Title of the project: National Centre for Performing Arts.
Location: Varkala, Kerala, India.
Name of the student: Sanchari Majumdar
Name of the Thesis Guide: Prof. Kanika Bansal
Name of Thesis Experts: Ar. Amarjit Singh Sodhi and Ar. Vijay Uppal
Name of the Graduating school: Chitkara school of planning and architecture, Chitkara University.
Year of graduation: 2020
“What you do today, can improve all your tomorrows” – Ralph Marston
India is a land of diverse culture, traditions, languages, and artforms. Each artform has its own significance that represents the style of a specific region, culture and history. As a nation it has a variety of arts, which majorly includes painting, sculptures, pottery, performing arts which further consists of a vast variety in itself. These cultures, artforms are never considered something which is apart from our lives, or just a mere source of entertainment but they are the intrinsic part of one’s life, its routine which serves as a major link between our past and present. Among all of these arts, some of them has successfully gained recognition with time whereas, some are still struggling – performing arts being one of those lesser known arts forms in the country.
This project has been envisioned by the state developing authority of Kerala after realising the need to develop Varkala as a cultural hub and to promote the artforms of Kerala and other parts of the nation as well which are slowly dying out with time. It has been observed in the recent time that, advancement in the lifestyles and mindset of people have fortunately gave birth to new artforms and styles but at the same time it’s very unfortunate that slowly people are forgetting about their age-old styles, values associated and to a grief, more than half of the modern generation aren’t even aware about these. Promoting these artforms and educating students, or spectators from all around the globe about these almost vanishing artforms needs infrastructure which should be much rich in itself further creating a good learning atmosphere.
With its main objective that is to promote a teaching, learning and practicing atmosphere which will not only help the students to learn better but also impart knowledge to the visitors regarding various aspects of an artform and tradition/ritual associated with it and also fetch recognition to the artist along with the art, the other concern of the project is to revive the age-old artforms like Theyyam, Mudiyettu, Padayani and more which once altogether were a part of the cultural backbone of Kerala.
Further to elaborate more, the project does not only focus on institutional areas where the major functions include classrooms for teaching the major domains of performing arts, and supporting areas related to it but, it also focusses on showcasing and exhibiting these artforms and culture related to them to the general public through museums, exhibition galleries, performance areas, etc. It has been proposed in Varkala, a coastal town in Kerala. The place is also termed as Dakshin kashi (Benares of south) because of the 2,018 years old temple situated here on the shores of Varkala beach (paapnasam beach).
The project has high potential in terms of cultural values and related architectural components. Varkala having the potential of being culturally rich, it has magnificent surroundings, scenic beauties, but besides this it is also a tourist hub and will serve as a major tourist attraction centre in the coming years also. So, it has a vast scope to educate people from all around the globe about the dying arts of Kerala, their significance, skills, along-with the culture and artforms performed and practiced in other parts of India, as well. The town of Varkala in total never becomes dead, not only the people of Kerala, but people from other parts of the world also visit to admire the beauty of this place, so the proposed project will always have visitors who would be the target audience of the project and would always keep its essence of imparting the knowledge alive.
The site selected is in close proximity to the major transit modes like railway station, helipad which gives an easy and close access to it.
AREAS OF STUDY
The uniqueness of this project lies in the various setup that are typically required to perform these traditional artforms of Kerala, unlike other artforms, these are much rigid in their character and also follow the required arrangements in which these are generally being performed or showcased to the visitor. These artforms have certain elements that are important to study before designing various built spaces of the project. And only after a careful introspection of these artforms, several performing spaces, setup involved have been identified and designed. Structures like Koothambalam also known as the temple theatre, Kalari plays a vital role in the training and execution of these performing arts.
Few of the artforms like:
Theyyam: Theyyam is the popular ritual art form of Kerala. Man assumes the form of God and dances propitiating and appeasing them There is no stage or curtain or other such arrangements for the performance. The devotees would be standing or some of them would be sitting on a sacred tree in front of the shrine. In short, it is an open theater.
Mudiyettu: Mudiyettu is a ritual art form performed to appease Goddess Kali (called Durga, in many other places) prevalent in South Kerala and Kochi and rarely in central Kerala There is no stage or curtain or other such arrangements for the performance. The devotees would be standing or some of them would be sitting on a sacred tree in front of the shrine. In short, it is an open theater.
Kutiyattam: The ancient Sanskrit theatrical art form of the state, Kutiyattam is Kerala’s distinctive stage interpretation of the very early Sanskrit drama as dance drama. It is usually performed only in temple theaters known as Koothambalam.
Panchavadyam: It is an orchestra typical of Kerala. It consists of five instruments: kombu, edakka, thimila, ilathalam and maddalam (pancha – five, vadyam – orchestra) Panchavadyam is played during temple festivals like pooram, vela etc. It does not have any specific stage requirement, can be performed on a conventional stage, in open and in temple courtyards also.
Special performance spaces identified based on the study of artforms:
Koothambalam or Kuttampalam meaning temple theatre is a closed hall for staging Koothu, Nangiar koothu and Koodiyattam, kathakali, the ancient ritualistic art forms of Kerala, India. Koothambalam, is an integral part of Kerala temple the size of which depends upon the temple.
Kalari is a special type of class room that is used for teaching the martial artform “Kalaripayattu”, which is a dug semi open space. Generally, it is dug 4ft below the ground (42ft x 20ft) having walls on four sides, 5ft high. Besides this, several prototype studies based on their functions were chosen in order to give a better frame to the project, other than this intricate study of Kerala, its architecture, its culture and lifestyle of the people was
also a part that helped in reaching to a conclusion of the design process. Keeping in mind the various arrangements needed for these artforms, the spatial arrangement was done. But before this, it was more necessary to study and understand the site circumstances and what actually was needed and could be incorporated in site. Several design decisions like the gentle slope of the site is used for the water runoff, the major visual axis is used for connectivity of various vistas unfolding one after another. Also. region specific architecture has been chosen because it helps in promoting the strong form of architecture of that place, also makes it easier for construction and reduces the embodied energy of the project.
CONCEPT DEVELOPMENT OF THE PROJECT
After the careful study of various performance spaces and their spatial requirements, the vernacular architecture of Kerala, it was important to study the activity pattern of a common man in a single day over there along with the listing of the spatial needs and elements to carry out such activities. Not only this but besides, activity pattern and various spatial needs of performing artists and students pursuing such courses were also given importance. Amalgamating all the information gathered, requirements listed and spatial elements that came out from the analysis, the design concept was begun with a foremost thought to develop it as a series of spaces interconnected functionally which would reflect not only the architecture or art of Kerala but also reflect the lifestyle, routine of people over there.
With this, the basic and only concept, the project has been developed as an experiential flow between performing, teaching areas along with the staying places. The idea is not just to put all the functions in this 12-acres site but to make it a journey for one who visits the campus. The empty site has been analysed under the categories of active and dead zones, and based on this analysis the existing threats have been considered into challenging opportunities and converted into the strengths of the project. The complete site has been divided into three pockets – public, semi-public and private which further houses the performing areas for general visitors and artists, teaching areas where students can learn these artforms and residential areas where artists, staff and students could stay together and learn together.
Respecting the linearity of the site, and identifying few visual axes, the blocking has been done in a way which would not hinder the overall visual connect of the site from one point to other. Here, the sense of enclosure and proximity of one block to another has been carefully considered so that at one point, one does not feel confined and also does not get lost in this entire complex of 12 acres.
A slight shift in the straight axis has created a sense of drama and curiosity which gives a glimpse of the next upcoming experience of the site but does not give the complete picture in just one go. Therefore, the site slowly unfolds itself as one moves from one point to other, covering one pocket to another. These areas of changing of pockets have been treated by converting them into interesting and interaction transitional nodes. And somehow the overall picture of site gives an idea that it is a combination of several smaller and bigger nodes connecting indoors without outdoors.
Also giving importance to the natural balance, optimization in existing resources have been done, The dense vegetation have been utilized and incorporated into the design as a part of landscape and also converting few of them into informal interactive areas have helped in bringing out a better design for the project and also have helped in retaining more and more the existing trees of the site.
Each block has been planned and designed keeping in mind the traditional forms of Kerala, with a concept of an inward-looking space rather that outward. ‘Nalukettu’ a famous housing typology of Kerala, was the inspiration for the form development which further was utilized on macro level for the site and micro level in each block, making it a visual play of macro and micro courtyards, which further helps in maintaining the continuous flow of wind throughout the building, inside and outside. Also, several outdoor activity areas have been provided which serves as interaction zones, and also helps in extending the boundaries of teaching and learning beyond the four walls of the classrooms.
To make the built and non-built areas climate responsive, this project has several architectural adaptions to deal with the climate of that area. Factors like rainfall, humidity, harsh sun rays have also helped in shaping the project and its form. The north-south blocking protects in reducing the solar heat gain in the buildings, larger overhangs, covered corridors helps in giving protection against the rain splashes. Also, utilizing the natural slope of the site, the surface runoff has been treated. The rainwater is partially being utilized by the rear side vegetation and also it is partially channelized towards the catchment zone through a planned RWH system that further can help in recharging the ground water table.
As far as the construction style, the traditional timber rafter-beam style has been chosen that is also a part of Kerala’s vernacular architecture. Hollow AAC blocks have been used for masonry, which not only has less embodied energy but also helps in thermal and sound insulation because of their built-in cavities.