Bombay Arts Society is the only public building to be opened up in Mumbai in recent times. The project conceived as a space that will solely be dedicated to the arts and art community, faced its biggest challenge in getting the building to reflect from outside what it holds on the inside. Mumbai based architect Sanjay Puri of Sanjay Puri Architects set about the challenge with an idea to maximize the small 1,300sqm plot, as also create a fully fluid area to fit the society’s requirements.
Established nearly 122 years ago, the Bombay Art Society is based in Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai and has been serving art and artists ever since. The decision to have a centre for artists that was easily accessible from the Mumbai suburbs was made a few years back and that is when the plans for the new building near the Bandra-Worli Sea Link were made so as to be easily accessible by art lovers. Within an extremely small plot, a mixed use building programme based on the client’s needs had to be adhered to. Three art gallery spaces, a small auditorium for lectures and talks, a cafeteria and artists rooms had to be planned within 1000sqm and another 1000sqm of office spaces were to be provided, each with separate entrances.
The Bombay Arts Society building resembling a cubist sculpture has won Popular Choice Award in The Cultural Art galleries category at Architizer A+ Awards 2014 in New York.
Three lower levels encased in an undulating concrete form house galleries and their allied functions thus, patrons tour the museum, moving fluidly through an occupiable figurine. This seamless transition between vertical and horizontal surfaces inside the building continues on the exterior as well. Slightly detached from the public realm below, a four-storey volume above contains the arts society’s administrative offices. A separate rear entrance leads up to the sea-facing, floor-to-ceiling glass encased official section of the building. Physically separated programmatic zones acting as two distinct set of spaces are united in their materiality with gentle curving tectonics. In contrast to the subtle openings below, the upper mass is punctuated with a large glass facade that is angled to frame views of the sea.
The building’s shape comes from the puzzle-like arrangement of the spaces. The entrance is at ground level, and to the right is the large, interior spiral staircase to the galleries. On the left is a staircase with small, amoeba-shaped windows that allow just a small amount of southern light in as they work their way up to the offices.
The building stands out in its landscape not as a deliberate statement of eccentricity, but more as an example of sublime approach towards both form and substance. To create an illusion of space, Puri had to use a wire mesh for the structure of the building as well as floating columns, so there are no straight beams that run directly from the top to the bottom of the building. The idea was to allow one space to flow into another. Which is why the building has no corners. Fluid forms enmeshed together, emerge from each other in parts to constitute this small building. Free flowing spaces across the three lower levels has walls curving into roofs homogenously. The fluidity of form is seen externally with a concrete skin encapsulating spaces. This undulating of horizontal and vertical planes is carried through to the interior volumes making the entire experience as that of moving through a sculpture. Thus, within this small 1300 sq.mt plot two distinct set of spaces are created, each with its own discernible identity and yet enmeshed together to create a uniquely sculptural building.
The project was challenging at many levels. Firstly, the allotted space was restricted and within this, two individualistic wings of completely different purposes had to be built. Taking inspiration from the artistic character of the building’s purpose, the architect decided to construct a concrete shell that strides beyond the given architectural references and becomes a giant sculpture in itself. With its unusual extra-terrestrial shape and form, the Bombay Arts Society building is bound to demand attention and curiosity, but remarkably, it still manages to look just about as quirky as the city setting can absorb without undue levels of shock.
The architect carves out two distinct chunks of spaces – arts & administrative, in perfect harmony within one mould. Undeterred by the space limitation, Sanjay Puri continued to think in unconventional terms, envisioning vertically when horizontal scope was limited. The result was a creatively stimulating, comfortably inter-connected centre of arts that is able to achieve the objective of his clients.
Secondly, the emphasis on “fluidity” and its complex program to project the function of the building as an art centre led to the formation of an interesting shape but it also caused the building to become technologically challenging. The building required three separate structural grids that shift in the middle of the building. Consultants proved to be out of the client’s budget, so the architects were forced to do everything in-house. This included taking around 250 sections through the building, one at every 12 inches. The building form is covered in Ferrocement, a relatively cheap solution for difficult surfaces. A metal mesh is formed, and the concrete is then poured around it, a simple and affordable solution that kept the cost down.
Bombay Arts Society building is an example of how architecture using technology can achieve artistic results within modest budgets. The unique and contemporary building reflects the organization and showcases just how much Indian art has progressed.