Saturday, May 18, 2024

Kochi’s container of hope  – The Hindu

The Container

The Container
| Photo Credit: Niveditaa Gupta

An ode to contemporary visual art, the pavilion at Cabral Yard epitomises the core values of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, the art event whose fifth edition will conclude on April 10. A temporary theatre created to host film screenings, dance performances, lectures and art workshops, it catches the eye with its rising frame, walls made of construction debris, large winged windows and cross ventilation that lets in plenty of light and breeze.

The Container at Cabral Yard

The Container at Cabral Yard
| Photo Credit:
Niveditaa Gupta

Its architect, Samira Rathod, was recently featured in Architectural Digest’s AD100 2023 list, which compiles the 100 most influential architects and designers of India. According to Rathod, the pavilion underscores a dual narrative: the first, emphasising leftover debris from ruthless demolition, and the second, zeroing in on the poetics of construction — an honest admission of the method and materials that go into the building process. She calls it ‘The Container’, but visitors have also dubbed it ‘The Cool House.’

In a chat with Property Plus, the Mumbai-based architect — who is currently working on a restaurant in the city, residential projects in Delhi, and a residential tower in Colombo — talks about her design principles, the challenges she faced, and the viability of a structure like this in modern architecture.

Bird’s-eye view of The Container

Bird’s-eye view of The Container
| Photo Credit:
Niveditaa Gupta

Samira Rathod

Samira Rathod
| Photo Credit:
www.srda.co

‘The Container’ is a recyclable, reusable product. What was the inspiration behind it?

Years ago, we conducted an extensive study on dismantling versus demolition. We selected four heritage buildings that needed to be taken down due to their dilapidated states, and used materials from them to design a new building — thus reincarnating it into a new one to fit into contemporary times and needs. We realised that every building is a reservoir of materials, waiting to inhabit new structures.

Along similar lines, we conceptualised the pavilion such that it utilises waste from construction sites nearby. The walls are made from wire mesh cage filled with debris and coir; the roof is layered with debris, geogrid [material used to reinforce soil], fish nets and brick; and the floor comprises rubble and waste granite from mines cemented together. Also, instead of air conditioners, we used large industrial fans. Our intent was, at the end of its life cycle, the building should be dismantled rather than demolished, with no additional debris and no imprint on the ground. In today’s world, building activity continues to be indispensable despite its adverse effects. So, architectural thinking must evolve around sustainability.

Wire mesh cage filled with debris

Wire mesh cage filled with debris
| Photo Credit:
Niveditaa Gupta

What were the challenges you faced while making the pavilion?

We were expected to be on site in October, and were looking at a 60-day construction period. But we were only assigned the land in Cabral Yard on December 6 — we had just 30 days to create a space that had to meet many complex functional requirements of acoustics and light. We started by allocating an army of masons, carpenters, supervisors, and our own office architects into teams that worked in three shifts day and night. Debris, the key material, was brought in from construction sites every day, and then carefully sorted into bricks and concrete.

Inside the Container

Inside the Container
| Photo Credit:
Niveditaa Gupta

Though there was only one footing [a type of foundation constructed for a single column], the structure stood strong owing to a combination of steel frames, wire mesh, and a roof of geogrid textile that is good at bearing tensile and compressive loads. The workers poured a loose paste of brick powder, coir, cement and mud between rows of brick bunds to keep it all intact. We set up 16-foot-tall shutters fitted with mirrors which, when opened, brought in light and also reflected the patterns of the surrounding greens. On some days, we faced power cuts, sometimes it rained all night, and on top of it all, we had a language barrier with the labourers. But, eventually, everyone powered through.

Work in progress

Work in progress
| Photo Credit:
Sridhar Bala

Can modern buildings be made using the same style and materials?

Yes, it is possible to recreate fully functional buildings using a similar style, but some obvious changes would have to be adopted. The changes would be those that need to make the building weatherproof against rain or the cold — so detailing and dovetailing of all elements such as doors and fenestrations, gutters and storm water drains, use of lime in the walls, etc. And if the building has to be dismantled, the detailing of the structure would have to be calibrated as well. So, whilst the technology and materials are applicable to permanent buildings, a more relevant detailing and fine-tuning would be essential. Even now, there exist buildings around the world that have used debris walls in their designs. 

#Kochis #container #hope #Hindu

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