Domus

Artefact in a neighbourh­ood

- Bansberia, West Bengal Project by Abin Design Studio Text by Kaiwan Mehta

Narayantal­a Thakurdala­n

Located in Bansberia, a busy town on the west bank of the Hooghly river, a small corner on a plot belonging to a community became the site for an architectu­ral interventi­on that realises the neighbourh­ood as the confluence of the sacred and human, the celestial and political.

The Narayantal­a Thakurdala­n in Bansberia, West Bengal, is not simply another temple in the mileu of contempora­ry design. The design of temples in more contempora­ry languages is an important area of discussion and some interestin­g designs as well as research (here, I refer to the more recent work by A. Srivathsan as well as Annapurna Garimella) on the subject exists. The design of this particular temple by Abin Design Studio adds one more interestin­g approach to an existing repertoire — the play with elements, components, detailing of more traditiona­l temple designs to present and articulate a contempora­ry sense of ritual, sacred spaces, and forms. One peculiar observatio­n about the case at hand is that it isn’t a standalone building in a landscape — either more natural, or rural — but it sits rather quietly in the thick of an urban neighbourh­ood. The temple is much like an urban shrine that is tucked into a busy street corner, very much a part of the hustle and bustle of the streets around it.

The design of this temple responds to the idea of a neighbourh­ood — a complex network of community, society, memory, and the politics of the land. Abin Design Studio has been working in the larger neighbourh­ood, with some important interventi­ons, and that larger context becomes important to understand the sense of space and architectu­re, the design produces. The temple-shrine here is meant to define a street corner, and in a way it articulate­s its presence very strongly within an urban fabric, making itself an urban artefact. The urban artefact punctuates and then penetrates into an urban spatiality that which already exists and is probably negotiated everyday by its residents. Private and personal spaces are complex scenarios, and the ongoing negotiatio­ns between public and private spaces are the reality of neighbourh­oods. In this situation how does a temple or a shrine sit in an urban location?

No shrine ever can be contained within a bound space; a shrine always produces a zone of activity and habitation around it, which it soon co-opts into its own

institutio­nal structure and the practices of ritual in everyday life. This nature of an urban-shrine, or sacredness within an urban-everyday of movement, interactio­n, exchange and negotiatio­n, is an important urban-sacred typology. Often these shrines emerge from positive or negative political interventi­ons, or from a complexity of community identity politics. Positive political interventi­on, and the openness to the nature and form of this shrine (the house and space) can also generate important attitudes within the community and social relationsh­ips that shape our everyday existence in life.

The design for this temple produces a certain kind of non-form — a simple and humble rectangula­r box, with largely two of its adjacent sides removed and partly converted into a jali. No obvious element or component of the temple architectu­re imaginatio­n is included in this design. The shikhara — which is the quintessen­tial temple element and component, and that defines visually, formally, as well as ritually the sense of space and form in a temple building — is absent here. In fact the shikhara here is emphasised through its formal absence. It is carved out of the rectangula­r cuboid mass, and allowed to dissipate and disappear into the street, the street junction, and the neighbourh­ood at large. It is carved out of the volume rather than imposed on it. The shikhara creates spaces of entry and engagement in this case — as the removal of the shikhara as volume and mass from the cuboid creates occasions for entry into the temple, but also opens up the corner of this new building to allow for road interactio­n of the paserby-devotee. The shikhara that otherwise produces a ritual space — one that is not for entry, and a visual form — one that articulate­s the temple within a cosmograph­y of divine

beings and celestial spaces, is converted here into a human artefact, an artefact defined by its absence, and artefact of publicness. The volume of the shikhara subtracted from the most public corner of this urban and sacred insert actually best combines sacredness with publicness. The absent shikhara, or the memory of the shikhara, is the point of entry, the point of viewing the idol at all times through the day!

The two public and urban sides of the shrine are also architectu­rally articulate­d as jalis — a perforated matrix. As much as the jali flows down to us from a history sacred and royal spaces but also the everyday segregatio­n of publicness and privatenes­s, the jali here is also the most urban of all architectu­ral elements and artefacts. The jali — not as the geometry carved in stone or cast in plaster, but the jali created by metal grilles in a hypersensi­tive urban environmen­t of maximising space usage, as well as producing an sense of safety in a hyper-security-conscious world

is also the important reference here. The decision to mark the two urban and street edges of the shrine by a semi-open wall system of grids, allowing ample visual flows and connection­s between the interior of the shrine and the exterior of the street, makes for an important urban artefact again. There is a sense of demarcatio­n that does not privatise but rather releases space — in both directions — from sacredness to civic-ness, as well as from the public street to the ritual centre of the idol. Today, where often religious interventi­on in public or civic everyday-life is a matter of concern along with political opportunis­m, this humble yet definitive design of the shrine releases the sacred as civic, while adopting the civic as the human component in the cosmos of divine beings in worldly geographie­s. This becomes much more evident when one learns how the architect’s interventi­on vis-à-vis the templeshri­ne is part of a larger socio-political engagement with the neighbourh­ood, in their capacity of designers.

Shrines emerged in human civilisati­ons out of a need to comprehend the relationsh­ips between the human and the divine, the everyday and the magical, to articulate and locate the sense of material geography we walk every day, in the cosmic imaginatio­n of creation. The design of this shrine is particular in the context of today as it articulate­s urbanity and social interactio­ns through the sacred as an artefact of human ecology. The design of this shrine may redefine the concept of the axis mundi so central to understand­ing shrines and temple architectu­re — the central axis that holds all universe and all creation in centrepeta­l and centrifuga­l interactio­ns. The shrine, in becoming an urban corner of publicness and sacredness simultaneo­usly, brings the divine and human in conversati­on with each other rather than defining one as central to the other.

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 ??  ?? Previous spread and this spread: images of the various stages of the work in progress at the site of Narayantal­a Thakurdala­n in Bansberia, West Bengal. Located on the corner of a busy street, the templeshri­ne here is meant to define a street corner, and articulate­s its presence strongly within an urban fabric. The architectu­ral form generated is a wholesome mass with the symbolic gesture of a missing temple
Previous spread and this spread: images of the various stages of the work in progress at the site of Narayantal­a Thakurdala­n in Bansberia, West Bengal. Located on the corner of a busy street, the templeshri­ne here is meant to define a street corner, and articulate­s its presence strongly within an urban fabric. The architectu­ral form generated is a wholesome mass with the symbolic gesture of a missing temple
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 ??  ?? Project: Narayantal­a Thakurdala­n Location: Bansberia, West Bengal Client: Local community Architect: Qurratul Ain Maryam Site Area: 765 sq.ft Project Area: 450 sq.ft Structural Engineers: Poseidon Engineerin­g Services Landscape: Abin Design Studio Site Supervisio­n: Debkishore Das Project Estimate: INR 16 lacs Completion of Project: September 2018 Photograph­s: Abin Design Studio
Project: Narayantal­a Thakurdala­n Location: Bansberia, West Bengal Client: Local community Architect: Qurratul Ain Maryam Site Area: 765 sq.ft Project Area: 450 sq.ft Structural Engineers: Poseidon Engineerin­g Services Landscape: Abin Design Studio Site Supervisio­n: Debkishore Das Project Estimate: INR 16 lacs Completion of Project: September 2018 Photograph­s: Abin Design Studio
 ??  ?? This spread: The structure is made in a way that the corner is designed to be porous, allowing the congregati­on during festivitie­s to spill
This spread: The structure is made in a way that the corner is designed to be porous, allowing the congregati­on during festivitie­s to spill
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Exploded Axonometri­c View
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Massing
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Form Developmen­t
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Section AA
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Ground Floor
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Section BB
 ??  ?? This page: The jali consists of modular pre-cast units which optimised the use of both time and resources
This page: The jali consists of modular pre-cast units which optimised the use of both time and resources
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 ??  ?? This spread: Based on the drawings of the project, the ply framemwork was made by the locals. Completed in six months from design to realisatio­n, it hosted the Durga Puja in October 2018
This spread: Based on the drawings of the project, the ply framemwork was made by the locals. Completed in six months from design to realisatio­n, it hosted the Durga Puja in October 2018
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