Institute of Indology: Incorporating Indian Traditional Elements in Modernism

Institute of Indology

Ar. Balkrishna Doshi is an architect of the institute of Indology and it was constructed in 1962. It is also one of his initial projects. It is located in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India. The building follows the modern style of architecture. The design of the building was inspired by Kurashiki Town Hall by Ar Kenzo Tange. 

“The Institute of Indology was designed to house ancient manuscripts, a research center, and eventually, a museum. All the elements one finds in Indian buildings are present [here]. I had studied a Jain upashray, a home for monks before I designed it.”

B.V. Doshi

Concept & Design

During conceptualization, the imagination of the building was a floating ship. So, the architect designed the form as such that the building can be seen floating. He provided moats on the periphery of the building. Also, he placed the building in the center which gives the visual effect of it as a floating building. But the idea of providing the moat was more than the visual effect of it.

Courtesy VSF; The Pritzker Architecture Prize
Institute of Indology: Incorporating Indian Traditional Elements in Modernism
Courtesy VSF; The Pritzker Architecture Prize

The purpose of this building is to store and preserve ancient manuscripts and artifacts. So, the architect proposed a semi-basement. The basement has natural light and ventilation available. The moat in the periphery contains water to balance the humidity level. And to gain light and cross ventilation, the building is the orientation of the building is on the north-south axis. There are steps at the entrance. They lead to a pause. From there one can have a view of the moat. And then the steps lead to the ground floor. The ground floor houses administration facilities. Because of the semi-basement, the ground floor is on a high plinth. The projection of the first floor is wider than the usual shade. So that creates semi-open spaces on the ground floor. These projections work as peripheral balconies or veranda on the first floor.

Materials & Construction

The construction material in the building is concrete. Concrete gives it a characteristic of modern architecture. But at the same time, the use of spaces like Varanda and double/split columns makes it look traditional. Here, the utilization of concrete is in two different ways. One is cast on-site and another is precast. At the time when it was built, concrete was new material in India. It was a challenge to build with labors and technology which was not engineered for concrete. On-site casted concrete gives the mass to the building and a modern look also. But precast concrete members make the building look lighter. Precast concrete members are playing the role of wood here, which is a traditional Indian material

Also read: The Dancing House by Frank Gehry and Vlado Milunić
Institute of Indology: Incorporating Indian Traditional Elements in Modernism
Institute of Indology: Incorporating Indian Traditional Elements in Modernism

As we see here in the interior of the building, the structure is built of precast concrete. Instead of putting a massive column, the architect has put an I-section of precast concrete. So, it has a gap on both the shorter sides. That gap eliminates the massive appearance.  Though it is made of concrete, it has the traditional essence. Because the precast concrete is used as wooden members. The use of concrete, at that time, was progress and a step towards modernity. Here, both structural and cladding material is concrete. Also, there was a depreciation in the number of laborers. It was because of the use of both precast concrete and on-site concrete. The architect developed the method of using precast concrete with fluid concrete. He made it familiar for local laborers to understand the connections and joineries.

Institute of Indology: Incorporating Indian Traditional Elements in Modernism
Sections of Institute of Indology

The entrance staircase divides the building facade. On the periphery and at different spaces, sitting as well as parapets are available. They are made of precast members and they are joined in a way that one can identify each individual member. Every joinery is made with a grove in it to maintain the individuality of the material

Built & Open

On the backside of the front building, there is a huge open to sky space. A bridge runs through the open space and connects the first building to the second. From the bridge, one can see both sides where informal sitting is available. This open space faces the heat from the south sun but also draws the southwest wind inside. It also provides undisturbed wind circulation in the public spaces of the building. This second part of the building was added later on to house additional offices and exhibition spaces. Also, the building has a language of circulation in the surrounding or peripheral spaces. It allows the maximum use of indoor space and gives a buffer (Varanda) between indoor and outdoor. These verandas are the traditional transition spaces.

Built/open in Institute of Indology

Circulation & Transition

The building has a very smooth transition. Hallways connect to semi-open circulation spaces and they end up in the large open space. Because of this, one does not realize coming out of the building. Also by giving a higher plinth to the ground floor, the architect makes users enter from almost a half-story above. It also allows the semi-basement to have natural light and ventilation as well as natural cooling from the earth. During the construction of this building, Air conditions were not common. So, it was a challenge to create such an environment for the perseverance of the manuscripts.

Institute of Indology: Incorporating Indian Traditional Elements in Modernism
Passage in Institute of Indology

Conclusion 

There were so many tasks before the institute of Indology got designed. Such as Integrating Jain architecture, introducing concrete as the modern material, adding the Indian traditional values to the spaces, considering the climatic requirements and the functional requirement of providing such an environment to store and preserve the ancient manuscripts. Ar. B. V. Doshi greatly answered this challenge and gave an architecture piece that shows the difference between adopting and adapting.

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