‘india: unbuilt architecture’ celebrates buildings that weren’t and ideas that live on

Launched at the STIR Gallery in New Delhi, the book features over 50 fascinating architectural projects that never got built, and essays that discuss the idea of unbuilt India.

by STIRworld Published on : Feb 20, 2020

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.

india: unbuilt architecture | STIRworld
The book is curated by ArchitectureLive! and Studio Matter Image Credit: ABRD Architects

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 Pradesh

Architect: 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.

  • Sketch, Temple of Trees | india: unbuilt architecture | STIRworld
    Sketch, Temple of Trees Image Credit: The Anant Raje Foundation
  • Model Photograph | india: unbuilt architecture | STIRworld
    Model Photograph Image Credit: The Anant Raje Foundation
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, Patna

Architect: 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.

  • Aerial view of the museum | india: unbuilt architecture | STIRworld
    Aerial view of the museum Image Credit: Courtesy of Snøhetta + Space Matters
  • The museum experience is like taking a walk through the park. It creates a vibrant public domain where the imagined built is continually in connection with the surrounding nature | india: unbuilt architecture | STIRworld
    The museum experience is like taking a walk through the park. It creates a vibrant public domain where the imagined built is continually in connection with the surrounding nature Image Credit: Courtesy of Snøhetta + Space Matters

3. National War Memorial, New Delhi

Architect: 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.

  • View capturing the war memorial from the picnic area | india: unbuilt architecture | STIRworld
    View capturing the war memorial from the picnic area Image Credit: Courtesy of r+d studio
  • View captured from the underpass connection towards the main entry | india: unbuilt architecture | STIRworld
    View captured from the underpass connection towards the main entry Image Credit: Courtesy of r+d studio

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, Bihar

Architect: 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.

  • Catalogue of buildings used in masterplan | india: unbuilt architecture | STIRworld
    Catalogue of buildings used in masterplan Image Credit: Courtesy of Allies and Morrison & Hunderdhands
  • Sketch of dining hall | india: unbuilt architecture | STIRworld
    Sketch of dining hall Image Credit: Courtesy of Allies and Morrison & Hunderdhands
  • View looking towards library | india: unbuilt architecture | STIRworld
    View looking towards library Image Credit: Courtesy of Allies and Morrison & Hunderdhands

5. Shiva Museum, Jaipur, Rajasthan

Architect: 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.

  • Pedestrain Walkthrough | india: unbuilt architecture | STIRworld
    Pedestrain Walkthrough Image Credit: Courtesy of Sanjay Puri Architects
  • South-West aerial view of the museum | india: unbuilt architecture | STIRworld
    South-West aerial view of the museum Image Credit: Courtesy of Sanjay Puri Architects

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, Gujarat

Architect: 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.

  • A sketch of the hostel block | india: unbuilt architecture | STIRworld
    A sketch of the hostel block Image Credit: Courtesy of Matharoo Associates
  • Model photograph showing hostels | india: unbuilt architecture | STIRworld
    Model photograph showing hostels Image Credit: Courtesy of Matharoo Associates

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, Uttarakhand

Architect: 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.

  • Model view; side elevation | india: unbuilt architecture | STIRworld
    Model view; side elevation Image Credit: Courtesy of Matra Architects
  • Model; open air theatre | india: unbuilt architecture | STIRworld
    Model; open air theatre Image Credit: Courtesy of Matra Architects
  • Model; entrance level, stage and multi-purpose hall | india: unbuilt architecture | STIRworld
    Model; entrance level, stage and multi-purpose hall Image Credit: Courtesy of Matra Architects

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. Tetris

Architect: Studio Matter

  • Densification and the complete settlement | india: unbuilt architecture | STIRworld
    Densification and the complete settlement Image Credit: Courtesy of Studio Matter
  • Each unit grows over time starting from the basic condition in Stage 1 to complete domicile in Stage 3. Within this, there is a further possibility of multiple layouts depending on the placement of the room and other preferences.  | india: unbuilt architecture | STIRworld
    Each unit grows over time starting from the basic condition in Stage 1 to complete domicile in Stage 3. Within this, there is a further possibility of multiple layouts depending on the placement of the room and other preferences. Image Credit: Courtesy of 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.

  • Amit Gupta, Founder, Editor in Chief, STIR | india: unbuilt architecture | STIRworld
    Amit Gupta, Founder, Editor in Chief, STIR Image Credit: Courtesy of STIR
  • Rajesh Advani, editor, founder, ArchitectureLive! | india: unbuilt architecture | STIRworld
    Rajesh Advani, Editor, Founder, ArchitectureLive! Image Credit: Courtesy of STIR

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’.

  • Singer-songwriter Kavya Trehan performing at the 'unbuilt' at STIR Gallery, New Delhi | india: unbuilt architecture | STIRworld
    Singer-songwriter Kavya Trehan performing at the 'unbuilt' event at STIR Gallery, New Delhi Image Credit: Courtesy of STIR
  • Shoma Chaudhury speaking at the 'unbuilt | india: unbuilt architecture | STIRworld'
    Senior journalist Shoma Chaudhury speaking at the 'unbuilt' event at STIR Gallery, New Delhi Image Credit: Courtesy of STIR
  • Storyteller and poet Danish Husain sharing intriguing stories at 'unbuilt' | india: unbuilt architecture | STIRworld
    Storyteller and poet Danish Husain sharing intriguing stories at the 'unbuilt' event at STIR Gallery, New Delhi Image Credit: Courtesy of STIR
  • Italian designer Matteo Cibic narrating tales around design at 'unbuilt | india: unbuilt architecture | STIRworld'
    Italian designer Matteo Cibic narrating tales around design at the 'unbuilt' event at STIR Gallery, New Delhi Image Credit: Courtesy of STIR
  • Fashion Designer Ruchika Sachdeva looks back at her journey in fashion design | india: unbuilt architecture | STIRworld
    Fashion Designer Ruchika Sachdeva looks back at her journey in fashion design at the 'unbuilt' event at STIR Gallery, New Delhi Image Credit: Courtesy of STIR

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

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