The Institut français India, which is the cultural wing of the French Embassy in India, occupies a historic colonial bungalow, dating back to 1935. The lime washed structure, popularly known as ‘Lutyen’s Bungalow’ is located in the heart of New Delhi – the canvas of British architect Edwin Lutyens. The building’s architectural heritage value is embedded in the iconic association it has with the image of New Delhi. The project thus required that the elements that of that era that lent identity to this place enhanced while introducing contemporary elements to define the space as an Indo- French cultural institution. The functional demands of a contemporary office space needed to be carefully reconciled with the constraints of a heritage structure and that, in short, formed the design brief and vision for this project.
The building was being used by Institut Francaise India, and had grown with ad hoc additions since 1969. These new layers were in conflict with the existing and compromised both comfort and architecture of the existing building. New departments were operating out of extensions while central spaces lay underutilized with no light and ventilation made worse with panelled ceilings reminiscent of the 70s and cabinets choc-a-block with storage. As the organization grew, piecemeal additions were made that were at odds with the building - at once disconcerting and inefficient. The potential of the bungalow form – high vaulted ceiling, generous arches and walkways, thick masonry that acted as natural temperature control and a stately façade - remained unseen and under-utilized. The design thus required strategic interventions that would harmoniously create a judiciously used open environment within the existing built.
The adaptive reuse project was unique such that the function of the space after the intervention was to remain the same. The building would continue to be used as an office space, and yet play host to a range of new office functions that IFI has grown to embrace as a leading cultural agency. The office should invite and celebrate cultural interactions with the steady stream of writers, poets, artists collaborating with the various project teams at IFI in large and small groups without encroaching on each others space. The design had to accommodate the quiet days during regular office hours as well as crazy weeks leading up to their signature festival Bonjour India, where teams would swell to almost three times their size, with staff and volunteers working round the clock. The preservation of the built was prioritized without large scale structural intervention. Elements which had been added over time were removed to reveal the original structure. The volume of common spaces is accentuated with vaulted ceiling while interventions at smaller scale included defining the details on doors.
The Lutyens Bungalow is defined by its importance on the threshold of the built, and it was necessary to bring in light into the building and a create well-lit working space from the existing volume. Light was used to sculpt the spaces through material and technological interventions. Another defining element of a Lutyen’s Bungalow is the central courtyard, which was redefined and recreated also by the introduction of intense natural light. Sun tunnels were used to increase the intensity of diffused natural light and bring to the inner parts of the building. The central space was thus flooded with light without any additional energy demand. The interior finishes were light in colour to increase the brightness of the working environment. Where artificial lights were required, LED fixtures were used. Air purification systems were introduced and the variable refrigerant volume system of air-conditioning was incorporated which allowed individual climate control of air conditioning zones thus bringing down operation cost. The future planning for solar panels was also proposed.
Overall, the design strategy necessitated that the new office space follows measures for sustainable energy consumption, and at the same time have a minimalist approach while removing the clutter of the existing architecture. As an outcome, the venture achieved a visually appealing and functionally relevant building, which brought out the fundamental principles and essence of the colonial era heritage structure.