Great leaders believe a good museum reflects a region’s economy and implies that the people who live there have a high standard of living.
Poor maintenance weakens the value of excellent design. One such building that is taking the fall despite being designed by the prominent architect Le Corbusier is the Sanskar Kendra at Ahmedabad.
In 1954, Le Corbusier designed the Sanskar Kendra museum in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India as part of a cultural complex. The complex also includes the famous Tagore hall designed by B. V. Doshi.
The museum is an illustration of an idea Le Corbusier had been dreaming about long before but never executed, “The museum of unlimited growth” or “unlimited expansion”. The idea was to expand the museum into different volumes, with the central main core linking them as the museum collections grow.
The double high first floor has four mezzanine exhibition galleries that were supposed to connect the extended volumes to the main museum. The lack of funds, however, limited the development of the museum to its main core. The second floor is intended for utilities and electrical installation. The building is designed in a way it makes use of daylight.
The museum exhibits collection on the history and culture of Ahmedabad, Indian independence, struggle and movements, textile, art and craft, photography and so forth.
It well reflects the 5 points of new architecture as stated by Le Corbusier in the museum:
- Pilotis - columns that support and lift the building.
- Roof garden.
- The free design of the ground floor.
- The free design of the facade.
- The horizontal span of windows.
The ideology behind the design of Sanskar Kendra
It is almost every Indian architect’s dream to pay a visit to Ahmedabad. It is regarded as the center of architectural education in India. Ahmedabad hailed as a UNESCO World Heritage city is rich with buildings designed by inspiring architects like FL Wright, B. V. Doshi, Louis Kahn, and Le Corbusier himself. We know the city for its fusion of vernacular traditions in modernism.
Le Corbusier was commissioned by the then-mayor of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, the late Chinubhai Sheth, to design Sanskar Kendra as part of a cultural complex.
Le Corbusier realized that a museum that is part of a cultural complex alongside educational and research facilities has to expand to cater to the rising needs of the city. It must offer flexible spaces to showcase varying collections.
His theory of “the museum of unlimited growth” was a square spiral with the main core that would expand horizontally like a 3D maze over the years. We compare the museum to a machine that grows with the city. Though he thought of this theory in 1939, it was put into effect a decade later.
We can identify three museums that interpret this idea:
- The Sanskar Kendra in Ahmedabad, India.
- the Museum of Western Art in Tokyo, Japan
- The Chandigarh Museum, India
Le Corbusier set the following five concepts for "the museum of unlimited growth":
- Orderless - The museum planning is order-less and does not conform to a definite pattern. Its flexibility allows for many possibilities in the layout of exhibitions.
- Faceless - The facade of the museum is faceless, as they initially intended the museum to keep expanding its sides, which will eventually cover the facade. Hence, they need to have a timeless design that doesn’t confine to a specific period or era.
- Placeless - The building is placeless and not restricted to a particular region alone, it is clear from the fact that the same ideology works well for three different museums.
- Endless - The museum is to be endless as it keeps expanding.
- Timeless - Museums are buildings that stand the test of time as they carry and preserve collections for decades and should conform to any era.
The design explained
Location and context
Sanskar Kendra is in Paldi, the heart of Ahmedabad, and shares pleasing views of the Sabarmati River. The locality is filled with iconic structures and institutions like the Tagore hall, the national institute of design, and the Sabarmati riverfront project. However, the location is busy with heavy traffic marking the entry of the Sardar Bridge.
The Ground floor
We enter the building from its east by a road lined with trees and sculptures. The entrance appears small and confined, which creates an interest in experiencing the openness of the central courtyard. The courtyard has a curvilinear water-body and a Chabutra.
Chabutra is a cultural feature of Gujarati villages. It is a tower-like structure topped by octagonal or pentagonal enclosures with several holes in it, where birds can make their nests, at the base of which is a platform for sitting.
There are a few exhibits, offices, a kiosk, and an elevator on the ground floor. The free design of the ground floor allows for easy movement and air circulation.
The First floor
We reach the first floor through the 2m wide main ramp or the main staircase and find ourselves in a corridor or buffer area with galleries on either side. These galleries are double-height, giving a sense of vastness and have 4 mezzanine galleries that can be accessed through the staircase provided alongside them.
The second floor
The second floor is relatively low, sunken and shielded from direct sunlight, and was originally designed for building services and electrical installation. However, a portion of this space is occupied by the election commission for office use.
The Roof garden
Le Corbusier designed the museum, intending for the public to visit it during evening hours. Finally, we reach the terrace to witness the end of the journey with serene views of the Sabarmati by the roof garden. Since the beginning, this garden was not properly implemented.
Passive design strategies
Ahmedabad has a hot, semi-arid climate, mild winters, and is very dry except during the monsoon spell. The central courtyard allows hot air to escape and the 55cm deep water body has a cooling effect on the surrounding by evapotranspiration.
There are concrete trays along the edges of the first floor, designed for perennial climbing green walls that serve as natural insulation. In addition to that, the external walls are cavity walls (2 layers of masonry with air in between) for insulation.
The roof was designed to have 45 concrete basins filled with 40 cm water and special compounds to grow plants beyond their normal size. The horizontal span of clerestory windows provides daylight for the exhibition. However, it was not implemented in the roof.
It is an array of 64 columns of reinforced concrete columns called the pilotis with 7 x 7m spacing that bears the entire load of the structure.
Le Corbusier intended his facades to be free, showing his disapproval of how people interpreted buildings by their facade alone and not its conceptual plans and details during the 20th century.
The free facade depicts the originality of the material with exposed brick and concrete. It is left so as extending volumes would conceal the current facade.
Current state and conclusion
The museum is in dire straits and plans on the repair and restoration of the building are being discussed by Vasthu Shilpa Foundation. There is no possibility of extensions as planned earlier because other buildings have been constructed on these sites.
We can infer that the building ideology was well derived from keeping in mind the local conditions of the site. There is maximum utilization of daylight, given the current power demands of India it is important to incorporate eco-friendly lighting techniques.
But the lack of maintenance has given way to creepers, concrete fissures, and leakages and very few visitors to the museum. With sufficient maintenance, we could have turned Sanskar Kendra into one of India’s finest cultural complexes, as Le Corbusier dreamt of.
image 2: https://www.dnaindia.com/ahmedabad/report-plans-to-revive-sanskar-kendra-museum-lie-in-shambles-amc-2616414