The Indian Coffee House is a coffee-restaurant chain with over 400 outlets all over India. While the chain started during the British rule, it is now run by worker co-operative societies and maintains a menu that serves affordable snacks and food items. Kerala is home to 51 of those outlets, some of them being historic locations.
The one in Thiruvananthapuram is located at Thampanoor, an area of heavy footfall owing to the Railway and Bus Stations that are in its vicinity. This building is a landmark comprising a unique form and is one of Laurie Baker’s most well-known works.
1. Design Philosophy – Style
The building falls under the category of Neo-Vernacular architecture. When Laurie Baker had come to India, he had to revise whatever he had learned as an architect during his academic years – the vernacular techniques that he adopted are, therefore, a sharp contrast to the ideologies of Modernism in the Western world. His design principles revolve around sustainability and usage of locally sourced materials, allowing his buildings to make the most of their site and climate conditions.
Laurie Baker also tends to use interesting techniques with the arrangement of walls that allows a sustainable design ecology to be a part of his buildings. The Indian Coffee House in Thiruvananthapuram is no exception and is an important architectural structure of the city.
2. Concept Planning
Constructed in 1958, according to Baker it was meant to be like a café between the two Railway and Bus stations, something similar to fast food restaurants where foods are offered for quick eats or takeaways. After its opening it was converted into a restaurant, considering the cultural setting.
The building was planned on a relatively small urban site, and the walls were curved to fulfill the programmatic requirements within the given space.
Shaped like a spiral, the flooring winds its way around a central core like a ramp. To maintain the proportion and the stability of the building, the ramp gets smaller as it goes to the top, forming an imperfect but balanced cylinder.
The curved exterior walls are all perforated with Jali patterns which add an aesthetic quality in addition to their actual function, to provide natural day-lighting and ventilation. This sustainable technique is traditionally adopted in multiple projects designed by Baker and is now a distinguishing factor of his work. The absence of windows and the patterned red walls give the building a sculptural quality, only emphasized through its location.
The eating spaces are inbuilt with the space on the outer side of the ramp as repeated modules. Built on a horizontal platform, these modules rise in height with the ramp and cover the entirety of it. This allows for optimum usage of space and the maximum number of seatings is provided.
As is the trend with Baker’s buildings, bricks are used to build the load-bearing walls that curve to form the structure. They retain their original color on the exterior but are painted white on the interior. The furniture is built with the interior walls on the outer end of the ramp. Concrete slabs are fitted in the walls as tables which are supported by a brick arch at the end that is not connected to the wall. Bricks are used for the seatings with a slab of block-oxide on top, the same material used for the backrest as well.
5. Construction Technology Used
Spanning around a central circular service core, the ramp spans for two floors and ends up on the upper floor giving a 360-degree view of the surroundings of the urban space where the building is located. The brick walls and an absence of windows allow the interior space to be acoustically separated from the outside noise.
The circular service core is made up of two concentric cores within it – the inner one open to sky unobstructed and opens to the inside of the space to allow ventilation to come from within the building itself. With the Jalis and this shaft space, the structure becomes airy enough to combat the heat of Thiruvananthapuram. This technique is called the stack effect.
The service areas, including the washrooms, are located near the core. The ground floor has a separate entrance to the kitchen. Due to the strong slope of the ramp, it becomes a little difficult for the staff to provide food to all the upper areas constantly, which is why it is preferable if the lower areas are filled up first.