Living & Learning Design Center- Ajrakhpur, Kutch

The idea for establishing an institution of this nature emerged soon after the earthquake of 2001. The wide spread after effects of the quake were varied. First, the physical impact that destroyed the built habitat across the region resulting in the loss of human lives, and means of livelihood. The second, as is usual, once a natural calamity has passed – an extraordinary pouring in of help – monetary, emotive, genuine and also otherwise. The tax sops offered to industry by the government to set up shop almost immediately started to change the landscape. The indigeneity was under a serious threat. Native artistic skills were being lost to jobs offered by industry. A dangerous trend that had begun to take shape slowly, ensuring that an entire generation and its skill set would be lost.
In the wake of this disaster, Shrujan, an NGO based in Kutch led by Chanda Shroff, led the initiative to restore the livelihood of the people. They intervened at several levels, building temporary shelters and workspaces for women to go to and work. A belief, that it was only work, that would help them eventually lift their spirit and take pride in their enterprise.

LLDC – The Living & Learning Design Center

The living and learning design Center (LLDC) was conceived as a project during this time. It was meant to be a ‘place’ that would becomes a tactile and visual repository of the various crafts of Kutch. Its primary role as a resource center for artisans doubles up as a public museum and place for demonstrative, hands on learning.
The predominantly hot, dry and arid landscape of Kutch, its people and cultural nuances formed a rich backdrop to our intervention. There has been a tendency to preserve, emulate and replicate the notion of what may be deemed vernacular, in this case Kuttchi. (Or visually seen as belonging to Kutch)
Our interactions with the artisans, their craft and their aspirations led us to believe that inspite of being geographically remote, their vision and outreach had gone beyond the boundaries of the region. The milieu allowed for a wider exploration of the built.
Their pioneering spirit was an inspiration to create a contemporary environment that reflected their artistic, frugal and industrious attitude.

Design strategy: The site for the LLDC (Living & Learning Design Center) is located in Paddhar village, about 18kms from Bhuj. The 8 acre parcel of land with well-planted mango, chickoo and coconut palm trees. There was also a large patch of land that was non-arable due to the presence of sub soil water, a unique characteristic of the site.

The overall master plan has three main components: the museum, the crafts school and the residential enclaves. The museum block was part of the first phase of work on site. Its strict guidelines for conservation and preservation of textiles meant that the building had to be inherently thermally stable so as to rely less on artificial means of conditioning. This concern was followed right through the design of the buildings and became the core of the building design strategy.

The architecture of the museum block is a series of large solid volumes, punctuated by conidial skylights that cut out the elements and the dust. Along with this core, are the ancillary passageways and shaded spaces for craft demonstrations and impromptu workshops that attach to the core as porous appendages, allowing spontaneous and simultaneous experiences.

This archetype for a museum seeks to establish the primacy of place making over, manneristic form making prevalent in public architecture today. A museum, in this context, is thus a “ place” to experience, move through and habit in an informal way, making language and information more tactile than textual in nature.
The vocabulary is purposefully simple and contemporary in nature, emblematic of the nature of craft as industry and vice- versa today.

Sustainability issues and solutions: Economy of means and materials were to be the backbone of this endeavor. Judicious use of materials and sustainable design strategies aimed at thermal comfort were developed and integrated in the design of the campus.

Thermal barriers: Lime and fly ash bricks were manufactured on site using waste carbide lime slurry, sand and fly ash to reduce cost and get the required strength and thermal stability compared to any other material. Lime mortar was prepared on site by slaking lime in large ponds and grinding it with sand and crushed brick. Gauged lime mortar was used in the masonry work and natural lime plaster using traditional methods* was used in three coats in some areas.

Fenestrations: Meticulously details windows and cutouts on the west and south allow the winter sun to warm the interiors while keeping out the summer sun. A simple strategy to ensure ventilation without affecting thermal gain.

Stored rainwater cools the structure: Rainwater harvesting tanks were integrated in the design of the foundations to collect about 7 lac liters of rain annually. The building plan attempts to reduce thermal gain and creates shaded zones that are inherently cool and can depend on passive cooling to reduce operating costs. Use of cooling pipes (radiant cooling) on terraces is planned as a way of insulating the roof from the heat, to attain stable temperatures throughout the year.

Grey water usage: Decentralized wastewater treatment system (DEWATS) is designed to handle all the wastewater from the site including the process effluents from the printing and dyeing workshops.

Program details and buildings: The museum comprises of four galleries including a temporary exhibit area. The main gallery is devoted to the permanent collection of the ‘Design Center on Wheels’ (DCOW) program run by the NGO Shrujan in Bhujodi. The collection includes 1150 exquisite demonstrative embroidery panels that have been painfully documented over the years.
The other galleries house traditional artifacts highlighting the textile arts related to everyday life of the indigenous people of Kutch. The DCOW archive and conservation block within the museum enclave forms its core. A library for visual and textual resources, instructional auditorium space and conference room, classrooms for artisans and public orientation and information kiosks outside the galleries, complete the ensemble.

The Crafts school is the other significant half of the institution. Working spaces for every art and craft of Kutch makes it the single largest living and working craft environment in Kutch. The architectural plan organizes activities along a central movement spine, reminiscent of the covered ‘suq’ or covered markets of other arid desert regions of the world. It creates a climatically appropriate gesture coupled with sustainable methods of building to define these working areas. Complex interweaving of functions brings about interest and diversity of experience.

The crafts shop and museum shops are run by the artisans in training, to develop skills aimed at marketing their craft in the right manner and learning to preserve what is essential to the survival of the craft.

On-site housing for the master craftsmen, artisans, visiting academicians and scholars is the third built component. Integrated along with the work environment, yet separate, the housing is designed as a series of modular courts with dwelling units linked by internal streets. Artisans enjoy living and working in the company of their apprentices and colleagues in an atmosphere of creative synergies, mutual admiration and support. Individuals with diverse cultural and social needs, food habits and patterns of life will be residents here.

Places for common dining, recreation and celebration of social events are an essential component of the plan. Several un-built spaces, planted groves and spaces between buildings become places for interaction, recreation and multiple uses. The three major building components are organized loosely around a generous courtyard that allows people to congregate in large numbers on occasions such as the annual product exhibit fair and even otherwise.

Client : Living & Learning Design Center- LLDC - Ajrakhpur - Kutch
Location : Ajrakhpur, Dist - Kutch, Gujarat
Architects : Uday Andhare & Mausami Andhare
Design Team : Mitesh Panchal, Sayali Andhare, Tejas Jasani, Shweta Rathod, Surendran Aalone
Consultants : Prof. R.J.Shah & Mehul Shah, Ami Engineers, Ahmedabad
Site Area : 8 acres
Building Area : 1.2 lac sq.ft
Completion Year : 2015
Civil Engineers : Shrujan Team
Photo Credits : Uday Andhare