by Meghna MehtaFeb 20, 2020
In a by-invitation design competition, Mumbai-based Spasm Design’s proposal for the Sanskriti Vihara building at the KJ Somaiya Educational Trust Campus at Vidya Vihar had won. This was eight years ago. The proposed expansion has since been in limbo until recently, as the project is now ready to be constructed. As part of a large educational campus, the studio chose to take inspiration from the lineage of Indian architecture. Programmatically this structure is meant to be a building for religious studies that imparts the teachings of Jainism, Buddhism and Hinduism. In conjunction with the fact that a 3320 cm (109 feet) high temple will be constructed on the adjoining plot, Spasm Design chose to look at ancient Indian architectural typologies for inspiration.
Type and Typology
Over the course of their research, it occurred to the studio that one often finds stepwells, or kunds, within temple complexes, particularly in the western states of India such as Rajasthan. As a structural archetype, stepwells have served numerous functions, from providing drinking water to washing, bathing, and even irrigating fields and as a reservoir. When these structures are within temple complexes, they are often a part of the ritualistic ceremonies of Indian worship. It is at this juncture that one can begin to analyse the distinction between an archetypal form and a typological form. The archetype of the stepwells is a form of vertical circulation that allows individuals to find their path.
The building has been conceptualised as a place of congregation, reflection, and understanding the elements of nature - prithvi (earth), jal (water), agni (fire), vayu (wind) and akash (sky). To capture all of these elements in a single built entity, the typology of the stepwells seemed to work in more ways than one for the studio. The proposal calls for a five-storey structure that is partially sunken into the ground with a shallow reflecting pool at the bottom replicating a kund. The structure will have three levels above ground and two which are dug into the ground.
Featuring an ‘L’ shaped plan the void is positioned between the building and the proposed temple. The section of the building features a progressive increase in the building footprint. Starting with the library, which is located on the topmost floor, each level below it increases by a single bay. This gives the structure a sense of rhythm and helps maintain the geometry of the stepwell. The outermost bay incorporates the vertical circulation and corridors. These steps replicate the diamond-like formation of the historical stepwells. The building will predominantly use concrete and bricks. There is an idea of creating bricks using soil from different parts of India.
Poetics of Space
The three floors above the ground are ventilated from all sides while the two underground floors have only one open facade, and a retaining wall on three sides. The building gets progressively darker the lower one travels. The topmost floor, which features the library, is the best lit part of the building and adds credence to the studio's idea of knowledge being light. The following three floors have classrooms and facilities with the bottom-most floor, which is in line with the water body, being a space for meditation. Playing with the poetics of the structure and its program, the space - whilst one of the darkest areas - is meant to inspire occupants to discover the light within through the act of meditation.
Much like a stepwell, the multiple staircase placement gives users the unique possibility of tracing their path over the facade. This façade is an allegory for one of the core teachings of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism, the idea of finding one's path to enlightenment, and selecting your own route.