Cardboard Cafe - Behind The Scenes

PrintWeek India speaks to the creative team behind the Mumbai-based Cardboard cafe

30 Dec 2019 | By Payal Khandelwal

“Injecting cardboard tectonically into the glass centric architecture of Bandra Kurla Complex (Mumbai) is both a statement and a small step towards creating a community that could snowball into a larger sustainable platform for conversations and dialogues revolving around protecting the earth's natural resources in a responsible manner.”
As the press note predicted, Cardboard cafe, which was launched just a few months back, has indeed become a platform for conversations about the relationship between design, technology, material, and sustainability.

Fabricated by Haresh Mehta of Jayna Packaging and designed by architect Nuru Karim, Cardboard’s interiors, including walls, furniture, and light fixtures, are entirely made of corrugated cardboard. The cafe’s branding and design is by illustrator Tanya Eden. The management team behind the venture includes Vishal Shetty and Shilpa Tulaskar of Thyme & Reason Hospitality and siblings Bhavna and Amit Dhanani, creators of Bandra’s erstwhile Bad Cafe.

PrintWeek India speak to the makers – Nuru Karim, Haresh Mehta and Tanya Eden – about the project. 

 Nuru Karim, founder and design principal, Nudes 

Could you briefly tell us the story of how the Cardboard cafe project reached you in the first place?
Nudes had earlier designed Bad Cafe for Bhavna and Amit Dhanani (Bad Management), which received critical acclaim both for its F&B experience and architectural design. ‘Cardboard’ is the second brand launched by Bad Management in collaboration with Thyme and Reason Hospitality (Vishal Shetty and Shilpa Taluskar).
The cornerstone design philosophy for both the projects has been driven by sustainability and climate change. While Bad used recycled PVC pipes, Cardboard cafe “unboxed” the potential of corrugated cardboard to create India’s first holistically designed corrugated cardboard hospitality project. 

What was the most complicated part of working with the material?
The project is sited in BKC, Mumbai which commands arguably the highest rent in the country. Timely delivery and fabrication were both huge challenges. As we started tasting the success via aggressive prototyping, we got more ambitious about the extent, scope, and usage of corrugated cardboard. We wanted to explore a holistic design sensibility that included the interior scape, furniture, lights, and accessories designed out of corrugated cardboard. The fabrication process was not possible without harnessing the true power of digital design and design optimisation, thereby reducing the fabrication time by hundreds of hours. 
Building with cardboard meant constant exploration and inquiry into material performance. We approached the material as students, constantly diving into research, which included prototyping and testing the material in real world constraints including humidity, water resistance, and temperature fluctuations.

What were some of the most interesting insights while exploring the material and its performance during the making?
The design concept literally explores “out of the cardboard-box thinking”, unpackaged into a 100% submersible cardboard experience that advocates usage of environment-friendly products and renewable energy to combat climate change, global warming. Cardboard is 100% recyclable and biodegradable. It is an extremely versatile material, which exhibits excellent sound absorption properties. It is also comprised of approximately 50% air, which makes it lightweight and durable.

The cafe has almost become a statement piece and a dialogue for art/design/sustainability. Was that a conscious attempt right from the beginning or did it evolve on its own?
The journey has been a riveting experience. The more we dove into the design process, the more we discovered qualities about this amazing material. It is truly a fascinating material that has now been tested in real-world constraints. Even though we firmly had our eye on the ball, this was an unconscious attempt to create, as many have remarked, an iconic landmark in the city of Mumbai. We have been absolutely bowled over by the love, adulation, support and encouragement the project has received not only from the country but also from across the globe. We are hoping that this space evolves into a vibrant hub for dialogue and conversation on the role of design, material, and technology in protecting the earth’s resources towards a sustainable future.

Haresh Mehta, owner, Jayna Packaging

Since this was a really large scale project involving corrugated board, what were the challenges at your end particularly? What was the collaboration process with the architecture team for the cafe? 
I've been involved in large-scale projects earlier, too, and I love challenges. I strongly believe that many of our day-to-day things, which are being made out of metal, wood, plastic, can be replaced by sustainable corrugated paper board. Corrugated board is a very versatile material, and it's been quite underestimated and not been explored the way it should have been. Talking about large-scale projects, we've made a boat, entirely made out of corrugated board. No plastics and no metal were used even for joinery. Compared to that, making a corrugated restaurant wasn't challenging.
I've been toying with the idea of making a cafe entirely of the corrugated board since the last few years, and I shared the idea with Nuru, and that's how the it started. There was a lot of back and forth from the drawing board to prototyping, but the entire journey has been very interesting. In particular, the creation of the walls on both sides of the restaurant, which are designed specifically to create the floor, was interesting and challenging. Emerging from one of the walls, the desk comes out as a flowing structure with no legs – making that was very challenging but it is now a great piece of engineering and aesthetics. 

Apart from sustainability and strength, are there any other secret qualities of this material that people still don't know about?
Corrugated board has many qualities. It's a marvel of architectural engineering, based on the principal of Arch and Pillars. It is far stronger than the material it is made out of - craft paper.

What are some of your personal favourite large scale projects using corrugated board? 
There are quite a few structures I like overseas. But, I love the steps, arch, ramp structures that I have made, which have unique engineering design and can sustain a huge amount of weight. In fact, I have even driven my car on the ramp.

Tanya Eden, illustrator and visual artist 

What was the initial brief given to you for the design?
The brief was to create an identity that represented their concept of organic sustainable living with creativity and innovation (Create | Consume | Change). Staying true to the concept, I felt that the logo should be relatable and memorable, and what better way to do it than to have a mascot. A likeable, funny, and quirky character to engage with the customers. The mascot is a minimal 2D logo symbol with the resemblance of the head chef’s face at Cardboard in an apron.

Could you tell us a bit about your creative process for this - how did you translate the idea of a cafe that’s made entirely from cardboard to your designs? What were your other inspirations?
Being a cafe made out of cardboard, the symbol of the face is driven from the squarish shape of a cardboard box, the type font is blocky keeping the logo’s aesthetic similar to cardboard.
The menu consists of old-fashioned named dishes and drinks from the 70s, which gave me the idea to keep the look old school. It also inspired me to create a mascot like the good old days, instead of a minimal logo with just fonts or food symbols. 
The process consisted of sketches of various face-like features and food objects incorporated into a cardboard box, which later turned into a hundred rough digital options to choose from. It took months of back and forth to really come through with the finished logo, the logo’s symbol face character was expressive and had scope to change features and hairdos, which makes it easy to implement it for media, GIF adverts, and posters. To see my vision for this brand come to life has been an amazing experience.

Was there anything you found particularly challenging about the project?
To take the qualities of cardboard and implement it into a character for the logo was challenging. I did have my doubts of how a human face mascot can personify cardboard material and stay true to an all-cardboard cafe concept. 

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