The year was 1976; the scorching summer heat rose in waves from the Earth; it was too hot to be out. As their mother handed the bottle to the young boys for a refreshing sip, their father ushered them into the shade cast by the towering façade.
As the queue of people moved slowly into the spacious foyer, the boys looked up in wonder at the tall ceiling. The air was much cooler here, the harshness of the sun softened by walls that allowed only hints of light to peek through.
There was yet some time before the performance would start; their mother said they could play, as long as they stayed in sight. The boys ran around the large entrance portico, weaving between trapezoidal columns, hiding in nooks & crannies of the outer walls. Their screams of joy echoed in the chamber that was abuzz with anticipation for an exciting afternoon.
Soon it was time to enter the auditorium. The boys climbed each step alongside their parents to the topmost row; as they settled into their seats, the lights began to dim, a man in a colourful attire trotted onto the stage, ready to begin the show…
A Tribute to a Revolutionary Poet
Standing as a testament to B.V Doshi’s flair for abstract geometry & playing with light, the Tagore Memorial Hall rises from the banks of the Sabarmati river as a monolithic concrete giant. Envisioned by the designer in 1961, the brutalist piece of architecture was sanctioned & completed over a timeline of 6 years, from 1966 to 1971. It is most notable as an experiment in the usage of concrete for purposes beyond functional.
A major part of Doshi’s practice is focused in Ahmedabad, the town he settled in after returning from Le Corbusier’s atelier in London. The Tagore Hall is located near a town named Paldi in Ahmedabad. It was designed by B.V Doshi in collaboration with the talented structural engineer Mahendra Raj, who was much sought after at the time for his divergent & creative thinking.
Built on sandy soil, the structure is supported on individual and strip footings. Emerging as a response to its context makes the architecture relatable even today, decades from its inception. Much of the principles Doshi absorbed from his guru inspired him to adapt foreign principles to the Indian context, but never copy them outright.
With India still in the nascent stages of nation-building in the 60s, architects like Doshi were exploring the identities they would give their buildings. Tasked with designing an icon that would not only honour a legendary artist but would also respond to the local climate, people & culture, Doshi & Raj created a vision for a modern structure, which draws meaning from its surroundings.
Tagore Hall is an example of the brutalist style that emerged during the 50s, characterized by exposed materials, monochrome palette, sharp angular geometric forms made from concrete or brick, massive scale, and bare structural elements. It is not meant to be decorative but leans towards practicality & minimalism. Located across from Le Corbusier’s brick-clad Sanskar Kendra Museum, Doshi embodies his mentor’s principles in abstractly treating concrete but articulates light & air in a way that only he can.
Bringing an Idea to Life
The building houses the foyer, auditorium, stage, backstage areas, with most of the services located on the roof. Developing on Corbusier’s “Box of Miracles”, Doshi reimagined the rectangular auditorium as separate from its shell. With his sound mathematical background, Raj devised 12 different options for the structural system; all were evaluated by calculating stresses, loads & material capacities to arrive at the ultimate design option.
The longer North & South facades were given the form of trapezoidal folds in reinforced concrete, 17m (56’) in height, expanding from a width of 1.15m (5’) at lintel level to 2.4m (8’) where the folds meet the roof. This intriguing form of the exterior shell begins at the foyer and continues along the length of the auditorium, terminating into a flat wall with horizontal strip windows that cover the stage & backstage areas.
A single fold after the flat surface & an external RCC staircase adds dynamism to the corner. Folded plate system is followed for the roof as well, which measures 33.5m (110’) wide & 2.4m (8’) deep. In the case of single-storied structures, large spans can be achieved easily with folded plate roofs. Services being located on the roof as a box, above the stage area, allows more usable floor area to be achieved for the performance & gathering spaces.
Doshi & Raj’s use of stairs on the exterior, as elements that break the monotony of the exterior façade, is one of the many instances in this project where we observe the flow of forces between structural components openly. There is no attempt to mask the building’s skeleton.
The Interior Connect
The drama created by the play of light & shadow on the exterior is translated inside, primarily in the foyer. The skin of the building is left exposed for us to see inversions of the folds. The West façade is a plain concrete wall punctured by strategically placed windows, fronted by a perforated concrete curtain that allows diffused light to brighten up the large foyer while providing respite from the heat in the form of an entrance porch. The lighting, volume & ambiance of the foyer makes it an ideal gathering hub, encouraging public–performer interaction.
The auditorium itself is independent of the exterior shell, its ‘seating bowl’ of 700 capacity protruding into the foyer. It is supported by columns that echo the exterior folds in their appearance, but at the same time, are unique in their design to transfer loads from the cantilevered seating structure. This bold decision to expose the raw structural forms is not uncommon in Doshi’s works – his skill in crafting such visions into aesthetic environments is what makes his designs comfortably habitable while staying true to their form.
Inside the auditorium, the absence of balcony seating is hardly noticeable owing to the bowl arrangement of seats offering proximity to the stage. These design choices are deliberate; nuances such as these are some of the ways Doshi is able to empower public behaviour through his designs. The original ceiling was covered with suspended acoustical clouds that gave the impression of being lost in space & allowed the audience to be completely immersed in a performance.
A renovation that included wall paintings, light & sound systems, sculpture installations, and an SS cutout of Tagore on the West exterior façade in 2013 resulted in the removal of the acoustical clouds, exposing the folded ones plate form above.
Not much has been written about The Tagore Hall, probably due to its being overshadowed by more well-known designs of B.V Doshi or the simplicity of its function. It may be just an auditorium, but it does much more than that—it brings people together as a community in a celebration of art & life. It exhibits Doshi’s core principles of approaching any design flexibly; with an open mind to exploring the site, climate, surroundings, and deriving the solution out of context.
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