“I always liked this city because of the intimacy, the congeniality of the people here: very generous, very helpful and encouraging. And I think that’s what the essence of this city is” – Balkrishna Doshi
Ahmedabad, ‘The City of Modern Architecture’ in India, was established by Ahmed Shah in year 1411 AD. The fortification of the city which gave it the name ‘Walled City’ resonates its firm hold on its culture and history, while its twelve doorways symbolize the openness with which this city has allowed its architecture to shape itself. The city formerly known as Ashawal, Karnavati, Ahamdabad, Rajnagar and Amdavad, has also fondly got another name ‘The Architecture Hub of India’, through its varied yet profound architectural styles and principles, constantly evolving over few hundred years and thus, making the declaration of the Historic city of Ahmedabad as India’s first UNESCO World Heritage City, a sane and indisputable decision.
‘Architecture is reflection of the Culture’. The wide range of cultures in Ahmedabad spanning through different timelines is very much evident in its buildings, which takes us on a time machine, weaving its story through stones and bricks. This city is the amalgamation of Hindu and Muslim heritage, fading out the fine line between the both. The Mosques in Ahmedabad, primarily established by Ahmed Shah, have been greatly influenced by the Hindu architectural style as the architects and masons used to build them were primarily Hindus. Hence, Ahmedabad is a Hindu body in Islamic Apparel, says Ratnamanirao Jote, the prolific of modern historians on the city, in his monumental work Gujarat nu Patnagar-Amdavad.
Majestic Mosques of Ahmedabad be it the magnanimous Jama Masjid, the robust Sarkhej Roza, or scintillating Sidi Saiyyed Mosque, will leave the observer awestruck with their intricate details and simple stellar elegance. The lattice stone work of these mosques are so unique that Sidi Saiyyed Jali window is regarded as the unofficial symbol of city of Ahmedabad and the inspiration for the design of the logo of the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad. In- addition, various Jain temples, and other prominent temples like Puri Jaganath Temple and the Swaminarayan Temple of Kalupur are at par with the lavish mosques.
Out of all the elements of nature, man’s affinity to water is barefaced. Throughout history, man has tried to make his connect with water, as elaborate as possible, from Ghats to ponds and Stepwells. The Stepwells of Ahmedabad stand as a ‘living’ proof breathing life into the ancient Indian architectural techniques. These stepwells, usually five stories deep, acted as a prime source of water storage, and also as recreational or gathering area, morphing themselves according to the needs. The “Dada Harir ni vav” and Adalaj are prime stepwells, outrightly establishing their dominance in style and strength.
The walled city of Ahmedabad, consists of “Pols” which abode intricately carved private havelis, which are an embodiment of wealth and prosperity this city once donned.
With the birth of New India after Independence, a lots of cities were renewed, redesigned or established. Ahmedabad was one of the few cities which got its own Version 2.0 through the able hands of Le Corbusier, The Father of Modern Architecture, Louis-I-Khan, Charles Correa, Balakrishna Doshi and many more. The ‘awe’some ideas of these revolutionary architects, gave Ahmedabad a contrasting yet, complimenting outlook.
The Sanskar Kala Kendra and Ahmedabad Textile Mill owner’s Association (ATMA) building by Ar. Le Corbusier are the first stops any architect to this city takes. The long entrance with ramps under the open sky, the rustic exteriors of exposed brickwork and concrete with sun breaker fin made of exposed concrete are distinct and profound resounding and re-establishing the birth of Modern Architecture in Ahmedabad, and in extent, the whole of India.
Ar. Charles Correa well-known for his style that blends old architecture with the modern one, designed the new building of Gandhi Smarak Sangrahalaya in 1964, which is the architectural personification of Gandhi’s residence Hridaykunj. The Ashram, located on the river bed over-looking the Sabarmathi River is one of the Classic designs of Correa and his principles.
Assembly halls like Tagore Hall and Premabhai Hall by Parmashri Balkrishna Doshi, have structures that draw our attention for its unique architectural design. The wall columns, a series of rigid concrete folded plates frame the outer shell to this hall of Tagore Hall blending smoothly with the whole structure and the very rustic Premabhai hall with its exposed raw concrete facade looks mesmerizing in its Brutalist style.
Ahmedabad Textile Industry’s Research Association (ATIRA) by Ar.Achyut Kanvinde, which appears suspended with its plastered surfaces and exposed brick bands, almost waffle-like, is a specimen of modern architecture.
“We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us” -Winston Churchill
True to his words, the buildings which shape the future of the nation (literally), the educational institutes of Ahmedabad break the stereotypes not only through their educational structures but also through their embodied structures.
The Indian Institute of Management, by Ar. Louis-I-Kahn, was more than just an efficient spatial planning of classrooms. The classroom was just the formal setting for the beginning of learning; the hallways and Kahn’s Plaza became new centers for learning. Even though the porous, geometric façade acts as a filter for sunlight and ventilation, yet the porosity allowed for the creation of new spaces of gathering for the students and faculty to come together.
The National Institute of Design (NID), considered as one of the most well-planned design layout built on sole purpose to provide an educational institute which was ‘the most unmonumental, anonymous, pleasant and unpretentious’. The studio spaces facing inward into a central courtyard give us the feeling of a world within a world.
Center of Environmental and Planning Technology (CEPT) planned and established by Ar. Balakrishna Doshi, reflects the influence of Louis-I-Kahn and Le Corbusier in its open planning and Brutalist structure. The exposed brick buildings combined with the vast open spaces, clerestory windows and lawns have an ageless charm. The studio spaces facing the exterior make it a part of the ‘outside’ and blur the boundaries of “Inside and Outside.”
One while talking about the modern architecture of Ahmedabad, can never do without mentioning the works of Ar. B.V. Doshi. It is not untrue if we call him the “Father of Modern Architecture of Ahmedabad”. Even his workspace “Sangath” is iconic with its sunken vaults cladded with china mosaic and terraced amphitheaters encompassed by water details.
Architecture is one of the truest evidence of history and identity of a place. Each city leaves its imprints on its architecture. Ahmedabad, welcomes its people, culture and heritage with openness which allowed the city’s architecture to evolve with its people and their thinking. It truly is the ‘Architect’s Hub’ encouraging one to look back and move forward, transitioning effortlessly.
Akshaya Murali, an architect thriving to share her stories and thoughts, one article at a time.