Architect Brinda Somaya has built her fame in the field of architecture through her strong foundations that are rooted in intrinsic human values. Her noble precepts stemmed from impressionable childhood memories—travels with her parents to beautiful heritage sites, magnificent South Indian temples, and quaint towns along the banks of the Narmada River.
Location: Kutch, Gujarat, India
Client: Shrujan and Pentagon Trust
Area: Housing units of 131 sq. ft each, School of 6000 sq. ft.
Completion of Project: 2003
Her travels inculcated in her, concepts of rich cultural diversities, vernacular architecture, and traditional crafts; something which guides Ar. Brinda Somaya, even today. Her firm, Somaya and Kalappa Consultants played a vital role in the rehabilitation of Bhadli Village in Gujarat. On January 26th, 2001, as the country was celebrating its 52nd Republic Day, tragedy struck; an earthquake of 7.9 magnitude on the Richter scale, that furtively caused death and destruction in its aftermath.
The Bhuj earthquake of 2001, nearly destroyed ninety percent of this predominantly agricultural village, whose buildings consisted of old houses and a major school. Apart from agriculture, the villagers were also engaged in handicrafts due to the scarcity and salinity of groundwater.
While rebuilding Bhadli, Brinda Somaya was acutely conscious of conserving the original charm and beauty of the original structures and reinforced them with seismic safety at the same time. The three core principles followed while rebuilding Bhadli were the community, conservation, and contemporary restructuring: integral concepts of all restoration projects undertaken by Somaya and Kalappa Consultants.
“I think these social projects enable me to be aware of and sympathetic to those we are building for and building with.” – Brinda Somaya, on the rehabilitation of Bhadli Village, interview by The Hindu.
The plan for the restoration of damaged houses and primary structures in Bhadli started in August 2001. From the start, Brinda Somaya adopted the vision that her firm would solely be facilitators. The architects wouldn’t impose ideas on the people but encourage them to rebuild their village using their own ideas and notions, to uphold the beautiful historical and cultural identity of the village.
Therefore, financial, material, and professional aid was provided to the inhabitants of the village, but the shape the village took was in their hands. The fundamentals that guided the architects and villagers on the restoration journey were the incorporation of seismic and climatic safety factors, rebuilding on the original parcels of land, to avoid drastic relocation, and completing the project as quickly as possible, to ensure the swift return to normalcy.
Planning and Materials
The concept behind rebuilding the village was to imbibe sensitivity towards sustainability into its inhabitants. Brinda Somaya ensured that the identity of the Bhadli village was preserved by nestling the new settlement within its original environs. The villagers provided labor for constructing their peers’ homes, and the NGO, Shrujan Trust, provided the required resources.
The planning principle of a village square was conceptualized, inclusive of a multi-purpose hall, a community hall, and a women’s center that would steadily boost and encourage the handicrafts output of the village.
The inclusion and creation of these new public spaces transformed the quaint Bhadli village into a magnet for neighboring villages that did not have these commodities. Currently, the community hall is used for Gram Vikas Kendra meetings that are a fundamental source of progress and innovation for the village.
Prior to the earthquake wrecking chaos on Bhadli, the village had approximately 350 homes, out of which 124 were rebuilt. To ensure that the restored houses would perform well in the unfortunate event of another earthquake, seismic principles were laid out by Brinda Somaya’s team.
The plinths of the houses were composed of random rubble masonry that came from the earthquake debris and reinforced with RCC plinth beams. A three-fold system of tie-beams was utilized to strengthen the dwellings—a beam each at the sills, lintels, and roof-base.
These reinforced cement concrete members were braced with vertical steel bars, at all L and T junctions. To avoid cracks and displacement, the colorful wooden fenestrations were lined with RCC and shear keys were placed at junctions.
The aura of the village would not be complete without the addition of mesmerizing and vibrant facade elements that reflected the rich heritage that the Bhadli community was rooted in. Vivid, picturesque mosaics and paintings adorned the fenestrations of the homes, imparting a unique characteristic to every dwelling. An open verandah in front of each house facilitates conversation between the community and aids in building a strong and friendly rapport amongst inhabitants.
Education was a commodity of luxury in the remote village of Bhadli, even before the earthquake struck. The lone co-ed primary school with a strength of 194 students and 6 faculty, was reduced to rubble in the aftermath of the earthquake. Brinda Somaya and her skilled team proposed a new school in their rehabilitation plans, complete with classrooms, a dining area, an extensive library, and a Balwadi (Children’s Play School).
The earthy tones and hand-painted motifs of Vasanth Vidyalaya radiate a playful charm and vibrant appeal. The enchanting play of light and shadows of various elements from louvers over the staircases, to the circular niches in the exterior walls create an interesting ambiance for the students.
The closed spaces are complemented with regular open spaces, to break the monotony of a typical school. With Vasanth Vidyalaya, Brinda Somaya has taken a brilliant approach towards the seamless blend of the natural environment and built-up space.
By encouraging the villagers of Bhadli to rebuild their own homes, Brinda Somaya and her team rekindled a sense of hope, after the depressing and devastating outcome of the natural disaster. By mobilizing them for occupation, they were given a sense of hope and purpose. The rehabilitation project is a true reflection of Brinda Somaya’s values as an architect, which are rooted in the preservation of tradition and culture.