Koodaaram: the Pavillion at Cabral Yard, Kochi
Architecture, through its terrain, material and devices, opens and closes edifices in space, thereby mediating social and environmental alienation or coalescence. The architectural notion of a pavilion is that of an “island”: of respite, reinvigoration, contemplation, conversation and transience. Unlike the other Fort Kochi venues, Cabral Yard carries no architectural vestiges of its past. It follows a cycle of natural rejuvenation during its dormancy between biennales. It is simultaneously a gated precinct of profuse verdancy and an important hub for convening people, the beating social heart of a bustling biennale. It is a venue for art, as a process, an event or an incident,with people. In order to explore the curatorial vision for KMB 2018, we deconstruct “the pavilion within the yard”. Unpacking its architecture and programme to occupy the whole one-acre site, the entire Cabral Yard is activated to perform as a island-hub for art with people.
Of light and lightness
We call it the ‘Koodaaram’ (tent) in Malayalam. It is a half-opaque, half-transparent, half-buried performance space for about 420 people. The design references the ‘Koothambalam’, a traditional performative pavilion, similarly modulating plinth, trellis and canopy. However, it explores the possibility of diffusing its opacity and weight while infusing it with light and accessibility. By making Cabral Yard an open pavilion, the design counterargues traditional exclusivities associated with performative spaces through openness, transparency, lightness, temporariness and accessibility. Koodaaram is thus suggests a counter point to the Koothaamablam. The design seeks transience through lightness.The structures are designed to sit “lightly” on the site. Built in two months, the pavilion is designed to completely dismantle into components salvageable for reuse, leaving the site largely unmarked state of natural and vegetal rejuvenation of the site.
Experiences of architectural coalescence
The city as a stasis of indurated architectural objects precipitates conditions of urban alienation. It induces distance from the natural and the social. The pavilion is deconstructed to reveal through its porosities, programmatic flexibilities and skeletality, the (un)making of a monolith. The intent is to widen experiences of architectural coalescence, both material and programmatic. Walls and ground fluidly morph and, similarly, canopy and foliage merge to create opportunities for spontaneous and social spectacles, encounters and conversations.
— From the architect’s project description
Encounters and Negotiations — architecture in an expanded context
The Cabral Yard pavilion titled Koodaaram marks an important experiment in contemporary architecture from India. Designed by Anagram Architects, led by Madhav Raman, in collaboration with the curator of the fourth edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2018, Anita Dube, this structure dematerialises an architecture programme to address or deal with very finite and spatial ideas of context, human behaviour, occupation, and use, as well as the relationships between ideas and buildings.
The pavilion comes as a new journey from an old conversation — when the architects at Anagram and the artist Anita Dube discussed, debated and designed an artist-house which would also be a homely museum space, and a cultural space for collectives, located in one of the urban developments on the outskirts of Delhi. The emergent design there challenged many ideas — what is a home? How do we respond to new urban situations emerging today, positively? How do we understand safety and culture? How does our culture connect and disconnect — with people, with colleagues, with neighbours? How does the artist think architecture, and how does the architect take forward the challenge to rethink architecture? What does architecture tell us about the contemporary?
The Pavilion at the Biennale is once again asking, at the curatorial level as well as a nodal architectural intervention in the Biennale — what is the contemporary? There is an interesting play between the architectural and the nonarchitectural in the design of this pavilion. Taking the notions of a tent — one that sets base as and when required, and dismantles as soon as the job is done – this structure is visually playful and plays hide-and-seek with its own self. This building has no boringly purist notions about structure, construction, or detailing; it, in fact, is architecturally as much as ideologically (in its programme) — ‘open to ideas and welcoming of multiplicities’. The architectural materials assemble the various parts, aspects, and ideas of the building — in their own variety from steel to bamboo, to transparent sheets, and red pillows…In a way the building then presents an unfinished, ready-to-yetchange appearance, but one that also allows more discussions on the architecture of temporariness. The solidity of architecture is available in this building as much as human safety and comfort is required, but at the same time the building is floating in a landscape, merging with the canopy of trees surrounding it, and allows for a flow of traffic through it, in it, and around it without stiffly defined circulation paths.
The Biennale as well as the curator for this edition have had an interesting history with politics and art, the spaces for creative engagement, and the role of art in working with matters of culture and society. It is in this context that this Pavilion needs to be located. The Biennale has come to now define an important location for reviewing the contemporary world and India in it; Dube brings an interesting history from her own biography and experiences — a genealogy of art-and-politics debates, histories of art-andactivism, as well as the subtle role of creativity and aesthetics in nudging societies to debate and think about the worlds they occupy, and enjoy the impulse to live, live collectively, live with varieties and differences, live in debate and constant conversations. The Pavilion is then a crisp, yet fragile moment in these crossed histories, and crossed destinies. The ability of architecture to hold conversations with its own histories of form, typology, and material-construction is beautifully emerging here; simultaneously the ability of architecture to incorporate other histories of politics and creative cultural engagements is also coming through. The architect is working here in the ‘expanded field’ and the architecture is addressing context of an expanded nature. The narrowness of how we think about context — imprisoned in land and geography, or stuck in time — is a problem; and this architectural instance is one that addresses context and liberates it — as context becomes a world of negotiations, as well as the allowance of chance encounters. Encounters and negotiations become the leitmotif in this structure, and sets forth some important clues and ideas for an architecture of the contemporary — a world contemporary in India, India and its world in the contemporary.
— Kaiwan Mehta Pushing Boundaries, Blurring Binaries Un- built
When Anita [Dube] and I first visited Cabral Yard, the site for the Biennale Pavilion, we were both struck by the serenity provided by the canopy and the undergrowth. We felt the truest space on site would be the site itself and not a building. It felt criminal to impose a building on it or, in any way, subordinate it to a position of being a mere campus to a building. One could perceive, archaeologically, as it were, the previous structures of the previous biennales through the debris on the site. These, over time, it seemed to us, physically burden the site. And yet, after every edition, the site rewilds itself. My immediate instinct was that we must build in a way that would leave the site without physical traces but remain indelibly memorable. Anita likens it to a spaceship that arrives and leaves but is rapturous in its presence. Just standing there was fantastical.
Every two years, when the biennale comes to town, Cabral Yard hosts film screenings and performance arts in a pavilion. As typology, such spaces are usually black boxes: monolithic, impervious and unassailable. Traditionally, like the formal art gallery, the formal theatre reduces access by centering the artist and de-centering the audience. This bears out even in the Koothaambalam, the Kerala temple adjunct for ritual performances. So while the Pavilion was “required”, its form required interrogation. We thought if we unpacked the programming and scattered it across the site and also were able to allow greater visual intrusion, we’d go a long way in unboxing the art of the Biennale.
For Anita, the pavilion was always the multivocal free-spirited heart of her curation. She felt it would be the bastion for the alternative. A counterargument to art in the gallery, art in the moment as it were. The space must
let its inhabitants know that they had control over it and not the other way around. They could make it or make of it what they wished. And in that freedom, accept the “other”, celebrate the unusual and respect the uncomfortable.
Anita spoke of how unnecessary the binary created between pleasure and pedagogy is. Why is intellect grave and sensuality frivolous? Why can’t they just “be”, equally and together, both and each? These two forms of “sustenance” are fettered and driven into ruts by the binaries associated with them. This made us push boundaries and blur edges on all manners of binaries: inside/outside, ground/plinth, shade/sky, and so on.
- Madhav Raman, Anagram Architects
Thoughts on the Pavilion
Not too satisfied with the exhibition model while thinking about curating the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2018, I felt another space was needed through which ideas and people could seamlessly flow and engage with each other. An open structure inspired by the traditional Koothambalam, rather than a closed auditorium, seemed the appropriate idea given the curatorial theme of exploring ‘Possibilities for a NonAlienated Life’. This could double as a space for performance, music, film, lectures, and even parties, while retaining the character of a meeting place, a place for conversations.
When Madhav [Raman] and I visited the site at Cabral Yard, we spoke about the beautiful trees and the wonderful canopy they created. How it would be great if we included the outside inside the Pavilion by making it light and transparent, and how the branches could inspire the structuring of it. We also wanted it to be futuristic- like a spaceship, in the belly of which the Biennale could create the magic of pleasure and pedagogy together as a palpable experience.