Harmony is a state of coexistence, it is achieved when two or more entities complement each other and enhance one another’s effects. It is ubiquitous, but when things are in perfect harmony, we rarely give a second thought to the disparate elements at play. The link between art and architecture is too often forgotten, as an example of a harmonious relationship. The generalization of the relationship, many people assume that in any given case, architecture provides structure to a built environment and that art is decorative. This is a reasonable assumption, given the minimal amount of time most of us spend contemplating our environs daily. But what if we stopped and took a closer look? The thin line between Art and Architecture is a complex association that many may consider easy to grasp. However, this is the source of an ongoing architectural debate that is yet to yield precise and conclusive results. To an extent, an architect is an artist within the scope of the built environments. Because this scope is constantly expanding, it is problematic to assume that architecture is in a league of its own. Architects argue whether the two go hand in hand, thus raising questions like what kind of form does function produce? How can we design a building whose meaning is readable?
In 1994, the two legendary creative minds of the country fused their energies to birth the most unexpected space that offers the users to experience art and architecture, quite literally. The structure houses an art gallery, designed by Ar. B.V.Doshi, positioned in Ahmadabad that depicts the works of the famous Indian painter named M.F.Husain. Together they planned an underground structure intending to search the uncommon; meant raising the fundamental question – what is the meaning of functions, space, and technology amidst the structure and form, while also the structure shall withstand the area’s severe summer heat.
It would be disrespectful to the two minds if one expects a boxed underground space holding Husain’s artworks. When a most-celebrated Indian artist executes bold, vibrantly colored modern paintings in a modified Cubist style, the architecture housing the art couldn’t be just straight walls of the cube. BV Doshi lacked no awareness of what were the latest trends in the mid-1990s. In response to the benefits of interred spaces, its form and space animate the mysteries of light and reminiscence. Looking something like a giant bubble caterpillar, this unusual architectural style has the brilliant official name of Modern Blobitecture. Mysterious in its spatial experience the form of Gufa is a direct translation of climatic and constructional requirements. Buried spaces, earth mounds, raised volumes and china mosaic finished renders the architectural energy sensibly in an otherwise harsh and dry climate. This cave-like structure is a continuous form like the natural sag of cloth with its roof of interconnected domes made from a thin wire mesh covered in only one-inch thick Ferro-cement. The domed roof inspired by the tortoise-shell is covered with small white mosaic tiles and a pattern of black mosaic tiles on the shells represents the mythological snake. The entire design is made up of circles and ellipses. It was constructed using computer-aided design and tribal initiative, adding a new dimension to viewing art.
Holding onto the roots of Indianism, it is quite evident that the artist and the architect were inspired by Ajanta and Ellora caves. Giving not only the form but the experience of modern art in a cave the structure; it responds like any other cave – hot and humid. A partially hidden staircase leads to a circular door that opens into an ancient cave with modern art on the walls. The space transformed and became a living organism and socio-cultural center due to its unusual combination of intriguing form and local craft materials. When one enters, irregular tree-columns inclined at varied angles supporting the domes are witnessed. Opposite the entrance is a glass wall with Husain’s art again for the natural light. The theatrical light arrives through snouts, creating spots of light on the floor which move around as the day progresses, intended to make a mystic atmosphere. Ironically, the smallish “Zen café” just outside the entrance of the cave enjoys more traffic and popularity today.
Set against the blue skies and lush green trees in the background, this is a fine example for the passionate architects in terms of cutting material and labor cost and thinking out of the box, and for the artists and art admirers a unique experiential walk with art. The journey through the cave takes less than a quarter of a minute. But it is eons away. There is a timelessness about the interior, a feeling of being suspended somewhere between reality and dream. While the Gufa has been the result of a kind of a jugalbandi (duet) between Doshi and Husain, their perceptions differ. While for Doshi, the cave is a part of the personal, quasi-spiritual quest, for Husain, it signifies the place man began and is thus a chapel to honor man and art. So, the next time you find yourself in Ahmadabad, make sure to question yourself – is the space representing a unique juxtaposition of art and architecture trying to portray a deeper meaning to you, or is it just a marvel of contemporary architecture as a fusion of modern and ancient ideas?