Article written by Team Yellow Trace and published on the Yellowtrace website on NOVEMBER 11, 2019.
Maya Somaiya’s new school library presented a challenging site for Mumbai architects Sameep Padora & Associates. A mere sliver of the site squeezed between the existing structure and the boundary, almost pre-empting a linear building footprint. But it is the dramatic curve of the new library which is its most striking feature. Like an undulating sand dune, the building rises out of the ground, the walls growing almost from the earth itself, modulating into the roofing structure and then tapering away while sloping down towards the other side. “Alluding to the intuitive impetus that children have towards the landscape, we imagined the library building to be a formal extension of the ground, using brick as material for its tactility, availability as well as its utility as insulation against the strong sun,” said the architects. The Sharda library used a hybrid of construction principles ranging from the Catalan Tile Vaulting system to the compression ring detail from the work of Uruguayan engineer and architect Eladio Dieste, to using a form-finding software plug-in made in Switzerland. The architects worked through several different construction incarnations for the library ranging from concrete shells to brick vaults for creating the dramatic curved roof and walls. In the end, they settled on the material efficiencies of the Catalan tile vault from the 16th century.
“A place inside for study, and a place above for play. With the limited teaching resources available in the larger vicinity we needed the inspiring spatial experience to be a magnet to attract students and hopefully other residents from the nearby settlements after school hours,” explain the architects. Practically speaking, the library sits at the typological intersection of the students’ daily routine. It is accessible from multiple sides, becoming a space where students indirectly engage with books and learning as they travel through the library or indeed over it, in order to reach other locations around the school.
The curved trafficable roof allows for various spatial interior configurations below. Once underneath, the continuous brick ceiling/walls do not feel oppressive, and nor does it in any way read like a mud-hut. Instead, the shell-like ceiling reads somewhat like a modern art sculpture. The interior is light, airy and welcoming, in no small measure due to the organic cut-outs to both sides. But it’s the detail of the inserted zig-zag black-framed double-height windows that add a sharp, stylised element to the interior. The self-structured window bays are striated profiles allowing for increased structural stability with economical window section sizes. “The library interior has varied spatial and seating systems, a floor stool system towards the edges for a more intimate study area and towards the centre, tables and stools for collaborative study,” said the design team. Maya Somaiya School Library is joyful and spirited, reflecting the whimsy and imagination of the students who will learn and grow under and over its roof. This contemporary space is part sculpture, part architecture. It must have given Sameep Padora & Associates great joy to share their work with this small rural school, gifting them the very best of what design can offer.
Photography by Edmund Sumner