Project head: TheBusride Design Studio

“The Smoke House Deli poses a unique challenge, to create a fun, informal, buzzing deli space, which turns into a mood-lit, quieter and more romantic evening venue. Being an all-day dining space, we conceived of an all-white, entirely hand-illustrated space where every element, from the outdoor signage and main door, to wallpapers and cabinets, are hand illustrated by us, over a month or so. At our first outlet in Vasant Kunj, the design takes an irreverent, fun look at “serious” restaurant design, objects exist as a parody of themselves. The illustrations make tangential (and often completely random) references to food ingredients, music being played at the outlet, international socio-political movements, sub-cultures, philosophy and fetishes.

Since the Deli format lends easily to context, at Chandigarh we have extended the parody into a critique of the stoic, heroic, single-mindedness that produced the hard-edged modernity of Chandigarh. We’ve introduced ‘cute’ oddities (blasphemy) to a Le Corbusier designed commercial complex. We have tried to create a precise opposite to what Le Corbusier’s parlour might have been like – the quintessential anti parlour.

Modernism is often celebrated as an international movement that produced the highest art-forms. Everyone was on a mission, and knew exactly what had to be done. Smoke House deli attempts to contextualize and unravel this clear-minded, indisputable modernism through its many aspects: like the world wars, colonization, fetishes of the unknown barbarian lands, Euro-centricism. Imagine the British (or any colonial power) who preached human rights while having colonies across the world where they exploited exactly those rights, imagine the wars they’ve fought, imagine them proclaiming their supremacy in all forms of art while the Taj Mahal was supposedly built by barbarians, imagine how maps were drawn, how lands were conquered, how a bunch of civilizations have been completely eradicated by colonialization, and how histories of these lands, their people were written by foreigners. And in the midst of all of this, Le Corbusier’s civilizing mission in Punjab and his sympathy for Nehru and the Indian people.

Still fun and irreverent: We’ve consciously made the whole place cross referenced. It is abundant with names that tempt you to run a search, objects that you recall from past experiences and readings, artifacts that you may come across in a Corbusier museum. We’ve created a location that provides an insight into modernism, its shortcomings as well as the vast response to it which we call postmodernism.”

Algiers time

Max-Well-Fry and Jane-Drew

Intense paneling

Intense paneling

World Map of anti-colonialists

World Map of anti-colonialists

Sometime around the 1930s

Sometime around the 1930s

Sometime around the 1930s

Tribal fetishes

Delicatessen

Delicatessen

A wooden barn house thrown at the Le Corbusier commercial complex

Oudoor dining

Notes on the making of a Smoke House Deli:

1. Contemporary architectural practice (as it’s turned out following the modernist period) involves greater hours spent in the office making detailed drawings and models, or working in an abstract way with space and form. The architect is not so much a participant on site any longer, but a supervisor who controls the site remotely. The Smoke House Deli is a format that challenges this stereotypical relationship of architect and site, or architect and labour. Here, the architect is involved with the site in a visceral way, while becoming an integral part of the construction process. The architect is personally invested in the finish that the masons, carpenters and painters provide. It is his/her hand that must run over each surface, each edge during the illustration process. Misalignments or unevenness in substrate begins to affect the illustrations as well. The site cannot be finished without the architect’s contribution (illustration in this case). Each Smoke House Deli has taken approximately 35-40 days to illustrate fully.

2. The Smoke House Deli was often joked about as being ‘recession interiors’. And rightfully so, the first Smoke House Deli was built through 2008-09. Simple straight lines, everything painted white, and hand illustrated with a permanent marker. Only the floor and loose furniture are coloured naturally. Surface ornament exists but as a parody of itself. Baroque style elements are illustrated to give an impression of luxurious space. But luxury was achieved in Rs. 200. Playing right into the stereotypical perception of luxury as surface ornamentation, the Smoke House Deli also presents a luxurious skin (akin to imitation diamond inlays, veneer parquets, beveled rosewood paneling) that wraps over a purely functional substrate of plywood. Furthermore, Smoke House Deli celebrates the objects of everyday life. Putting a real loaf of bread wouldn’t have had as much of an effect on the luxury of space than drawing it with a marker.

Inserting the Smoke House Deli into a Le Corbusier designed commercial building complex in Chandigarh intensifies this discourse manifold. Its interesting to imagine how a parody on surface ornament can be accommodated within a building that epitomizes the ‘form follows function’ or an ‘ornament is sin’ modernist paradigm. At some level, we felt a strange alignment with Le Corbusier’s ideals, but choosing to represent our aversion to surface ornament in a more satirical way. We dealt with some very exciting questions: How do we wrap a (Le Corbusier-designed) round column with baroque paneling? How do we design a kitchen extension to the (Le Corbusier-designed) austere brick and concrete facade? How do we curate the (quintessential Le Corbusier) anti-parlour with art, sculpture, curios, memorabilia, personal items and furniture? If what we are doing is blasphemous, where and how do we reveal Le Corbusier’s original design of the place?

3. The Smoke House Deli is an experiment in plagarism. When, as an act of plagarism, is the line crossed? How much distortion of an original is required such that the reproduction does not qualify as plagarism? Or does the fact that we are re-sketching an original object or art work make us less guilty of plagarism? We’ve explored the possibility of satire as an instrument to compensate for plagarism. Because satire is brought in at the level of curating the entire place, the focus is not on an individual art-work within the restaurant but on its impact amongst a bunch of disparate others. So art-works are included not for the value they bring to the decor (that we felt would be plagarism and devaluing to the original) but for their cumulative satirical value. We’re not reproducing the art object as much as expounding its satirical significance in the place.

For example, we’ve been very careful to pick those objects (of high modernist origin) that lose some essence in black and white, those objects that celebrate the supremacy of colour and composition. Imagine reproducing a Rothko using a black permanent marker. Or a Mondrian? We believe that the satirical significance of having a black and white Mondrian supercedes the act of plagarism. The object is part of a curation that assigns it a value outside of the value lost in its reproduction.

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