Newly refurbished Bombay House boasts of an eclectic mix of the old and new

Brass trees inside the Starbucks lounge
A magnificent fusion of history, heritage and modernity best describes the newly refurbished Bombay House, the Tata group headquarters which reopened on July 29, nine months after it closed its doors for a makeover — the first in its 93-year-old history. 

The opulent, yet minimalistic, entrance done in beige and gold leads you into the hallway. This refreshing introduction to the building at Fort, Mumbai, is in stark contrast to the earlier Bombay House, which had a narrow entrance and wore a cluttered look.

The renovated structure boasts an expansive hallway that breaks into plush lounges that include a salon called 1903 (to signify the year when Taj Hotel opened)  with a Starbucks  on one side and a Tata Experience Centre, or TXC, on the other. More than office, it looks like the lobby of a five-star hotel.

The renovated façade
But then it is one thing renovating an office and quite another when you are re-creating history. 

N Chandrasekaran, the chairman of Tata Sons, was conscious of this. 

And so, he entrusted Brinda Somaya, principal architect and urban conservationist at Somaya and Kalappa Consultants (SKC), with a task that required her to imbibe Tata group’s legacy so as to preserve its heritage, even while transforming the structure that had remained untouched since it was built in 1921.

The brief was to convert it into a workspace that would be inviting to young employees and would serve as the launch pad as the group looked to the future. 

A break-out space on the third floor that houses the Tata Sons office
“We knew the enormity of the task from the very beginning,” says Somaya. Considering the amount of research that was required before work actually started, getting it all done within nine months was one of the biggest challenges, adds Nandini Sampat, the director at SNK. 

Chandrasekaran wanted the architects to dig into the company’s archives to first understand the group and its journey and then integrate it with the building. So the mother-daughter duo of Somaya and Sampat, and their team, travelled to Pune in Mahatrashtra, Jamshedpur (nicknamed as “Tatanagar”) in Jharkhand and Navsari, the birthplace of Jamsetji Tata in Gujarat.

These break-out zones can be found across the offices
They scanned through the state libraries to source information that would give them a sound understanding of the company’s philosophy. “The project had to be a reflection of the company and the journey it has undertaken,” says Sampat, adding that their past experience of having restored museums and hotels came in handy.

All of this had to be married to Chandrasekaran’s vision of “One Tata”. “He wanted the ground floor to be a common space,” says Somaya. That is how this area, which earlier had small offices, took shape. It now has lounges that are open to people from all companies of the group. Chandra stayed closely involved every step of the way. Not only did he give directions but he also took stock of the implementation at regular intervals. At the same time, he allowed for creative freedom, says Somaya.

SNK’s team started off with a “condition assessment,” analysing the heritage building painstakingly, as if it were a patient. This was done to understand where the deterioration was, how it had happened and how it had to be addressed. 

Besides the interiors, the team also worked on the outer look, rerouting the pipes and putting air conditioners in designated areas rather than having them scattered on the structure. The British-era façade of the building and its classical look was, however, not touched.

Making the offices acoustically sound was another important task, given the noisy surroundings where the building is located. At the end of the exercise, the decibel levels were brought down from 82 to 40, says Sampat.

The first and second floors of the building now house the offices of the main operating companies. And the third and fourth floors are the offices of Tata Sons, the group’s holding firm. 

Among other things, the impression of wide, open spaces took visitors to the renovated structure by surprise. This has been the strength of her firm, says Sampat, adding that for architects it is important to be able to visualise space in three dimensions.

Nandini Sampat and Brinda Somaya
The team had to take permission from the heritage committee to make structural changes that would broaden the entrance. This concept was executed on all the floors. The corridors were widened and all the services, whether it was toilets or pantries, were consolidated and placed in specific locations. 

The overarching theme of old-meets-new runs through every floor. Multiple breakout spaces on each floor are meant to encourage an open, collaborative culture that would in turn inspire ideation. The fourth office, which is the executive floor and houses the chairman’s office, also has a terrace garden.

The kennel that houses nine dogs
Each floor also boasts an art wall that aims to communicate what each company stands for. Employees of all operating companies —  Tata Power, Tata Steel, Tata Motors and Tata Chemicals — from India and outside actively participated to create these walls. Artworks and installations were also commissioned from artists. “We tried to understand the story of each company and the milestones it had achieved and translated it into an artwork,” says Sampat. 

Inside the Starbucks lounge with vintage Tata Sons photographs
For instance, the Tata Steel floor has a map of Jamshedpur and a silhouette of the steel plant created from the steel sent by the company from Jamshedpur. 

Another significant highlight of the renovated building is a kennel for canines who have been an important part of Bombay House. Designed and conceptualised by Sampat, a dog lover, the well-aired and ventilated room is home to nine dogs. The pup Munni is the recent addition to the family. Sampat has taken care of minute details to make them feel at home. Besides a little flap door through which they can easily enter or leave the kennel, there is a house-cum-bed that allows them to slip underneath into a cosy dark place. There is also a small bathing area and space for storing their food.

“This has been one of the most unique projects we have worked on so far,” says Somaya, beaming with pride. She is now contemplating a book on the Bombay House restoration.

JRD Tata’s bust in the hallway

The south-side entry passage

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