Breathing new life into an old power plant
It has become a trend in India to invite international building consortia or project management companies to masterplan and direct large-scale developments on an urban or suburban scale. No matter how sophisticated the research and programming, they are rarely able to understand the different scales of urban existence and human life. In a historically sensitive context, history is frequently understood through icons or images and their (often loud) re-creation – a form of ‘keeping history alive’. In a context of change and development, driven by sharp profit calculations or aspirations towards a form of internationalisation, the Imagine Studio project at the historic Godrej campus in Vikhroli by Studio Lotus carves an island of hope and happiness.
One of the 20th-century industrial houses of modernising India, the Godrej campus is sizeable – it is five times the size of London’s Hyde Park – and includes one of the largest mangrove reserves in Mumbai. The brief requested a marketing office for Godrej Properties, but through discussions between Studio Lotus and the developer’s design studio, the project became an exercise in what Studio Lotus called ‘place-making in an ultra premium development’. The resultant Imagine Studio aspires to be a fulcrum – steering the change to come.
‘A tall sculptural chimney redolent of bygone industrial aesthetic, stands as a memorial, dormant and cut off from its programmatic use’
Two former power cogeneration plants and a boiler have been transformed into a marketing studio, with sample showcase flats, meeting spaces and a multi-purpose space for cultural events. The space in between these three buildings includes a piazza that reveals the company history, an urban farm, and a tall sculptural chimney redolent of bygone industrial aesthetic, which stands as a memorial, dormant and cut off from its programmatic use. As the three transformed buildings reallocate new purposes to themselves, the chimney stands like a dressed-up ruin.
Louvres from the primary plant were recovered and reused, perforated to form patterns akin to the filtering of light from leafy tree canopies, changing throughout the day. Concrete is used to indicate the existing structure, while Corten steel helps to recreate the idea of the original form. The boiler plant retains its structure and, converted to a café, retains a boiler tank in memory of an interior that once existed.
The newly designed interiors frequently reference the nearby silos – cylindrical units that also occupy the site. Three silos are cut open and remodelled into a museum, reflecting on the past, present and future of this historic industrial and business house/campus by displaying both objects from the company archives and interpretations of workers today to create a micro theme park of sorts. In the workshop, thin slats and stairways wrap around a reception desk – a reminder of the silos outside. Cut-offs from silos also form the street furniture.
Godrej The Trees Render
The redevelopment is an assemblage of a past very consciously recovered and a contemporary that is pushing its way down the lane. As Studio Lotus describes it: ‘The forms of the interiors derive themselves from the “memories” of the metal silos on site, with their silhouettes presenting a contrast to the rigid geometry of the building thus distinguishing themselves as sculptural inserts. The silo and chimney suspended within the space root themselves as a reminder of industrial processes and are used internally as a cycloramic projection for the marketing team.’
The struggle to have an impact on unhindered urban change is evident in the design decisions of this micro-campus. The last 30 years have seen rude and crude changes in the urban and suburban landscape of India. Drastic economic transformation and forms of globalisation have produced human societies and cultures that thrive on aspirations, wishing to scale the skies and produce a world of dynamic imagery, where architectural materials and rapid construction systems dominate design discussions. In this context, conversations about conservation and sustainability become the counter-arguments; however, they also often end up being formulaic and nothing but a superficial performance act. Those studios that are more sensitive and concerned are then driven towards another counter-argument – that of detail and craft, in a way romanticising the fine and more ephemeral aspects of architecture. The completed Imagine Studio sits amid these viewpoints and forms of architectural action. A key point is the pace at which this small project was built compared with its neighbour Godrej One, a commercial multi-storey building box. Not pace in terms of the time taken, but the pace required to detail and achieve thoughtfulness in design through a careful calibration of the elements that shape it.
An industrial geography and architectural language is specifically highlighted in this project to the point that a new style in design aesthetics emerges. Structure and building form are reworked by adapting architectural elements that existed on site. But this reworking is conducted through certain very contemporary sensibilities and sensitivities towards what structure can do, how transparency connects or how light can be filtered as patterns. Craft seems the key motif, although one could safely say craft is neither falsely romanticised nor unashamedly celebrated.
Hollowed out, emptied of their industrial bodies, the buildings are newly defined as memories of an industrial past; this memory though, has a very contemporary form – it is agile and ready to shape new thoughts and ideas within its body. The buildings sit sculpturally within a crumbling landscape, but are also attempts to create places of public engagement and participation. The design clearly makes a dent, an entry point, into the world of property development design and asks for there to be a conversation, a discussion.
‘Hollowed out, emptied of their industrial bodies, the buildings are newly defined as memories of an industrial past’
Remnants from a past landscape – buildings, objects, exhibits and places – compose this sculptural park, collaged into a micro-landscape. Will this be a ‘display’ microcosm or will these ideas influence the masterplan? While the urban and physical fabric is rudely and rapidly transforming our social and cultural relationships, designers must demand a place in large-scale property developments, rather than finding micro-corners in to celebrate craft and detail.
Architect: Studio Lotus and GPL
Design team: Studio Lotus: Ambrish Arora, Ankur Choksi, Arun Kullu, Pankhuri Goel, Mira Asher, Sanjay Kumar
GPL design studio: Anubhav Gupta, Namrata Mehra, Madhavi Sathe, Shraddha Dasgupta, Karan Sharma (legacy silos), Jyotika Purwr (urban farms)
Site team: Amit Sharma, Shirish Kulkarni,
Ninad Kocharekar, Santosh Gupte
Landscape consultant: Amod Shevde, AMS Consultants
Photographs: Edmund Sumner