Natarani amphitheatre


The Sabarmati riverfront development project in Ahmedabad, impacted the existing Natarani theatre precinct. A major chunk of the stage area was lost to the riverfront edge road and sidewalk, rendering the theatre inoperable for several years.

It is in the context of this reality that its renovation was both imperative and desired for its activities to flourish. The new proposed layout not only attempts to mitigate this situation, but also reimagines Natarani theatre to improve upon its existing infrastructure and capacity.

A state of the art amphitheatre, accessible green rooms, utility spaces, improved sound and lighting capabilities with a catwalk over the seating were, the main programmatic components of the project. A mandate from our client, Mallika Sarabhai to use every possible strategy to be sustainable, helped anchor the new design.

The backdrop: The rebuilding of the new theatre was on the site of the older amphitheater, built in 1994 by Ar. Kirti Shah and the new acoustic wall by the firm Abhikram in 2017. Critical to our new intervention was the adjacency of a small library built in 1963 by Ar. B V Doshi and the Darpana building built in 1968, by Ar. A.P Kanvinde used currently as a dance school. The edge to the river front road along the site was built out as a retaining structure by HCP Ahmedabad, to house the Mrinalini Sarabhai Gallery in line with the acoustic wall. An intentional gap between the two elements along the river edge opened up possibilities for us to re- establish the lost connection to the river.

Architectural strategy: The proximity of the existing modern era buildings in exposed brick and concrete, as well as the new acoustic wall inspired the warp and weft of the new theatre. The architecture sought to express continuity with the older materials through the use of exposed lime bricks, recycled from the debris of the demolished older structures, including the library that was in state of disrepair.

Fanning out the existing layout increased the theatre capacity. The natural contour provided the necessary depth below the cascading tiers to house the green rooms and utilities including the infrastructure for air circulation and cooling. The cross section of the tiered theatre culminates at the stage with its huge water harvesting tank below and the towering scale of the acoustical wall as its backdrop.

Juxtaposed with the solidity of the brick mass around, the curved metal cable stayed catwalk hovers high over the seating space expressing a nimble lightness. The metal work defines its own purpose of making, to provide the necessary flexibility for new age performances and state of the art lighting and sound. This tension between contradicting elements defines its own idiom as a performance space. The scale of the entry and the back wall close to the Darpana building is modulated to adequately enclose the theatre.

The earthy seating tiers are expressed through the use of traditional china mosaic, using terracota coloured ceramic tiles, interspearsed with the dark charcoal grey of the lime plastered walls. These two colours have been emblematic of the older Natarani as well. The grey of the exposed concrete copings and the edges is extended through the grey pebblecrete in high wear thresholds and stepped edges. All metalwork is charcoal black which essentially gets negated at night, during performances. The physicality and scale of the theatre reverses dramatically at night with enhanced lighting and a sharp central spatial focus. The stage is built with a hard wood assembly flooring, while the entrance plaza is defined by rough grey kota stone slabs that unites the semiopen and open areas of adjacent buildings, which use similar materials.

Passive thermal comfort and design strategies

The design integrates several strategies to be cost effective and sustainable. Preventing the building from gaining heat was an important design objective and all services and green rooms are located below the theatre steps. Lime is used in construction along with dolomite plaster to provide the necessary thermal advantage and longevity. The building is designed on the principle of ‘thermal draining of the structure’. A rainwater-harvesting tank below the stage, with a capacity of 1.0 lac liters collects all the water from the steps to become a cool thermal storage mass, below ground. A pump sends it to a higher level where it is cooled by a natural process. The cooled water then comes down by gravity through the pipes under the seating tiers and empties into the tank in the process absorbing the solar heat from the entire structure, thus keeping it cool and comfortable. Additional comfort is provided by the “Displacement Ventilation” system that provides a gentle flow of cool filtered air from several small outlets distributed along the seating tiers. They form a blanket of cool air in the seating zone by displacing the warm stale air.

Client : Darpana Academy
Location : Usmanpura, Ahmedabad, Gujarat
Architects : indigo architects, Ahmedabad
Design Team : Uday Andhare, Mausami Andhare, M. Naeem Shaikh, Anurag Rajput
Consultants : Structural Consultants, Ami Engineers, Ahmedabad; Plumbing Consultants, Chetan Vyas, Ahmedabad; Passive cooling/ventilation, Surendra Shah, Panasia Engineers Pvt.Ltd, Mumbai; Electrical engineering, Nandish Shah, Antech Consultants, Ahmedabad; PMC, Atul Nandankar, VPAN Consultants, Ahmedabad; Fabrication work, Bhavesh Panchal, Khodiyar Engineering Works, Ahmedabad; Carpentry/Wood work, Dungersinh Mistry, Shiv Shakti Works, Ahmedabad.
Site Area : 9,850 sq.ft
Building Area : 22,604 sq.ft
Completion Year : 2018
Civil Engineers : Maitri Constructions, Ahmedabad
Photo Credits : Uday Andhare