Indigo Architects churns out a sustainable design for an institute that addresses the onus of responsibility towards stalling the ceaseless erosion of the invaluable local art and culture of Kutch.
‘Shrujan’ is primarily a non-governmental organisation working in the field of women’s self employment through the revival, development and sale of traditional embroidery pieces and artifacts in the region of Kutch, Gujarat since 1969.
Their new building was commissioned soon after the devastating earthquake in January 2000 to address the ineluctable need to reassert the unique cultural milieu and the resilient spirit of the Kutchhi people. Chanda Shroff, the managing director, swans the idea behind Shrujan, “In 1969, when I attended the famine relief project in Kutch, I realised that the excellence of the local art of embroidery could generate a unique sustainable means of income for the village women. This culture of embroidery that has been handed down for generations from mother to daughter has given birth to a particular lexicon of stitches and motifs specific to each tribal community. Currently, Shrujan works with 16 different styles done by 3,500 women across 100 villages.”
It goes unsaid that only a sustainable design will justify the building that is meant to house an organisation whose core concern is the sustainability of the local artisans through the revival of the dying art of the region.
Architects Uday Andhare Mausami Andhare of Indigo Architects were roped in to concretise this philosophy into reality. Uday Andhare expresses, “Shrujan is an attempt to weave together the holistic concerns of the site, context and the program to define an architecture that heralds a contemporary idiom even as it is inextricably rooted in its local sensibilities. Emerging to an altered reality, from the destruction in Kutch, it seeks to reinstate and reassert the vigour of an institution on which the basic sustenance of village artisans rests.”
Approached by a small access road off the highway from Anjar to Bhuj, the new alluring institute sits on the same site as the old one.
In contrast to the arid desert vegetation around, one encounters a well tended orchard, reminiscent of the traditional ‘wadis’ flooded with a variety of fruits. This creates a cooler micro-climate and protects the exterior walls from a direct hit of the strong sunrays. The program incorporates an expressive public face with its main retail store, visitor’s lounge, an exhibition gallery, internal workshop areas, a textile design cell, offices, a textile conservation cell, auditorium and residential quarters.
The success of a sustainable design is determined by the effectiveness of the tangible parameters selected to translate this ambitious goal into an efficient practice. These parameters primarily depend on the site context, naturally available resources, financial limitations, climatic conditions and functional requirements of the building. Rationalised decision making for each design element with a balanced analysis leads to a sustainable design in its true valor.
Being a desert region, Kutch experiences a hot and extreme climate accompanied with minimal rainfall. Harnessing the prevailing breezes and shielding the work areas from the harsh light and heat were essential to the layout of the plan. The principal idea of wind catchers, which are oriented towards the south and west directions, creates a passive cooling mechanism that works for all the major spaces. Small exhausts mounted in the circular barrel openings on the opposite walls induce the required air changes for comfort. The inward looking courtyard and the enclosing walls with the wind towers are the overriding features in the architectural vocabulary of this project.
Moreover owing to the destructive earthquake, the structural stability was to be handled in tandem with the climatic concerns to arrive at a contextually relevant form.
The building is designed as a combination of movement resisting frames and shear walls in reinforced cement concrete and brick masonry.
A three chambered rain water harvesting tank was built in the main courtyard. This tank is capable of storing upto 1,00,000 litres of rain water that is channelled through a carefully worked out system. The idea was to use rain water sparingly throughout the year by blending it with water from the bore well thereby reducing the quantity of total dissolved solids (TDS) to make it potable. All the over flow of water is rationally recharged into the ground through recharge wells.
Explaining the intangible qualities envisaged for the spatial experience of the institute, Mausami Andhare elucidates, “The idea was to create a spatial experience evocative of the desert, something that is restful yet bold in spite of being simple.
It is open to interpretation but functionally appropriate. An attempt was made to dissolve the notion of a rigid demarcation between the outside and the inside. The space was meant to unfold while maintaining the climatic concerns of heat and glare. We have created large open-to-sky zones that remain shaded at different times of the day to effectively capture the beauty of both the mornings and the night skies of a desert.”
The quest to achieve a green design has not diluted the aesthetical appeal of the structure by any degree. The ochre painted walls remind one of the sands of the desert thereby holding the building strongly to its context.
The rough pebblecrete of the copings and the plinth contrast with the walls. The roughness of the exterior plaster and the smoothness of the internal plaster is dramatically played up by the natural effect of light on these surfaces.
The mirror finished Kota stone flooring provides a high degree of reflection in the interior spaces and negates any gloomy feel. The semi-open spaces are delineated with 6”x 6” rough Kota stone laid in a cobbled pattern. All exterior areas are paved in exposed brick, continuing into the courtyard, to form a concentric circular pattern radiating from the ‘Kadamba’. Horizontal wooden windows are treated to a dark oiled finish which is further carried through in all the timber work of the interiors to strike harmony.
Text By Kruti Choksi
Photographs Courtesy Indigo Architects