by Zohra KhanOct 01, 2019
A rippling brick façade adorned with patterns that resemble the ribs of a gothic vault encloses the multipurpose hall of The Red Oasis, designed by Indian firm PMA madhushala, known for their contextually rooted interventions. The recreational community centre is located within a densely knit residential block in a suburb of Pune, India. The structure is a celebration of the humble red brick, breaking boundaries and exploring the versatility of this reliable, age-old material tied intimately to the vernacular architecture of India.
Conceived and completed in a span of three years, The Red Oasis is presented as a near monolithic mass, shaped and moulded by the hands of local craftsmen into a work of structural art. The pavilion-like space is a fitting counterpoint to the multitude of stacked, modular residential units lining the edges of its site.
"Architecture holds the power to transform the perception of a home as a mere four-walled requirement, and show people what their lives can be despite economic barriers," says a statement from the Pune-based firm founded by Indian architect Prasanna Morey. “The Red Oasis is a similar experiment that celebrates a small open space in a densely packed neighbourhood of residential complexes, and tries to create an ideal alternative lifestyle,” it continues.
The 715 sqm plot that the project occupies was the last stretch of open space remaining after multiple residential developments cropped up around it. Such a scenario is abundant in modern Indian cities where open recreational space is becoming increasingly scarce in an ever-expanding jungle of urban housing that attempts to satiate the demands of migration. Hence, the architects wanted to maximise green space and minimise infringement upon the site to enable the creation of an 'oasis,' a place of refuge from the monotonous, congested atmospheres of mid-rise apartments.
The design team elaborates on the programming, “By understanding the manner of living within the surrounding residential complex, an alternate program was carved out, comprising a multifunctional community hall, a playground, library, seating areas, walking pathways, an open-air amphitheatre and a temple." In addition, the design's conceptual point of origin lay in conserving the open space at the heart of the site while shifting all functional areas to its periphery.
Forging connections with the earth, the architects employed local labour and natural materials, taking advantage of their economic benefits, and ensuring a circular economy. Exposed brick was utilised extensively in various forms, ranging from the triangular and hexagonal modules that make up the children’s playground, to the fluid masses of the community hall.
The latter functions as a place of shade and respite, with a series of staggered steps forming the outdoor amphitheatre, leading up to the library that occupies the mezzanine level. Its lower floor is submerged below the external ground level to limit the hall's visual dominance over the site while creating a unique micro-environment underneath.
Here, a multipurpose area and storeroom make up the subterranean spaces, which overlook landscaped sit-outs at the other end. Nine-inch-thick masonry walls surround the space, built with undulating, doubly-curved forms to attain the required structural stability and centre of gravity while minimising material wastage. Interestingly, the architects employed load-bearing construction - a tribute to brick's most prominent application in traditional architecture - with geometries extracted from complex intersections between three circles of varying diameters.
As a result, the walls ebb, weave and fold along reinforced pointed arches, with pivoted grille doors, anchored by buttressed structures that carve out shaded seating areas. Jaali or latticed patterns often observed in traditional Indian architecture are embedded into the brickwork to permit natural ventilation, as the walls merge with floors and plinths to shape walkways and planters running along their sides, making the structure appear as a natural extension of the earth. Stone floors, clerestory windows, a curved wood panel finished ceiling, and coloured glass on the front facade complete the design, which uses scrap metal from construction waste for the door frames, furniture, and the roof canopy.
Conscious of its environmental and infrastructural design aspects, PMA madhushala also structured the form of the brickwork to create drains that direct harvested rainwater towards an underground storage tank. Furthermore, planters and additional landscaping within the play area and open ground complement the raw earthy hues of the brick massing, imbuing warmth into its adjoining spaces.
A refreshing example of indigenous design and construction, The Red Oasis reinfuses a sense of context and natural beauty into a packed urban neighbourhood. “Now standing in their full form, the unrendered bricks naturally weather and transform as life dwells around them over time. The project is an abode of enthusiasm amidst the lethargy of everyday life. It is an escape from reality, an oasis in the desert,” the architects reiterate.
Name: The Red Oasis
Location: Pune, Maharashtra, India
Site Area: 715 m sqm
Built-up Area: 150 sqm
Year of completion: 2020
Client: Ankit Soni
Architect: PMA madhushala
Design Team: Naresh Shivakoti, Prasanna Morey
Structural Designer: Subduction Zone Consultants