by Jerry ElengicalDec 08, 2022
Art and cultural activities have always been a physical experience. There is something about the act of travelling to a gallery or a theatre, and away from our daily lives. One of the things that did happen with the shelter-in-place and global lockdowns was the transition of a lot of these activities to online and digital counterparts, in the form of websites and social media campaigns. This became an important avenue for audiences to enjoy the aesthetic experience of viewing art. As we begin to go back to these spaces, it is evident that the past two years have transformed the experience in many ways, the white cube experience is no longer the only form of experiencing a gallery. Abhay Mangaldas, Founder and Director of The House of MG, has conceptualised and created an anti-white box gallery that could potentially bring the gallery to you.
Dubbed Darwin Bucky, the tessellated dome-like structure is the product of a collaboration between Abhay Mangaldas and Indian architect Jwalant Mahadevwala, the founder of Ahmedabad-based architectural firm, andblack design studio. STIR spoke to Mahadevwala, who elaborated on Mangaldas' initial brief saying, "The initial brief was mainly about ensuring that the structure was a transportable gallery, it should fit into a container, it had to be solid and capable for protecting the artwork within. Often when we think about transportable, we jump to tensile and fabric-based structures. The question with these structures is how do you secure them?" Working with parametric design and prefabricated manufacturing, the Darwin Bucky pavilion has an inherent scalability to it, with Mahadevwala even adding that, “one can build it with a diameter that is anywhere from 11 meters to 18 meters, using the same process without really changing much.”
With plans to create sandwich panels for a commercial version of the product, Abhay Mangaldas spoke at length with STIR about the genesis of the idea and where it is headed.
Devanshi Shah (DS): What was the inspiration behind the structure?
Abhay Mangaldas (AM): The idea of building a gallery came when I thought of showcasing my collection of experimental digitally aided artworks by Indian masters from the 1990s. I wanted the architecture of the gallery to be as striking as the art itself, and I wanted a building that could not only house the collection but travel to different venues to showcase the same. A gallery in a box.
DS: Could you tell us more about the idea of working with the idea of prefabrication and flat-pack transportation?
AM: I have worked for over two decades in heritage restoration. It raised a lot of questions in my mind. Should one build anything new that leaves a footprint when our requirements for built spaces are constantly changing? I came to the conclusion that future spaces have to be designed for repurpose, recycle or deconstruction. They have to be 'permanently impermanent'. Bucky is not quite 'flat pack' but it is 'stack pack'. I was working on another prefabricated building for a villa on a forested hill so I was well into the learning curve and quite convinced about the concept and its feasibility.
DS: Could you elaborate on the name Darwin Bucky?
AM: You immediately associate Darwin with evolution. Hence using it as a name for a new type of building technology made sense. I was exposed to the ideas of Buckminster Fuller from a young age. Making a building that uses geometry and physics, and minimises construction material and creating a shell structure is perfect for large column-less spaces. Though our Bucky is not a geodesic dome, it is inspired by Bucky and hence I decided to dedicate it to him.
DS: What does this installation evolve into? Do you have future plans to replicate this form?
AM: The Darwin Bucky is a spectacular dome-shaped ‘tent’ that is anchored to the ground. Bucky is made from laser cut 1mm folded metal sheets that are bolted together to create an insulated, column-free, air-conditioned space. Made to order in two sizes, 11m diameter/ 6m height and 18m diameter/ 9.5m height, you can also make ‘Bucky clusters’ by interconnecting multiple units. Bucky has an integrated lighting, display and sound system that can connect to an external power source. It can be assembled or dismantled in a matter of weeks and stored or transported in a shipping container. Darwin Bucky can be used as an exhibition gallery, a town hall, an expo centre, a performance arena or even a bar and nightclub. It is designed to be placed in public gardens, exhibition grounds or even in a city centre, either temporarily or permanently.
DS: Could you tell us a bit more about the process and working with andblack design studio?
AM: I had met architect Jwalant Mahadevwala, who has worked with Zaha Hadid and was making parametric sculptures, at a design fair in Ahmedabad. I had assigned him to work on as the local architect for another prefabricated project that I was working on with an Australian architect. He is very creative, not from the standard commercial mould and loves to experiment and evolve. I gave him the brief for the gallery. The design developed over a year of many drafts being made till we settled on one that met all the parameters.
Mahadevwala left us with a parting thought that summarises the structures form and Buckminster Fuller’s lasting influence saying, “When we started to design the structure, Buckminster Fuller was not on our mind. What happens when you start to use parametric design and you start to work with triangulation as a structural member or as a fold, it references and incorporates Fuller's ideas.”