When classical dancer Methil Devika wanted to build a dance academy that would be a space not just for Learning Dance – but also be thriving and a common space for people from the arts background and allied fields, Architect Vinod Kumar M M of Dd Architects from Kerala was ecstatic. From this combination of the passion for dance and the relationship between Architecture and dance was born the Sreepada Dance Kalari in Ramanathapuram, Palakkad.
Methil Devika wanted a space that would give the necessary creative energy to conceive new dance productions and would also pay reverence to the traditional texts of Natyasastra. The space would have to be a thriving and common platform for artists. As an architect, Vinod has always been excited about the relation between Architecture and dance. For him – just like an architect crafts a building with forms and materials, the dancer creates space through his/her body/mudras. The relation between the human body and the enclosed space has been a topic of interest and this project provided an opportunity to practice the ideas that he had nurtured in his mind.
For him, architectural structures are living spaces if done with interest and the right attitude. The architectural team treated the Sreepada Dance Kalari structure with utmost respect. They played music during the foundation stone laying and later during the inauguration, the teacher and her students performed with the sun’s rays falling on them through the central skylight. That ceremony was a celebration of form, structure and life all around – something that is often missed or forgotten in the architecture of today.The structure which was completed in 2011 took over 10 months to complete and gave the design team the confidence that even within tight budgets, interesting, innovative structures could be created.
As per the Indian concept, a temple is considered to be living and representing the Human body. The designs of all Koothambalams of Kerala temples are based on these concepts and are constructed according to the guidelines given in the Nātyasāstra of Bharata Muni. Sreepada is an attempt in the modern times to create such a contemporary temple for the practice of Dance.
Since the Dancer through his/her body relates with the audience and outer space, care has been taken to design an eco friendly structure where one can relate with the Sun, rain and the breeze within the kalari.
Thus on a normal day with the movement of the Sun, changing moods are created with the changing patterns of light and shade within the space. With music and dances performances added, the space comes alive.
The way an architect crafts a building with forms and materials, the dancer, creates space through mudras. The relation between the human body and the enclosed space has been an interesting topic for me. – Vinod Kumar
During the rains the structure takes on a life of its own with the sound and smells of the rains in the courtyard. The design element is seen even in the chilankas (ghungroos) that the team used for detailing in the doors and also in the general branding/signage and the lighting fixtures.
The entry at the road level is marked with a small entrance gate which has stone lamps, as seen at temple entrances. A changing room was made near the entry from where the site descends down to the dance hall. Within that is a small stage for practice which actually is the foundation of an old house which was on site. The natural levels were kept as they were and thus from the road level till the paddy fields behind the dance hall, it is a natural descend. The architectural team retained/strengthened the foundation, so that it could be a space for having future additions.
As one enters the structure, there is a small entry court filled with pebbles and then a practice hall. There is a door in the east which has a symbolic ‘sreepada’ in brass on the floor. Towards the south of the structure is a small open space for students to relax after practice sessions. Flower bearing trees which add fragrance to the dancing space have been planted in the open space.
Daylighting is mostly done through three small courtyards within the hall and also through a central skylight. This creates interesting changing patterns of light and shade throughout the day.
As the levels of the site which follow the natural flow of water are maintained, there is a natural stepwise levelling from the road to the paddy field even after the project got completed. There is a level difference of around 150cms from north to south. The architect has used basic sustainable materials like brick, stone, bamboo and terracotta tiles for construction. Treated bamboo which were sourced from Wayanad in Kerala were used for jallis while stone and bricks were sourced locally. Terracotta, both flooring and roof tiles were sourced from nearby districts.
Most of the work has been done through local workers. Stone craftsmen who did the Dharmachakra carving in the entrance lintel were brought from Tamilnadu. Local fabricators made the roof structure and proved to be efficient and accurate in their works. The Kerala mural paintings on all the four sides were made as per the Natyasastra texts and were made by a young mural artist called Prabeesh. Infact ever since its formation in 2002, Dd Architects has been striving to develop a contemporary vocabulary suited for the Kerala context inspired from the rich tradition. The firm also work towards the revival of the local craft related to the building industry.
Since the site is in two levels – the entry at the road level and the Kalari at the paddy field level there were immense possibilities for landscaping. Shade grass, pebbles for courts, stone paths, fragrant flowering trees have been used throughout the landscape to give the site a very ‘close to nature’ feel. Most of the existing trees were retained and maintained. The project has the distinction of being awarded the Kerala State Gold Leaf award by the Kerala chapter of Indian Institute of Architects.
Methil Devika is a recipient of the National honours like Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar 2007 from the Kendra Sangeet Natak Akademy and the Devadasi National Award from the Government of Orissa 2010 for her proficiency in the performance and academic practice of Mohiniyattam.