Born to be wild

by AARTI BETIGERI on Jul 27, 2011 in Interiors , Products
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Harley-Davidson’s new headquarters in Gurgaon demonstrates how a ruggedly all-American company meshing into the unique fabric of India.

Situated in Gurgaon, the shiny new satellite city adjacent to the Indian capital New Delhi that is fast emerging as India’s industrial and commercial hub, the Indian headquarters of Harley-Davidson are built to reflect the brand’s innate qualities: rugged individualism, macho rebellion and implacable devotion to the road.

The interiors were designed by New Delhi-based architecture firm Morphogenesis, which has won a slew of awards for its work from around the world. The Harley-Davidson office opened in mid-2010, with the US-based manufacturer finally making its long-awaited move into the highly sought-after Indian market. There is also an assembly plant nearby, and dealerships in five cities around the country.

“The brand was entering India for the first time, so we wanted the space to reflect Harley-Davidson’s Indian presence and how it blends with the Indian environment,” says Vijay Dahiya, a partner in the firm who was involved in the project.

The architects did this most strikingly with the use of screens throughout the reception space. So-called jaali screens are a common feature of traditional Indian design, hailing from desert regions. They are a latticed or otherwise perforated screen, often carved from marble, providing respite from the burning heat of the midday sun while still allowing air to flow through. Here, jaali screens have been used – but each perforation is in the shape of the Harley-Davidson logo. Their function is not just decorative, but also a way to divide spaces while retaining a sense of openness.

It is just one clever motorcycle motif used in the space: doors to the toilets and service rooms have bike handlebars as handles, with the mirrors serving as signage. Tables in the pantry have a set of supports resembling the side-stands of a bike. There is also an installation wall behind the reception desk, fitted out with various Harley-Davidson fuel tanks, each painted in a different design.

Through a wide glass door with the Harley Davidson seal worked into the handle is the sexy, downlit space that is the reception. To the right is a large jaali screen looking through to the open-plan office space. A little further is a glass-walled meeting room, which in turn, opens out into the workshop which contains a number of Harley-Davidson motorcycles. The other side of the workshop opens out to the kitchen and canteen area, which flows into the grassy garden. The entire office is interconnected – much in the same way as, say, the engine of a motorcycle.

There was also the need for the workspace to operate as more than simply an office: it needed to be able to host events, workshops and launch parties. Morphogenesis conceived of a space that could be closed off or opened up, as needed, with areas designated for specific uses flowing into each other.

“From one end of the office you can see the other spaces, and even out to the garden,” says Dahiya. “There are sliding doors everywhere so spaces can open up if there’s a gathering or event.”

The colour scheme in the reception and throughout the office is in line with the company’s colours: predominantly orange, black, grey with touches of white. One exception is a collection of bright red, high-backed seats. The small informal meeting spaces are known as ‘huddles’, with flooring in textured granite to mimic a gravel road.

“We wanted a non-conventional floor,” says Dahiya. “Most office floors have carpet, but we did Indian granite all over. Nothing is polished, so there’s a nice texture; you get the feeling of a road tarmac surface.”

Were there any ideas that didn’t make it to the final space? “The initial idea was to have the entire air conditioning duct open and in stainless steel, to represent the muffler of the motorcycle, to go all over the office ceiling, but it turned to be too expensive in the end,” he says. That said, a small section of the idea did make it through, with shiny aluminium ducts featuring on the ceilings of the kitchen and workshop.

It is the workshop space that sets the pulses racing among the office employees: the 10 or so bikes stashed there are available for use by staff on weekends. As Milind Shah, a marketing executive with Harley-Davidson India, explains, “We are not just trying to sell bikes, we are trying to create a riding culture in India.”