create them.”
Another thing the design team observed from the company’s working practices was the lack of any apparent hierarchal structures. “Any member of the company can approach any other member whenever they need to. It’s very fluid, and we didn’t then want to impose any barriers through our design,” Devidas explains.
At first the CEO did not wish to have a space that was separate from the rest of the company, but came to realise he should have somewhere with a degree of privacy in case any of his clients felt uncomfortable with being on the main office floor. “We created the CEO’s cabin for these scenarios,” Devidas says, “but it is purposely transparent, so there is still nothing to deter people approaching him just as normal. On the occasions we have gone back since completion, he is always sitting in the main workspaces
alongside everyone else.”
As well as the way in which the space is used, when employees come and when they go is also very informal. “There is no day when the office is closed and no fixed set of holidays. If you want to work on a public holiday you can,” Devidas explains. “We designed a lot of the spaces with tactile fabrics, and cushions, like those you might have at home. So if you do find yourself at work on a Sunday, you feel like you are in a comfortable and familiar environment; it’s why we avoided more corporate formality.”
The team opted for a very soft colour palette for the same reasons. “With a lot of designers working within the space, we didn’t want anything that would impose upon their ideas,” Devidas explains. The furniture and fittings – which, apart from the office chairs, were all custom made for the project – are mainly birch and pine, untreated with a slight polish, to keep them light and neutral. The large floor tiles are quite simple, to keep the budget down, but are similar in tone to polished concrete, completing the soft industrial aesthetic.
The company’s logo, or mascot, is a green parrot, which the design team wanted to work into the project, hence the indigenous plants on every table. “This adds green to the scheme and, in an office that is air conditioned all day, also improves the air quality,” Devidas adds. The centrepiece of the space, visible from wherever you are sitting on the floor, is the amphitheatre, commonly referred to as the “Pitch”.
The arena is fitted with a 360-degree camera, so any large talks or conferences that take place there can be recorded and shared. “You don’t actually have to be inside the arena to take part,” Devidas says. “As it is so central, you can join in from any desk.
“It is somewhere the whole company can gather, or congregate at work in the day, and after work the Xboxes and everything else come out, and it becomes a recreational space,” he explains. “The roped pendant lights above are on dimmer, so it works just as well in the evenings as in the day.”
Lookup also needed the option of a more formal space for the company to use for conference calls, and the design team created a room for this, complete with a wall-mounted screen, custom-designed lighting and white metro tiles.
The other scenario that the designer team identified where open plan is not the ideal is Skype calling. “People tend to move out of their workstation to take these calls, and search for somewhere private,” Devidas says. “The CEO had just come back from London at the time we were looking for a solution, and he was fascinated by these pillar red phone boxes, so we set up a row of these retro-looking booths for Skype calls, and for private working.
“Lookup could be a launch pad for more workplace projects in the future,” Devidas explains. “It has been our first, but we have learned a lot, and it has been a lot of fun.”
An amphitheatre sits at the heart of this fluid workspace for a young Bangalore startup