If you have ever visited West Bengal, Kolkata, the first sight that seizes your attention is the social gathering of people forming an integral part of the urban fabric. You’ll often find people either heated up by a debate or playing cards. This social gathering is famously called "adda" and it can take place at any domain of the day. In fact, the various addas can be seen in the city’s coffee houses, city halls, libraries, parks and also on the outer extension of a residence, what we call “rauk”.
While in the age of media overstimulation, people are relying more on social media, the physical presence of a group, adda is shifting towards the virtual meet. Abin Chaudhuri, the Kolkata based architect has retained this essence of Bengal’s ethnicity along with similar ones in all his projects, inspired from neighborhoods and localities.
Now, let’s reset the frame a bit!
We bet you have heard the terms “social equity” and “peri-urban infrastructure” in architecture? Is that a yes? then this article would be an interesting exploration and if you haven’t, it’s even better.
Introducing a unique approach towards Architecture, with projects that expands and deals with the socioeconomic structure of a society. The great mind behind this is the architect Abin Chaudhuri, recipient of national and international accolades.
His inspiration, philosophy and vision
Gathering inspiration from everyday objects ranging from small scale to a commendable one, Chaudhuri ensures that a design can be purely utilitarian and rational only when the architecture breaks the boundary of living and aspires to be the infrastructures that facilitate users' lifestyles. He aims for architecture that resonates through tradition and culture maintaining the modish notion of today’s architectural style. Like the beauty cannot be destroyed by the paws of the time, the architect also believes that a good design retains its flavour and creates an impact which is larger-than-life.
Also, Chaudhuri gives credence to the fact that the target group of a design plays the most vital role and therefore, his designs include the cohesiveness and users’ involvement. His vision aims towards the influential aspect of architecture that can provide a radical solution to the crisis. Addressing multiple variables is not easy- but, the experimental architect relentlessly works on the parameters and gives birth to a distinct and responsible architecture, which has been celebrated by all.
There are various techniques that can be followed to create responsible architecture. Let’s see what Chaudhuri's take on this!
In an interview with WFM media the architect was asked,
How do you project the building facades in your signature projects? How important is branding through facade designs?
Abin Chaudhuri: Visual appeal is good for marketing (in terms of facades). But the ‘identity’ of a building holds more weight than its ‘brand’ value. Good architecture is not purely determined by the facade, but rather on how the spaces in-between work for the end user.
Rather than following a ‘trend’, it is more important to address the thermal, functional, and aesthetic issues of the building and the utility of the spaces within.
Chaudhuri mentioned that the paradigm of “responsible architecture” is changing from how to when and justified the statement with, “Responsible design is the need of the hour, to stay in context, especially with the physical environment.” In order to establish his young studio as one of the most responsible practices, Chaudhuri and his team work beyond the boundary of environmental concern and take socio-culture and economy as the critical subjects in achieving the same.
All of his designs are examples of his extensive research, analysis and craftsmanship into designing structures based on context, resources, manpower, finance and social viability.
Let's look at some of his designs and try to understand how the architect and his design team have incorporated social equity in a responsive way?
House of sweeping shadows
If you have forgotten what it is like to stand and stare, then visit this resort on a spacious green land in rural Bansberia, approximately 45 kilometres from Kolkata, India.
Nestled in the lush green and having a waterbody in front, the residence receives its visitors with a warm welcome. It is a unique edifice by Chaudhury, where he transformed the monotonous tone of the property into a charming contemporary intervention.
The biggest challenge was to retain the 2-storey structure that the client was bestowed by his father. Owing to the land, the architect had decided to design a bold, curved steel louvered structure as an envelope around the existing structure.
Aptly named the House of Sweeping Shadows, the bold metal facade of the residence encases the form and anchors the building within it by casting a succession of shadows inside. Internally, to balance the dark and striking exterior, whitewashed walls and geometric furniture are placed on a daring red floor. Inspired by a typical Bengali village, the upper levels of the house are demarcated with a Bamboo threshold, allowing the interiors to be flooded with natural ventilation and soft light.
As the rectilinear punctuations along the new build allow an idyllic view outside, it also shelters the residents from the scorching heat of south-west sun. The house is the embodiment of craftsmanship of privacy and porosity, striking colour-palette and verdant landscape.
The residence is an urge which is answered with sensitivity.
Imagine yourself in a peri-urban area, walking on a narrow street rendered by regular one or two-story buildings on either side of the street and thoughts interrupted with bi-cycle bells. But you come to sudden halt to notice this unfaltering aesthetic among the area’s monotonous language. Eventually, you get mesmerized by the sight. This is what happens in the Gallery House, located in Bansberia, West-Bengal.
‘The client enjoys a sense of pride and joy of ownership, seeing the space put to good use.’
Occupying a small parcel of land, the Gallery house stands out among the other built-ups. The scale, inclusion of local materials and the balanced solids and voids had changed the design vocabulary that defines Chaudhury’s architecture as much as his preference for local and recycled materials.
The house consists of a garage at the lower level and a community hall at the ground floor while the upper floor houses a multipurpose room, a sitting area and a pantry.
The architect has modelled the simple program into an opportunity for the community by descending the open flight of white steps at the entrance and the roof corner towards the street creating layers of small steps that invite the locals to come and sit. This planning is a reciprocation to the cultural practice of social gathering, maintaining the privacy of internal functions.
The project expresses the rich and bold craftsmanship of the architect. Taking cues from the terracotta temples of Bengal, Gallery house is a confluence of traditional and modern style of architecture. Exposed brick masonry walls inlaid with locally sourced ceramic blocks define the building envelope as a contemporary expression.
When red masonry is ruling the concrete framed lower level, the upper level is adorned by crimson red, egg yolk yellow and striking blue doors and window frames, which accentuates the interior, housing concrete benches hugging the off-white wall.
Beyond catering as a functional space to the society, the design process has involved local craftsmen who created the hybrid masonry patterns of terracotta tiles, bricks and ceramics. Thus, it showcases the initiatives taken by the architect of engaging the users as the creators. This certainly helps people understand the importance of an aesthetically sensitive built environment and encourages them to develop skills.
The waterfront clubhouse in Bansberia, West- Bengal is a trajectory project in terms of two factors. Firstly, it is a reminiscence of the architect’s passion and secondly, it involves regionalism: local funding, local masons, and personal contacts of the architect to turn a modest government grant into the epicentre of social and cultural gathering space.
The challenges include restricted allocated site area, inadequate basic facilities and budget constraints. But, as Chaudhuri believes, challenges are what enable one to keep up the good work, he strategically designed the multi-purpose structure that reflects holistic and sustainable approach towards the community.
The clubhouse consists of two stacked rectangular blocks oriented to welcome the morning sun while denying the afternoon glare and to give the upper storey direct views of the football pitch. The lower storey houses a community hall, a pantry, a store and toilets. A flight of steps to the upper floor doubles up for spectators as a raked seating gallery to watch matches.
Keeping the cost-effectiveness in mind, Chaudhuri has chosen pigmented concrete over paint which is permanent and of low maintenance. The same logic has been applied for the vibrant red floor, which is made of cement mixed with oxide.
The bold black mass curated with massive punctures stand steadily amidst the soft landscape, which juxtaposes the regular style of the built ups, contrarily, compliments the picturesque context of responsible waterfront development.
The project falls under the global design category in terms of its uniqueness of the local expression. It showcases how traditionality marries new technology that suits local constraints, and most importantly, celebrates the cohesive efforts of locals and successful realization of peri-urban projects.
All the aforementioned projects reflect that the architect has chosen the neglected land and zealously engages himself in the betterment of the same by stitching and engaging the community. Thus, adding a new definition to the social construct and enhancing the socio-economic structure of the same.
While many of you would think his architecture is misfit in a context, I feel his creations are the statement towards a new genre of architecture and it’s noteworthy how it creates an impact on the society for the betterment.
Synthesizing spaces by intervening into users’ daily lives facilitates the designer to create more meaningful structures. More sustainable designs that perform efficiently rather than just being “green”. These dynamic structures are the result of Chaudhuri’s fearless experiments with local materials, his introspection into the daily routine of a community and precise understanding of the values and construct of a society.
For me, his architecture is honest, pure, and exemplary.