Ar­chi­tec­ture Sameep Padora and As­so­ciates

Sharda School/ Sharda School Li­brary, Kop­er­gaon, Ma­ha­rash­tra

Domus - - CONTENTS - Text by Mus­tan­sir Dalvi Pho­tos by Ed­mund Sum­ner

The brick vault is both the li­brary’s cen­tral ex­pres­sion as well as a demon­stra­tion of the cross-fer­til­i­sa­tion be­tween low-priced tech­nolo­gies and the pos­si­bil­i­ties of dig­i­tal de­sign

In a seem­ingly left­over space, a lin­ear edge bounded by school build­ings, loom­ing elec­tri­cal py­lons and a ce­mented bas­ket­ball court, a li­brary build­ing lies belly-flopped like a beached manta ray. In the ru­ral Kop­er­gaon, a small town in the western state of Ma­ha­rash­tra, this ed­i­fice is out of place and out of this world. For the chil­dren of the Sharda School, this in­ter­ven­tion is like a vinyl record, with an A side and B side, both of which de­light. On the out­side, the brick car­cass morphs into an ar­chi­tec­tural land­scape, an ad­ven­ture play­ground of curves and con­tours meant for clam­ber­ing, crawl­ing and just good old-fash­ioned lolling about. In­side, the belly of the crea­ture soars, its vault­ing dip­ping and ris­ing, pro­vid­ing both the grotto-like in­ti­macy of si­lent read­ing and the ela­tion of com­ing to­gether as in the nave of a cathe­dral for a shared ex­pe­ri­ence. The shell ex­tends over its in­te­rior spa­ces pro­vid­ing both shade and in­su­la­tion from the harsh sun over the Dec­can. Sameep Padora has al­ways sought to bring ma­te­rial ex­pe­ri­ence to his ar­chi­tec­ture. His prac­tice (sP+a) ig­nores dis­ci­plinary bound­aries, seam­lessly swing­ing from re­search to build­ing, from para­met­ric in­stal­la­tions to lo­cally crafted for­mal in­no­va­tion. His met­ro­pol­i­tan con­cerns are usu­ally the out­come of deeply re­searched ex­plo­rations of the city’s fab­ric. In the re­cent past, his firm has fo­cused on af­ford­able hous­ing in Mum­bai, di­vin­ing knowl­edge from lived ex­pe­ri­ence and propos­ing al­ter­na­tives to the cur­rent real-es­tate-driven hous­ing sce­nario. In projects away from the city, nor­mally in the smaller towns of Ma­ha­rash­tra and be­yond, Padora has ex­per­i­mented with var­i­ous forms of ma­te­ri­al­ity and space, work­ing with avail­able re­sources and ex­per­tise, rein­ter­pret­ing com­mon ty­polo­gies. In the ‘Je­ta­van’ Bud­dhist Learn­ing Cen­tre in Sakhar­wadi, built form has been put to­gether or­gan­i­cally as an idyl­lic grove that is a cen­tral Bud­dhist trope. In the de­sign of a Shiva tem­ple in Wadesh­war, he has pared down the tem­ple form to a min­i­mum, rein­ter­pret­ing each so­cio-re­li­gious sig­ni­fier within the sin­gle medium of RCC. In the case of the Sharda School Li­brary, this sin­gu­lar­ity is the brick tile that forms both the means of con­struc­tion and its even­tual form. Padora has been eclec­tic in his sources to cre­ate this sin­gle un­sup­ported space us­ing brick. “We were cap­ti­vated,” he writes, “by the ma­te­rial ef­fi­cien­cies of the Cata­lan tile vault from the 16th cen­tury, its use by Rafael Guas­tavino in the 19th cen­tury and fi­nally the in­cred­i­ble de­tails from the work of Ela­dio Di­este from the mid-20th cen­tury.” In an ear­lier in­ter­view he also ac­knowl­edged the in­flu­ence of Richard Serra’s raw steel sculp­tures, es­pe­cially in the man­ner that al­lowed him to co­a­lesce form and space into a seam­less dy­namic ar­tic­u­la­tion of ma­te­rial. Built as a struc­tural shell en­tirely in com­pres­sion, the li­brary’s struc­ture trans­fers its dead loads out­wards to­wards the edges and into a ring of con­crete. The shape is there­fore sta­ble in it­self and de­spite the shell be­ing less than 15 cen­time­tres thick (and cov­er­ing an area of over 500 square me­tres) it can ab­sorb the stresses of stu­dents run­ning all over it. The build­ing sits grace­fully in its site, bring­ing its dif­fer­ent neigh­bours to­gether into a col­le­gial em­brace. The large arches formed be­tween

This spread: study model and view of the new build­ing, which was con­ceived as an ex­ten­sion of the ground’s con­tours. A sort of nat­u­ral swelling of the sur­face un­der­foot, the struc­ture of­fers a di­rect re­sponse to the lively and spon­ta­neous way in which chil­dren use open spa­ces

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