The Durga Puja Pavilion is an embodiment of traditional folklore through innovative spatial design using modern avenues by Square Consultancy Services

Architecture Design
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View of the Durga Puja Pavilion 
Project credits:
Project name: The Steel Symphony- Architect’s muse with Durga Puja Pavilion
Location : Kolkata, India
Client : Ballygunje Cultural Association
Design Firm: Square Consultancy Services
Project Team: Ranit Maiti, Subhrajit G. Mitra, Avishek Das and Tinku Sarkar
Project Completed : 20th August 2014
Project Completion : 26th September 2014
Structure engineer: Square Consultancy Services
Covered Area: 3000 sqft

The Durga Puja Pavilion by Square Consultancy Services is the first instance of an architectural firm designing a Pandal in the holy festival of Kolkata. Architecture has always depicted the ever-changing socio-cultural and political scenarios of the society.  Durga Puja being one of the most significant religious and cultural festivals of India, the temporary pavilion or pandals, constructed to house the idol, experience a foot fall of millions of devotees in the span of 4-5 days of the festival. Thus, these pavilions can be pictures as the containers of the public realm.   

Traditionally, the work for puja pavilions was undertaken by local artists and artisans, who showcase brilliant creativity through the use of materials and innovative themes. As architects, however, the resultant design was to stress on the spatial quality and the volumetric expression as against the two dimensional renderings on the façade.

The architects at Square live with the core idea, inspired design for people. They believe that the difference between creativity and design is that the latter always serves a purpose. Creativity is when one thinks of flying in air like a bird. However, when one makes an airplane to realize this, it becomes a design. So while being creative and innovative, the studio ensures that their designs serve a purpose, for the people and their society. They practice diversity. One of their principles is that the design style must evolve from the constraints of the project, rather than from a preconceived motion.

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View of the Durga Puja Pavilion 

The Durga Puja is a deep rooted cultural aspect of the Bengali society. However, with the modern times, the traditional deity and the stories have found a contemporary expression through the use of technology and innovative materials. The structure makes use of the parametric forms generated through computer modeling, but conveys the traditional tale, the triumph of good over evil, the relation between heaven and earth in its own way. The structure centers around four parametric pillars, representing the trees of life, connecting the heaven and earth. 

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Conceptual Rendering for the Tree of Life

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View of the Tree of Life Pillar

Historically, BCA have been doing conventional pavilions which, in fact, was one of their unique selling points for those who got disinterested with the truckload of theme pandals produced every year. Wanting to break away from the conventional mould and do something different, in 2014, they took an unprecedented step by commissioning an architectural firm to design the pavilion. 

Regarding the design brief as an imperative entity, the architects helped the client formulate the brief by asking them various questions, before the design conceptualization. A good design is a product of good mapping and one must get their expectation fulfilled after the experience, which goes beyond ticking a list of problems and requirements. The architects at Square consider it important to ask the correct question, as the root of the design problem may lie in an unpredictable place. They insist on their clients to look beyond the typical solutions in the brief, to focus on the bigger picture.

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View of the Durga Puja Pavilion 

The project is more like a Public Art project than an architectural one. The basic difference was that there was no demography report of the users available. It was a kind of project that brought the architects in touch with thousands of people, with varying tastes and sensitivity, all at one place. From the elite, urban intellectual to the simple villager who would travel miles to see the pavilion, defining an all-encompassing concept was not an easy task. Working on the concept opened up a lot of lateral aspects of design that are often overlooked in the studios. The requirements made the architects think from the views of the common people, look beyond the standard codes and architectural practices, understand the culture and connect with the society in general, making the designers happy. 

The architects at Square believe that every new project offers a variety of opportunities to be creative, and they have been trying to depict this idea through their works. They dedicate themselves to create design awareness.

The concept for the pavilion explores the volumetric aspects of the space, heightening the sensory experience of the visitors by the change of scale, from human to monumental, using formal composition of the various elements augmented by proper illumination. The curve wall guides a visitor into the triple height pavilion interior and flows outward, folding and unfolding as one travels. The main idol is placed along the longitudinal axis, which is framed by steel pillars, giving vibrant view points throughout the journey.

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Four Steel Pillars framing the Idol 

The structure, as a whole, embodies how tradition and history can be preserved and celebrated within the modern, mechanized society. It did not copy anachronistic elements from the past, but grasped their underlying values and respect for tradition, mirroring the same in its own way, to create public spaces that are self contained in all respects, the design, form, material and methods of construction. The architects’ depiction shows that technology is not against traditional values; rather it fulfills its purpose and would continue to do the same for generations to come, in its own, original ways.

This structure, like each architectural creation, boasts of a strong symbolic association that aims to find modern expression prevalent within the traditional and cultural legacy of the developing society.

The evolution from the color red to blue, from outside to inside, symbolizes the journey from evil to good, as one enters the sanctuary, drawing parallels to the tradition of using voluptuous, hedonistic idols outside the temple façades. 

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The Colored Panels showcasing the Journey from Evil to Good 

The devotee thus experiences a complete feeling of holiness as he enters the inner sanctum. The four pillars, the trees of life connect the earth to heaven above.  The inscriptions on the laser cut metal sheets reminds one of the stone inscriptions of the ancient temples that were meant to deliver religious, social and moral messages to the masses. 

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Verses depicted on the Metal Sheets

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The Trees of Life symbolically connecting the Earth and Heaven

The structure distances itself from using traditional methods of doing up with bamboo or cloth and refrains from using ornamental, non-conventional materials that attempt to beautify the façade only. Instead, it uses latest parametric forms of modern architectural designs that are computer stimulated, employing contemporary industrial elements like steel, acrylic and iron. The use of steel ensures that the material can be reused for other purposes as well. It uses materials familiar within the architectural jargon viz. acrylics, ACP sheets, MS pipes and panels.  

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Conceptual Rendering of the Façade Design

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Façade Design of the Pavilion

The site of the pavilion is in the middle of a bustling street. So it had to be ensured that the entire structure could be easily dismounted within a few days after the festival. Reusable materials like steel pipes, ACP panels and acrylic sheets were experimented with. Using the reflective properties of these materials, diffused lighting was created and thus, direct lighting was used sparsely in the structure. The structure was open from two sides, ensuring adequate light and ventilation. This eliminated the feeling of claustrophobia, even during the peak gathering hours during the festival.

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Conceptual Rendering of the Lights 

Like many other pandals, the entire pavilion was constructed overlooking a 44 feet wide sub-arterial road, including the pavement on one side. The road witnessed relatively heavy traffic on the weekdays. Barring the last 4-5 days of the festival, the road could not be blocked for any purpose. Due to this constraint, the alignment of the pavilion was done in a manner that it always had a clear 17 feet freeway for vehicular movement, which later was repurposed as a pedestrian thoroughfare during the festival. Steel staging was used during the construction process to allow for vehicular movement underneath it. Provisions were made such that, in case of an emergency, a fire engine could also pass through.

Kolkata experiences heavy rains during the period of September – October. This climatic constraint had to be taken care of during the design process and its execution. On one hand, the idol and the pavilion had to be protected, on the other, it had to be ensured that the public receives shade, which otherwise would create commotion.

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View of the Durga Puja Pavilion

The time taken to construct the entire structure was barely 40 days, owing to the pre-engineered trusses and sections that were done separately in workshops. The use of these pre-fabricated materials greatly reduced the hassles involved in on-site assembly on a busy road. 

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Plan 

The Durga Puja Pavilion is an embodiment to the studio’s principle that architecture should not be practiced as a customer support service, but it needs to contribute towards the society. The architects have always wanted to be in a profession that would allow them to be creative, one that inspires, challenges and gives a sense of accomplishment. Choosing architecture as a career choice rooted from this aspiration. Practicing architecture, for them, is a way to nurture their creative skills in a meaningful way. So, in an alternate reality, they could have been writers or painters, but not IT professionals or finance managers in some MNC.

Coming from a rather pedantic education system, the principals at Square believe that their architectural education has been excellent in teaching them the theories of design. As architectural practitioners in an applied field, they firmly think that more stress can be given to latest technological know how, evolving material palette, management and entrepreneurship; which are fairly important aspects for a successful practice.

When not designing incredible architectural creations, the architects at Square Consultancy Services behave like normal people.

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Ranit Maiti

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Subhrajit G. Mitra 

Subhrajit.G.Mitra and Ranit Maiti completed their Bachelor degree in architecture (2006) and Masters Degree in Urban Design (2008) from Jadavpur University. They founded Square Consultancy Services in September 2008. Winners of numerous awards and accolades their works focuses on an eclectic blend of neo and retro style. In 2015 they were chosen among fifty next gen architects and designers iGen2015 all over India by Architects and Interiors India magazine. Ranit Maiti is a visiting faculty of the department of architecture, Jadavpur University

– Tanvi Naik ,Volume Zero.

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