The term ‘mixed-use’ developments in the context of a quintessential modern Indian city like Pune is a fittingly appropriate concept, as it advocates flexibility in space design and helps maximize the scope of sustainable development.
Mixed-use properties cater to and comprise commercial, residential, cultural, and sometimes even industrial functions. These properties are often designed on compact pieces of land and deemed to be a resourceful way of utilizing and revitalizing certain underdeveloped areas.
Set in a mixed urban fabric, India House, one such remarkable mixed-use building designed by Christopher Charles Benninger (Principal Architect, CCBA), houses the firm’s corporate architecture studio, a guesthouse, an art gallery, public spaces, and even the architect’s residence.
This article sheds light on the design philosophy, planning, concept, and highlights of this structure.
Concept and Style
Sitting on a modest urban plot of 1000 sqm, the design of India House is based on the concept of the Maharashtrian courtyard dwelling, also known as wada. While most wadas today are being conserved or adaptively reused, Christopher Benninger has managed to keep their essence alive in India House by drawing inspiration from their design characteristics.
The massing of this building is a well-ordered configuration of three almost equal-sized volumes, the middle volume acting as an atrium to admit sunlight and breezes. The atrium also acts as a unifying element in the anatomy of the structure, seamlessly tying together the various degrees of privacy of the spaces that surround it.
It is especially noteworthy that, despite being a mixed-use establishment, the utmost care has been taken to ensure that none of the functions clash with the others. This means that the building can simultaneously function as a full-capacity architecture studio while entertaining an artists’ group in the art gallery equally efficiently without the functions of either being disrupted.
The planning of India House owes its flexibility to the wholesome and meticulous area program. Akin to the hierarchy of spaces followed in a wada, the public, semi-public and private spaces in this building are organized clearly.
Christopher Charles Benninger designed the central courtyard as the main public gathering space where many festivities, pujas, and community events are often held. It also serves as an inviting plaza for people who enter the space from the outside hustle of the city. The house also has assigned private spaces like offices that are subtly given a layer of privacy with the street area and the courtyard.
The street forms a breakout space and adds character to the complex. Landscaping has been used as a tool with the dual purpose of beautification and also acts as a buffer space while establishing said hierarchy. The architect has used water liberally as an element in the form of lap pools and lotus ponds, which also help optimize the microclimate of the premises.
Within the building, jack-arches with concrete frames coupled with double-height spaces advocate a level of porosity through the building. The elevation facing the approach road is solid and makes the composition look strikingly modern. The facades are either solid or are regulated with windows in granite frames to bring sunlight and ventilation into the spaces within.
Christopher Charles Benninger has adopted the concept of traditional screens or jaali, lining the internal elevations of the main courtyard with operable louvres, which help to cut off unnecessary glare and regulate north light. The jaali louvres also attribute a sense of privacy to the atrium space.
Clad in sandstone, the external façade facing the arterial road is adorned with hand-carved emblems and motifs of all beliefs and religions as an ode to secularism and also to serve as a reminder of the dwindling crafts in the country.
Additionally, the sandstone façade facilitates the blocking out of sound, making it an internal-reflecting space. A believer in critical regionalism, the architect has used locally sourced Indian stones like kadappa and marble extensively in the building.
Christopher Benninger highlighted the entrance by providing a contrast to the sandstone façade, in the form of an eighteenth-century wooden door, or Mahadwara, which was salvaged from an ancient haveli in north India.
Upon entering the Mahadwara, following the line of sight of the user, one’s gaze automatically becomes fixed upon a large bust of Shiva which was crafted in Madurai, Tamil Nadu.
Local Arts and Crafts
The interior and exterior spaces are interspersed with bronze statues, paintings, and crafts from all over the sub-continent. Murals that bring out Indian values and sentiments also accent the spaces. Bhutanese prayer wheels introduced near the entrance portal with lush planting, flanked by a lotus pond, transport the user to a space that is significantly different from the chaos of the urban life outside.
Internal spaces are adorned with many traditional and contemporary artworks and folk crafts by various artisans from around India. Some artisans also live in the residences for short periods to help revive the fading craftsmanship and skills of the traditional arts and further contribute to the ambience of the building.