An architect has a very important role in society. Architects build the foundation of civilizations, bringing structures to life by shaping new creations and restoring old ones.
Architectural firm Somaya and Kalappa have been adding life to structures old and new, since the past many decades.
“Empty buildings make me extremely sad,” says founder Brinda Somaya. And it is this very passion with which they meet every challenge. “It’s extremely important to create a space where people would want to come in. They shouldn’t come to a building, sigh, brood and say, ‘not again’.”
Their philosophy is simple. The new and the old need to co-exist together in all structures. A heady combination of the fresh and the traditional is what gives the creations of Somaya and Kalappa a distinct, unmatched edge. And this zeal for innovative architecture makes their creations like human beings – alive and breathing.
About Brinda Somaya
Brinda Chinnappa Somaya completed her Master of Arts degree from Smith College, USA, after graduating from Sir JJ College of Architecture, Mumbai.
Her belief that development and progress must proceed without straining the cultural and historic environment underlines her work at “Somaya and Kalappa”, the company she founded and has headed for the last three decades.
Her oeuvre, spanning corporate, industrial and institutional clients, extends to public spaces — which she has rebuilt and sometimes reinvented as pavements, parks and plazas.
These include the Colaba Woods, Ganeshpuri Temple and a slew of pavements in South Mumbai besides the reconstruction of an entire village in Kutch. Personally, she admits that working on people-centric buildings gives her the maximum satisfaction in creative terms. “When I go back to buildings and see all the hustle-bustle, it makes me really happy.”
She has won numerous personal and professional awards through the years. As she continues to preserve our heritage and create new landmarks, she brings her experience, expertise and passion to the firm she has founded — so that many more old and new structures can be brought to life.
About Somaya and Kalappa
Somaya and Kalappa is a full service architectural firm offering each client a combination of imaginative design, expertise and intense involvement.
Their reputation is based on providing the highest quality of professional services to every client. Constantly striving to produce work that is innovative and practical, they never lose sight of the social, economic, environmental and aesthetic issues relevant to each project.
Bhadli is a village inhabited by 1,500 people and about 325 households. The village was devastated by the earthquake on 26th January, 2001; and the reconstruction work began in April that same year.
The five basic criteria, which governed the basis of design for the new housing plans were:
- The character of the village
- Changing needs and necessities of the villagers
- The available space and cost of construction
- Need for structures resistant to seismic activity and climatic extremes
- The use of indigenous materials and the reuse of recovered material
The village was rehabilitated on the same land and on the footprints of the existing houses and lifestyles. The existing school was completely ruined. A new school with the Community Centre and the Women’s Centre was planned and built.
Materials, Structure and Construction
The structures are made seismic-resistant by making them a homogeneous unit. The plinth is made out of random rubble available in the village and three RCC beams occur at the sill, lintel and the roof levels.
These are interconnected with vertical steel rods encased in concrete at every T and L junction.
The openings of doors and windows on the top and bottom always end with an RCC member, thus avoiding cracks during movement of the base. Shear keys at the base of the plinth, above the plinth beam and between the plinth beam and wall were added to avoid displacement.
A large number of doors and windows in fairly good condition were reused with some repairs, so as to reduce cost and maintain the character of the village. Available rubble was also used to pave courtyards.
For protection against frequent cyclones, the roof of the house continues to form the RCC gable, which in turn supports the roof. No cantilever or overhang is provided on the gable side of the roof so as to avoid the capture of wind pressure during storms.
However, on the other two sides, the roof can project beyond the walls for effective drainage and also to protect the wall. The last row of Mangalore tiles of the roof overhang is screwed down to the battens to avoid uplift by wind.
Bandhani making and handicrafts were the main occupations in the village. The villagers required space in the courtyard to store the material, work, dry clothes, mix dyes and engage in other activities. Storage lofts were provided for houses that didn’t have courtyards.
Maintaining the character of the village
A verandah forms a covered outdoor seating area and is used for a variety of activities like raised seating. Wherever possible, the houses were constructed in two or three groups of four or five, so that a common gathering space was created between the houses.
Adequate space was left around the door frame to accommodate embellishments, with niches for diyas (lamps) on either side of the door.
The rehabilitation of Bhadli was an attempt to empower people and give them a better space.
AWARDS and accolades
Nominated for the Aga Khan Award for Architecture.
Uia Vassilis Sgoutas Prize for Alleviation of Poverty – Honourable Mention, 2008.
Featured in Phaidon Atlas of 20th Century World Architecture – New (which includes all the greatest buildings of the 21st century).
Tata Consultancy Services is a reputed software major, a part of the Indian giant – the Tata group. Their global headquarters located in Fort, Mumbai, needed restoration and renovation.
One of the first restoration projects of its kind in Mumbai, restoring this Grade II Heritage building was not just a prestigious job, but also a complex and difficult one.
The challenge of restoring this structure was further compounded by various other factors — such as working on a site located in Fort, in the heart of Mumbai’s commercial activity; and fighting the torrential monsoon rain with the stone walls propped, and the high groundwater table which required the constant use of dewatering pumps in order to enable work to proceed.
The metamorphosis commenced in October 2005; and by June 2007, the glory of the historic building was restored.
The unique feature of the process was that the external stone wall or shell of the building – one of the main facets of its charm — was left standing and untouched, while the entire unstable inside was gutted.
A modern office interior with state-of-the-art technology was created inside this very heritage shell that stood intact.
The entire project exemplified how a heritage structure could be reconstructed despite being ravaged by a fire or other disasters, without having to raze it to the ground entirely.
Nalanda International School
The site for the school was a 20-acre flat area where they needed to accommodate the primary and secondary sections of the school along with residential facilities.
The client’s brief required that the primary school of approximately 40,000sqft should essentially consist of classes from pre-primary to the fifth standard with three divisions each, accommodating about 28 students per classroom. Ancillary structures like the audiovisual rooms, art rooms, music room, etc, were also required. This was to be Phase I of the project, along with the administration area.
Work on Phase II, III and IV, comprising the secondary school and the residential and sports facilities would start when the primary school begins functioning.
The primary school has been designed with four classrooms opening up to the internal courtyard wherein the students can participate in activities such as growing vegetables. This forms a sort of private open space for these classrooms. Each of these units of four classrooms is connected by corridors to form a large enclosed open space to accommodate the entire primary school when they gather together for assembly.
The building form, the technology that makes the buildings operative, and the materials used in the construction, have been carefully chosen. The articulated spaces within the building forms enable natural ventilation.
Courtyard spaces are created within the complex, minimising the use of artificial lighting and ventilation. This helps to conserve energy substantially.
The 20,000sqft ‘infant’ school has a dichotomy in its design. The façade ties in with the junior school in its use of brick piers and other materials; but as one moves through the building, a sense of playfulness emerges, ending with china mosaic sculptural railings, floor patterns and the fishpond.
The school was nominated for The Aga Khan Awards for Architecture in 2007.
The school also won the Leaf Award by the Leading European Architects Forum in 2006 in a highly commended category, for the use of traditional methods of environmental control.
As the world works at preserving nature and takes the green route, some initiatives pave the way in this direction.
Such an initiative is Colaba Woods. Rather than wait for bureaucratic inertia to be overcome, the citizens of Colaba and Cuffe Parade (in collaboration with the Tata Electric Company and the local Lions Club) leased four acres of land from the Municipality and transformed it into a green forest amidst the concrete jungle that surrounds it — something every city should have.
This plot was originally a refuse dump which had some hutments and two PWD quarters on it.
With S&K’s involvement, today this green forest is the lung of the locality. Apart from the over 200 species of trees, bushes and rare flowering plants, there are several other facilities such as a jogger’s track, an amphitheatre, readers’ corner, basketball courts, children’s play corner and areas for relaxation.
The day-to-day operation and management of the park is looked after by a trust established in 1987. A conscious decision was taken not to charge any entrance fee so that the park could be enjoyed by all inhabitants of this area – from multi-millionaires to slum dwellers.
A sullage water scheme for watering the garden has been successfully installed and an automatic mechanised sprinkler system nourishes the lawns and plants.
Setting a milestone, after the Colaba Woods initiative, this idea was implemented in various parts of Mumbai, resulting in many public and private initiatives to develop gardens.
Colaba Woods won the Urban Heritage Award, awarded by the Indian Heritage Society for public spaces in 1989.
Zensar Technologies Campus
The Zensar Software Technologies Campus is a green field project of 10.9 acres. It has been designed for 2000 engineers with supporting buildings such as the corporate block, cafeteria and recreational facilities. Phases I and II of the project have been completed, consisting of the development block, corporate block, cafeteria and service buildings.
The concept of this project was to link individual buildings together through landscaping.
The landscape consisted of stone walls, sunken courtyards, an open-air amphitheatre, water bodies and greenery.
This helped create a relaxing atmosphere for those interacting with the premises. The aim was to build areas that acted as stress-busters on the campus. The concept was to achieve a sense of harmony and balance with the use of clean lines and contemporary detailing.
The campus is now alive with the chatter of engineering minds, as they feel at home here.
This is a tribute to the work of the architectural firm Somaya & Kalappa founded by architect and urban conservationist Brinda Somaya. It is an adaptation from the Master Series created by Anchor and titled ‘Adding Life to Structures’.