Materiality and the City, Bangalore.

The extended version of this blog will appear in the June, 2018 issue of the Domus India.

It’s our constant endeavour as curators and theorists to catalogue and discover a dialogue between the projects at the Architecture Open once we are done visiting them. Bangalore culturally and architecturally gave us a great space to have this dialogue with the audience and the buildings. We attempt to discover similarities and differences between projects in this article.

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The curated list of the first edition of the Bangalore Architecture Open had three buildings on oft found 30′ x 40′ plots common to Bangalore, each completely different in program and aesthetics- namely the B-One by Cadence Architects, Nirvana Films Studio by Shimul Jhaveri Kadri and Associates and the House + Studio of BetweenSpaces– Yet all of them projected a very strong and valid attitude about the building and its relationship with the city.

B-One by Cadence is reflective of a continued stance taken by the practice with respect to the city. They consistently eschew opening the house up to the main street and in fact turn the house inwards focusing on the courtyards. The front façade of the project is stoic and solid and blank to the street and gives away absolutely nothing about the inside of the house. On the inside, most of the detail is erased in favour of legibility, be it the sculptural soffit of the staircase or the expansive glass separating the courtyard from the inside. The expressive intent is clearly that of the architects and their aesthetic vision.

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The interior of B-One erases details in favour of legibility

Nirvana Films Studio by SJK and associates adopts a diametrically opposite stance to this and the building is open to the street that surrounds it on two sides. It invites viewers, adventurous squirrels and dizzy butterflies to engage with the building with no restraint. Every floor plate is an open plan, with rooms scattered like pavilions and privacy is enabled only by slender white panels that can be rotated to open or shut thereby allowing air to move through the building. Here, the architects privilege views, light and tactile sensations more than the plasticity of the material or the expression of form. The expressive intent is not so choreographed in this project and is free for unique interpretation by every different occupant or visitor.

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The expressive intent is clearly that of the architects and their aesthetic vision at Nirvana’s film studio 

At BetweenSpaces the black shutters that have been employed by the architects on two floors serve to unify in identity the two different programs and can either present a severe uncompromising façade to the street, when closed or when pulled back completely bare the inside of the house and office to the outside. The shutters have a much stronger presence in this project than at Nirvana Films office, perhaps due to colour but also because they forms a singular wall when closed. BetweenSpaces are the most deliberate with material expression out of all three projects. The architects juxtapose the different materials of concrete, brick, white plaster and the black shutters on the façade in a very deliberate manner.

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The internal walls, at BetweenSpaces’ office, are all detailed to not just partition spaces but also perform other functions as storage and furniture

The Neev Primary school by Hundredhands was conceptualised purely using the ‘Mat’ building diagram to order the space and the program. The grid is reinforced by the columns and the parasol roof over the second floor terrace that serves to shade it for outdoor activities like permaculture.

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The Mat building lends itself interestingly to many programs and especially educational institutions as seen in the Neev School by Hundredhands

The Atelier project by Biome Environmental Solutions is also in some ways a Mat building but not so deliberate in its expression as the Neev primary school. The project is essentially a free plan with a roof supported on a grid of columns. If the other projects are about the finesse of the craft or the nuance of materiality and craftsmanship, Biome assumes that the building is meant to be ephemereal and they design it to that intent.

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At the Atelier by Biome divisions in between the columns are free-form self-supporting walls made of paper tubes that can be reconfigured.

The project that we concluded with was in many ways a testament to the spirit of the architect as community crusader.The design by VA prioritized the area allotted to pedestrians by increasing the pavement and providing additional infrastructure such as garbage bins, streetlights, street furniture, and other services at regular intervals.

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The most humanizing aspect of the project at Church Street is the ‘Kasuti’ patterned cobble stones

In visiting these different projects through the Bangalore and Mumbai Architecture Open and it is our endeavour to go beyond the reading of a project through just drawings and images or someone else’s critical opinion but to form an impression of our own and engage in a dialogue at site with all the various stakeholders.

Text by Ekta Idnany, Images courtesy Sahil Latheef

 

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Architecture and the City – Bengaluru

Perhaps the architecture of a city is the first indication one has of its culture and careful design seems to pervade the built form of Bengaluru perhaps like no other city in India. Not having to deal with baggage of history, nor carrying the burden of being either the National Capital or the Financial Capital allows architects a unique freedom and so the practice in Bengaluru is rich with experiments.

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The Bengaluru Architecture Open is our continued effort at experiencing architecture and urban design within the city and to connect practitioners of design with consumers and design enthusiasts. We bring another set of really interesting and carefully curated buildings and urban design projects in Bengaluru.

The projects on the schedule range from three schools that have their own unique takes on the typology of education. The Neev primary school by 100 Hands is a play on the mat building typology where the spaces in between the classrooms like the courtyards and the break-outs become informal learning spaces. A large roof above reinforces the misaligned grid on the ground and mimics the canopy of tree to enable gurukul like learning.  While in the Atelier by Biome Environmental Solutions Pvt Ltd the entire project is cocooned under a large roof and the building consists of four classrooms, a studio and a childhood stimulation centre around a central piazza, with filter spaces allowing transition between the rooms and the piazza. What is unique about the approach at the Atelier is that the designers have challenged the notion of permanence of the building and envisioned it to be completely salvageable -from the roof to the partition walls and even the flooring. The Neev Academy by Venkataramanan Associates is formed by two interlocking courtyards that are surrounded by the programs. The interlocking built form is modulated into a series of terraces so that the courtyards are not completely cut off from one another and the modulated mass forms an amphitheater that overlooks the courtyard on one side. The classrooms open into larger spaces thereby facilitating unplanned interaction between students.

The Nirvana Films Office by Shimul Jhaveri Kadri Architects is a unique embodiment of the Maison Domino diagram and then some- flat slabs that extend into infinity and only connected by the staircase that cuts the space while simultaneously connecting the floors effortlessly. Spatial flexibility truly allows the project to break out of the box that is the result of narrow urban plots as well as blurs the divisions of formal and informal programmatic elements and at the same time allows for natural light and ventilation through the building. The same flexibility is embodied in the operable louvers that help shade the large glass facade. The project by Between Spaces is an apt rendition of the design philosophy of the firm – apparent in their name while at the same time an exploration of an all too common typology found in Bangalore. Several suburban houses are getting rebuilt with the owners adding extra capacity to their house to lease either the upper or lower unit. At Between Spaces the separate units are a residence on the lower floor and the architects’ office on the upper two floors. The entire project is then conceived as a set of spaces that flow into one another.

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B.One by Cadence architects also deals with a similar suburban context as Between Spaces. Dealing with the dense residential neighbourhood and the busy street in front prompted the architects to conceive an introverted building. Diagrammatically, the program of the house was laid out in the form an ‘H-shaped plan’ that wraps around a courtyard such that each arm of the ‘H’ flanks the courtyard. The open to sky courtyard, becomes the point of interest and activity within the house while the courtyard becomes simultaneously the inside and the outside for the inhabitants.

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The final project is the redesign of Church Street by Venkataramanan Associates. Church Street is a complex street housing several entertainment establishments, businesses and residences in the Central Business District and despite its financial importance it was suffering from apathy and disrepair. The design by VA prioritized the area allotted to pedestrians by increasing the pavement and providing additional infrastructure such as garbage bins, streetlights, street furniture, and other services at regular intervals. Services have been moved to the periphery and adequate service chambers along the length minimize disruption due to repairs. But perhaps the most humanizing aspect of the project is the ‘Kasuti’ patterned cobble stones that reduce the scale of the street and act as a traffic calming measure.

With the projects cutting across the spectrum of Residential, Institutional, Commercial and Urban planning we hope to see very interesting and enriching discussions emerge between the architects and the audience. Hope to see a lot of you joining us on the 24th and 25th of March!

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All photos courtesy of respective Architects / Clients.

Bengaluru Architecture Open is a free event in which all sections of the community are invited to participate. 

Architecture Open- finding soul in Mumbai’s noise

The Mumbai Architecture Open that was held over the weekend of 10th and 11th February 2018 was in many ways an extremely encouraging event. Organised by ThreeFlaneurs in cohorts with the Urban Design and Architecture events of the Kalaghoda Arts Festival, we extended the boundaries of the discussions and the precinct to involve the city of Mumbai and the practice of Architecture in the city at large. The event called for the participation of a carefully curated list of five projects that had been recently completed and would generally be inaccessible to people without permission. The turnout of people to view these projects as well as the participation from the architects and clients to open up these buildings alludes to the generosity that this city and the Kalaghoda Arts Festival is famous for. However if one were to extend that discussion to the city and its architectural practices, the similarities and differences that emerge are worth exploring in more detail.

As an architect in Mumbai, opportunities to engage on institutional projects in the city are few and far between and most young practices find themselves working on interior projects or residential projects, hence it was interesting to be able to find five institutional projects that were extremely varied in nature. The patronage of institutions in India at large has shifted from the State to non- governmental stakeholders like private educational trusts and therefore the client is an equally important participant in the architectural production of institutions in the city.

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The pre-tour presentation by Tushar Desai and associates in the pause space of the Green Acres Academy.

Moving on, the projects that we looked at over the course of two days ranged in program from two educational institutions (Green Acres Academy school and KJ Somaiya IT college extension) to a private office (Synergy Lifestyles) and a neighbourhood development (Godrej Trees) –  both engaging the ideas of adaptive reuse in the city and lastly an architect’s own residence (Smriti 57) that was a commentary on the nature of residential redevelopments taking place in the suburbs. In all the projects one could read the underlying nature of responsibility that was attempted towards the users of the project as well as the city of Mumbai.

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The courtyard at the KJS IT extension forms a pause space between the labs and the classrooms

Both the educational projects looked at challenging the typology of such institutions. At Green Acres Academy, architects Tushar Desai and Associates attempted to blur the rigid boundaries of learning and circulation spaces within a school by allowing flexibility of program and encouraging imaginative use of the expanded circulation spaces. Clearly the building has skillfully dealt with the unforgiving mathematics of Floor Space to its advantage to be able to achieve the above goals. Similarly the KJS IT extension by Sameep Padora+associates is surprisingly humane in scale and sharp in its contrast to the ubiquitous vertical-ity of buildings in Mumbai. It was designed to meander between trees and hug the ground. The heart of the project lies in how it connects to the green spaces of the central courtyards. In the Green Acres school,  pause spaces travel through the building vertically, while in the IT extension pauses punctuate the project horizontally, accentuated and modulated by the large parasol like roof that dances over the building. Another striking similarity between the two projects was the deliberate and responsible adoption of green building technologies to increase comfort and reduce operational energy costs. At Green Acres the architects have actively investigated and adopted cross ventilation throughout the project thereby eliminating the need for air-conditioning and the Somaiya IT college has embedded chiller pipes into the floor to air-condition the classrooms. The experience of user comfort could be felt first hand by the visitors. Finally the use of material in its most natural and honest form is what completes the similarities between the two projects. Exposed finished concrete is used in the school as a way to control economics and the college uses exposed brick infill in between a completely steel column and beam structure.

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The manipulated roof that brings in controlled daylight into a space of muted monochromes at Synergy Lifestyles

The next two projects challenged the ideas of Conservation and Adaptive re-use – the Synergy Offices at Kalachowki by Shimul Jhaveri Kadri and Associates and the Imagine Studio in Vikhroli which was a collaborative effort by the GPL Design Studio and Studio Lotus. Perhaps in both these projects it is impossible to draw the line between the architects’ and clients’ vision. One, is a paean to the history of Mumbai’s textile industry and and the latter pays homage to the local history of the client’s manufacturing businesses. At Synergy offices the project deals with the neighbourhood in a very sensitive manner by completely avoiding an ostentatious facade and simply retaining the old structure while manipulating the roof for natural light. The internal floor-plate and structure has been retained in order to avoid engaging building permissions. The interiors are also largely an exercise in space making with muted monochromatic palettes and earthy materials and carefully crafted details in sync with the manipulated abundance of natural light. At Vikhroli perhaps the client- designer partnership is completely fluid with the GPL design studio acting simultaneously as designer and client  while mentoring the aesthetic vision of Studio Lotus that gives the renovation its character. GPL Design studio chose to retain the defunct industrial buildings and rehouse their marketing functions within, so that the site could retain its history as well as context and was not just relegated to a tabula rasa. The project is intended to later be handed over as a legacy to the future community that would inhabit the site. Perforated Corten steel is used to punctuate the industrial character of the past but also highlight the trees which form the concept of the project with the more neutral materials of natural stone and glass.

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Inside the erstwhile Industrial buildings at Imagine Studio at Godrej Trees Vikhroli.

The final project that we visited was Smriti 57, the residence of architects Nitin Killawala and Nimit Killawala. The house is situated in the dense suburban Juhu scheme which is in many ways a victim to the careless and expedient redevelopment policies encouraged by the BMC that benefit only developers and is a commentary on the changing needs of a growing suburban family, neighborhood, redevelopment economics and building technology to expedite construction. It is unique in that the architect is his own client and that came across in not just how the project is designed but also in the documentation of the construction process that the Killawala’s were gracious enough to share. They several times acknowledged the cooperation they received from their neighbours and community during construction. The project is a panoply of minute and painstaking details that one discovers around every corner and is characteristic of the architect’s oeuvre.

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Details abound at Smriti 57 at Juhu Scheme

The conversation between the designers and the visitors was not merely critical or complimentary but truly about the toil of the craft, the challenges of building, sharing of new technological ideas and detailing. It was refreshing to find architecture with a soul once again within the noise that one encounters everyday in the city. The overwhelming take away from the Architecture Open was the responsibility that the profession feels towards itself, it’s projects and the city. We hope to undertake more such discoveries in Mumbai and other cities in India in the near future.

All photos © Three Flaneurs & Sahil Latheef  | A version of this write up by Ekta Idnany was published in the Domus magazine (March 2018, India edition)

Open (up) Architecture – an event

At ThreeFlaneurs our main goal is to inspire people to travel with the objective of experiencing architecture and the culture and urban habitat that fosters it, which cannot happen within the pages of a magazine or an online website. Architecture and architects have many roles to fulfill beyond just the clients’ brief and it is very difficult to appreciate the complexity of a project without experiencing it in its context and especially without inhabiting it. Experiencing Architecture in the flesh also deepens one’s understanding spatially, temporally and tangibly.

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The possibility of an interesting dialogue between people and architects, inspired us to setup a Mumbai Open House event in collaboration with the Urban Design and Architecture programme that happens at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival annually. The idea that design curious individuals could visit a project and get a guided tour by the architects, we hoped would foster a regard for design in the city and allow citizens to contribute their voices to the dialogue about the aesthetic and urban concerns addressed by architects. This would also help design discourse to move away from being within the purview of the architectural community alone. Design is consumed daily via restaurants and cafes however not many are privy to design within private domains or institutions which is where we find that the voices are most interesting and diverse.

The buildings that we present in the event have been carefully selected to represent a variety of different practices and largely different programmatic and typological concerns. The projects participating in this event are privately owned and generally not open to the public. They consist of a school, a private residence, an IT institute within a college campus, a private office set within the erstwhile mills of the city and a defunct industrial space converted to a studio that can be used as per the clients’ imagination. All the projects deal with the dense fabric of the city and address concerns of legacy, adaptive reuse, economics, construction, aesthetics and conservation and are extremely unique in their approaches to solving problems that are endemic to architecture in Mumbai.

The different projects on offer also address the various inhabitants of the city. From school children to teenagers and a single family owned house to a larger residential development. The IT project at the Somaiya campus has never been published or seen by the public before. Our hope is that the discussions about these projects open up questions about the various concerns of the city that range from from how one can generate an aesthetic architectural approach in spite of the existing building laws as addressed at the Green Acres academy, to how redevelopment projects within the city can be addressed at Smriti 57. The Synergy office project provides answers to how effectively one can adapt and reuse the existing infrastructure of our mill lands, while the Imagine studio project addresses the idea of conservation in a very interesting way outside the usual south Mumbai confines of where conservation is usually looked at. We hope that the event can raise a few more interesting questions if not at least provide answers to some.

For more details on the participating projects and practices on our blog click here.

Sight-Site: An Open House initiative at KGAF ’18

In continuation to the previous post explaining the idea behind the Mumbai Open House (a public event being conducted by the ThreeFlaneurs in collaboration with the Urban Design and Architecture programme at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival), here’s some details on the participating projects and practices.

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Project 1: Green Acres Academy, Chembur (Tushar Desai & Associates)

Programme – Grade 1-10 ICSE school
Area of the Building – 7980 sq m
Year of completion – PHASE I- 2015, PHASE II- 2017, PHASE III- 2019.

This school project, situated in suburban Mumbai, has relooked at the school building typology within a dense urban environment. Designed by Tushar Desai & Associates, who specialize in designs that are simple and use direct geometry, textures and colours, light & shade, this particular building, built over three phases, uses the juxtaposition of exposed concrete, contrasted by bright colours as an effective design language. There was a concerted effort to maximise the potential of the space and providing for unplanned interactions. This was achieved through by widening corridors and designing break-out spaces in different parts of the structure. The architects believe in the necessity of creating a delicate but harmonious balance of the programmed and un-programmed tangibles, which can well be noticed in this building.

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Project 2: Somaiya IT, Sion East (Sameep Padora & Associates)

Programme – Workshop Area, laboratories, seminar hall, drawing hall, Common Rooms
Area of the Building – 2070 sq m
Year of completion – 2018

This recent addition to the renowned Somaiya College, has been designed by the design studio sP+a who view history as an instrument of projecting futures, where history becomes an evolving idea not a static craft or programme logic. The roof is the most visible feature of the building, which consists of workshops, laboratories, lecture rooms, student community rooms and a café extension. It folds into giant gargoyles channeling water into the courtyards and further into harvesting tanks. The functions are arranged around a series of courtyards but without any shared walls. The resulting gaps in between adjacent programs create vistas outwards. The internal wall sections are designed in a way that allows visual connects without noise transfer and classrooms spaces are tied together in clusters around a courtyard. This project at this time is still in the final stages of completion and is as yet unpublished.

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Project 3: Synergy Lifestyles, Kalachowki (Shimul Javeri Kadri Architects) 

Programme – Office and Showroom
Area of the Building – 533 sq m
Year of completion – 2016

In the case of this particular building interior, tragedy presented the architects to revisit a site completed by the firm more than 20 years ago. What was a landmark project then – amongst the first of the industrial projects that was converted to offices – in a city fast changing from its industrial roots to a service economy – was gutted recently by a fire and had to be practically rebuilt from the inside. In its new avatar, the ubiquitous staircase still remains the focus but, in the architects’ words, the project is perhaps even more honest than its predecessor, ever more transparent and reliant on the craftsmanship of concrete and steel – so as to hide nothing!

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Project 4: The Imagine Studio, Vikhroli (GPL Design Studio & Studio Lotus)

Programme – Marketing Office, Sample apartments, Café/Bar, Plaza, Urban Farm, Legacy
Area of the Building – 1000 sq m set within 1 acre
Year of completion – 2015

A unique example of an adaptive reuse project in Mumbai, the Imagine Studio was conceived as a project that could serve various needs as per the desires of the client and as per their changing requirements. Conceptualised to preserve the legacy of the existing industrial buildings in the Godrej compound, the studio can be re-transformed to serve several eventual needs of the residential community once the building seizes to serve as a marketing office. Planned as an exercise in place-making in an ultra premium development, the project transforms a small cluster of non-descript industrial buildings and its surrounding landscape into functions such as Studio, Workshop, Café, Legacy Park, Urban Farm, Open Air Theater and Market Plaza. Existing building elements were recycled not only to underline their historical relevance but also add meaning as important spaces to pause within the new narrative that the client is trying to brand & market effectively.

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Project 5: Smriti 57, Juhu Scheme (Nitin Killawala + Associates)

Programme – Family residence
Area of the Building – 1000 sq m
Year of completion – 2015

This project encompasses the designer’s vision to the greatest degree possible, as it is his own residence. According to the architect “I was always fascinated with steel as a material, although I never got the opportunity to design a steel building for any of my clients, I thought of designing my own house with steel that will last for many years, and at the same time, provide structural aesthetics”. The building in totality is an exploration in alternative technologies of construction, challenging norms, time cycles as well as affordability. While on the exterior the structure looks fairly simple, internally the Grid over six floors in broken down into several possible configurations as per the users needs. A guest floor on the first level, a duplex over the next two levels followed by a triplex over the subsequent floors. The flexibility of making individual spaces ensures that the creation of “home” is not lost, and all the disparate needs of the inhabitants have been looked after.

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All photos and drawings courtesy of respective Architects / Clients.

Mumbai Open House 2018 is a free event in which all sections of the community are invited to participate. However, under this initiative we would invite a limited number of design curious individuals to sign-up by writing to threeflaneurs@gmail.com to explore and understand the value of a well-designed built environment. Kindly mention your contact details (Email / Mobile) and preferences of which sites you would like to visit. 

Please note: Due to the interest generated in this event, we may have to restrict your visits to only any two of the sites. 

Louvre Abu Dhabi – Utopia realized

A couple of weeks back, one of the most anticipated architectural projects in recent times – the Louvre Abu Dhabi (LAD)- opened to much fanfare after a 10-year-long journey. Designed by Pritzker prize winning French architect Jean Nouvel, the museum’s design is almost the literal translation of the idea of Utopia and the ideal Museum as imagined during the Renaissance period of European history.

During the Renaissance, both utopia and museum(s) were imagined as circular, set apart, and ordered: utopia was an ideally governed island, the ideal museum was a domed rotunda on a mountaintop.”*

The LAD is an almost actual realisation of the above description; it is designed as an archipelago set just off the main body of Saadiyat island; which in itself is unique, in that it is set to host some of the most ambitious cultural buildings in the world. The most notable element in it’s design is a theatrical dome that hovers over the galleries and other facilities; filtering the harsh Arabian sun into a dance of light and shadow. Here the eight layered dome behaves quite similarly to the geometrically-patterned screen facade that was used in the Aga Khan Award winning Institu du Monde Arab in Paris also designed by Nouvel.

The main gallery spaces of the complex are laid out as a set of low-lying blocks almost like a middle eastern medina (a slightly ambitious reference as these kind of white minimalist buildings are more common along the Mediterranean coast of the Middle East and not in the Gulf region); partly under and partly beyond the dome floating above the sea. This strategy creates many interesting spaces, courtyards and terraces in between the museum elements both below and outside the dome.

Beyond the brilliant design the museum houses an enviable collection of around 600 works of art – 300 of which are on loan from 13 French museums, including the Louvre in Paris – curated in an unusual manner as ‘chapters’ to explain how art simultaneously developed across civilizations rather than the conventional galleries dedicated to each civilization or art movement making this collection and it’s presentation truly a bridge between the east and west.

Going by the enthusiasm leading up to its opening and the response so far, this facility is poised to become the main cultural attraction in a country that is increasingly looking towards tourism as a key economic driver.

If you are planning to visit this iconic museum here’s a few practical tips: 

  •  The museum has an amazing collection of artworks/artifacts and some really interesting architectural experiences so do plan to spend as many hours as possible.
  • Book your tickets online at least a few days before the trip to avoid lines and to be able to park in the car park that’s closer to the museum.
  • Try to avoid visiting during weekends (i.e. Fridays & Saturdays) or bank holidays and the museum is closed on all Mondays.
  • There are free tours every half an hour or so from the main entrance of the permanent galleries where they explain the highlights of the collection: these 45 min long tours can be crowded but are a good introduction to the extensive collection. They also have a dedicated architecture tour of the complex (but that’s additionally chargeable).
  • If you start the day with the tour do go through all the galleries again on your own as there are many small rooms (with some real gems) attached to the bigger galleries that are not included in the highlights tour. 
  • Also at the end of the tour, if it seems to be particularly busy day, you probably shouldn’t exit the museum building into the domed common plaza (if you exit the building you may have to wait in queue to get back in as they have a restriction on the number of people inside). But once you’re inside they won’t ask you to leave till it’s closing time, so you can work your way back to the start from within the galleries itself. 
  • The LAD is a large complex and if you want to cover everything be prepared to walk a lot!
  • The internal spaces of the museum can get really cold to help preserve most of the delicate artwork, especially if you happen to get some galleries relatively empty, so don’t forget a cardigan or a light sweater. 
  • There is a sea-facing cafe below the dome (which unfortunately doesn’t have much veg options) and proper meals are a bit expensive and take a lot of preparation time (30 to 45 mins), but there are slightly more reasonably priced ready made sandwiches available. The restaurant is not yet open! 
  • If you’re looking for something lighter – there are a few small mobile kiosks selling water, drinks and chips below the dome that moves around the central plaza space. 
  • There are many interesting spaces, courtyards and terraces outside the museum – it’s easy to miss them if you don’t go looking for them, check on the museum map for areas you may have missed. 
  • The toilets (at least the ones in the basement) are worth visiting from a design perspective even if you don’t want to use them. 
  • The museum periodically hosts interesting performances and light shows (late in the evening), if there’s one happening on the day you’re visiting – it’s probably worth staying back for it!

Some drawings of the LAD © Ateliers Jean Nouvel.

* – Marcin Fabianksi, “Iconography of the Architecture of the Ideal Musea in the Fifteenth to the Eighteenth Centuries,” Journal of the History of Collections 2, no. 2 (1990): 95-134.

All photos © Sahil Latheef  | A shorter version of this write up by Sahil Latheef was published in the travel section of the DNA newspaper (Mumbai edition) on 29th Nov 2017

Tripping through Indore – A Photoblog

A recent weekend trip to Madhya Pradesh included taking in the sights of Indore, a city whose history is intrinsically linked to the Holkar dynasty & whose stamp is still evident in the ancient structures of the city. Here’s a photoblog that journeys through some of these buildings & one still- very relevant district: foodies’ paradise Chhappan Dukkan.

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Rajwaada, the royal residence, with its imposing seven storey facade.

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The interior courtyard of the Rajwaada is at a much more human scale, bearing a similarity to the Hawa Mahal of Jaipur in that aspect.
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Chhatris such as this dot the riverside of Indore city, which were Cenotaphs from the late 1800s memorializing Holkar rulers.

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Each column of the Chhatri structures have various human & animal figures carved at their base & capital.
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Steps leading upto the Chhatri supported by roughly piled stones.
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A bull’s head sculptural gargoyle on the exterior of one of the Chhatris
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The exterior of the royal Lal Bagh Palace. The interiors are done up in a rich combination of baroque, rococo & neoclassical styles, but unfortunately photography is not permitted.
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The wrought iron gates of the Lal Bagh palace, guarded by the two lions.
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The very popular ‘khau galli’ of Indore, Chhappan Dukkan (originally there were 56 shops on this street).

Photos, other than those taken by the writer, courtesy Sahil Latheef & Ajay Nayak.

 

 

Flanerie at the library, Seattle.

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As an architect my reading of cities is embedded into the artefact of architectural production or what we mundanely call buildings. However buildings aren’t simply brick and mortar enclosures that hold space and control your environment, they have cultural resonance beyond just their use. To understand the essence of a city one need not look beyond some of the publicly commissioned works of architecture. For buildings, such as museums, libraries, concert halls and other public spaces have the power to reinvent the city. Popularly known as the ‘Bilbao Effect’; seen in the complete rejuvenation of Bilbao, Spain by the building  of the Guggenheim Museum, designed by Frank O Gehry. Another project on the anvil is the new Louvre by French architect Jean Novel set to open in Abu Dhabi. Whether every building can have the Bilbao effect or not we cannot definitively say but it is necessary that every building should address the metropolitan context in which it is situated. In a previous post we covered the High Line park by DSRNY, which had a similar catalytic effect on Chelsea and the Meat packing District in New York. In this post I do a deep dive into examining the Seattle Public Library,  designed by OMA with LMN architects,  that I visited on a trip to Seattle.

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Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

While by no means as iconic for Seattle as the Space needle, the Public Library which was completed in 2004, examines the very necessity of such an institution in the era of ubiquitous access to information. Prior to winning the design competition for Seattle OMA had participated in other competitions for libraries, namely the Tres Grande Bibliotheque in Paris and the Jussieu Library. In both proto proposals,  the designs had investigated the intersection of the public space with the traditional book-stacks. In the first project the public space is created by scooping out voids from the thickness of the book-stacks; and in Jussieu the diagram is of two meandering helical paths that intersect the science library and the humanities library. Seattle embodies both its intellectual predecessors as well as addressing the metropolitan space of the city by opening up the insides of an institutional building to the public and allowing the city inside it.

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Images of the OMA Two Libraries at Jussieu, Paris from their book SMLXL

The thing that strikes one the most on encountering the building is its large size. Situated in the midst of a busy urban setting,  it appears as a faceted gem,  emerging from the ground,  and reflecting the bustle of the world around it. Because of the large panels of reflective glass it would appear that the building is made of the city that it reflects. One moves off the urban street into the main space of the building without realizing that the outside is left behind because there is no significant grade change. The sidewalk moves alongside the glass and you can reach a hand out and touch the face of the building, lean on it, sit against it…. Once inside you feel like you are in a large covered city square. It is a completely transparent building and so the boundaries between the inside and outside of the city are completely blurred. At every instance inside the building you are always acutely aware of the city happening outside. It refrains from framing views like conventional glass buildings do. In fact the faceted nature of the steel and glass envelope avoids any kind of deliberate framing. At points you view the city and the sky outside simultaneously almost as if you had lifted your head up on the street to look at the sky.

 

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The entrance to the library, right off the street
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Reading spaces that connect you to the views of the city
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The city and the sky visible through the glass envelope
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An external Living room

A large floral printed carpet of the waiting space mimics not only the urban park directly across the street but also gives one the feeling of having arrived in a large communal living room or porch. The high tables arranged along the glass,  had several office goers sitting with their laptops and working or waiting for their next meeting, not unlike what one would see at any urban coffee shop. Imagine sitting there and engaging a stranger in conversation, making a friend or a possible contact. As you moved up through the building you encountered other spaces where people of different demographics were invited to interact. Self learning stations designed as if they were gaming kiosks inside an arcade,  had young kids lounging and browsing digital content. But the part that I was most excited about, was encountering the “continuous circuit” book ramp winding through the library,  that resembled an urban street. Had I had a pair of them handy, I would have been tempted to skate down the winding book ramp.

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The building invites the user to behave completely unlike one would in a traditional library. With no attendant to shush you if you talk loudly, it in fact engages you to have that chance encounter with another citizen. Browsing the shelves feels like you are in a bookshop versus a traditional library. The use of vibrant colour within the spaces and on the escalators and the media room calls forth the playfulness and ease of access that is emblematic of information in the digital age. Maybe the building didn’t create the Bilbao effect for Seattle. But in my opinion it provides a communal space for the city-dwellers of Seattle where they can come together and witness each other and the city. The building and specifically its interiors has had a continuing impact on how architects have engaged with public buildings. The impact of the interior space can be seen in how lounges, coffee shops, co-working spaces and even the offices of corporations like Google and Facebook have come to be designed.

Having passed the hallowed neoclassical central library in New York several times and felt it’s gravitas, the central library in Seattle invited me to engage with it in a whole different way. The building regarded me as a flaneur, to be “seduced” by books and information and I was more than happy to give in. As I had to leave it, I wished I had longer to spend in the building. I wished I could have visited it over and over to have many more chance encounters. And while I had that thought it occurred to me that, that’s what it meant to live in a city and Seattle’s Central Library had captured that in its essence.

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Other architecture projects to visit in Seattle are the Chapel of St Ignatius in the Seattle University campus by Steven Holl, Frank Gehry’s Experience Music project, the Seattle Space Needle and the art museum by Venturi Scott Brown.

All images courtesy the author unless otherwise mentioned.

Baku – At the threshold of empires

I vaguely remember almost 10 years ago watching a short clip about an ancient fire temple in Baku as part of a travel documentary and thinking to myself – ‘It would be so cool to visit this place one day!’. Over the years I found many more reasons to want to visit Azerbaijan but it always seemed too difficult to get to.
Click on the images in this post to enlarge them & read their captions.
Last month I found the right set of opportunities to take my long awaited trip to Azerbaijan and I was finally able to tick off the World Heritage Site designated Ateshgah (fire temple) and the city of Baku off my bucket list!
As I prepared for my trip I had one strong preconceived idea that since Baku was on one of the historic Silk Routes and due its geographic proximity to Central Asia, these two factors would have the maximum impact on the culture and architecture of the city. However, while reading up and delving a bit more into the history of the city I noticed something different that was confirmed on my visit.
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This gif of maps illustrate how Baku was constantly at the threshold of empires.
The interesting coincidence that I noticed is probably crucial to really understanding this city – over the ages different empires (ranging from the ancient Persians & Roman to the early Christians & Muslims and finally the Ottomans & Soviets) have all left their imprint on these lands, but Baku/Azerbaijan was never at the heart of any of these empires; it was almost always on the fringe: a constant threshold. A threshold not only between empires (and their cultures) but also for ideas, religions and geographies.
This unique edge condition has made Baku into an interesting collage of utopias overlapped onto each other. The culture & architecture of this city represent not just different historic narratives but sometimes also interesting contradictions that have emerged due to this overlap.
Lastly, if all this history wasn’t enough, the fact that Azerbaijan is now a young independent oil rich nation adds yet another layer of interesting urban fabric! Today in Baku, one is not only able to traverse centuries-old built heritage but it is also possible to see some of unique examples of contemporary avant-garde architecture.
All in all Baku was so much more than I had previously conceived. It is a very interesting short holiday option that packs: a historic city with a lot of character; lovely cuisine (especially great place for meat lovers); legendary local hospitality; and an extremely cosmopolitan atmosphere. Furthermore the city is set amongst a landscape filled with some very unique geological phenomenons (including an eternal burning mountain & lots of active mud volcanoes).

Travel tips: If you had only three days in Baku here’s my quick itinerary recommendation: Day 01| Full day exploring the World Heritage sites of Old City Baku – the historic heart of the city; Day 02| The day can be spend seeing the city outside the old walls, you can easily cover some exemplary contemporary buildings including the iconic Baku Flame Towers, the Azerbaijan Carpet Museum and Heydar Aliyev Center (designed by Zaha Hadid Architects) ; & Day 03| Day trip to see some unique sights around Baku including Mud Volcanos, ancient petroglyphs at Gobustan National Park, Ateshgah Fire temple and the Burning Mountain.

When you plan a trip to Azerbaijan I would also recommend you to try and club it with neighboring Georgia (it’s easy to do them together as they are well connected by road, train and budget flights). Interestingly, even though both these small nations are part of the same Caucasus region of Western Asia because of their varying historic backgrounds and influences they offer very different kind of sights and cultures. Furthermore for Indian travelers they both currently offer easy e-visa or visa-on-arrival options.

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All photos © Sahil Latheef  | The writer recently gave an elaborate talk based on the theme of this post at Amity University Dubai to the students from the Architecture and Interior Design departments. 

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A ‘Fantastic’ Trip through Turkey

Last weekend in Mumbai, I visited the exhibition ‘Celebrating Mimar Sinan’, displaying the architectural works of the Turkish Master, Sinan. While I was earlier not very familiar with his designs, I recently read & thoroughly enjoyed Elif Safak’s book ‘The Architect’s Apprentice’ which chronicles the fictional journey of the protagonist Jahan, who apprentices under the great Master.  This made me curious to visit this exhibition which covered his portfolio of mosques, bridges & aqueducts through models, drawings as well as sumptuous interior & exterior photographs. Another outstanding feature of the exhibition was the superb calligraphy panels, artistically drawn by a local Turkish architect, which highlighted quotes by Sinan himself.

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Sehzade Mosque

The comparison between Sinan’s works as well as with other Turkish buildings helped the viewer well understand the scale & detailing of his projects. This collaboration between Ranchana Sansad’s Academy of Architecture and the Turkish Consulate General in Mumbai is an attempt to familiarise Indian architectural students & professionals alike, with the range of this Master Architect, as our architectural education mostly tends to lean heavily towards the West. His attention to details, ability to showcase structure without compromising on the aesthetics, & fascination with materiality & geometry are some aspects which the exhibits successfully bring forth.

The venue of the exhibition was the ground floor of the Rajabhai Clock Tower & Library Building, which in itself lend an added level of charm to the exhibits, thanks to the University’s Colonial architectural features. One wishes that such a similar exhibition could be curated with ancient Indian Master Architects as its focus, as they remain mostly unknown entities, even among practicing professionals today. The Turkish exhibition, though not very large, was well- mounted and simple to grasp, which also helps attract a non-core design audience, but at the same time evoked the sense of place, space, setting & time when these structures were constructed.

A visit to an exhibition such as this has definitely whetted in me an appetite to visit Turkey sometime soon and  experience these buildings in person.

Istanbul skyline from Bosphorus

All images of the Mumbai exhibition (c) Ajay Nayak. All images of the Turkish buildings & skyline (c) Sahil Latheef, a fellow Flaneur of this site, taken during his recent trip to Sinan’s land.