Most designers would agree that at the core of any innovation lies a well-conceived brief. In this case, however, both the brief and circumstances were unusual. The Kutch Navnirman Abhiyan, an NGO sponsored by the Ramesh Premchand Charitable Trust, wanted to rehabilitate local communities after the devastating earthquake in January 2001. Using local materials, the architects designed innovative temporary multi-purpose shelters that are still in use.
Innovation started with the design process itself. The architects decided to incorporate ideas from around the world. “Lessons from traditional Kutchi ‘Bhunga’ architecture served as the starting point as these structures, even at the epicentre locations, had survived,” explains architect Kartikeya Shodhan. Further research and the client’s interest in the paper industry led him to Shigeru Ban, a Japanese architect who had made houses of paper tubes after the earthquake in Kobe in 1995.
Ban’s lightweight paper tube technology, with its natural insulating properties, seemed an ideal solution but the design needed modification to suit the local climate. An understanding of local materials and traditional architecture was also critical in gaining the confidence of users, many of whom were still in shock after the earthquake, and concerned about their safety.
The ultimate outcome looked deceptively simple. Walls were made from hollow paper tubes, connected and held together by steel rods. Plywood channels kept the rectangular structure in shape. The roof was constructed from bamboo, covered by two layers of chatai (matting) to keep out rainwater, and was attached to the wall in a modification of traditional Kutch techniques. Galvanized iron channels formed the base of the hut, with concrete pedestals at the corners for the foundation. Traditional mud and cow-dung flooring was laid on top of this base. A 60ft veranda outside each shelter provided a balance of the indoors and outdoors.
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“The design makes this structure resistant to earthquakes, wind storms, rain, extreme heat or extreme cold,” says Shodhan. “The plywood connector at lintel level allowed wiring and cabling for computers and fixing of light fixtures. White tarpaulin, which was sandwiched between two layers of cane chatai for the roof, allowed daylight to filter through the top. Use of cow dung in the flooring mix kept insects away, ensuring a clean and healthy environment.” Corner pedestals satisfied the locals’?sentiments of the structure anchored to mother earth, he says.
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The shelter accommodated all elements of a modern office — computing facilities, telephone connections, basic seating, desks and adequate storage. Emphasis on natural light and ventilation eliminated the need for expensive air conditioning, and avoided disruption of work due to power cuts. Built for Rs28,000 each, a 220 sq. ft hut cost the same as a couple of modular workstations in a typical urban office.
Although originally intended to be temporary structures, these shelters are still being used today as classrooms, homes, and offices. Some were even dismantled from their original location and relocated by the local community.
Shodhan’s paper tube constructions stand out as an effective and innovative blend of parallel design approaches — the local and global, the traditional and the modern.
Photographs and drawings, Courtesy: Kartikeya
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Our previous articles in the series on Office Design were on converting
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