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Building a language

Gurgaon, IN

domus 22

October 2013

Building a language With clever inversion of making brick seemingly light, and veneer-like sheet metal heavy, massive and forbiddingly impenetrable, the Devi Art Foundation in Gurgaon is an urban structure with a conscious manifesto Design

M/s. Prabhakar B Bhagwat

Gurgaon

The facade in Corten Steel, with openings for limited views within the building 54

Text

Suprio Bhattacharjee

There’s this strange burnt red monolith that one will notice through the din of Gurgaon’s mundane cityscape. It has a defensive, almost fortressed nature. Clean seam lines announce this as a distinctly man-made presence. It has a scale-less, enigmatic appearance—seemingly an unfinished, rusting hull of a mythical vessel marked by a random array of miniscule portholes with scalloped hoods. The serrated edges of these not-solarge apertures seem to scrape away at the wind and light, funnelling it deep into the guts of this mysterious object, and cast away any opportunity of gazing in. Like on a well-worn hull of a battleship, the reveals along these openings indicate an apparent solid, almost-impenetrable shell. A cleft on one side allows the outsider a glimpse within, but there is not much that one can decipher. Once in a while one may just catch a glimpse of an inhabitant through the rifts in the hull’s thick carapace. The sense of mystery has just deepened. From the outside, this solid, impenetrable carapace of Corten Steel can appear forbidding, or alternatively, it can heighten one’s curiosity and sense of exploration. This is the new building for the Devi Art Foundation, a not-for-profit space providing for ‘innovation unconstrained by commercial limitations’ (from the Foundation’s website, www.deviartfoundation.org). For their new building, the founders of the organisation, the Delhi-based Poddar family, turned to Ahmedabadbased architect Aniket Bhagwat, of the landscape and ecological design firm, Prabhakar B Bhagwat. The Foundation occupies one half of the building, the other being occupied by the offices of the family-owned paper mill business. The strategy to turn the building away from the surrounding city was a conscious one, as the architect states, ‘We looked at Gurgaon, and decided to turn ourselves from it and hide in a shell. So the building opens into the court and, almost like gills of a fish, draws in light and air selectively from the outer skin.’ The court forms an inner realm that manages to break through this hermetic shell,

Photos

Edmund Sumner, Debojit Mohapatra Aniket Bhagwat, M/s. Lotus

drawing views into this ‘object.’ This courtyard aligns itself with the city grid, roughly along the south-west-to-north-east axis, which is also along the depth of the plot that is its longer dimension. The architect goes on further to state, ‘The courtyard was where the building came together, and has an intricately crafted red stone-plated geometry that few notice, and has water that fills in the depressions and dries as the day wears off.’ This acute focus on surfaces and materiality and a consciousness on temporal conditions can be seen in the manner in which the building deals with its materials and textures. An intriguing aspect is the set of leaning and rippling brick walls along the north-western facade of the courtyard. It stands in opposition to the more formally disposed, strictly ordered facade across, almost in some kind of joyous mockery of the need to conform to any kind of rational order. Held back in dramatic fashion by tie cables anchored to the building, these walls cant out precariously into the courtyard whilst offering protection from the blazing afternoon sun. This strategy confronts the hardcore nature of running a paper business with the more ‘artful’ nature of the other occupant, but also serves to ‘invert’ their natures, by substituting one for the other, as AniketBhagwat sets out to explain, ‘Two brick facades looking at each otherone a more regular formal arrangement and the other a vibrant, almost kinetic facade of swaying and tilted walls, both representing different moods of the people who would occupy the building. As a reversal, and morphing of these energies, the more vibrant facade took its inspiration from the main business—paper—and like sheets of paper sailing and falling on the ground, manifested themselves as the emblem for the design/art end of the business. It was a comment on the genesis, being the source for the other part of the business.’ Programmatically, the building is straight-forward and rational. Two storeys of basement form a raised platform upon which sit four levels split by the aforementioned courtyard. The south-eastern 55


Building a language

Gurgaon, IN

domus 22

October 2013

The Devi Art Foundation building within the din of Gurgaon’s mundane cityscape

The exposed brick facade of the structure

• Held back in dramatic fashion by tie cables anchored to the building, these walls cant out precariously into the courtyard whilst offering protection from the blazing afternoon sun 56

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Gurgaon, IN

From the outside, this solid, impenetrable carapace of Corten Steel can appear forbidding, or alternatively, it can heighten one’s curiosity and sense of exploration

Views of the entrance and the courtyard Details of the model as well as materiality and the facade

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October 2013

block houses a cafe on the ground floor and the offices of the paper mill above (this is the wing with the rippling brick wall) while the north-western block houses a gallery on the ground floor and offices for the Foundation above. Bridges on the north-eastern end of the courtyard provide access between each of the building’s service cores fronted by the large opaque volume of the boardroom on the third floor that serves to close off the north-east facade forming an imposing gateway or ‘dwar’. Pedestrians shall have the pleasure of traversing through this stately portal, while those coming in by car are set for another kind of experience—the basement. Contrary to it holding a purely utilitarian function, the basement parking offers a thrilling material experience—a monolithic envelope of concrete walls, textured concrete ceilings, tapered concrete columns, arched concrete beams, and the gracefully bent sprinkler lines for a synchronised visual ballet of otherwise mundane functional components. The architect likens this to the festive nature, to a ‘mandap’, and the space becomes a welcome harbinger to the fastidious attention to detail and material surface within this building. Exposed brick walls become the inner walls of the offices, while the exposed cast concrete slab was polished to offer a raw floor surface. Throughout the building, there is evidence of the architect’s resolve to ‘let the expression be rugged—this was a old warrior—not a new fussy kid.’ Seamlines in the building’s outer skin are left unapologetically raw, while the swaying brick walls consist of a matrix of not-so-perfect-brickwork that ripples to offer a delightful haptic experience to those who shall venture into the courtyard. The building seduces an

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Building a language

Held back in dramatic fashion by tie cables anchored to the building, these walls cant out precariously into the courtyard whilst offering protection from the blazing afternoon sun

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Gurgaon, IN

Building a language

domus 22

1 Entrance 2 Exit 3 Driveway 4 Bridge above 5 Atrium 6 Courtyard 7 Right wing 8 Left wing 9 Board room above 10 Art gallery/ parking 11 Art gallery 12 Office 13 Cafe 14 Pantry

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devi art foundation Design M/s. Prabhakar B. Bhagwat Chief designer Mr. Aniket Bhagwat Design Team Anand Saboo, Kalpesh Patel Interior Design M/s. Lotus

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fact box

16m

drawings

Client M/s. Sirpur Paper Mills Ltd. New Delhi

Project Area 2100 m2

1  Basement floor plan

Location Gurgaon, IN

Construction Phase 2003 - 2008

3  Typical floor plan

2 Ground floor plan 4 Elevation South-West 5 Elevation North-East 6  Elevation North-West 7  Section AA

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Building a language

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

15





70

106

70

106

15

70



70 15



70

231

70



15







15

106

22 5

106



106

231

5 15



15 

70

106

106





15

22

106

106





106

231



 15

13

106

13



70

231

225



91

13

91

70

244

231

244

231 

225

225

1

R9

225





244



70

231

70

231

15

23

70 





6

70

106



15





10

 



15



15

6

6



15



5

15

225

 

10

6



225

22

106

15

10



225



5

6

15

22

10

225

70

70 70

15

15



70 70

70 225

106





70

225

225

70

15

15

225







70

225

15

 

15

6

15

 

5

225

225

225

 1



119

225

15





15

 

5

  1



119



















62

63


Building a language

Gurgaon, IN

domus 22

October 2013

occupant to engage with it at a very tactile level— and this is the building’s victory by far—it is a field of textures in full-bleed, allowing the user to trace the geography of each surface as they inhabit the envelopes they form. The clever inversion of making a heavy, earthbound material like brick seemingly prance with glee, and a light, veneer-like sheet metal heavy, massive and forbiddingly impenetrable is the hallmark of the project. As an urban object, this is a building with a conscious manifesto, as the architect Aniket Bhagwat sets out to elucidate, ‘We told ourselves that there were two tenets we would adhere to— one, the brutal honesty of construction, and the

use of materials that were formed, not mined—and more importantly materials that were the palette of the modernists—brick and exposed RCC, but then fuse them with craft in a manner that India could do easily. And as a comment to the “skins” of all the buildings that dot our urban landscape, that are in glass, we wanted one that would not be sterile, but would age over time as a skin should. And for this we chose Corten Steel. So three materials—Corten Steel, brick and exposed concrete.’ — Suprio Bhattacharjee Architect

Opposite page (top): basements in immaculate concrete express a sense of a ‘mandap’ in the way the roofs are etched, with dynamic sets of columns that rise through two floors; fire pipes in the basement bent in circles to coordinate with the shuttering of the roof

Internal volumes of the Devi Art Foundation building

“We were conscious that we wanted to make a building that would be a marker in contemporary architecture—taking a common typology and building a language that would help extend the discussion on design in India. So we looked at the prevalent discussion, and coming from Ahmedabad, the sterility of modernism, and the way it was being expressed in the country was a discussion we wanted to partake in. We told ourselves that there were two tenets we would adhere to—one the brutal honesty of construction, and the use of materials that were formed, not mined, and more importantly materials that were the palette of the modernists—brick and exposed RCC—but then fuse them with craft in a manner that India could do easily. Then, as a comment to the “skins” of all the buildings that dot our urban landscape that are in glass, we wanted one that would not be 64

sterile, but would age over time as a skin should, and for this we chose Corten Steel. So, three materials emerge as central to this building—Corten Steel, brick and exposed concrete. We then decided to see what these materials could be interpreted as—in their structural capabilities, but also in their formations, as well as in their expression. We noted with some surprise that the only piece of work in modern India that actually dared to think like that was Satish Gujral’s Belgian embassy. One also observed with equally great concern that none of the modern Indian masters had really explored the materials that they were bred on, and even stayed away from Corbusier’s joyous disregard for order, when he chose to, using a more intuitive order when it suited him. The rest was simple!” — Aniket Bhagwat

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Di22 | Suprio B - Building a Language | Domus India 10/2013