Wooden toy crafting has been a part of Indian art and culture for centuries and belongs to certain states, but only a few of these practices are thriving in this new world of factory-made plastic toys. Sawantwadi of Maharashtra is known for its living tradition of wooden handcrafted toys. Along with toys made from mango, jackfruit, and pangara tree wood, the place is famous for its Ganjifa cards. These crafts were primarily mastered by the Chitari or Chitrakar community and were recognized by the king of Sawantwadi then. In today’s scenario, most of these woodcraft workspaces exist in poor conditions. 

The conceptual project discussed in this article is an intervention to revive the slowly dying art and uplift the artisan community.

The site of the project measures 19,828 sqm. Nestled in the foothills near the Kumbhayawadi cricket ground, the topography of the site is contoured. It is accessed by a primary road that connects three marketplaces and a secondary road that connects the internals of Kolgaon village. The project is planned considering the chronological movement of wood from the forest to the end products.

Design Planning: 

The property has two entry points-The South entry is designated for visitors and artisans, and the East entry is reserved for vehicles carrying forest wood. The South entry brings people through the administrative area. It opens up to a mural gallery with adjoining shops promoting the sale of toys and Ganjifa cards produced in the workspaces. The gallery further pins towards two directions, one pointing towards an open amphitheater and the second towards a canteen. A vast ramp leads people from the admin area and security department toward the workspace studios.

Workspaces for woodcraft workers, Maharashtra - Sheet1
Site plan of the project_©Rutuja Warang
Workspaces for woodcraft workers, Maharashtra - Sheet2
Study model_©Rutuja Warang

The plan of the main structure resembles a horseshoe with pockets of landscape as buffers; to split the workplaces and help develop interaction between the artisans and tourists and to create voids for cross ventilation. The nucleus of this project adorns educational spaces, which consist of a library, a multipurpose hall, and a painting hall (for artists working on Ganjifa cards). A stepped gathering space for open-ended discussions forms a part of the landscape and acts as a vertical air convection medium.

The sawmill and unprocessed wood storage space are planned at the longitudinal end of the site since they involve noisy machinery. The hostel for skill-developing artists and artisans stands in isolation to ensure their privacy. All the units of the structures are connected by ramps and stairs, considering the variations in ground level.

Workspaces for woodcraft workers, Maharashtra - Sheet3
Circulation in study model_©Rutuja Warang

Design Materials: 

The project falls in an area that houses a specific style of architecture based on the availability of local materials, geography, climate, and family activity patterns. The structures use laterite stones as their building blocks that provide thermal insulation and are effective for low-rise buildings. The roofs of these structures are sloping and clad with Mangalore tiles. The woodcraft workspaces also contain a series of acrylic glass tiles in certain parts of the roof to admit diffused light into the structures, along with mammoth glass window voids in the walls. The hostel buildings are made of RCC and have similar sloping roofs.

Design sustainability:

The laterite stone used in construction doesn’t produce greenhouse gases while being cut and cast in-situ. The depressions on site collect rainwater, which makes it favorable for local flora to thrive. The site holds an underground tank that gets filled by the stormwater carried by the roofs of all structures, and the collected water can be reused in flushing cisterns. The recharge trenches and soakaways are lined along all buildings to maintain the groundwater table intact. Passive cooling techniques help keep the microclimate of the structures pleasant for the whole year. The most elevated area of the site is dedicated to the plantation of trees to make future artisans less dependent on wild forest wood. 

Workspaces for woodcraft workers, Maharashtra - Sheet4
Sections_©Rutuja Warang

The purpose of the design:

The project draws inspiration from existing toy industries in Channapatna, Karnataka, and the handicraft industry in Awadh Shilpgram, Lucknow. The primary purpose of this project is to provide the existing artisan community with new workspaces because the existing ones aren’t adequately managed due to neglection by the government; due to the prolonged exposure to sawdust, the working environment poses a threat to the artisans’ respiratory systems in the long run. By segregating the studios according to specific processes, a chain reaction is initiated using architecture as a medium. The ramps on both sides of woodcraft workspaces provide a visual connection between tourists and artisans. The invoked crucial interactions between tourists, students, artists, and artisans would consciously help promote the place’s art and culture.

In this project, an attempt is made to bring all the processes of the wooden toy industry to congregate under one roof instead of being scattered in various villages. The amalgamation is created to ensure interdependency and openness while providing knowledge and managing business and research simultaneously, which would generate income and improve the financial condition of the artisans and provide jobs enough to serve the community. The project would also be a catalyst for improving the infrastructure of the surrounding areas in the village.

Aerial view of woodcraft workspaces project_©Rutuja Warang


Citations for websites:

Happho (2022). House Construction Using Laterite Bricks: Pros and Cons. [online]. (Last updated 27 July 2022). Available at: https://happho.com/house-construction-using-laterite-bricks-pros-and-cons/# [Accessed 11 August 2023].

Tripoto (2021). The Unsung Saga, Ganjifa. [online]. (Last updated 21 March 2021). Available at: https://www.tripoto.com/maharashtra/trips/the-unsung-saga-ganjifa-582db95fdcb4c [Accessed 11 August 2023].

Citations for Magazine Articles – Print or Online:

Gryffiths, A. (2016). Awadh Shilpgram is a crafts hub influenced by traditional Indian architecture. Retrieved from: https://www.dezeen.com/2016/09/25/awadh-shilpgram-crafts-campus-archohm-lucknow-traditional-indian-architecture/


Rutuja is an inquisitive architect and a sustainability enthusiast; she loves to decipher the languages of built spaces and takes an interest in storytelling through photographs and poetries.