"The 100-year-old house turned art ashram is a fine example of adaptive reuse of buildings."
Every structure starts to develop a story and sculpt an identity over time. As years pass by, it largely relates to the history and culture of the place and the context it is surrounded by. Once it has served the original function it was built for, it is then time to redefine its function. Giving new life to old buildings with regard and due consideration to its past and rich heritage, without overpowering the original intent is the art of adaptive reuse of buildings. Adaptive Reuse is defined as the aesthetic process that adapts buildings for new uses while retaining their historic features. Using an adaptive reuse model can prolong a building's life, from cradle-to-grave, by retaining all or most of the building system, including the structure, the shell and even the interior materials.
The 100-year-old house turned art ashram in Basavanagudi, Bengaluru is one such fine example of adaptive reuse of buildings. Bimba, the art ashram is nested in the heart of one of the oldest planned layouts of Bengaluru. Amidst the busy hustle bustle of life lies a 100ft x 80ft space of immense tranquility and peace.
The artsy journey of Bimba began in 2008 when the couple, the stars of the ashram from Chennai, Mr. Deepak Dorai and Mrs. Deepika Dorai learnt about the age old property being put to sale. The former owner of this place, Mr. K G Shammanna sold the property to this couple as he perceived it to be old and structurally unstable. The exhibits were initially showcased in Jayanagar, Bengaluru and since 2011, Bimba became the adobe of creating and exhibiting the art.
Perception of the space
The corner site is led by two access roads, the Ratan Vilas Road and DVG road. From the DVG Road, one enters through a porch of painted walls and incorporated seating where shops stood facing the street, in the past. From the Ratan Vilas road, the gate leads to the main door preceded by the front pillared structure hand made from coconut trunk covered by tiled roofing through a landscaped path. The front wall and the tree trunk is painted with traditional art style and colours. The compound being lined by trees and plants gives an immediate feeling of freshness and comfort.
Walking towards the east of the property, one finds a shed like structure in the corner which is used as storage godown. This space was once the living cabinet for a Principal of a nearby school. The original structure made of stone wall and wooden posts has been retained without adding any artistic touch to it. Furthermore, the path leads to the rear where it diverges to the breathtaking courtyard and the staircase.
Philosophy of the space
When asked about how the ashram came into its being, Mr. Deepak said, “Once you enter the realm of classical art, you are an ambassador of the art. Whatever you do, your every act should be within the framework of the art form. The word “abhyasa” emphasises the rigour; the discipline that is required. Daily practices that become values - where art reflects life and vice versa. This is a never ending process. Perspiration is an important part of inspiration. Art is a journey and does not imply merely the ability to do things. It is a quest, a stretch towards divinity. It is contemplative till it bursts forth as spontaneity. In our practice together with people who walk into our lives every day we explore beauty which includes truth and sensitivity - sensitivity to people, energy processes, sensitivity that has a reverence for Earth and celebrates life. This in turn evokes peace. People are amazed at the tranquility they experience, in the heart of the city. This spurs us on along with the continuously expanding understanding that nurturing life is more about inviting more and more nature, values into day to day living than merely consuming or even “sustaining” livelihood. Art explores beauty to the fullest and then imbibes and evokes Rasa. This Rasa has to be shared. Anything that is good has to be shared. The Rasalok solo theatre is an experience that refreshes and rejuvenates the soul.”
Structure in plan
The old structure consisted of seven rooms as the main structure along with a couple of shops in the front and a rented space (shed like structure) as a living cabinet for a school principal. The shops were brought to ground after the couple took over the property and is now converted to an interactive porch. The shed like structure is now a storage space. The later additions to the structure made by Mrs. Deepika Dorai are the Courtyard Space, Rasalok exhibition space, Traditional Kitchen, and the Casual sitting space cum stage.
Construction materials and techniques
Vernacular and sustainable methods of constrction has been used for the old as well as the new structure. The original structure being more than a century old is built with brick and lime mortar of 450mm thickness. Roofing for the structure in parts has been approached differently for each space. Jack arch roof has been used for the living room turned office space and the major exhitbit spaces are housed under a madras terrace roof. The new addition to the property consists of a courtyard space toward the read end of the property which incorporates a puja platform shelter by a filler slab made of mud pots and cement. Kadapa stone has been used for the flooring of the structure.
The Aangana is a breath-taking open courtyard surrounded by spaces that house intimate theatre rooms, stages architected and handmade by founder-artist Deepika Dorai – it has inspired many and been witness to a live, always open-to-all, masterly performances. Every Navarathri, The Aangana comes alive with a new Rasalok moment hand crafted and performed by a solo artist.Here they practice handmade earth sensitive art as daily practice. Some Creations you can take home. The Aangana, Bimba The Art Hut (in an over 100-year-old building) on this space for contemplative creativity and its surroundings, many creations inside are the handwork of founder artist Deepika Dorai.
Exhibits and The Rasalok
There are lot of exhibits which were open to all and for sale. Most of the exhibits which are displaced were handmade and few are the ancient sculptures which have been preserved. Exhibits includes different types of furnitures , wall murals, paintings, wooden sculptures, handmade things made out of coconut fibre, jewellery, mirrors, wall hangings, and hand loomed clothes.
Rasalok translates roughly from Sanskrit as a heightened aesthetic emotional experience of a miniature world. The elements of this unique inherited solo practice date back to 1930s. It has now evolved into an art that embraces multiple creative disciplines and is performed in the classical genre. It is spellbinding theatre now –a dramatic still yet dynamic moment in intricate handmade miniature art the narration of which transports you to a timeless era.
The late Srimathi M N Susheelamma (Malleswaram, Bengalooru) evolved and fine tuned the making of a 3-dimensional still scene on a mini-stage as part of her Navarathri festival offering. She started by costuming three or four miniature “celluloid” dolls. She dramatically positioned these “actors” belonging to a magical moment on an illuminated mini-stage with her own handmade mini props –flora, fauna, natural surroundings and dwellings - to depict a charming moment from a classic– a moment that was close to her heart and inspiring. The key to the visual magic lay in her sense of aesthetics, period and proportions in the three-dimensional miniature space. This practice was continued and improvised upon by her daughter and versatile artist Smt Uma Nagraj, who cherished this practice like her mother did. She now composes and narrates a magical moment every year.
The adaptive reuse of the structure has been dealt with immense sensitivity and justifies its meaning. The old structure has been retained and the new structure continues the character of the old space. The old and new components of the structure are in harmony with each other and give a sense of unity, architecturally. The recently built space adds on to the aesthetic experience of the space. Being located in Basavanagudi, one of the oldest layout of Bengaluru, the structure strongly fits into the context that it surrounds. Over the years, it has started to become a landmark of its sort. The visitors also experience a sense of calm and comfort when inside, contrast to the chaos of daily life. The entire structure built from scratch has a sense of purity connected to it. The architecture of the space, the exhibits showcased, the talks and performances held are all a product of original thought and hard work. The place is a heaven's treat for art lovers and creatively inclined souls. The courtyard especially, gives a feeling of being amidst nature and elates the spiritual sense of the mind.
This example is one of the finest examples of adaptive reuse of buildings and many more projects could be done in the same style, without oppressing its roots and historic intent. This space being turned into an Art Ashram from an ancient house is probably the best transformation this space could have witnessed. No other project would have retained the amount of past and connect that this transformation has. Projects like these are one of a kind and should be preserved. More such approaches toward adaptive reuse of buildings should be encouraged and executed in the city as Bengaluru is slowly losing its charm due to the rapid growth from all aspects. This space has been tastefully transformed. Spaces like these which remind us of our culture, history and traditions are very important as very few are left in number.
Lovers of art, culture and tradition, people who seek calmness in the chaos of everyday life experience a great time here.
Aangana: An open/ semi-open courtyard.
Abyasa: Sanskrit word meaning "practice" and refers to a practice that aims at achieving a tranquil state of mind.
Navarathri: Hindu festival, celebrated in the autumn every year where Goddess Durga is worshiped.
Rasalok: Solo still Classic Theatre -Miniature Arts
References and sources
Written by Katta Pavithra, Nithin J, and Sannuthi R, students at Acharya N.R.V. School of Architecture, Bengaluru. Edited by Pooja Ugrani.