In 1957, Kenzo Tange visited Ahmedabad especially to see Corbusier’s buildings accompanied by Professor Yoshikatsu Tsuboi, a structural engineer. During the visit, Tange talked about his collaboration with Tsuboi for his Olympic Stadium in Tokyo. He particularly emphasised as to how that made the final design so much richer. When I arranged for them to meet Kasturbhai, he readily invited Tsuboi to design factory buildings for Arvind Textile Mills owned by his company. I was then working on the design of Premabhai Hall located in the forecourt of the historic Bhadra citadel in Old Ahmedabad. So I also asked Tsuboi if he would design the structure for the Hall and he accepted.
Despite their training with Modernist masters, the Japanese architects very well expressed their unique search, blending the West and the East in their designs. These early designs, even when executed in RCC, recalled their wooden traditions but slowly they developed their very own style.
To me this raised a question as to, what would be the Indian way to seek such architecture. Is that a valid question to begin with? How do we become ourselves? Between 1960 and 1980, I have attended several conferences in Japan, and each time, I have raised this issue with the architects I met. Even today, questions about what is local and what is global about the architectural identity preoccupy me.1
- 1. Balkrishna Doshi, Paths Uncharted, Ahmedabad: Vastu-Shilpa Foundation for Studies and Research in Environmental Design, 2011
In the Bhadra area of Ahmedabad, we designed the Premabhai Hall. This is the area where the city of Ahmedabad started growing first. Located on the bank of the river, this area included the Azam Khan Palace and the Bhadrakali Temple. Opposite this place was the central open area and on the axis leading to the east are the three gates, beyond which are located the Jumma Masjid and the King’s and Queen’s tombs. In between the Palace and the gates was the Great Maidan. This Maidan was gradually encroached upon by shopping activities and bazaar and in due course housing were also added. In our proposal we are aspiring to bring the old grandeur of this Maidan which in the early days inspired most of the community activities, recreations and pastimes. We are also aspiring to revive the original grandeur around the palace. For this it was necessary that we study the traffic pattern, the occupations of the inhabitants of the area and their activities. We have since proposed a new scheme with due considerations to the present activities and the revival of the past functions of this area. In our plan we have proposed relocation of these activities at different places within the same area giving the municipality or the developing authority more are for use and revenue and also to provide the city with a breathing space it so badly needed. Our proposal of shopping areas, new office premises and re-routing the traffic will not only bring additional revenue, but will, we believe, improve the quality of life in this area.
As architects, our task is not only difficult but time consuming. This project (The Premabhai Hall) has been with us since 1958, and it was completed only in 1975-76. During these 18 years I not only changed the concept seven or eight times, but I had also to solve the problem of land acquisition as well as the problem of locating the building on the site. Besides, I had to persuade the clients to take into account the development of the surrounding areas. All these take a long time.
The total renewal scheme for this area that we have now proposed may take 15 to 20 years. And in the process of developing the final designs I came across many technical and non-technical problems. We have phased the scheme in parts with a hope to build the Hall and initially a Plaza and create a place for the city, which eventually will become larger. The decisions in the first phase were very crucial, because we had to deal with monuments all around and develop our plan in relation to the temple and the fortwall.
The question was can we really build something new alongside these monuments, and if so, what should be the nature of our design so as to preserve the character of the old on the one hand and yet express the technology of today through the new building and the Plaza around? The problem was to integrate these two conditions. The great task was to bring the present and the past together in a living relationship.
In our scheme of the Hall we have attempted to answer some of these crucial issues. The top floor of Premabhai Hall is quite high and has a 20 feet long centilever. I was attempting to relate the walls of the Hall to the Bhadra area and to the profile of the fortwall, with the belief that the Fort should be seen. Besides, the new building should not overpower the palace and the fort.
Other considerations while designing the project were the functions, which were many. However, we had to explore how the quality of the building could be changed to look light and articulated enough without becoming stylish. Here the designer has to discover once again the virtues of blank planes. To achieve this effect, articulation of spaces and the planes is needed. Particularly in the case of the left facade on the street which was treated to express a lesser mass. If openings were made on the side, if balconies were added, the wall would have changed its scale and looked big for the setting. Hence it is left blank and made less significant and easy to look at. The overall form of the building with its end walls is designed to look almost like an animal standing still. The profile of the wall with the openings therein are made to articulate the surface. Concrete has been used as the principal structural material for the entire building.
An architect works with functions and while handling them takes into account the inner-relationships which exist between them, besides taking care of things like insulation, lighting etc. in this building the stair-cases are located on the periphery and the auditorium at the center. The staircases not only insulate the interior from heat, thus reducing the cost of the air-conditioning, but also continues the movement of space with relation to the outside world. As an architect, one is constantly trying to manipulate functional elements which are constant and tries to give a characteristic expression to the building. For example, the staircase located on the periphery is reflected on the outside wall and has given the building a form totally different and useful.
Fortunately, in India we have plenty of natural light and even though artificial light is necessary in theatre interiors we have tried to use natural light as and when possible. We have tried to bring natural light into public areas by separating the main auditorium from the peripheral structure.
The central space is very important in public halls, because it can be used by everybody, like the ones in the temples. I believe that the central spaces should belong to those who come to the Plaza as well as those who come to the theatre. These spaces could be fruitfully used for exhibitions, lectures, seminars etc. like those which used to go on in the temples. Even the staircases located on both the sides of the central foyer of the Hall merge with it and thus make it accessible to all visitors.