Building with Rural Communities
21 May 2013
WORKSHOP architecture is a non-profit design+make studio that focuses on participation, learning by doing and cultivating a deep understanding of place. Living temporarily with the communities it is working with, it contributes new ideas whilst engaging in local building crafts and materials to bring about an architecture of exchange that is both challenging and pragmatic. Led by Clementine Blakemore, Alexander Furunes (AA Year Out students) and Ivar Tutturen, WORKSHOP architecture is currently collaborating with the British Council and a local NGO to develop a prototype for contemporary rural architecture in India. Along with the architect Kritika Dhanda, Community Engager Leika Aruga, and Project Manager Arvind Yadav, the team is based in the village of Hariharpur where they are designing and building a new school with the community.
A mother from Chacha Nehru school developing the design of the ground floor using a model during a Saturday workshop
The name WORKSHOP architecture reflects two key things. Firstly, our belief in the significance of hands-on making in the design process – the importance of 1:1 mock-ups and material testing in terms of reaching and communicating decisions. Secondly, the collaborative nature of our projects, which are the outcome of many different heads, hands and hearts working together. Our ambition is to create buildings which emerge through collective effort rather than a singular vision; the success and beauty of a project depends as much on the process as the final built outcome. For us, architecture is a means to exchange knowledge, using designing and making as a platform to discuss, re-think and innovate. Working outside of Europe is a way for us to encounter people that lead totally different lives from our own. We hope that our projects will be a productive learning experience for not only us but also the people we are collaborating with; each viewing the other from an outsider’s perspective, interested and inspired to learn.
A mother and teacher working together to design the light-weight bamboo structure of the first floor
We have been in India since August 2012 when we moved to Dehradun to work on a project with the community of Chander Nagar – and it was for this that we initially approached the British Council for funding. Instead, they suggested we should partner with them to apply for an Overseas Development Grant for a new project elsewhere in India. Choosing the right partner for the project was an important process and we went on a series of research trips to find out more about each possibility – trying to better understand the agenda of the charities, the scope of the proposed projects and the local people and places. One of the things we admired most about ITRHD was the emphasis they placed on input from the local community. Discussions were already underway about land being donated by the villagers of Hariharpur for a new school building, indicating that there was a level of engagement and enthusiasm for the project that would help facilitate our participatory processes.
Nathai, a local farmer from Hariharpur, weaving jute for our community notice boards
One of the teachers, Seema, holding up a drawing of the master plan made by the community during a Saturday workshop
Research and design began at the end of January when we led a two-week AA Visiting School in Delhi. The aim was to make a series of 1:1 mock-ups in the grounds of the British Council’s Charles Correa building that would be installed in the gallery as part of an exhibition about our work. Having seen a number of mud houses in the village during our initial trip, we were keen to explore this further – not just in terms of structure or form, but also in relation to its status as a material and the social stigmas around its use. The exhibition became not just a way to communicate the processes behind our work and the built outcomes – but acted as a platform for engagement and exchange. It opened the project up to public input. The gallery space also became the site for our first stakeholder meeting, offering a neutral site where people could voice their desires and concerns about the project openly.
The final day of the NTNU / AA Visiting School, during a workshop on the site with the community
After a further period in Delhi refining the structural system, consulting with specialists and discussing the proposal with ITRHD, we moved to Hariharpur in March. The brief had been to design a prototype structure that could accommodate a range of functions and be easily replicable across rural India. Our ambition was that the building should be generic in terms of overall form and structure, whilst also specific to the particular conditions of the site. The solution was to create a modular framework that can be adapted depending on the availability of materials and the input of design ideas by local people. The ground floor structure consists of fired brick columns with non load-bearing in-fill mud walls that are tied together by ring-beams for increased seismic resistance. This provides a strong and reliable structural system (which local masons are very familiar with), whilst providing the thermal, acoustic and aesthetic advantages of mud. The barrel vault roof above the ground floor is being built by local masons under the guidance of a master mason from Delhi – thereby developing skills which are otherwise disappearing in this area. The second storey is conceived of as a light-weight bamboo ‘hat’ which rests on the solid base below.
A workshop with mothers and teachers to refine the design for the toilet block plan
Throughout the project we’ve been holding workshops with the teachers, which allow us to discuss and make decisions about the design. Conventionally, details such as doors and windows would be worked out and drawn long before ground is broken but we prefer to leave ‘gaps’ in the design that can be filled through a dialogue with the local people. Viewing the construction site as a platform for engagement and exchange, the idea is to harness the excitement and intrigue created by a new building to draw people into the collective design process. The courtyard master plan is based on drawings by the teachers and parents made during these workshops and has gradually been developed in response to the site along with the local customs regarding orientation.
We are currently completing a toilet block and classroom on the ground floor, which were co-designed and partially built by participants during a second AA Visiting School that we led at the end of March. The workshop was an opportunity to invite a number of experts to contribute to the project including two engineers from Ramboll UK, an Indian engineer and two Indian architects, all of whom offered invaluable advice and have continued to be involved in the project from afar. When we leave at the end of this month we will hand the project over to the community to complete under the leadership of a local construction supervisor. We hope to not only have created a building that can act as a model for any future construction, but to have initiated a process of collaboration within the village that will serve it throughout its growth and development.
A local mason preparing the form work for the barrel vault in the first bay of the building
For more information:
This text is an excerpt from an article originally published in Explore Rural India. All images are credited to WORKSHOP Architecture.
Completing the adobe walls between the toilet and the classroom under the first two barrel vaults
The exhibition about WORKSHOP architecture, ‘Building Community’, will be transferring to the Front Members’ Room, as part of the AA’s public program in November. If you’re interested in supporting WORKSHOP architecture financially or with in-kind expertise please get in touch! firstname.lastname@example.org
Project Hariharpur is being implemented in partnership with the British Council and has been sponsored by:
David Chipperfield Architects
Svein Skibnes Arkitektkontor
Madsø Sveen Arkitekter
Per Knudsen Arkitektkontor