by Anmol AhujaJun 04, 2022
In architecture, the word 'unbuilt' stands for ‘designs that got rejected’, ‘creative incompletions’ and ‘those that get left behind’. Almost every architect in the world would have at least one unbuilt project in their repertoire and, as is seen often, these are their most beloved creations. Imaginary but replete with creativity and innovation, unbuilt works become the reservoir for design inspiration, discourse and development, reinforcing that architecture is not just about creating buildings.
A similar reservoir of fascinating Indian unbuilt projects has been compiled in a book titled india: unbuilt architecture, curated by ArchitectureLive! and Studio Matter. Recently launched at the STIR Gallery in New Delhi, the book brings more than 50 architectural works by Indian practices, and various writings that celebrate the ‘buildings that weren’t and ideas that continue to be’.
The initiative, led by Rajesh Advani, founder and editor, ArchitectureLive!, intends to bring the discourse around unbuilt architecture to the mainstream. “With this book, we wanted to change the way people look at ‘unbuilt’. There is a perception among architects today that the unbuilt stands for ‘failure’. But it is not. It is something which could be a brilliant idea and which for unfortunate reasons, may not have come to life,” he says.
Conceived in January 2019, the book looks at unrealised projects by Indian architects across a range of typologies. The book describes these works as concepts that didn’t make the cut at competitions, proposals that got tied up in red tape, or projects that were abandoned by stakeholders. Some of these essays include Why should we examine unbuilt architecture authored by Prem Chandavarkar; Fiction as Method by Rupali Gupte, investigating how pedagogical methods can alter the way we perceive space-making; Why the Unbuilt Matters by Rahoul B. Singh; and What could have been, What can be by Amritha Ballal, looking at how the realm of unbuilt can shape the way we build.
STIR lists down a few projects that demonstrate the power of unbuilt, and shares excerpts from the book.
1. Bhopal Gas Tragedy Memorial, Bhopal, Madhya PradeshArchitect: Anant D Raje
The memorial is not in the form of a solid mass of a structure, but an open, three-sided, walled pavilion overlooking the Bada Talav Lake and the city of Bhopal. The whole idea was to intentionally move away from the site of the tragedy at the Union Carbide factories on to a more serene hilltop that would be a fitting setting from which to contemplate and reflect.
What is built cannot be easily unbuilt. When the ecosystem of built architecture does not encourage innovation, it is worth exploring if the realm of unbuilt architecture can provide an alternative. – Amritha Ballal, What could have been, What can be
2. Bihar Museum, Bihar, PatnaArchitect: Snøhetta + Space Matters
The museum was to engage with the urban context and invite curious bystanders to the site, creating an important public edge that was to be flexible and spontaneous.
As the peripheral ghats reach out and embrace the city, the inner spaces were to comprise of intimate courts and galleries nestled in the existing, magnificent tree cover on the site. The enclosed central court was to become the inner public realm sheltered by the building and the foliage.
A visually striking presence with the red earth tones of local terracotta across its length nestled in lush green, the museum was to be designed as a monument to a new chapter of a resurgence in Bihar's long and storied history.
3. National War Memorial, New DelhiArchitect: r+d studio
The design proposed a journey through the mapping of wars in time. A field condition of wars was laid out on the terrain through an experience generated by materials, topography and movements.
The memorial was in situ as it mapped landmark and drew from the existing structure by creating an axial intersection that was to become the final homage point.
Different materials were explored to emote the battle, war and journey. The main path that led to each destination was a simple brick path symbolising all that came from the earth and went back to earth with red being the blood lost in wars. Artificial surfaces were made of natural stones while the homage point – VILAY STHAL was installed in a pool of water. The installation was reminiscent of all the wars.
I suggest that buildings and urban visions more precious to a culture or to the profession are the ones that haven’t been built, as they leave us with enough that is yet to be experienced, yet to be discovered, yet to be engineered, yet to be critiqued, yet to be lived in. – Suprio Bhattacharjee, Anti Practice: The Realm of What-Could-Have-Been
4. Nalanda University, Rajgir, BiharArchitect: Allies and Morrison & Hundred Hands
The proposal seeks to make the University of Nalanda both practical and memorable. Practical in the way the buildings are simply constructed, straightforward in their planning and flexible in their use, the University was to be memorable not because the buildings were to be iconic architectural statements, but because the spaces between them were interesting, rewarding and legible. This network of spaces was to reflect the plan of a town. A comfortable series of interlinked spaces was to provide an urban pattern with a relaxed permeability and a clear hierarchy.
5. Shiva Museum, Jaipur, RajasthanArchitect: Sanjay Puri Architects
The museum was to be split into two wedge shaped areas allowing visitors to access exhibition spaces on either side through a large walkway, which were to act as a community space for hosting activities.
Proposed to be built in the regional sandstone available within a few kilometers from the site, the building was to open up in the centre framing views of the temple beyond.
Open bridges at upper levels were to connect the exhibition and museum spaces on either side creating the experience of sequentially moving indoors and outdoors.
Fiction has the ability, like literary fiction, to open up new possibilities programmatically as well as spatially. It also has the power to shake us out of our conventional normative ideas of architecture. – Rupali Gupte, Fiction as Method
6. Maharashtra National Law University, Ahmedabad, GujaratArchitect: Matharoo Associates
Drawing a parallel to the wisdom and nourishment that the river provides, the key functions of library and dining – symbols of resource and camaraderie, are spread horizontally like the two banks of academia. It provides for a common platform of discourse for students and faculty alike, and reinforces the learning pedagogy proposed – Hands on, liberal and interactive.
Come rain, water cascades down levels, gushes out of gargoyles, flows bursting the channels and runs over the top of brimming ponds – turning collections into a spectacle and transforming natural occurrences into eternal celebrations.
7. Community Centre, Gajraula, UttarakhandArchitect: Matra Architects
In the nondescript fringes of the town of Gajraula, the proposed community centre was to be a powerfully visual alliance of space, light and object.
Conceptually, it was symbolic of a unique profile and volumetrically defined form – a building with no elevations, if to be read in the conventional sense.
Settling into a non-reticent, sloping profile, it swooped up artfully in a truncated cone formation. At the apex, it traversed along two different planes - a slab serrated along its capping edges resting inclined along the walls on one side, and on the other side a lush green embankment.
Viewing unbuilt architecture as a photograph of an architect’s introspection, we must ask what critique can be deduced from this image. – Prem Chandavarkar, Why should we examine unbuilt architecture?
8. TetrisArchitect: Studio Matter
By 2050 more than 50 % of India will still live in its villages. India will be dominantly rural in the space-age. The rural poor are fundamentally different from the urban poor. They have access to land and a quality environment, a robust social fabric, dependable but irregular micro-economic systems and a wealth of skills and resources.
TETRIS is just one of the many possible systems. This system sets the theme and enables variations. Systems thinking can attempt to solve the issue more eloquently than design thinking.
To diversify the narrative, STIR, the launch partner of ‘india: unbuilt architecture’ invited creative practitioners from diverse disciplines such as architecture, art, design and poetry to celebrate their own fascinating unbuilt stories, in addition to the launch of the book. The narrators for the evening - fashion designer Ruchika Sachdeva, designer Matteo Cibic, actor, storyteller and poet Danish Husain, singer-songwriter Kavya Trehan and senior journalist Shoma Chaudhury - took us through their journeys, sharing stories around ‘what has not been manifested and why it is important’.
As one of the speakers rightly shared, unbuilt is like a project in evolution. It is constantly building and unbuilding itself to make room for growth. Similarly, seeking growth, meaningful architecture is only possible when one introspects the concepts that never took shape and designs that were left incomplete. The book is a celebration of this deconstruct that is imperative to any meaningful construct in the future.
To know more about the book 'india: unbuilt architecture', visit www.unbuilt.in