In a first of a series of guest articles this article was written and contributed by Architect Hamir Smart. He is an alumnus of the prestigious Sir J.J. College of Architecture, Mumbai and did a Masters in Advance Studies in Architecture, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada. He established his practice Hamir Smart Architects in 2006. Hamir Smart has extensive experience on a wide variety of projects. With a Canadian education and International exposure, his design experience ranges from Architecture and Urban design to Interior Design. As project architect, he is accustomed to dealing with Institutions, Corporations, and private clients. Many clients have repeatedly commissioned new work, which is proof of client satisfaction, professional competence and ability in dealing with client needs and goals.
Picture Courtesy : Ketki Nikam Picturemint
The quote by Ar. Eero Saarinen is apt, when we, as architects are asked to retrofit an existing space or structure; as in literal terms, a building is designed to live beyond the life of an architect and adorn many characters in its lifetime.
The word “Retrofit”, always makes me think of cars – old cars, retrofitted with new interiors or with body paint or stickers. It is like morphing new over an old or existing form.
Design Brief: Smt. K.C. Gandhi English school a well-known and reputed school of Kalyan and for us a repeat client. The school building may not compare to today’s new international schools with air conditioned classes and swanky interiors, but very similar to what we identified as schools while we were children ourselves. With a strong reputation and lot of importance given to sports and education, the school has created the young cricketer Pranav Dhanawade who broke the record of 1009 runs.
Concept: One can tackle the idea of retrofitting in many ways: we decided to create space which can be achieved faster and in a limited budget but at the same time adaptable for young kids to use while appealing to them. My little daughter’s school came to my rescue as an excellent case study.
When we saw the existing classes, we knew that we would have to overhaul the space to a totally new experience and create a place of learning, joy and excitement for kids, and encourage them to return to the classes the next morning. It is very important to give children a space in which they feel secure. One of the ways to do so is by giving them familiar surroundings. So we decided to identify elements and objects with which the kids can relate. We decided to fill the classes with lot of information, colors, shapes, books, toys, cartoon characters, Alphabets, Numbers, Fruits, vegetables, etc. We took this thought process and conceptualized the space with colors, paintings, shapes, books and toys. All these articles we used to decorate the space; I use the word decorate as it fits perfectly well when you want to retrofit and transform an item or space to a new.
The floor was covered with soft cushioned vinyl of different colors. The existing wall storages were covered with simple curtains with cartoons, the doors covered with cartoon characters laminate and installed new fans of kid’s collection. The walls were repainted with cartoon characters, alphabets and nos. Old wooden widows were painted in the same color as of walls. We bought in kid friendly furniture with different shapes and colors and few toys and books. The idea of loose furniture is to give both teachers and kids maximum flexibility to use the classrooms as per their needs. The use of soft and colorful vinyl on the floor serves a dual purpose of hygiene and of protecting kids from getting hurt if they fall. The overall exercise gave us good idea on different materials available which can be easily installed and gave us an idea on the budgets can be controlled even in fast paced projects.
Sustainable Practice: It is important to understand clients need, budget and time but at the same time have an architectural and artistic freedom to conceive a space. We strongly believe in being sustainable. Definition of sustainable may vary but to retrofit is to be sustainable, as when you retrofit, you reuse, you recycle, you recreate, and you give new life to old. This sustainable practice can also help lower energy needs and the use of natural resources. And it is the need of the hour, in our country, where there is a large population of young and when there is a lack of space for schools, retrofitting, creating, and overlapping of functions on same space is the answer. The entire project was completed in 2 weeks and we had two playschool classes.
As Architect Eero Saarinen (1962) said “The purpose of architecture is to shelter and enhance man’s life on earth and to fulfill his belief in the nobility of his existence.“ It is our design philosophy that “A good design improves the quality of urban as well as social life and an architect can play an important role in this development.”