The Tote by Serie Architects


Chris Lee and Kapil Gupta of Serie Architects have completed a banqueting hall in Mumbai, India, which has a structure like an avenue of trees.

Called The Tote, the project forms part of a renovation and extension to a series of colonial buildings.

It comprises a banquet hall and reception room, plus a restaurant and bar.

The design was inspired by trees on the site and incorporates branching steel columns with an I-shaped section.

Lighting is installed at the points where these branches meet the ceiling.

The walls of the bar upstairs are clad in faceted wooden panels, arranged according to a pattern of crossing tree branches that is picked out in bronze.

More about Serie Architects on Dezeen: Blue Frog Lounge

Photographs are by Fram Petit.

Here's some text from the architects:



A series of disused buildings from Mumbai’s colonial past set within the Mumbai Race Course are to be converted to form a series of restaurant and bars.

The conservation guidelines call for the preservation of the roof profile for three-quarters of the buildings and full conservation for the remaining one-quarter.

The interesting aspect of the site, however, lies not in the colonial buildings but in the open spaces covered by mature Rain Trees. These spaces are shaded throughout the year by the thinly wide spread leaves of the Rain Trees, allowing almost the entire proposed program to occur outdoors.

Our proposal attempts to continue this idea of a continuously differentiated space, with no clear boundary, into the envelope of the conservation building. A new structure is proposed within the old building envelope.

The structural system adopted here is that of a tree-branch. The propagation of the branching system along the longitudinal section of the conserved building is differentiated in its growth along the transverse section. This differentiation reorganizes the old buildings with new dining programs.

Therefore each dining program (wine bar, restaurant, pre-function and banquet facilities) is captured within a different spatial volume, defined by the variable degree of the branching structure.

As the structure branches into finer structural members as it approaches the ceiling. When the branches touch the ceiling, the ceiling plane is punctured with a series of openings corresponding to the intersection of the branches with the purlins and rafters. These openings become light coves and slits.

Construction Notes: The construction of the Tote was a complex combination of restoration works for the Heritage Building and the demolition and reconstruction of the the Banquet wing.

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The tree structure was designed to be a steel truss and the challenge lay in working through the construction system compatible with local skills. Rather than looking at steel fabricators within the building construction sector, we sourced boiler fabricators for high precision work. We explored two sectional profiles for the truss, a box section and an I-section.

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The choice of the I-section was based on the fact that the web could be laser cut to ensure dimensional precision, while relying on the skilled fabricators to weld the flanges on and assemble the truss accurately. The truss geometry was altered for smooth branching as opposed to an angular one to reduce the number of weld joints. The success of the installation is that the final product conceals the fabrication method and appears to be a system of curved sections. The interior of the Lounge Bar on the upper level is an intricate arrangement of 3-dimensional, faceted wooden panelling, acoustically treated with sound proofing material. The pattern of the panelling is a series of trees with intersecting branches.

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The false ceiling is a complex arrangement of three lighting systems built up in plasterboard and plywood coves. They offer the client flexibility to alter the lighting effects based on event type.

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We devised a 3 point co-ordinate system to map out the pattern onto the walls of the heritage wing, given the 3 dimensional nature of the panelling and that each intersecting point had a totally different x,y and z co-ordinate. This system allowed local craftsmen using fairly primitive tools to achieve a high level of fit and finish for the interior works. The faceted panelling is finished in walnut veneer with bronze channels making up the tree pattern.

Building Type: Banqueting hall, Restaurant & Bar
Location: Mumbai, India
Area: 2500 sqm
Design: Christopher Lee and Kapil Gupta
Project Team: Yael Gilad, Dharmesh Thakker, Suril Patel, Purva Jamdade, Advait Potnis, Vrinda Seksaria, Udayan Mazumdar, Mayank Ojha and Atish Rathod
Design Phase: October2006- September 2007
Construction Phase: December 2007- October 2009

Structural Engineering: Facet Construction Engineering Pvt. Ltd
Mechanical and Electrical Engineering: AARK Consulting
Lighting Design: Abhay Wadhwa Associates
Sound Design: Nexus Audio Video with Ole Christensen
Landscape Design: Apeiron Architects
Project Management: Masters Management Consultants
Metal Fabrication: Unique Concrete Technologies
Interior Contractors: Interex
Liaison Architects: Barai Architects and Engineers

Posted on Monday December 7th 2009 at 12:06 am by . Copyright policy | Comments policy

  • pedro

    art nouveau is back… with lasers!

  • beautiful

  • heath
  • abe

    Art deco?

  • Jeroen

    Interesting. Something in me really enjoys the formal elegance of it. But on the other hand, it seems to lack a level of abstraction which prevents the Disney factor from coming around the corner. It might be stronger to use a formal language with a similar visual refinement and scale, but using geometry based on a structural logic or production method. There is a serious risk of becoming boring and mundane after seeing it for the first time, due to the overly literal analogy.
    Like it or not, it has been built with incredible precision, which is admirable.

  • I am enchanted.

  • Like a modern version of the Park Guel – Gaudi?

  • curb

    overall great. the tree trunk columns where the “branches” meet are a little awkward though. I love how people without an architectural understanding will be able to relate and respond to this project. well done

  • What happened in the twentieth century?

  • horrible haridas

    it is always a pleasure to see how architects and designers handle the constraints of india; and also the results of the process. heres to dezeen for publishing so much india these days!

    love the feel of the outdoor banquet place. the pictures of the interior could have been in more detail though.

  • xtiaan

    best use of I-beam EVER!

  • This is really quite beautiful, has a very art-deco feel to it. I would LOVE to eat here.

  • T Sandwich

    Please Stop!!!

  • harry

    Looks very nice. I only wonder how it would have looked if the trunks and branches were darker coloured, contrasting with the ceiling, getting more autonomous… And I guess the somewhat detoning straight window frames are due to budgettary restrictions…

  • Clifford


  • very gaudi like.. reminds me of the main hall of La Sagrada Familia

  • test

    i liked the way it looked during construction. now, with these window frames and doors, paint and interior finishing… i changed my mind.
    i think the better solution here was to go for a philip-johnson-glass-house-approach and enjoy the real trees throug a rather transparent facade (incl. a nice shading system) without being annoyed by too much structural decoration.

  • super…. light and ethereal. great finish!

  • risd

    reminds me of the bouroullec’s vegetal chair…

  • the

    very decorative structure works here..i like it much better than the interior work…consider editing!

  • memo

    are the foundations shaped also like tree roots ? lol, just kidding

  • sonja


  • Will

    reminds me of the vegetal chair by the Bouroullec Bros.. Nicely done though :)

  • Bozo

    Awesome Awesome awesome

  • TK

    digital waste!
    but … a good one

  • pedro

    still think it’s laser cut art noveau
    ashamed of myself but i like it :)

  • In the first look it is quite attractive. But what about the dust collection where the branches start? Being a eating place, and series of dust shelves all along the ceiling will be a house keeping nightmare.
    Perhaps the designers need to go beyond the cosmetics and visualize what happens when the interior is in use.

  • Fatema Rokadia

    Finally, architecture in India is getting a makeover……Designs in Mumbai especially need more edge……This project does just tht……Great work……

  • This looks pretty. I’m just a friend of Purva’s at University of Texas and no architect, but an avid design-lover and I really like this concept wherein man-made structures are homing in towards nature’s designs. The dust issue mentioned by Livi is valid and must be considered though. And I agree with Harry and think the colours rather be contrasting. Of course, there’s nothing like the real trees, so what if you just have to sit by a French window and watch, but an idea is an idea and it will lead to another so I appreciate this endeavour. Hope our architects come up with more stuff like this! Congratulation to the team!


  • BRian

    We are entering into a retrospective era… and I don’t think we even realize it.
    Think, Art Nouveau, Paris Metro stations, art deco. Grand cycles coming full circle.

    I think this project was a grand effort- the engineering and production is admirable. The Design thinking is obvious for my taste.

    But props for the realization and effort.

  • William

    trees are timeless and universal structures of beauty.. i don’t think we need to label it in terms of historical movements.. or be scared of pattern decoration and beauty. Tis very telling that some comments have said that people are ashamed to like it.. i guess that is what the 20th C has done to us. If we are to move forward and connect with public at all we have to be able to engage our instinctive draw towards beauty. Thankfully this is what all the judges of the turner prize concluded this year – it was not the most intelligent work necessarily or the most inline with developments in 20th C art but the work they kept returning to as beautiful, without even being able to articulate why.

  • Ceci

    Que bacan la estructura, felicitaciones, ojala aqui pueda utilizar este sistema en una jaula para un condor, creo que se sentiria un poquito mas feliz. Gracias por estas buenisimas ideas

  • Angelos

    Yep, nice and poetic in a way… Still, it’s been done before (remember this?):

    BCE Place, Allen Lambert Galleria and Heritage Square

    and The 15th-century Gothic nave of Canterbury Cathedral

  • Matt

    It is selected as the best designed bar by Restaurant & Bar Design Awards, which were announced on June 22, 2010, at Victoria House, London.

  • Bardamu

    El esquema del corte lo dice todo, dentro de una hermosa arboleda… una imitacion barata de la naturaleza! Desperdiciando acero por todas partes, la verdad es que si fueran escritores con este nivel de metaforas que manejan no tendrian mucho laburo.

  • this was a really stylistically risky design but i think they pulled it off really elegantly. i agree that the door frame is a little chunky, but i am impressed. look at how well they integrated the lighting into the design.