The Bandra-based project is one of Mumbai's first buildings intended to be truly public
Approaching the Lilavati Hospital in Bandra, Mumbai from the Bandra-Worli Sealink, one is soon met by a brown-hued, asymmetrical and softly curved new building. Ingeniously simple and persuasive in its presence, this is Sanjay Puri Architects’ Bombay Arts Society, housed right opposite Rang Sharda. The building is surrounded by open areas and swaying trees in a quaint Bandra lane.
There is something special about this project - it is one of the first buildings in Mumbai truly meant as a public facility. It is intended to serve the arts and the artist community in a completely public space and, hopefully, this will pave way for many more facilities such as public libraries for all Mumbai citizens.
Bombay Arts Society stands on an extremely small plot of 1,300 sq m and is designed as a mixed-use building. It houses art galleries, a small auditorium, a cafeteria and artists’ studios, all incorporated into a modest 1,000 sq m of space. As you enter the building, there is a swaying reception to your right with a curvilinear staircase as the backdrop. At the summit of the stairs you will find fluid and softly punctuated spaces which inherit the curved exterior form of the building.
This merges well with what the building’s architect Sanjay Puri said in an earlier interview with WAN: “The fluidity of form seen externally - with a concrete skin encapsulating spaces while undulating in both the horizontal and vertical planes - is carried through to the interior volumes making the entire experience as that of moving through a sculpture.” Indeed, the building appears a lot like a soft sculpture in form, yet somehow remains understated thanks to its colour and exterior material, which feels very empowering in a subtle way.
People often tell Puri that the Bombay Art Society resembles Henry Moore’s cubist sculptures. To create an illusionary sense of space, Puri used a wire mesh for the structure of the building as well as floating columns, which is why there are no straight beams that run directly from the top to the bottom of the building meaning that the interior spaces are free of corners, sporting only fluid lines and the merging of curves.
After almost three years, the Bombay Arts Society building is now getting ready to open its doors to the public in a month’s time. Established nearly 122 years ago, the Bombay Art Society was based in Jehangir Art Gallery and has been serving art and artists ever since. The move to a more centrally located facility in the city is a welcome one and Bandra continues to prove its central location is something of a strategic benefit which the linear city could have hinged its development on.
Architect Sanjay Puri’s design philosophy is simple and fluid as is evident in this project. It stands distinct in form and stature from any other building that he has designed in the past. Perhaps, as he says, designing for and within context is important.
That said, yes, context is important and this is often repeated by practitioners; however, I continue to remain befuddled as a resident of Mumbai as I no longer know what the true architectural context of the city is. Old colonial remains, newer changes wanting to surface in the built environment or half-way between the old and the new? These questions may not result in comfortable answers which work holistically for the entire city and its aspirations.
For now, we should celebrate this significant new building for the city's creative blood and proclaim the idea of public spaces that truly belong to people. The Bombay Arts Society building is a welcome step in that direction.