Community Building in Bhopal
This project signifies a realisation for the office: that good design can effect social change. During construction several people warned us that the nature of this building was unsuitable for the kind of community that had many juvenile delinquents. Fears of vandalism were soon put to rest when the community not only appreciated the building but also took pride in its ownership.
Designing new buildings in old settings has been a traditional challenge for architects the world over. In the case of the Barkatulla Memorial Hall, the gauntlet was thrown in no uncertain terms by the then Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh who expected to see traditional motifs and chhatris respecting an old adjoining library building in this small project commissioned by the Municipal Corporation of Bhopal. The enlightened views and assistance of the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, S K Sharma, proved crucial in the approval of the scheme, contemporary, yet sympathetic to traditional forms.
The strategy adopted was therefore to use similar principles and materials as in the old library building. For instance, one of the principles applied was the diminishing dominance of a central element (a dome, for example) when one approaches a building, adding to the sense of scale which traditional buildings possess. Formal planning and symmetry also lend dignity to this small structure. A sweeping arch instead of small windows puncturing the facade further suggest a sense of monumentality. On another level, the form seems to draw inspiration from the timeless qualities of Kahn’s architecture. The Chief Minister suggested that the building become a memorial hall as against the original idea of making it a community centre which gave the architects more budgetary freedom, thus enabling better specifications and the use of stone cladding. It became apparent that the building of this little structure was identified by the people as symbolic of the desire of the authorities to upgrade the neighbourhood which was being plagued by vandalism. Indeed, the use of glass was restricted and 'krinkleglas' was substituted for the high-level skylights in view of this threat. The architects found it most gratifying on subsequent visits to find that the building and park were being extensively used without either being disfigured or vandalized. The sight of flowers blooming in the garden where they had been told that juvenile delinquents would not spare a single glass window-pane or flower was indeed heartening, suggesting that environmental quality does influence community pride and social behaviour. The site was earlier used for weekly markets and as a circus ground, and was rededicated to satisfy the community‘s need for a place for social functions and for recreation. In addition to the park surrounding it, the hall is now extensively used for marriages and mushairas.The building was named after Barkatulla, a freedom fighter about whom little material is available. A dove in flight symbolizes the freedom and peace Barkatulla fought for, and constitutes his memorial within the building.