Mill Owner’s Association
Mill Owner’s Association

The Mill Owner’s Association Building, also known as the Ahmedabad Textile Mill Owners Association House (ATMA House), is Ahmedabad’s first modernist building. It is the headquarters of the Textile Mill Owners’ Association and is located on the western banks of the Sabarmati River. It was designed by Le Corbusier, a well-known Swiss-French architect. The architect is perhaps best known for designing the city of Chandigarh. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru invited him to India in the 1950s to design Chandigarh as a “symbol of India’s freedom, unfettered by the traditions of the past.”

Mill Owner’s Association: First Modernist Building of Ahmedabad
Front Façade of Mill Owner’s Association

Advent of Le Corbusier to Ahmebabad

Ahmedabad, along with Chandigarh, is one of the cities in India to house more than three projects by the most influential architect of the twentieth century. During his first visit to India in 1951, Le Corbusier paid a brief visit to Ahmedabad. Chimulal Chimanlal, the mayor, invited him to the city. He has been tasked with designing two private residences, Villa Shodhan and Villa Sarabhai, as well as a cultural center, Sanskar Kendra. Surottam Hutheesing, then president of the Ahmedabad Mill Owners’ Association, also tasked him with designing the Mill Owner Association Building. The building, which had completed in 1954, is an example of Brutalist architecture.

Mill Owner’s Association: First Modernist Building of Ahmedabad
bare building material

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Background

Previously, Ahmedabad’s economy had driven mainly by trade and industries, influenced by Gandhi’s Swadeshi Movement. Ranchhodlal Chhotalal established the first textile mill in Ahmedabad in 1861, and the city’s textile industry grew exponentially after that. Four names stood out during Corbusier’s visit to Ahmedabad: Kasturbhai Lalbhai, Chinubhai Chamanbhai, Surottam Hutheesing, and Gautam Sarabhai. All of them were the city’s business elite; and the majority of them belonged to Jain families and were close, which helped their business.

As a result, the architect designed the Mill Owner’s Association with its cohesive and collaborative nature in mind. It was supposed to be a gathering place for people whose personal and professional lives were intertwined, and it had to be suitable for various gatherings and events. Two years after the completion of his Villa Cook in Paris, Corbusier published Une Maison – Un Palais (1928), in which he outlined his ideas for bridging the public-private divide.

As Ahmedabad’s textile industries were booming in the 1950s, bringing economic prosperity and political influence to the city. The city’s businessmen valued art and hoped to transform the city into a vibrant cultural center. Mill Owners Association was thus created to represent the textile association’s prosperity and status. The site is a trapezoidal plot the building is located along the bank of the Sabarmati River to the east and Ashram Road to the west. It surrounded by plenty of open space, allowing the architect to design a building that is distinct from the existing urban fabric.

Concept of Mill Owner’s Association

Mills Owners Association was inspired by the architect’s previous work, Villa Cook. However, he drew inspiration from vernacular architecture to respond to the Indian climate, such as incorporating deep reveals, overhanging ledges, shade screens, and pillared halls. He created the ‘Brises-soliel’ architectural device to block the harsh sun from penetrating the interior and to respond to the local climatic conditions. The openings were also created to frame views of the nearby Sabarmati river. According to the Architect, “The situation of the building in a garden dominating the river furnishes picturesque spectacle of cloth dyers washing and drying their cotton materials on the sand bed in the company of herons, cows, buffalo, and donkeys half immersed in the water to keep cool. Such a panorama was aninvitation…to frame views from each floor of the building.”

Shading and circulation were two important goals in the building’s design. The shape of the building was another important consideration. Within a nearly square plan, it represented a dense contrast between the structural grid, curved walls, diagonal planes, and horizontal slabs.

Brises Soliel

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Corbusier’s Five Points of Architecture

The Mill Owners Association building regarded as the epitome of Le Corbusier’s architectural ideas. Furthermore, it is regarded as his masterpiece. There are five points that dictate an architect’s style of design, all of which can be seen in this building. They are as follows:

1. Raised Structure

The ground floor of the building has supporting walls to the north and south, as well as a grid of concrete columns to bear structural loads and serve as the foundation for new aesthetics. The building’s main entrance is taken to the first floor. Hence, the ground floor remains comparatively free.

Mill Owner’s Association: First Modernist Building of Ahmedabad
Columns on the ground floor

2. A free façade

The facade is free of structural pilotis, but unlike his previous work in this building, it extends all the way to the ground, hiding the cylindrical columns. As a result, the building’s façade is separated from its structural members, freeing it from traditional structural constraints.

Free Facade

3. Open Floor Plan of Mill Owner’s Association

The ground floor has raised on free-standing columns with no supporting walls, allowing for unrestricted internal use. The architect was able to create a free layout due to the frame construction. The load-bearing functions transferred from the walls to the frame, allowing partitions on different floors to arrange in various ways. As a result, the location of the wall determined solely by the space’s functional purpose.

Mill Owner’s Association: First Modernist Building of Ahmedabad
Model showing the free layout of the Ground Floor

4. Horizontal windows         

Because there were no load-bearing walls in the building, windows of any size could be installed. Large openings on the east and west facades, increase the sense of space and light inside the space.

Horizontal Windows

5. Rooftop Garden

Corbusier uses the roof as a recreational space to bring nature into the building. It has a built-in seating area and planting elements, making the evening at ATMA House more enjoyable.

Also, Read Sanctuary for Modern Architecture – Villa Savoye, France

Facade of Mill Owner’s Association

The façade facing the city and river receives more attention. The other two sides are left blank. It is possible due to the fact that neighboring buildings are very close. On the western façade, the brises-Soliel had oriented diagonally. This also helps in obstructing views from the street, while letting air and indirect sunlight in. While those at the back are perpendicular, allowing the river breeze to flow freely through the shaded perimeter. Plants spilling out of the porous west and east facades activate the exposed concrete and add to the roof garden. Brises-Soliel also serves as a transition from the outside to the inside. The façade is also a separate concrete reinforced structure connected at the top by the roof.

Mill Owner’s Association: First Modernist Building of Ahmedabad
West Façade – Brises Soliel obstructing the view from outside
East Facade – Façade opening up towards the river

Circulation

The circulation is laid out in the form of a promenade. The building’s main circulation spine runs along an elevated ramp, that starts from the parking lot to the main entrance on the first floor. Furthermore, the triple-height entrance space used to represent the entrance as an approach to the monument. The circulation path in the building is a beautiful route with views of the river, the lounge, the assembly room, and finally the roof garden. Two elevators and a staircase abutting the main facade, in addition to the ramp, connect all levels of the building to the roof garden.

Mill Owner’s Association: First Modernist Building of Ahmedabad
Ramp

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Structure of Mill Owner’s Association

The structure, made of a rigid frame with shearing walls. Because there were no columns at the end of the span, the shearing walls were used as columns. The highly disciplined structure oriented in the direction of the prevailing wind. The brises-soliel used on the façade also precisely calculated based on Ahmedabad’s latitude and the direction of the sun. The assembly hall made up of two thin brick walls with wood paneling. Lastly, the vertical tapestries are suspended from the ceiling for acoustical reasons.

Mill Owner’s Association: First Modernist Building of Ahmedabad
the shearing wall at the end of the span
Part section showing the curvilinear roof

Design

There is no clear demarcation for the rooms once you enter the triple heightened entrance space. To lead one through the interior spaces of the building, height difference, play of volumes in light and shadow, and change in orientation used. Further, different volumes used to manipulate the interior spaces.

Mill Owner’s Association: First Modernist Building of Ahmedabad
Floor Plan – First Floor, Second Floor, Mezzanine Floor (From Left to Right)

An executive office and a board room are located on the first floor. The ground floor contains clerks’ workspace and a canteen at the back. On the second floor, the lobby designed as an open space with harsh and angular forms. The auditorium, on the other hand, has a soft, curvilinear shape. It is a huge space that has a significant impact on the people who come in. The curved roof of the auditorium rises steeply to the outer walls, where the massive glass window is located. Inside this vast space, it is dark.

To create a surreal atmosphere, Corbusier brilliantly allows light to diffuse and simmer through the face of this curved ceiling. The vast cavernous space is reminiscent of Corbusier’s Ronchamp Cathedral. The auditorium’s curved walls are finished in teak, giving it a luxurious feel. This is one of those places where you can feel the power of architecture – the power of space, the importance of volumes, and the play of light and shadow

A free-standing staircase leads up to the mezzanine floor. The landing of the staircase is hanging in the air, without any support from walls or columns. This is a feat of structural brilliance. To add contrast to the exposed concrete of the building, a few elements had made of wood and steel painted in bright colors.

Auditorium
Mill Owner’s Association: First Modernist Building of Ahmedabad
Entrance

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