Sameep Padora & As­so­ciates (sP+a) Fac­tory in Bhi­wandi; IT cam­pus in Sion/ Mum­bai

Set in the midst of two ver­sions of the chaotic, con­strict­ing and claus­tro­pho­bic ur­ban­ity of the city of Mum­bai and its sub­ur­ban re­gions, two projects from the of­fice of sP+a of­fer their for­tu­nate oc­cu­pants mi­cro­cosms of respite and re­treat from the mess

Domus - - MICROCOSMS OF OCCUPATION - Text by Suprio Bhat­tachar­jee

The ur­ban void is an en­tic­ing con­text to work within. These voids can take myr­iad forms, and their ori­gins can be as di­verse. In the case of the two projects fea­tured here, both by Mum­bai-based sP+a, the prac­tice led by Sameep Padora, the void is a con­di­tion set within a clus­ter of build­ings linked by their ty­po­log­i­cal uni­for­mity and mun­dane­ness — in one case, a pre-ex­ist­ing con­di­tion, whilst in an­other, a pro­jec­tive fu­ture. Thus the sites them­selves are ‘voids’ in the na­ture of their ur­ban con­di­tion and as they sit within the mor­phol­ogy of their con­texts, and in­ter­est­ingly enough, both build­ings are con­ceived as en­com­pass­ing a fur­ther set of voids in turn, within their folds.

First up, a two-storeyed fac­tory build­ing on the out­skirts of Bhi­wandi, set within a com­plex of large ware­houses for a lo­gis­tics com­pany be­comes a strik­ing vis­ual and spa­tial vor­tex with its ex­posed con­crete sur­faces and a dra­matic cor­ner can­tilever that reaches out more than 16 me­tres. Its bare, ‘ap­par­ently un­fin­ished’ sur­faces and build­ing mass strikes out dis­tinctly and in­stantly, over its ad­ja­cent neigh­bours with their char­ac­ter­is­tic in­dus­trial ho­mo­gene­ity. What also marks the build­ing out im­me­di­ately is the cor­ner un­der the dra­matic low-slung can­tilever — a por­ous edge that in­vites the street into the build­ing mass’s in­nards. Here, un­der the up­per storey’s fuse­lage, a sin­u­ous three-pronged bridge, of­fers to con­nect ei­ther of the two build­ing wings and the street cor­ner. Raised over a py­lon, the bridge forms an in­ter­me­di­ate ‘roof’ for a sunken court — a

rem­nant of the site’s pre­vi­ous land­scape, set as it is ad­ja­cent to a lake cut off from the build­ing site by a road. This sunken court be­comes a wa­ter fea­ture as well dur­ing the mon­soons. The court­yard catch­ment area within the build­ing’s perime­ter be­comes a land­scape in mi­cro­cosm, a re­flec­tion of the site’s pre­vi­ous ori­gins.

The build­ing it­self is a boxy quad­ran­gu­lar vol­ume with its cen­tre cut out for the afore­men­tioned court­yard sur­rounded by clois­ter­like spa­ces, and the raw ex­te­rior with its sub­tle hor­i­zon­tal or­na­ment of ar­rhyth­mic cast­ing joints along the length of the façade. This hints at the spa­tial char­ac­ter­is­tic within, as one ex­pe­ri­ences a pal­ette of ex­posed brick, glass blocks and steel, set within the over­ar­ch­ing raw con­crete en­ve­lope. There is the hardy, ro­bust sen­si­bil­ity of a build­ing that is meant to with­stand wear, but at the same time, the de­tails are care­fully crafted if not fetishised. Brick walls and di­aphanous glass blocks sit within steel-framed par­ti­tions as dis­tinct en­ti­ties sep­a­rate from the en­velop­ing con­crete walls, and there is a distinction be­tween the ‘mass’ of the en­ve­lope, and the (com­par­a­tively) ephemeral na­ture of the in­ner par­ti­tions set within steel bound­ing frames. The in­te­rior is also un­ex­pect­edly lu­mi­nous and warm — in sheer con­trast to the hulk­ing grey of the ex­te­rior. The main façades seem im­per­vi­ous, bar­ring the cor­ner void and a large vit­rine on the up­per storey of clear frame­less glass that casts a glance north­ward across the ad­ja­cent lake and the vil­lage and greens be­yond. The thin­ness of its grey walls is chanced upon at the cor­ners of the large lower storey

vit­rines where frame­less glass greets one at the two ends of the sin­u­ous bridge. Else­where, lower pan­els of glass blocks bring in shade-less light into the in­te­rior spa­ces sup­ple­mented by up­per-level cleresto­ries and ven­ti­la­tors. The build­ing does come across more as a som­bre pavil­ion with its own cap­tured land­scape and the thin­ness of its walls (in con­trast to the pre­pon­der­ance of its mass) as en­coun­tered in di­rect experience be­lies its ‘heav­i­ness’ — a weight­less mas­sive­ness, if you will.

As a fac­tory build­ing, the project suit­ably propo­si­tions an al­ter­na­tive type — one that es­chews the all-en­com­pass­ing shed build­ing ty­pol­ogy (like its neigh­bours) with a work that has a pro­ces­sional char­ac­ter. The bridge is a suit­able fore­word to a se­ries of spa­tial chap­ters that slowly un­furl within the build­ing.

If this fac­tory build­ing in Bhi­wandi em­bod­ies a dis­tinct ‘lin­ear­ity’ and ‘cen­tral­ity’ in its spa­tial con­cep­tion, the other build­ing un­der our lens here — an IT in­sti­tute within the cam­pus of the KJ So­maiya Col­lege of In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy in sub­ur­ban Mum­bai — at­tempts to sub­vert this lin­ear­ity through a dis­tinct roof-scape and a spa­tial struc­ture that de­cen­tralises the over­all ex­pe­ri­en­tial nar­ra­tive into a se­ries of in­ti­mate court­yards rem­i­nis­cent of the ar­chi­tec­tural dis­po­si­tion of the prac­tice’s ear­lier Je­ta­van project (DO­MUS In­dia, Au­gust 2016). Not un­like that project, and at the other ex­treme from the fac­tory build­ing de­scribed above, this build­ing

is an es­say in trans­parency — a se­ries of glazed pavil­ions lightly built, strung along a me­an­der­ing path­way that tra­verses a now­con­tained in­ner land­scape — an­other mi­cro­cosm — set off from the ex­te­rior by an in­tro­verted spa­tial­ity and build­ing vol­umes that open into the in­ner realms.

Cov­er­ing a far larger ground area as com­pared to the ba­nal multi-storeyed neigh­bour­ing cam­pus build­ing, it forms an un­in­ten­tional podium to the build­ing in ef­fect, thus sug­gest­ing a wel­come al­ter­na­tive type to the now-preva­lent ho­moge­nous multi-storeyed ed­u­ca­tional cam­puses that dot the city (its neigh­bour is no ex­cep­tion) — a scourge that re­cently tram­pled upon a dis­tinct late 1900s build­ing within a famed cam­pus in west­ern Mum­bai to re­place it with a non-place, un­re­mark­able and ba­nal glass box. What it also es­chews is a su­per­flu­ous ‘tech­nol­ogy-fetish’ that ac­com­pa­nies build­ings de­voted to IT with their de­cep­tive cloth­ing — here, a skin-and-bones ap­proach with a clever use of tech­nique and tec­ton­ics makes this build­ing in no way less tech­no­log­i­cally prodi­gious. For one, generic air-con­di­tion­ing seems re­mark­ably ab­sent in its vis­ual pres­ence — some­thing height­ened by the vit­re­ous boxes and their ‘show-all’ na­ture — and one re­alises that the build­ing (or rather ‘build­ings’) has a ra­di­ant un­der-floor cool­ing sys­tem. This is a tech­nique that has proven it­self as be­ing far more ef­fec­tive and used widely now abroad in lowen­ergy build­ings. Ad­di­tion­ally, the build­ing’s re­treat from the out­side by the cre­ation of a quiet in­ner core means that the co­pi­ous aluminium slid­ing win­dows set within the steel struc­tural frame can be opened at will to al­low for nat­u­ral ven­ti­la­tion when the weather is con­ducive, and one can only imag­ine how this is a con­tem­po­rary update (or up­grade?) of the tra­di­tional pathshala, now for higher learn­ing of course.

Like the pre­vi­ously de­scribed fac­tory build­ing, this one too has a raw ma­te­rial dis­po­si­tion with kota floors and brick walls set within (now white-painted) steel frames that sup­port the light pavil­ions. The in­ner court­yards with their ve­ran­dahs are en­cased by glazed walls with low brick para­pets in all direc­tions — a panop­tic view of the in­sti­tu­tion re­in­forc­ing a sense of trans­parency and open­ness. Si­los are sub­verted and mon­u­men­tal­ity is es­chewed. This is a free, lib­er­at­ing space for the

mind to wan­der pro­duc­tively. The roof forms an in­ter­est­ing un­du­lat­ing land­scape that cre­ates a sin­gu­lar ar­chi­tec­tural state­ment within the glazed rooms and the court­yards. Upon closer in­spec­tion, one ob­serves that this is es­sen­tially a ‘flat’ roof with val­ley folds pushed down­ward in the di­rec­tion of the court­yards. One can imag­ine the sheer joy of wit­ness­ing the cas­cad­ing mi­cro-wa­ter­falls into the cen­tral spa­ces on a mon­soon day. At other times, this folded roofline cre­ates a sense of in­ti­macy within the court­yards, mak­ing the space leg­i­ble and ‘hu­mane’ in its pro­por­tions.

A cou­ple of years ago, when I wrote on this re­mark­able learn­ing cen­tre in ru­ral Ma­ha­rash­tra — the Je­ta­van project that I have cited ear­lier here, de­signed by the same of­fice of Sameep Padora, the first ma­jor com­pleted pub­lic ar­chi­tec­tural work by the prac­tice, and one that took me by sur­prise — I termed it a “turn­ing point in their oeu­vre” – with (and I

shall quote from that piece) “a dis­tinct shift to­wards let­ting go of a cer­tain fas­tid­i­ous­ness and fetishis­ing of ma­te­rial ar­tic­u­la­tion and de­tail — as there is a cer­tain re­jec­tion of for­mal or com­po­si­tional dogma. The Ar­chi­tec­ture here ap­pears more ‘looser’, light-footed yet firmly po­si­tioned — a tad bit more ag­ile and cer­tainly more in­clu­sive of its set­ting and cir­cum­stance. The im­por­tance of the spe­cific de­tail and sur­face dis­solves into an over­ar­ch­ing de­sire to cre­ate a cer­tain ‘spa­tial sen­si­bil­ity’ that unifies at­mos­phere with im­me­di­acy — the ‘oc­cu­pa­tion’ of a ground with its de­lin­eation, the joy of be­ing with the experience of en­gage­ment. One can only hope that this is a be­gin­ning.”

Now faced with two projects by the same of­fice that are as dis­tinct from each other as the two houses I cov­ered ear­lier on these pages (Bipo­lar Or­der, DO­MUS In­dia, Septem­ber 2015), one can only say that the of­fice is on a firm tra­jec­tory as an­tic­i­pated, with its dis­tinct di­ver­sity of han­dling each project be­yond for­mal ar­tic­u­la­tions im­mutably em­bed­ded within the prac­tice’s core value sys­tems, a dis­man­tling of the ‘con­trol’ over the ex­pres­sion of each project in terms of seek­ing any kind of su­per­fi­cial con­ti­nu­ity within one’s oeu­vre, and a spa­tial sen­si­bil­ity that now bor­ders on the al­most fru­gal and ‘ev­ery­day’ in terms of its ma­te­ri­al­ity and tec­ton­ics. This is a quo­tid­ian view on the act of build­ing – mar­ried with a dis­tinct re­gard for the ar­chi­tec­tural prom­e­nade and a predilec­tion for open­ness and trans­parency — spa­ces that ‘free’ and ‘de-reg­u­late’ as much as pos­si­ble one’s ev­ery­day in­ter­ac­tion with the world. I dare say that this comes close to the beloved idea of a ‘rad­i­cal prag­ma­tism’ that one first

be­gan to see in the works of Ale­jan­dro de la Sota, and in re­cent times, in the ‘cheap’ but ex­cit­ing and ar­chi­tec­turally en­thralling build­ings be­ing built in coun­tries such as Por­tu­gal, Spain and Hol­land. The works also em­brace and ex­tends no­tions of the raw pavil­ion — some­thing I had men­tioned in my ear­lier ar­ti­cle on the learn­ing cen­tre — an ar­chi­tec­tural lin­eage that in­cludes the mas­ter­ful cre­ma­to­rium in Coim­bat­ore by Mancini, the light-footed and avian health cen­tre de­signed by Fly­ing Ele­phant in ru­ral Kar­nataka, and this of­fice’s very own learn­ing cen­tre (men­tioned pre­vi­ously). Here in these two projects, set in the midst of two ver­sions of the chaotic, con­strict­ing and claus­tro­pho­bic ur­ban­ity of the city of Mum­bai and its sub­ur­ban re­gions, these pavil­ions of­fer their for­tu­nate oc­cu­pants mi­cro­cosms of respite and re­treat from the mess of the hy­per­dense real.

Op­po­site page: The site of ‘Man­u­fac­tur­ing Void’, a two-storeyed fac­tory build­ing in Bhi­wandi, on the ouskirts of Mum­bai, is visu­ally ar­rest­ing — its ex­posed con­crete sur­faces and a dra­matic cor­ner can­tilever that reaches out more than 16 me­tres

This spread: The fac­tory build­ing is a boxy quad­ran­gu­lar vol­ume with its cen­tre cut out for a court­yard sur­rounded by clois­ter-like spa­ces, and has a raw ex­te­rior with its sub­tle hor­i­zon­tal or­na­ment of ar­rhyth­mic cast­ing joints along the length of the façade Op­po­site page, far left: im­ages show­cas­ing the models of the fac­tory build­ing

This page: un­der the up­per storey’s fuse­lage, a sin­u­ous three-pronged bridge of­fers to con­nect ei­ther of the two build­ing wings and the street cor­ner Op­po­site page: the court­yard catch­ment area within the build­ing’s perime­ter be­comes a land­scape in mi­cro­cosm, a re­flec­tion of the site’s pre­vi­ous ori­gins Op­po­site page, bot­tom: the in­te­rior is lu­mi­nous and warm — in con­trast to the grey of the ex­te­rior

This page: a spa­cious, quiet in­ner core of the IT build­ing on the cam­pus of the KJ So­maiya Col­lege of Engi­neer­ing Op­po­site page: an aerial view of the site of the ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tion

This spread: the in­su­lated roof plane spans over all pro­grams link­ing them to­gether into a dis­tinct sin­gu­lar build­ing while fold­ing into gi­ant wa­ter gar­goyles that would chan­nel rain­wa­ter into the court­yards and fur­ther into har­vest­ing tanks

This page, bot­tom: views of the cor­ri­dors, and the lab­o­ra­to­ries as well as the class­rooms on cam­pus Op­po­site page, top: the folded roofline cre­ates a sense of in­ti­macy within the court­yards, mak­ing the space leg­i­ble and ‘hu­mane’ in its pro­por­tions Op­po­site page, bot­tom: the perime­ter of the court­yard is sur­rounded by a ve­ran­dah-like cir­cu­la­tion space

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.