Unlike conventional museums, JPN IC – its architecture and experience design – has not been envisioned as a mere repository of frozen moments of the past but with the intention of being a live and active participant in the contemporary dynamics of the historic city of Lucknow.
Located on a principal node of the city, it has been categorically positioned to be a game-changer, taking on the onus of inspiring the morphology of the urban fabric around it. More importantly, with the stakeholders having sensed intelligently, the criticality of preserving and continuing the practice of the timeless value systems espoused by socialism, it has been designed to lead by example and portray with the same simplicity and integrity, the journey of Jayaprakash Narayan, India’s most popular and authoritative proponent of this ideology.
If Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligence (in which he has established the legitimacy of a range of modalities differentiating intelligence vis-à-vis a single-ability dominated intelligence), is to be believed, the museum demonstrates it. Its design is a sensitive but bold and responsible response to cultural nuances, peoples’ expectations, brief and to the climatic context. It harnesses technology in a plethora of ways to mould values and shape society towards empowerment of the individual and the collective, in a dynamic manner-positively and almost spontaneously; this is the essence of intelligent architecture. The stark triangular building with a blank facade in terracotta astutely defines urban iconicity in the most allegoric yet clear manner.
The building is envisaged as a receptacle, not as a separate entity but as a part of the narrative itself-its architectural vocabulary reiterating JP and ‘in conversation’ with visitors; the spaces enclosed within say something about him and so do the elements of articulation such as the staircases and ramps, the columns and walls, the materials and the structure. By tacit arrangement between themselves, the building has been categorised into thematic zones namely- the zone of absorption, the zone of reflection, of internalisation and congregation. The boundaries between them are blurred and the design aptly creates a journey that transforms from an objective and observation oriented one to a subjective one of participation, involvement and introspection before coming a full circle.
Responding to the concept of multiple intelligences, the zone of absorption incorporates visual-spatial, musical logical, kinaesthetic and verbal-linguistic intelligences. The zone of reflection and internalisation is largely intrapersonal while that of the congregation has been envisaged as an interpersonal.
Despite the chartered sequence of events, visitors are encouraged to interpret the museum by choosing their own routes. The intended experience for visitors is meant to be a holistic, meaningful, subjective and dynamic episode of a certain length of time. During this, there is an apparent integration; a weaving together of sights, smells, sounds, thoughts, feelings, actions and emotions in such a way that the episode is stored in their memory to be remembered, relived and narrated to others.
The physical navigation of space is such that it makes the exhibits dynamic; the kinetics of a straight or meandering, leisurely or abrupt, fast or slow-movement means a constant shifting of the relationship to contexts created by the exhibits. The employment of various versions of events and circumstances through a diversity of mediums serves a dual purpose; it helps to retain the interest in a theme and keeps it open for interpretation as well. The narratives are to do with the everyday reality of ordinary people whose time, space and life-experience at some point merges with that of the narrative.
Natural light is designed to express that it is not easy to come by; but at the same time, allowed to exercise leverage and make its presence felt, understood and valued. With an introverted character required of the institution, the facades have been designed as blank walls on the exterior. However, once inside, its tonality is most appropriate for the visual spread and to enlighten the minds absorbing it. The tonality matches the mood of the space. Therefore, while informative spaces are dimly lit, contemplative spaces are washed in muted light to create an ethereal ‘lightness of being.’ Modulated light also empowers continuously inhabited spaces to ‘be cool by nature’ and incidentally to climatically sort themselves out. Sunken courtyards usher in light in the lowest level,but only after reining in its harshness. Similarly, light wells all along the steps of congregation bring in diffused light- light that has been stripped of its intensity and harshness, to the provide relief to the spaces beneath. Also, contrary to the expansive blank walls implying a sense of constricting ventilation, large slits along the entire stretch of the steps of congregation bring in the required light and ventilation to the volumes beneath it and across floors.
The pavilion sits in a body of water in the sunken courtyards. Apart from imparting a surreal character and literally and metaphorically courting the aesthetics of reflection, water has been used as a landscape element from an ecological point of view as well; it is a simple and passive means of cooling air; the air cooled as a result of contact with water rises and ventilates the spaces environment without much ado.
The presence of a ‘skin’ as opposed to a facade means that the building sports a layered outer covering. The custom-designed terracotta tiles are dry-clad with an air-gap between this layer and the true wall. This space filled with rock wool offers a measurable degree of thermal and sound insulation. Further, the terracotta tiles being perforated, allow for air flow and ventilation.
The austere expression of materials sub-consciously echoes the honest and unpretentious character of JP. Pitted against this is the grandeur of the form, which makes a bold architectural impression that is absolutely imperative and intentional- meant to push people towards questioning fundamentals and towards brave expressions in the pursuit of change. Since the building is itself sculptural in nature, it seemed best to construct in concrete. With strength being its middle name, it makes the larger than life dimensions easily realisable, but also moulds itself to permit flexibility to the schema housed within. The institution commands a contemporary reading of its presence. However, its terracotta cladding throws light on its desire to cohabit- it’s warm, earthy and deep texture is very indigenous. Granite also reiterates the grounded and strong personality. The material choice conveys a certain timelessness and ease of maintenance, both elements much needed for a public space of this nature.
Apart from experiencing the various installations, many of which are wireless, that are built on sensors that set of multiple triggers as movement, audio, visuals etc, the idea is to interact with visitors and transform the virtual into the real through mechanisms as pepper ghosts, holograms and 3d projections. The kinetic sculpture, the ‘Thali Bajao’, the sound sculpture are techno-savvy but designed to make even the illiterate visitor absorb its meaning.
Archohm is a Noida based versatile reputed architecture and design studio. Its portfolio now spans across a diversity of sectors that include large public, social, educational, religious and cultural institutions. The studio’s philosophy of cross cultural dialogues and the need to constantly evolve enables it to collaborate with relevant international architecture and design firms for selected projects.