Studio PKA applies adaptive reuse approach to save the heritage of South Bombay, India

Three revival projects of both private and urban scales by Studio PKA demonstrate the importance of reviving heritage and how architects can promote sustainable environment.

by Meghna Mehta Published on : Aug 20, 2020

Studio PKA, an architecture and design firm based in Mumbai, has carried out multiple adaptive reuse projects in the southern part of the Indian city. Fondly called SoBo (South Bombay), the area has seen a myriad of changes from being the centre of trade and communication during the British rule to becoming the commercial centre of Mumbai. Puran Kumar, the principal architect at Studio PKA, remarks, “The paucity of land and the rapid expansion of the city call for an alternative architectural and design solution”.

Comprehending the task architects have at hand, Studio PKA has taken up projects in the area that not only preserve the legacy but also help conserve and adapt to building construction to keep the old world charm intact. “Adaptively reusing old and defunct spaces within the heritage precinct could effectively rekindle a tryst with the past,” mentions Kumar.

Studio’s PKA's office, the Loft, in an old heritage building | The Loft | Studio PKA| STIRworld
Studio’s PKA's office, the Loft, in an old heritage building Image: Deepshikha Jain, Courtesy of Studio PKA

STIR lists down three projects undertaken by Studio PKA that that demonstrate these efforts.

1. Tianu

The space was acquired by a furniture retail outlet to relocate to a space sensitive to its surrounding. The existing space was a large double height open floor plate, interjected by a low height mezzanine, boarded arched fenestrations and was devoid of a connect with the street. The project was seen as an opportunity to effectively refurbish a space within a heritage structure to ensure the importance of conserving a bygone era.

“‘The Revival Project’ speaks of a desire to recover and respect the past - an ode to architectural heritage in Mumbai,” shares Kumar. In order to make the space habitable the windows were opened up, the partitions removed, and necessary retrofitting was carried out to ensure structural stability. The frontage on the other hand was designed to not only attract prospective customers but also activate the street.

The space in its entirety before being occupied | The Tianu Store | Studio PKA| STIRworld
The space in its entirety before being occupied Image: Niveditaa Gupta, Courtesy of Studio PKA

While a hierarchy of spaces exists, a conscious effort was made for it to be kept to a bare minimum – spaces flow into each other with transitions highlighted either by way of textural and tonal variations in flooring material or semi-permeable partitions. The interplay of levels within a heritage structure adds to the character of the space – an insert that breaks the homogeneity of a single plane.

The exterior façade of the store | The Tianu Store | Studio PKA| STIRworld
The exterior façade of the store Image: Niveditaa Gupta, Courtesy of Studio PKA

Taking cues from the existing structure, the steel girders act as clear demarcations between each zone while respecting the textures of exposed brick, existing wood and metal, the introduction of new materials has been kept to a bare minimum. The design speaks of simplicity and transparency – an effort to bridge the gap between the architecture and the product.

The Tianu housing the furniture retail store | The Tianu Store | Studio PKA| STIRworld
The Tianu housing the furniture retail store Image: Niveditaa Gupta, Courtesy of Studio PKA

“By activating this otherwise desolate corner in Ballard Estate, the store seeks to encourage businesses to invest in re-using and restoring heritage structures within the precinct rather than focusing solely on the ‘new’,” says Kumar.

The Tianu uses the original elements of the space | The Tianu Store | Studio PKA| STIRworld
The Tianu uses the original elements of the space Image: Niveditaa Gupta, Courtesy of Studio PKA

2. The Loft

Studio PKA’s own studio space, the Loft, is part of a heritage structure in Southern Mumbai. Surrounded by historic references such as the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus Victoria Terminus among others, the space was designed to be reminiscent of the urban cultural identity and bring in ample natural light and freedom of space.

The atrium area | The Loft | Studio PKA| STIRworld
The atrium area Image: Sameer Chawda, Courtesy of Studio PKA

The existing space had the windows boarded up, the wooden trusses retrofitted with metal bracings and non-load bearing brick walls enclosing and segregating zones from one another. The space celebrates an emotional response to evoke interstitial moments of reflection, discovery and presence.

  • The principal architect’s cabin | The Loft | Studio PKA| STIRworld
    The principal architect’s cabin Image: Sameer Chawda, Courtesy of Studio PKA
  • The reception area of the office | The Loft | Studio PKA| STIRworld
    The reception area of the office Image: Deepshikha Jain, Courtesy of Studio PKA

The atrium, which doubles up as the entrance, allows a steady stream of light to filter in through the skylight above and houses the reception, a formal meeting room and a vertical backdrop that frames the machine room that sits atop the wooden elevator. Intersecting gabled roofs along with their structural supports were important contributing factors to the spatial language of the studio. The wooden purlins and rafters as well as the robust trusses clad in metal, were all stripped and restored to create an emphatic flavour.

The studio space | The Loft | Studio PKA| STIRworld
The studio space Image: Sameer Chawda, Courtesy of Studio PKA

Limiting the introduction of new materials that were lightweight as well as cost effective – cement blocks and boards, wood, hollow metal sections and stone were used to complement rather than detract from the essence of the place.

The white room or the meeting area | The Loft | Studio PKA| STIRworld
The white room or the meeting area Image: Sameer Chawda, Courtesy of Studio PKA

“The transformation of the space alludes to a journey through time – remembering the past, living the present and looking out to the future,” states Kumar.

3. The Estate:

Once a vibrant commercial district in Mumbai, South Bombay no longer boasts of being an economic powerhouse. However, due to the recent UNESCO World Heritage status granted to a number of Victorian and Art Deco buildings in the area and the new underground corridor (Mumbai Metro 3), it is gradually opening doors for greater connectivity and larger developments.

The Estate – a proposal to rejuvenate the Ballard Estate area of Mumbai | The Estate | Studio PKA| STIRworld
The Estate – a proposal to rejuvenate the Ballard Estate area of Mumbai Image: Courtesy of Studio PKA

The Estate is a concept proposal that advocates to adaptively re-use spaces within the old Central Business District in Ballard Estate that could be used as a prototype to further apply in other areas as well. Ballard Estate has been an iconic example of a planned commercial district as the British wanted the place to resemble Victorian London with the luxury of a tropical climate.

  • Design of Courtyard 1 | The Estate | Studio PKA| STIRworld
    Design of Courtyard 1 Image: Courtesy of Studio PKA
  • Berm Seating and Work Plaza in Courtyard 1 | The Estate | Studio PKA| STIRworld
    Berm Seating and Work Plaza in Courtyard 1 Image: Courtesy of Studio PKA

Pockets of open spaces created in the planning were envisioned by the architect to be public spaces in the future. Today, these are treated as residual spaces and used as dumping grounds due to negligence. One of the drawbacks of Ballard Estate in its current condition is the management of these open spaces.

  • Section of Courtyard 2  | The Estate | Studio PKA| STIRworld
    Section of Courtyard 2 Image: Courtesy of Studio PKA
  • Café area and Amphi theatre in Courtyard 2| The Estate | Studio PKA| STIRworld
    Café area and Amphitheatre in Courtyard 2 Image: Courtesy of Studio PKA

The intention of this proposal is to bring awareness to one critical site such as the Ballard Estate. This can be applied through the macro level with the overall planning and development with regard to the open public spaces while rehabilitating the buildings in the area. At the micro level the minute details such as provision of street elements that complement the architectural style of the heritage buildings could bring back the charm.

Plan - Design of the Avenue | The Estate | Studio PKA| STIRworld
Plan - Design of the Avenue Image: Courtesy of Studio PKA

By facilitating the rejuvenation – The Estate could serve as a prototype to spur a case for adaptive re-use in the region.

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