India, a developing country at a 33% rate of urbanization, is a place riddled with complex issues of growth and expansion. The population growth and the ever-present disparity in the socio-economic background of the people demand a constant effort from the government, architects, and urban designers to create solutions that prove to be effective in this ever-changing environment.
From basic infrastructural needs such as the provision of good quality public toilets to making a conscious effort to create all-inclusive public spaces, there is a need for deliberation on the quality of public infrastructure and whether it serves the purpose. As we continue to struggle to resolve an issue as fundamental as providing better functioning, visually appealing, and adequate public toilets, it is imperative to understand the reasons for failure and devise new solutions accordingly.
In a time characterized by a rise in gated living, there is a need to draw attention to the creation of quality public spaces that are efficient and appealing. The works of a few architects provide some much-needed inspiration in this regard.
Here is a look at some of their projects:
1. National War Memorial, Delhi, WEBE Design Lab.
The memorial designed by WEBE Design Lab, Chennai is the newest addition to the historical Rajpath in Delhi. The design aligns with the axis established by the President’s residence and the India Gate. The design creates a 42-acre vast expanse of a landscaped public arena meant as much as a memorial as for pure public recreation. The simplicity in its design configuration and yet the distinctive quality achieved through the successful articulation of the design program creates a new expression of design that is restrained and yet robust.
2. The Lightbox- restroom for women, Thane, RC Architects.
An experiment in looking at a public restroom for women as being more than just that and transforming into a social space meant for amateur artists to display their work, for lectures and awareness campaigns or just to relax. This 10’ x 30’ of a restroom block designed around a tree taking in natural light considering our specific climatic conditions, using light transparent materials, and solid bold colors redefines our very understanding of public toilets and illustrates the potential of design to make a difference.
3. Pause – Restrooms, Karnala Bird Sanctuary, Bombay – Goa Highway, RC Architects.
The restrooms designed as space for truck drivers to rest creates a strong disruptive image of what is essentially a public toilet facility. The red signifies its presence, bold yet minimalist in design. The integration of activities such as a nook for a barber, a tuck shop, a resting area with beds increases the use-value of the space and also lends a sense of belonging to the drivers. The use of perforated metal sheets, the integration of landscape, and the proportion of the spaces and the effective means of naturally ventilating the space resolve the common issues associated with public toilets in India often rendering them useless with time. The facility throws up a new idea for thinking about the design of public toilets in India, something that continues to be a pressing concern.
4. Truck Drivers Village, Chitradurga, RC Architects.
The images of colorful trucks seen across the country have become synonymous with India along with the famous words ‘Horn Ok Please’ painted on it. You will find miniatures of these trucks sold popularly as souvenirs to tourists. This popular imagery is courtesy of what is a significant sector of occupation in our country; albeit one that is never given any due consideration. Every year the statistics of deaths on the road of truck drivers driving under strained conditions of lack of sleep and other issues are alarming. It is a problem that can have a solution only if one chooses to look for it. This unique space does just that; conceived as a plaza for drivers to rest and recharge. It includes spaces for dining, resting, sleeping dorms, play activities, and washrooms. This project caters to a problem that is common and yet ignored and devises a solution that is inventive and inspiring.
5. Shiv Temple, Pune, sP + A
Situated in a rural area the temple was built with the help of the villagers at a minimal cost. In the context of India, where religion is central to society, religious spaces often become more than just a place of devotion. This space in acknowledging this fact and extending its design to become a platform for socio-cultural engagement becomes an important public space for the surrounding villages. The exploration in form creates a contemporary expression for religious spaces in today’s context. The undefined open mandapa-like square outside the inner sanctum becomes an integral public space to be used as needed by the village folk. Such a natural extension of religious spaces that could extend into the surroundings could help make valuable public spaces in the urban setting as well.
6. Maya Somaiya Library, sP + A
The library meant for a school makes an interesting case of design owing to its response to site conditions and articulation of function. The primary inspiration for the design germinated from the idea that children are inclined towards the outdoors more than indoors. So the form created tries to mimic the natural undulation of land and becomes a playful light space. The construction systems adopted to try to articulate a contemporary language in a regional context using systems inspired by the global context. This highlights the importance of using urban resources to respond to contextual needs not always found in contextual language. The space created thereby goes above and beyond the basic function of a library. The structure thus becomes an active public space utilized by everyone.
7. Jai Jagat Theatre, Ahmedabad, SEALAB.
The Jai Jagat Theatre is an open-air amphitheater for the children studying at the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad. The theatre also caters to children from nearby communities to come and participate in the activities there. The low height-unassuming scale of the Jai Jagat theatre honors the site conditions while also creating custom to scale-spaces carved out especially for children. The theatre uses simple geometry to create a valuable space for children to express themselves. It encloses a private space within a public space with the help of a free-flowing form that does not create any rigid boundaries for segregation. This idea is inspiring in itself and can be adapted elsewhere to generate such public amenities accessible to all.