Friday, October 9, 2015

A Tale of Two Projects

A Tale of Two Projects


Driving through Navi Mumbai, one sees remnants of the dream it was to be, a dream of many descriptions, but primarily an antithetical twin to the burgeoning monstrosity of a city across the creek.
This new city, as stated in its Draft Development Plan was imagined for the common man, suggesting on the one hand a better quality of life but on the other implying that it’s older sibling had no place for its most commonly denominated citizenry. Bombay was shutting its gates.
New Bombay however depended heavily on the benevolence on the economy of the city whose name it shared and was relegated for over 3 decades to be little more than a dormitory town.
However passing though Navi Mumbai today, one can see the beginnings of the self-sufficiency it’s planners anticipated. State mechanizations that were blamed for the city’s inability to become autonomous have persisted and with the help of the liberalizing economy and a dominant private sector, Navi Mumbai is starting to rationalize its ties to Mumbai.

The Projects:

Photo: Shravanthi Kumar
Artist Village by Charles Correa
Photo: Saurabh Suryan

It is against the backdrop of this broad framework that we examine two residential projects commissioned by CIDCO (the planning authority of Navi Mumbai); the Artists Village by Charles Correa built between 1983-86 and CIDCO housing by Raj Rewal built between1988-1993.
Low-rise built fabric interwoven with courts of varying scales characterizes both projects but barring this and the programmatic similarity, today the condition of these two projects on comparison varies dramatically. It is within the nature of these differences that the two projects become extremely instructive.


The Nallah at Artist Village, Belapur.
Photo: Sidharth Somana
CIDCO Housing situated on the South West slope
Photo: Prateek Draik

The Artist village is sited such that a natural stream originating in the nearby hills bisects it into two halves. The stream has its banks walled into a quasi drain, going against the standard practice of littoral restoration today, but even in its present day avatar it appears as a welcome schist in the grid becoming both a divider as well as relief.
The CIDCO housing project is engaging in its articulation of ascending streets and multi level courtyards and terraces but in the process of doing that and while ascending the slope it opens up the majority of the spaces and building surfaces to the southwest and consequently to the brunt of the harsh Mumbai monsoon.


Multi-level Courts of CIDCO Housing
Photo: Aparna Dhareshwar
Hierarchical Courtyard Spaces at Artist Village
Photo: Sidharth Somana

Both architects employ signature strategies in planning the two projects. Whilst Charles Correa operates with his well documented hierarchical open space diagram in the Artists village, scaling inward from larger public courtyards to smaller more intimate courts; Rewal employs his Cartesian grid based modular patterns abstracted from desert cities like Jaisalmer etc., applied by him previously in housing projects in and around Delhi.  

It’s a relief therefore that between the two it is the Correa project that is the one situated on a flat site, which with its sequence of hierarchical spaces creates varied experiences. Had the Rewal project not been on a contoured site, its iterative and axial organization might have been staid but the contoured topography of the site spares it from the monotony of a repetitive grid.

The Projects Extant

Extreme Appropriation at Artist Village
Photo: Saloni Parekh
Nature take over at CIDCO Housing
Photo: Dharal Surelia

The two projects as seen today are poles apart from their initial constructs, while one project is appropriated in extreme the other is completely abandoned. The Artists Village was designed to enable incremental additions by the residents but a disruptive increase of FSI has meant that in most of the village the original fabric has almost disappeared. The spatial experience of the courtyards and their suggestion of hierarchically scaled spaces however marginalized still exists. 
The CIDCO housing inspired from the patterns of cities like Jaisalmer unfortunately was detailed as if it were located in the dryer climate of the North too. Flat roofs, rough plaster finish walls with innumerable tile joints made it extremely hard to maintain with the result that the complex today lies partially abandoned. Besides poor detailing, ownership patterns too had a role to play in this. While the blue collar government employees who would have neither the means nor the leverage to move to better residences have stayed on in easier to maintain apartment building types, senior government employees who lived in the more exuberant blocks of the complex have chosen to move out.

The changes in both these projects have been significant, and today while one project is being consumed by FSI the other is consumed by Nature.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Conversations: Girish Doshi @sP+a


It was a great pleasure to host fabulous architect and educator Girish Doshi. He was kind enough to share his beautiful projects with the studio. I remember seeing his work immediately after graduating from Academy of Architecture in 1997, and being hugely impacted by the scale of the houses and their adaption of the section as the genus of the house. Girish Doshi also heads the BRICK school of Architecture in Pune, a complex of fantastic spaces also designed by him.

Conversations: Nupoor Monani @sP+a


One of our brightest colleagues, Nupoor Monani presented projects from her studios in the MAUD program at the Graduate School of Design, Harvard University. Her projects in Mexico and New York use strategic planning mechanisms to structure urban design guidelines for the respective sites. It was great to see that her work at scales much larger than projects we worked on together in our studio still had her well articulated drawings, logical positioning and programmatic resolution. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Temple of Steps; Neemuch, Madhya Pradesh.

In India the negotiation of the space between built form and water has traditionally been articulated though formal manifestations, conscious of the tidal variances of water bodies. This understanding can be seen at scales varying from that of water harvesting structures of the step well, the kund and even to the scale of rivers and their immediate settlements.

Benaras Ghat
The Ghats in Benaras (as in other riverfront towns) are a formal device navigating access to fluctuating water levels and its relationship with the city’s fabric. 
Our project for a temple in Neemuch ,Madhya Pradesh, situates a 1.5 acre water harvesting tank next to the temple while formally attempting to link the temple and water body in contiguity of the traditional formal type in collective memory. 

Project Infographic

The site for one of India's largest renewable energy companies and for our project lies in the dry and arid part of North Western India, on the border of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh with the nearest town of Udaipur a good five to six hour drive away. The client design brief involved designing an entrance gate to the 600 acre solar power plant, also the default location for the inauguration of the solar power plant by the President of India. The Shiva Temple was designed as a CSR project for the neighboring villages.

The design strategy involved creating inter-dependencies between disparate programs by a reorganization of client brief, social need, and local material resources. The two design programs of an entrance gateway for the solar farm and religious building for the neighboring villages were coupled with a water harvesting tank for cleaning solar cells. They were programmed to be inextricably linked through their material processing and linked symbolism and hence making sustainability a function of context, available resource and the potential of material by-products becoming tools of production. 

Temple Plan
The water storage tank was relocated near the temple site, an idea extrapolated from the traditional interface between land and the tidal vagrancy of water in India thus linking the temple and water tank both metaphorically and formally through the typology of a 'ghat'. The ghat is designed as a formal technique that incorporates the shikhara as a part of its construct. The temple form incorporated with the ghat hence becomes a landscape intervention, a pure tectonic negotiating land, water and sky. 

Waterside Elevation
Access to the shrine is through a sliver between the ghat's bounding arm for the water body and the arm that denotes the site edge , while access to the water is from a notch in the rear of the garba griha (inner sanctum).

Entrance Plaza Side Elevation
The act of physically linking the water harvesting tank with the focus program of the temple also creates the potential of water access for neighboring villages in this extremely arid regional context hence referencing a real community need.

Temple Model


The availability of rough cut limestone excavated during the foundation work of the solar cells enabled us to design a hybrid stone reinforced concrete system for the construction of the temple and ghat. The formal character of the temple hence becomes a realization of the latent capacities of site, its material and local skill.

Design Team :

Nupoor Monani
Archita Banarjee
Aparna Dhareshwar
Sameep Padora

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Projective Histories II : The case of the Madhya Pradesh Tribal Museum in Bhopal.

Projective Histories II : The case of the Madhya Pradesh Tribal Museum in Bhopal.

One cannot escape the rhetoric of the innumerable debates over the current Lok Sabha elections in India. Manifestos of development, anti-corruption, morality etc. propped up by an opportunistic sub-text of identity. Culturally this overt generalization of a pan-Indian identity can be refuted by the oft-used argument about India's diversity.
Last week a chance trip to Bhopal and a fortuitous visit to what is arguably one of the best curated moments of Tribal and Folk art in India, proved a strong reminder of the richness and specificity to place that makes it impossible to encapsulate the diversity of our nation within a singular logic.

Museum Entrance

Entrance Wall Detail

Column Detail

The Madhya Pradesh Tribal Museum located in Bhopal is an institution of the state's Department of Culture. The Revathi & Vasanth Kamath designed museum building is a collection of lofty heighted ceiling spaces connected by circulation spaces, which do little to build a sequential experience. But one notices this only in passing primarily because of the immersive nature of the exhibit. Curated by Ashok Mishra, Editor/Curator of the museum along with Chandan Singh Bhati, the creative force in realizing the various art works, the installations take over the building making the tribal spirit of the work omnipresent.

Dussera Chariot

Dussera Chariot Detail

The mounting of the exhibits is monumental; it’s scale challenging perceptions of traditional tribal culture. However what transforms this exhibition and all it’s parts, distinguishing it from other such efforts is the skillful informality of their articulation and the seemingly random adjacency they seem to create.

Terracotta Grave Detail

Terracotta Grave Installation

The experience is overwhelming almost creating the illusion of having walked into a living tribal settlement with the distance of the object from the viewer reduced to nothing. The seeming lack of overarching authorship and hence self-consciousness is the exhibition’s most sophisticated move.

Terracotta Screen

Terracotta Screen Detail

Metal Window Grill

Materials and objects become realizations of evolving traditional technique to sustain narrative through the various exhibits. Techniques are revised, materials altered, objects hybridized. Nothing is sacrosanct, and culture thus becomes an evolving idea. The tribal artist emboldened by his freedom from traditional limitations of material and process catalyzes the evolution of his craft, referencing Richard Sennet's work on the notion of craft also needing to be placed in the context of its time and technique. It is clear that this exhibition of tribal culture is not in the least a sum of it's 'museumification' but really about the potential in its evolution.  

The exhibition is undoubtedly limited by its location, even though control of the container over the contained is obliterated over time spent within the space, the exhibits warrant the freedom of a more magnificent setting outdoors.

Tribal Sport

The exhibit brings to light both the need to question the growing placelessness of modernity’s manifestation and its reduction of traditional aesthetic/building cultures to mere tokenism. If one is to believe that tradition is simultaneously evolving in the present as much as it has in the past, the Tribal Museum in Bhopal provides invaluable lessons in the projection of its future.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Projective Histories I

Projective Histories I

Within the city and yet without @Armenian Cemetery,  Surat
Laxity at Work @Sevasi Step Well Baroda

Post-independence our attitude to a material history has been either reverential i.e. disconnected from the everyday by deification or dismissive by abolition and laxity, we at  sP+a (Sameep Padora and Associates) are interested in History as a pedagogic instrument of estimation. 
Through our practice we argue for history as an instrument of projecting futures, where history becomes an evolving idea not an excuse for a static craft or program logic.

Jain Detail at the Sahar Masjid @Champaner

The history of the Metcalfe house includes its supposed origin from fragments of a temple to the tomb of  Quli Qutub Khan and finally as the summer home of Thomas Metcalfe, British Regent to India. @ Mehrauli Archaeological Park, New Delhi

This notion of projecting histories as a mode of instruction is not new; it has existed sporadically through our pre- colonial past. The formal synthesis of Islamic geometry and native craftsmanship in Mughal Architecture is well documented, but we believe this idea wasn’t and shouldn’t be limited to just additive embelishment.

Components of Muqarna Domes and their possible flexations @ sP+a 

Our practice tries to examine the tectonic of any embedded project type and pry it’s history open to interpretation through analysis so that we can sieve additional program though it’s meta-structure.  Thus the idea of a projective history is also an acknowledgement of evolutionary sophistication and innovation within manifestations of our cultural history.

Adjacency & Networks, Slim Cities in Bandra @Documentation sP+a

It is also within this format that Projective Histories become scalable, as a means to understand the city/urban form not just as a mutated object but as a constantly changing realization of networks that have tended to organize within the relational dynamics of the formal city. 

Latent potential of Human, Industrial & Material Resources

Waste Carpet Pavilion designed and built in collaboration with carpet layers @ sP+a 2010

So our projects also become a search for latent human skill and mechanical resources fast becoming redundant in our cities in an effort to cross fertilize the said skill as well as the potential built form it can produce.

Temple Of Steps, Neemuch, Madhya Pradesh @ sP+a

Void Court, Roddam House, Hyderabad @ sP+a

So whether it’s the reworking of a temple project type within the form of its image in memory or reassessing the traditional courtyard house our practice looks at historical and traditional types and projects their formal / relational history within the paradigms of current socio-economic and structural dynamic, not with the view of the original’s preservation but rather in the hope of its evolution.