Amdavad : pols and streets

Pols are housing clusters which comprises of many families that belong together, and together on the basis of either a caste, religion or profession. Pols are generally said to have only one or two entrances but sometimes have secret pathways which are known only to those who reside there.

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Pols are a very interesting housing evolution, in an urban fabric. As pols are a very ancient thing, they existed in times when Ahmedabad was called popularly as the Manchester of India. And most residences that form a part of pols are from the olden times, and are hence beautifully carved and detailed along with an old planning system, that is with a central courtyard and intricately designed thresholds. Sometimes even the facades and the walls inside are extremely ornamental when compared to the facades that are constructed in today’s time.

Pols have a lot of unique characteristics that add to its functional design.

Pols have a central courtyard or a clearance at the centre, which function as a community space for the residences that are a part of the pol. And bird feeder which they call the Chabutro, at the centre as a symbol of replacement for the trees that they have felled in order to add to the ornamentals of the havelis in the pol.

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We rode around the streets of Old Ahmedabad, on three wheels, actually two, the other one was never on the street, one might say its because of the space constraint?

Mohemmad bai took us around on a heritage rickshaw ride, through the impenetrable streets. The ride was spectacular, what with all the screeches of tires, dodging the lives of people and dogs. We stopped street after street, the chatter of people and noises from vehicles act as a background score, people were commuting to their places of work, starting their work for the day. Dogs stretched lazily and moved about with much less enthusiasm, energy-less, just like us.

It was an extremely sunny day of one of the most hottest summers in Ahmedabad.

tip: avoid summer visits to Ahmedabad.

 

The character of the streets intrigued me, as we walked through the narrow and congested streets to, haveli after haveli, admiring the intricate carvings of the thresholds and the small balconies that let members of the residence have a chat with the neighbours and front porches where men sat during their free evenings  A screenplay directed itself in my head, housewives having late afternoon conversations over chai, as birds feed on the Chabutro, and chirp along with them; mothers watch over their children playing garlic cricket after a taxing day of school, riding bicycles in circles as dogs chase them around the pol.

Imagining such sequences only taught me the dynamics of such spaces, where each street, pol and house itself, transforms itself with respect to the needs. This multi functionality of a simple space is what interests one in the urban fabric of the city.

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Not to forget what adds greatly to the dynamic streets are the little shops that act as hubs of the community and shows how the people who live there, socialise and stay knit together as a community.

People of various faiths and values rub shoulders with each other and create a unique ecosystem in this walled city.

The chai-walas, chaats-walas, soda-walas and of course the golgappa walas.  As you read that sentence I’m sure that you could identify what kind of a crowd each type would attract in terms of age, profession and time. And here we see how time plays an important role in the streets of Ahmedabad, transforming the space to suit its needs at various times of the day, week, month and year.

Havelis

Traditions townhouses or mansions that were constructed in parts of Old Ahmedabad, structures of large scale and of historical and architectural importance. These havelis are  constructed with some uniform character and base.

  • Socio-Cultural Aspects: The chowk or courtyard served as the centre for various ceremonies and the rituals. The sacred tulso plant was placed here and worshipped daily to bring prosperity to the house.
  • Security and Privacy: The chowk, at times, separated areas for men and women, and provided them with privacy.
  • Climate: Treating open space in building design to respond to the local climate. Air movement caused by temperature differences is utilized in the natural ventilation of building.
  • Different Activities At Different Times: The use of the court in the day time, mostly by women to carry out their work, interact with other women in private open space. Mansions of merchant class had more than one courtyard.
  • Articulation Of Space: In havelis, a courtyard has several functions, commonly used for weddings and festive occasions and even day to day operations.
  • Materials : baked bricks, sandstone, marble, wood, plaster and granite are commonly used materials.

All these elements join to form an enclosure and give the chowk a composed secured feel. The architectural built form of havelis has evolved in response to the climate, lifestyle and availability of material. In hot climates where cooling is a necessity, buildings with internal courtyards were considered the most appropriate. It acted as a perfect shading technique, while also allowing light inside. The arcade along the court, or the high wall around it, kept the interiors cool.

The ornamental qualities of the Havelis, makes it exceptional and stands above the original residences that existed at the time. The Havelis were different in character and style, but all were ornamental in a way that even their support structures and beams were intricately sculpted and carved.

Stopping in front of the Mangaldas Ni Haveli, we all got down one by one, with our eyes fixated on that colourful three storied elegant structure. The haveli had cute little balconies of a combination of pleasant colours and curves. Not knowing if they gave us permission to go inside, we tried to capture as much beauty that was available to us. But yeah, it was not just a haveli, it was a haveli that was transformed into a café. Mangaldas Ni Haveli II. The entrance to the cafe was from the left and hence wasn’t very obvious.

The adaptation of the old haveli into a picturesque cafe was mind-blowing. I entered into the courtyard first, a small square that allowed the cafe to be well exposed to sunlight. The haveli had a pleasant, yet vibrant colour scheme of passive yellow and browns to go with it in the furniture. The haveli had wonderful food too, especially the Gujarati specials, batra, chaas, and others too.

The light in the cafe was what made it so alive and comfortable, as it had some diffused sunlight and some direct light too.

 

 

The next stop was inside a pol, a French pol, that had a different ornamental language and a varied colour scheme altogether. The French Haveli was quite smaller in size and had a direct entrance to it, with a small boulevard in front of the entrance.

We moved into the dim-lit haveli, with a comfortable and cosy couch on its left, it had a jula in the centre with a glass panel right above it, that let in diffused sun light into the space. The simple and yet classy furniture impressed me at my first sight. Looking to the right I found a bright yellow light on top of a dressing table with a large display mirror and to its right inside was the bathroom. The interiors and fitting were made to match the decor of the house.

With great difficulty, we climbed the narrow and steep wooden stairs of the haveli to have a look at its dining room and tea table which was quite spacious compared to the rest of the haveli. The bedrooms too were definitely worth the climb.

 

The interiors are well exaggerated and the language of restoration has completely taken off from the language of the pols outside.  The change in language creates a drastic difference and gives an overall dynamism to the space.

The best time to visit these places would be early in the morning before the sun rises above our heads, especially during the summers. (trust me)

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From search bar to location tag, CEPT.

“Arriving in 2 minutes” Google maps read out loud. I was too pre-occupied anyway to have heard that. As for in my head, there was a slide show of all the Instagram pictures I had seen from the cept1 page, its official Facebook page, and to my annoyance, the pictures that my friends who had been there had posted.

The GPS although hit the wrong target, as my, 45 year old companion had already started off with how his life is going to be having to sent his daughter to an other part of the country, yep, that’s me.
His continuous ramble as to how I might suffer in a new state, what with all the new culture, language, people and umm, life, was going for a bouncer, yeah I mean, above my head. And why was that? CEPT was two minutes away.

In order to fill you readers up on some basics, I am an architecture student to-be, from a pretty small sized CBSE school from down south, Chennai. To an 18 year old from a perfectly proud Tamil conservative Brahmin family, but with a perseverant aspiration to do something considerable in a creative field, architecture is definitely the chosen career I guess.
But surprisingly, I have fed my curiosity about this course considerably well, browsing through almost all the architectural schools online, and stalking students of such schools to an impossible extent, which later on became a part of my daily routine.

Now as the filling in has been done, so have my two minutes.
I’m right outside the university. The bright red brick walls and the contrasting greys are literally calling out to me as I stand outside the university waiting for my father to take a picture of me along with the sign board that reads, yeah you guessed it right, CEPT!

I will try to not let my intense state of excitement not be a part of my description, as I introduce this architecture marvel to you. (oops, did it already)

The campus of CEPT is completely designed by the Architect, BV Doshi who was the conventional architect of the city then and now. Shades of brick red and pale concrete fill the campus with the seamless intrusions of various greens that blend, and create a natural ambience for education. These intrusions are carefully composed so as to form a part of the campus, and are integrated with the functions of the spaces designed.

The campus contains about 6 departments in total, including the school of arts and interior design. And the built forms of the campus are laid out radially, placed around the central ground. The faculty of architecture is the first building that one might see as one enters the campus, as they cross the north lawns. There is an entrance in between the north lawns and the FA (faculty of architecture) building, which is the ideal one as it offers a visual treat to see the two seamlessly coexist beside each other. If you happen to visit the school during the working hours, you might even see the students using the lawns for their little discussions, and to stimulate their creative juices.

There are a few parts of the campus that will linger on in ones mind, and captures the eyes of a visitor. Each of these places are significant for its own reason, like

 

the north lawns, artificial mounds, a few, with a skin of soft grass, is a multifunctional space that is a part of CEPT’s landscape. It features as a backdrop for all of CEPT’s events while it still holds an important role as one of CEPT’s active zones, with students sitting alone, in pairs or in groups, dwelling in their thought, ideas and more.

the canteen, an octagonal building, which is not so much a building as is a shelter of sloped roof supported by brick columns with a counter. The canteen is obviously one of the most active hot spots of the campus, surrounded by tall trees that act as a shade for those using the steps below as seaters.

the Sagara basement, a low lying space that opens up to the north lawns that features an interesting view of the ground on one side and the lawns on the other. the difference in level of this space adds to the interest of the user acting as a cosy comfortable student friendly space where most of CEPT events are hosted.

the grounds, centre of the campus, activity hub that facilitates various activities during different times of the day, week and semester. the ground holds good for all festivals and cultural events hosted by cept and in cept. You can also see a few students playing football and other leisure sports during lazy summer afternoons occasionally. Facing the ground and bordering it are many unique seaters designed and worked on by the students themselves. artistic expressions, dynamic installations and several other works of creative minds bound the grounds leaving the beholder dumbstruck.

Well, if not for others, it certainly would for an aspiring architecture student like me.
As I entered the sagara basement and walked across, I could see a few students in their sarees working on a phool-rangoli and several others on a suspended lamp.
The way they worked for a simple half day celebration made me question their passion towards what they do and further more, left me intimidated about the kind of passion I had for the subject, or what I thought I had.


Moved upwards, climbed a few steps and stood there facing the ground with the canteen to my right, I could tell with the odour of Samosas and Coffee.
There was a tyre I remember that caught my eye, that hung from a tall tree with three people swinging, with a rather accelerating speed, holding onto their coffee cups.

My dad nudged me that it was time to go meet the faculty for applications, and I followed him towards the gate, rather slowly, still trying to take in as much as i can.
Who knows, if I ever might come back again, the dramatic side of me thought.

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Of course, I was back again, right after I was done with my procedure. It was almost time for lunch, and the sun was shining right above our heads, but no my father had to wait. I needed to spend some more time here, explore the campus as much as possible and its not like I had a problem finding my way, I had the campus map by heart anyway.
I initially spent most of my time trying to figure out the paintings murals and installations, which were in vain. I captured them in my mobile and moved on to capture more through the campus.
The entire campus was based on so many levels, which made moving through the space interesting. And the way they had integrated all their community spaces, studios and study spaces, showed how the value and intensity of the design.
B.V Doshi was the man, I began to think.

There was a particular interesting part of the Faculty of Architecture that inspires many even now, the perspective stairs. I climbed down the stairs and to the basement again but this now was a very different experience owing to the play of its perspective. The way the light moves inside the building and the semi open areas made the entire structure as dynamic and soulful as possible.

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Inspiration was all it was to every student that aspired to study there, and architecture in general as well.
I moved around the places, taking pictures with every brick, I need to remember these moments, I exclaimed to my impatient company.
But I knew, I needed none to remember this experience.
I experienced a two year old dream.

A Green footprint of Peace.

Before the rays of the sun hit the city, is the perfect time to experience the serene ashram of the Mahatma.

The auto drops me off at the Ashram, in front of what looks like just another brick wall you see everywhere in Ahmedabad. The simplicity of the ashram’s oblique entrance was nothing but an index to the simplicity of the ashram itself.
Mild rays of the 630 sun, softly lights up the place, and reflects off the morning due drops.
The freshness of the morning spills over to my mind as I begin wandering, among the nature bound kutirs ( cottages ).

The Sabarmati ashram being architecturally well balanced, is laid out with the homes of the late satyagrahis, including the Mahatma himself, with which coexist the brick and concrete structures, designed by Charles Correa.

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The brick columns support the sloped roofs of the museum and the gallery that host the eminence of Mahatma in a minimalistic way.

“My life is my message to the world” said he.

And so it became.

The art gallery and the memorial museum illustrate in detail, the life of Gandhiji, and in particular, his life at the ashram after he returned from Africa. The gallery also displays the originals of the letters he wrote, and the articles he published that caused the great revolution.

Walking along the banks of the Sabarmati, at the far end of the ashram, I witnessed the old structures, the kutirs. The peace of the space, despite the movement of all the visitors, awed me. As I entered the Hriday Kunj, the residence of the Mahatma, the simplicity of the residence in terms of its architecture, and its oneness with nature struck me the most.

The mere thought of setting foot where the Mahatma spent most of his life, got me immersed into thoughts about his days here. Characters of the time, came to life at the Hriday Kunj and I could imagine what a day at this sacred home would look like.

The Mahatma’s desk, his Chakra and other possessions laid out in front, only added to the experiential imagination of his life here, as I sat with a guide who helped me spin the symbol of Independence- the Chakra, for the first time.

The preserved kutirs of the ashram along with the Prarthana bhoomi, narrates a tale of its own, and illustrates Gandhi’s life at the ashram. The Hriday Kunj- the residence of the Mahatma and Kasturi bai, houses their possessions along with a try on chakra that takes one back in time.

Sabarmati Ashram also houses

  • a museum of the Chakra- and its evolution over time, and in addition, showcases various techniques of Khadi weaving.
  •  a painting gallery that illustrates the life of Mahatma through the artistic strokes of Shri Hiralal Katri in eight man-sized paintings.

I walked out of the museum and across the Prarthana bhoomi, only to witness the perennial beauty of all, the Sabarmati. A light swift current, together with the wind, flows passively, and along with it takes my thoughts.

I sat down on one of the benches, still hooked onto the Sabarmati, ruminating the stories of Mahatma, both heard and seen.

A beautiful addition to the already serene community, the Sabarmati, can be experienced in one of the best means and views, from the elegant benches of the ashram pitched under a shady tree.

For chai and a light breakfast , visit parikalp, right opposite the Ashram entrance, across ashram road. Parikalp, gives one a perfect Gujarati street chai experience, along with one of the best tasting Kaman.

As the Ashram is located close to the centre of the city, there are a lot of other options for food that can be considered.

Location: Gandhi Smarak Sangrahalaya, Hridaya Kunj, Old Wadaj, Ashram Road, Ahmedabad, Gujarat 380027 | Time: 8am to 6pm | Best time to visit: As early as possible, 8 am | Travel by road – Autorickshaws – optimum mode |