A Modern Aesthetic in Mumbai

A Modern Aesthetic in Mumbai

By Erika Heet
Seeking to harmoniously integrate a modern aesthetic into the varied architectural vernaculars of Mumbai, India, the Brooklyn-based firm Khanna Schultz (made up of the wife-and-husband team of Vrinda Khanna and Robert Schultz) conceptualized a stacked, seven-unit apartment building for a developer, one that incorporates traditional elements with contemporary approaches.

Located on Saint Leo Road in a historic neighborhood near the west coast of the city, the building rests on an open-air base—a typical motif for buildings in this humid zone—sheathed in aluminum panels with circular cutouts that allow breezes through. Inside the space, used as a public area with a gym and swimming pools for the apartment’s tenants, pull-down scrim panels protect the inhabitants from excessive sun, as well as from rain during monsoon season.

Working within the restraints of the sometimes-severe Mumbai weather and around the city's great architectural varieties, not to mention the existing coconut palms and banyan trees, architectural firm Khanna Schultz constructed a 27,000-square-foot-plus, seven-unit modern apartment building with a striking open-air base. At front is the street-side boundary wall made up of a stone base and a planter on top, which is meant to fill in with foliage over time. The curved base of the building is cantilevered about 10 feet. "This has to do with zoning and fire codes," notes Schultz. "But since you don't see the columns, it seems like the whole building is floating."

 "The lower-level space serves as a kind of sculptural and playful icon for the building," says Schultz, who conceived this approach with Khanna, who grew up in the city (formerly Bombay), and was already well versed in its architectural evolution. "Unlike the apartments on the floors above, the bottom could be an open-air space that references a classic device in Mughal architecture. We looked at many, many options before coming up with this solution." Building upon this, the pair set the apartments slightly back from the base, creating an additional towering architectural gesture and ensuring more visual protection from the street below.

The perforated aluminum cladding surrounds the lower-level public area, which contains the pools and gym for the tenants. Khanna and Schultz played with the idea of using stainless steel, but found that aluminum had the appropriate strength for the building's needs. "With the lights glowing from inside, it turns the whole building into a big lantern at night," says Schultz.

 The client requested a private apartment on the top floor; Khanna and Schultz, working with Mumbai-based associate architect Katayun Irani on-site, created a two-level penthouse apartment culminating in a rooftop terrace with a lap pool overlooking the city and the Arabian Sea in the distance. They laid down a teak floor and juxtaposed it with stark-white walls; they used concrete flooring for the apartments below.

The entrance leads to an open walkway, sitting area and mail area beneath the open-air public floor of the building.

"This building is definitely very unique," says Khanna. "The client and all the people on the project were really interested in good design, and doing things well, which is amazing to find."

Somewhat by chance, the apartment building's aluminum core references the perforations of the house next door; its interior breezeways also echo those of the neighboring structure.


The aluminum cladding was left its original silver color; Khanna and Schultz note that it reflects the surrounding colors and can read anywhere in the spectrum from blue to white.


A view from the street reveals the front and side elevations of the building, with somewhat of an architectural refrain of perforations running up the side of the apartments. The balconies, made from a recycled Indian railway hardwood, employ closely linked slats whose gaps widen as they go up, to allow breeze and light in. To their right are the apartments' bedrooms.

To see more images of the project, please visit the slideshow.

An angle showing the interaction between the new building and the house next door, as well as the numerous trees on-site.


Looking back from the lobby area toward the street; the sidewalk is just beyond the wall at rear. At right is a bench for the residents; at left are the mailboxes, for which Khanna and Schultz chose a bright orange. The pair worked with Forethought Design Consultants on the landscaping, which will eventually grow more lush and provide additional privacy. "In this climate, within a year, it will be completely filled in," says Schultz.

A mirror near the mailboxes in the lobby gives the illusion of more space. A team from Lighting Planners Associates, based in Japan, added the uplights behind the bench for effect. The architectural firm left the ceilings raw concrete to make the space "more enigmatic," says Schultz.

The sliding-gate entrance to the residents' private, 4,900-square-foot pool and gym area.

The aluminum casing creates a play of light and shadows as the sun moves across the building. A lap pool, at right, spills over into the main pool.

An interplay of geometries in what Khanna calls "the belly of the building." Uplights create new angles of light, raw concrete retains a rough edge and square pool tiles add texture and color while offsetting the perforated circles. The dropped ceiling at right is part of a small balcony overlooking the pools; beneath it is a sitting area.

The pull-down scrims over the lap pool move with the breeze within the public space.

The owner's apartment, which incorporates a double-height space in some areas, has teak floors, whereas the other units have more industrial concrete floors.

Khanna and Schultz introduced a deep, cantilevered overhang to the owner's terrace, which has a pool and a view of the city and the Arabian Sea.

The side elevation of the building shows the seven 2,500-square-foot apartments, including the owner's two-level penthouse apartment, stacked above the common area downstairs. Image courtesy Khanna Schultz.


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