Environment and Built Form

Interpretive Centre |  Semester 06 – Design Module (Feb-Apr 2020)
Studio Mentors : Ravindra Punde, Dipti Bhaindarkar, Sabaa Giradkar, Malaksingh Gill, Faizan Khatri, Abhijit Ekbote, Shrikar Bhave
Text by: Veeravalli Vikram, Dipti Bhaindarkar, Faizan Khatri and Shrikar Bhave 

The SEA Semester VI Architectural Design project is seen as a culmination of ‘Part-1’ of the Bachelor of Architecture course – and it is expected that the project is a layered and interwoven exploration into broad aspects explicitly defined for the project. For this year, these were: 

  1. Embedment & Engagement with Environment 
  2. Material Articulation & Tectonics
  3. Context Specificity

This module explored the relationships between the technical means and poetic intentions of appropriating the ground, natural systems and the built environment. The environment is an extensive network of natural forces and human interventions. The fluid motion of different constituents in this network expands the thought of the boundary beyond that of the land and the water. Over time, cartographic  understanding has led to drawing of hard boundaries upon which architects base their interventions. A  fundamental change in thought is required to address this situation afresh. The various processes in nature and the built form must be allowed to intermingle and interact, to fold and enfold, enabling a narrative that is not purely physical. The individual must engage with the environment through the flows and cycles to build a perception of space through layers, patterns, transformations and sensorial experiences to create spaces that are dynamic and sustainable and not dull. The idea of sustainability becomes implicit in this thought of working with and for the environment and blurs the ideas of hardbound built forms and interventions while consuming resources efficiently. 

The architectural design module commenced on the heels of the settlement studies module, which focused on the study of lake precincts in Mumbai and the idea of wetness. The four sites chosen for intervention were in close proximity to the edges of Vihar and Powai lakes in Mumbai city. The nuances of environment and its flows and everyday life of the people around respective lake edges – in other words, the environmental and social context – became an essential factor that shaped the definition of the interpretive center for each site. With specific ecological conditions that exist due to the proximity to the lake (and for one site, even a forest), the physical context was significant and unique for each site. Given such a context, each interpretive centre needed to function as a forum to facilitate contemporary discourse on the environment. 


Powai Lake (East) / IIT Bombay site: 

With Powai lake to its southwest, this site is primarily surrounded by an extensive educational campus of IIT Bombay on all other sides – with a majority of the population formed by students and support staff. The site holds a sense of privacy as it is located inwards from the main road and is surrounded by a variety of large trees. 

Powai Lake (Southeast) / Hiranandani Complex Site:

This site is adjacent to a densely populated residential and commercial district on one side and the main road on the other side, which runs along the Powai lake edge. The road generates heavy vehicular and pedestrian traffic and is currently undergoing construction activity for a proposed metro line that generates severe noise. The site edges witness various groups of people gathered around informal food stalls and small businesses throughout different times of the day. 

Vihar Lake (East) Site:

Part of the land immediately surrounding the eastern edge of the Vihar lake is a protected forest zone. Hence the actual site chosen for the intervention is away from the lake edge. A large stone wall (which was previously an aqueduct) separates the lake and the forest, from the organic settlements. 

Vihar Lake (West) Site:

The lake edge to the west of the Vihar lake constitutes dense forest-like vegetation. As a result, the intervention site had to be chosen away from it, not to disturb the existing ecosystem. The site is along the Mithi river, in the middle of three Adivasi villages – Ultanpada, Filterpada and Sahi Banguda. Like the IIT Bombay site, this region also falls in the intertidal zone of the river resulting in high water levels during monsoon months. 


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Project by Adwait Desai | Site : Hiranandani

The Interpretive Centre is an attempt to reconceive the built nature of the land in and around the Hiranandani complex in Powai through the vernacular. The two main strategies utilized in this process were to create direct visual connections between the inside and outside and to create humble spaces that do not become an imposition on the site. The interpretive centre is seen as an extension to the Angling association, with a focus on the hyacinth that grows along the edges of Powai Lake. Different parts of the Centre cater to various aspects of the hyacinth. For example, The Southern part consists of a treatment plant that focuses on making new products from raw hyacinth. In contrast, the northern part focuses on research, archives and information on the same, that becomes a means to raise awareness.

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Project by Sanjana Habde | Site : Vihar West

The Interpretive centre bridges the gap between the three settlements of Ultanpada, Filterpada and Sahi Baguda by exchanging their skills and therefore upscaling their business opportunities. The idea is to create a more sustainable solution to their occupation, which is primarily dependent on monsoon, to increase their production. This is done by integrating aspects of fishing and farming to double the production with the same amount of resources, without being entirely dependent on the river. The additional produce is now stored and reserved to be used during times of crisis such as floods and also during public events. Another aspect looked at by this design is harvesting rainwater to utilize in the dry months.  

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Project by Neha Kesari | Site : Vihar West

The interpretive center aims to bridge the gap between the settlement and the rest of the cityscape around it. It acts as a recycling center, wherein all the inorganic waste is collected from the lake and river edges and recycled to make products for home embellishment and make possible building materials. The center becomes a medium to earn revenue for the people in the settlement while also setting an example to the city, to promote conservation and protection of the biodiversity of the lake. The various workshops on product making become an important opportunity for all actors to come together and learn new skills. The built form was further developed with the idea of pods as a basic unit, with a dynamic ground level to facilitate the fluidity of the river through its form, engaging the human and non-human at the same time and in the same space.

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Project by Pranay Kotadia | Site : Vihar West

Much of river thinking, shown through cartography and many architectural drawings, comes with the articulation of the line that divides land and water. The line is a result of us anchoring in a particular time of reality in the hydraulic cycle—the time of reality which is that of water and flow. The interpretation center thus attempts to rethink this existing articulation of the line, by anchoring its time of reality in the first moment of the hydraulic cycle (That of an ocean of rain). It does so in three ways – First, it tries to blur the line between land and water by constructing a series of wetlands that complement the temporal nature of the river. Second, it crafts form such that it either collects rainwater or monumentalizes it for the user to wonder about it. Third, it looks at the idea of an ephemeral garden to be a part of a system that changes its colour and biodiversity according to the seasons.

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Project by Somesh Nadkarni

The primary program of the interpretive center is a centralized system for waste management with the help of various support systems. It introduces cycles that are generated through these support systems as an annexe to the natural cycles existing along the lake edge. The current cycle comprises various actors like the cows, the trees, the lake and the soil, acting together to generate a natural system that cleans the edge of the lake. The question addressed by this design is how humans could intervene in that cycle without disrupting the original one? The programs combine various such support systems cohesively by having the least impact on the natural ecosystem. 

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Project by Madhura Patil

The interpretive center focuses on the concept of Promethean Environmentalism proposed by Martin Lewis, which says that “to protect nature, humans should stay away from it”. It is a different outlook on the relationship between humans and the environment. The design intends to trap humans and let nature flourish – to put humans in a space where they are forced to think about the depleting condition of the lake and wetlands and its impact on the ecological cycle. The intervention is a built form that has minimal visual impact and is built underground so that the natural habitat above could be preserved. To create breeding/thriving areas for the birds, various trees, crops and bushes are planted, so that the existing as well as the migratory bird population increases. 

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Project by Nikeita Saraf

The Interpretive Centre is looked at as an extension of the daily activities of the actors on site. The idea of performing one’s necessary activities in a place away from home, but representing it in the sense of occupancy; and the freedom to express oneself and initiate activities without hesitation in a very intimidating and policed envelope of the Hiranandani Complex, was a driving thought behind the Centre. Geographically the site is a breathing space, a buffer amongst the thriving commercial complex with varied edge conditions. The question addressed by the intervention is how then an intervention can allow transition as well as enhancement of the already existing actor-network without disrupting it? The Angling Association and its methods are looked at as an anchor to involve the user groups with the lake and create more incentives for their involvement with the Interpretive Centre. It thus aims at creating humble spaces that allow free movement and occupancy, along with building a sense of community living in the area.

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Project by Ruchita Sarvaiya

The Interpretive center is seen as a bridge between the urban and the rural, through the lens of urban farming. The land is a shared resource that binds nature, biodiversity and humanity. Urban farming allows one to explore all these aspects cohesively while in an institutional setting such as the IIT. The design is primarily thought through landscape elements and creates a soft scape that allows the current cycle of water and land to flow into the forests of columns. The ground is covered by various types of trees such as gulmohar and red cotton silk that become homes to birds like drongo, babul etc. The mangroves help in maintaining the water level of wetland, while the grass becomes the fodder for animals on site. A plantation of bananas acts as the raw material for various programs that improve certain skills. Papermaking, compostable plates, eatables, the making of composites etc., create a cycle of knowledge and a natural process. These landscape elements help in passively cooling the building as well and aid in the visual aesthetics of the form. 

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Project by Stuti Shah 

The site is separated by the hypothetical edge that is ‘The Wall’, disconnecting the community from the lake and the forest. The interpretive centre thereby acts as an observation point, like a window- overlooking the restricted forest and giving visual access (though multiple openings) to the community. It aims to create a mediated motion like that of the other side of the wall where one can freely meander around the spaces and make the now gender-specific space into an inclusive one. The elevated cycling ramp divides the site into two- one with community-driven institutions like school dining and library. At the same time, the other includes recreational spaces like the gallery and amphitheatre that are open to the public.

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Project by Parth Solanki

The Interpretive Centre will function as a set of spaces for exchanging skills. At the junction of the two settlements, Ultanpada and Sahi Banguda is a market. The Centre improves on this concept of a market to create a space for a larger social gathering, which facilitates the exchange of ideas and knowledge to reimagine the lifestyle of the settlements. The Centre would also be used to attract visitors and residents to learn techniques of indigenous building construction and permaculture.  

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Project by Ronak Soni

The site acts as a spillover space which accommodates the high density of the context. A strong presence of social and geographic layers creates an individual pace of life that is linear. The Interpretive Centre is the ‘Architecture of Pause’, intended to break this linearity. The spaces try to motivate people to break away from their routines. Creating a negotiation between different classes of people, it tries to break certain social boundaries by generating dialogue and providing essential amenities to the vendors. On the other side of the site, the intervention explores the edge of Powai Lake. The land is stepped, allowing the water to rise and fall throughout the year and facilitating hyacinth and algae growth, to maintain the natural cycle of the lake. Other interventions in the form of pavilions respond to the food vendors, hawkers and pedestrians while negotiating the boundaries of the lake, the promenade and the road.

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Project by Veeravalli Vikram

The Interpretive Centre is used as a tool for upscale community engagement by introducing a set of practices that become a way of living. The intent is to promote active and passive ways of engaging with the people and objects of the settlement. Uncontrolled waste dumping is countered through a workshop of recycling that weaves discarded plastics to create a covering for the roof during monsoons, as a replacement for tarpaulin sheets. Household industries are also brought together and upscaled to create a larger social space for women and to increase the interaction between the people through spaces between the workshops. The first floor of the design also becomes a passive playground for the children of the settlement. The design also creates a break for the temporary actors, like the cyclists, that visit the site. 



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