Discovery Centre: Architecture Discipline

A site cum sales office escalated to the purview of broader & inclusive societal faculties of a town hall, the design of the Discovery Centre in Bengaluru by Delhi-based Architecture Discipline significantly avoids as being one amongst the many succumbing to the trope of capital to concentrate more on the regeneration of an idea, its representation and its fabrication.

Conceived as an assemblage of parts that can relocated after six years, the architecture of Discovery Centre adopts different aspects of tactility and progressive ideas to engage with the visitor.

In transition is the idea of timelessness in architecture. A building is more of a retrofit to an ideology than a context. The quest for rootedness often finds design amidst a conundrum of ‘requirements’ rather than occupying a traditional response. Architecture is an encounter with a rich and complex web of readings; architecture as art, architecture as temporal, architecture as a purpose, and amongst such others, architecture as an engagement. In 2011, Anish Kapoor installed the Leviathan, a part of the Monumenta series of commissions and a dramatic sensory & tactile experience of scale. Bulbous, in dark purple with translucent red interiors, the sculptural complex awed & intimidated as an artistic interaction.

In a far more tropical locale, a kindred red ovoid recalls a similar sense of enigma and the sculptural notion of form and scale. Inset within an architectural prerogative, its setting however is deigned more purposeful in the Discovery Centre, a town hall / a site cum sales office designed by Architecture Discipline in Bhartiya City, a 125 acre township on the outskirts of Bengaluru. An object of engagement, an object of intrigue, it is an object virtuoso for the longitudinal frit-printed glass frame construct enveloping it.

Sited as a nexus to an expanse of 5 acres, the entire spatiality of a built-up area of 37,000sqft responds to the functions of a sales cum site office for a real estate group. The architecture articulates the client’s requirement for a flexible town hall principled by a sustainable approach and budgetary constraints. Dealing with a representation of identity, the building operates at blurred boundaries of permanence. The building is not tied down to its functionality, nor to its aesthetic, but to its idea of fabrication itself. One of the main criterion that the design assumes is as the architect elucidates, “The building is only placed for 6 years and post that, it would be relocated and moved down the site precinct and hence the building was conceived as an assemblage of parts”. Also, in play was the mapping of perceptual domains that the built would address – of a design in the outskirts of the city that announced itself at a glance from the highway. The positioning of the building et al relates to curating of a responsive choreography – more to the visual, more to the broader objectives, and the Centre placed in the nexus reiterates the pivotal role ‘to engage the visitor right through the development.’

Site + Access Level Plan
West Elevation
West Elevation
North & South Elevations
North & South Elevations

As revealing is its approach, as emphatic is its ambiguity too. The vocabulary is universal, simple layers trace. In a nondescript landscape, a drop-off subtly indented from the curvilinear approach road in the south leads past a short flight of stairs, flanked by fountains and a placed shrubbery or two to the primary entrance as a precedent to the actual construct which is elevated in a low-slung almost-barren granite stone plaza. Perhaps, not an incidental process, but rather, a deliberate creative act for a singular architecture to stand out from a bland commercial stance. The architecture from hereon follows an anti-narrative format with visuals and bold open spaces used to powerful effect. The stratagem for the rest of the site episodically delineates a disciplined yet contrarian approach to the monumentality. The winding approach road widens into two parking zones; one to the south and one to the east. Progressively ordered toward the east along this southern edge of the site are the Photovoltaic array, an Amphitheatre and an area of grassy knolled terrain cultivated on relocated excavated top soil.  A rear entry carves the northernmost stretch of the site expediting access to the gas bank and service areas giving prominence to a salient area for Recycled Grey Water and landscape features regenerated from excavated top soil to its east.

Longitudinal Section
Sections

Featuring a finely calibrated entry sequence, the design guides the visitor through a series of planned elements to the sinuous form of the auditorium – an object of engagement, an object of intrigue – its immersive red reflected and resting in a shallow lotus pond rendering an unexpected sense of occasion. The ovate form, which at prima facie is as sassy as it is crisp and austere, breaks away from the monolithic structure to perfect the use of a central gathering space in the plaza. Of both artistic & commercial applications, this glass fibre oblong is likened to a metaphoric expression by the architect as one ‘which would attract the urban Indian family looking to be a part of the township. Painted red, the egg on the plaza is aimed to bring the family together at one point.’

The singular main entrance opens out to an immense double-heighted space composed of the ramped entry to the auditorium, the reception, café, service area, restrooms and intermittently the circulation core.  The architect controls light levels of tangible instances within. In his words, “All other functions are planned as occurrences in an event that one happens to chance upon, inside the building.”

At first glance, angular tectonics of the streaming shafts of light from the seemingly porous frit-printed glass panes, the planes of the sunbreakers of the roof, the monochromatic reception desk, and the modest walkway to the auditorium from inside, establishes the dramatis personae. There lie far deeper elements and layers to the space. The longitudinal north-eastern edge boasts of larger part of the designated functionalities.

Overlooking the preliminary double-heighted space showcasing thematic exhibits.

The entrance ramp to the auditorium fringed by glass railings scales over the edge of the lotus pond arrives at a glass lobby, stepping off near the threshold onto a finish of local grey/white granite which continues as plush hand-tufted carpet further on. The volume inside is perfected with many levels of textures and tactility; the furnishings include the Fritz Hansen Decision Series arranged to face a black metallic lectern propped against the suspended screen concealing the Control Room beyond. As more practical aspects of acoustics are dealt stylistically by integrating fabric louvers, acoustic curtain and soft layers of perforated fabric clinging on to commercial board panelling, insulation, a prefabricated steel portal and the outermost glass fibre mesh, a visual lightness is imbued despite the dark tones.

Auditorium Details
Interior of the auditorium.

Appropriately next to the Auditorium is the Café with a mounted montage of Plasma screens high on a wall, comfortable seating and views the north plaza and more. One can meander out to the spill-out space created by the north and south plazas. Overlooking this Café, is the deck on the first level atop the adjunct volumes of the service area, restrooms bifurcated gently by a sleek lift shaft and a sculptural staircase of steel and granite.

The expansive extent of the lower level is screened off from this point onward and recedes into stark, minimalist interiors as track lighting on the black painted ceilings and flooring follows the prescribed paths along the meeting spaces enclosed beyond glass walls and a paper pantry in a linear diagonal formation towards the south-east and an area earmarked for temporary exhibits along the north-east. Loosely bound, the planning is simplistic and verges on a prescient engagement amongst spaces.

The first level from the deck spans out to accommodate customary core services such as the Strong room, Restrooms, Reception, Waiting Lounge & Pantry to more work-oriented allocations such as the Conference, Call Centre, Press Lounge, Cabins, Conference Room, Meeting Spaces, Archival and an area endorsed for future expansion.

Office Level Plan

The depth of the experience hinges on the architect’s deeper understanding of balance – of a flare apparent in the purist choice of colours such as the blue carpeting on the first level against the subdued tinges of diffused light through the meeting rooms, of the slivers of light reaching past the sunbreakers to pare the aesthetic, of the proximity of strata of frames and fins inlaid telescopically in the structure.

Although, the architecture is one of many layers, each nuance is curated in conversation with the outer shell. Transparency and openness is a virtue; the design draws remarkable connections to the outside, between the individual spaces and to light.

Structural Framework
“The idea is to take modularity beyond its conventional theoretical understanding, to a more literal level, that enables each panel, each nut and bold to be assembled, dismantled and then reassembled processing the building like a machine.”

Wall Section
Column Details

Light-weight, the building rests upon compacted soil borrowed from the excavated foundation of the surrounding development. The earthfill for the plinth was sourced from the material excavated from the lower levels. The large span of 20m across a length of 90m was realised with the cost-effective methodology of using a truss system encasing a skin composed of architectural mesh and frit-printed glass. Serving as an anchor for a suspended deck, it also enables a clear multifunctional space with a 4.5 height. In a clever manipulation, dynamic laced columns are grafted as part of the building skin, thus visibly reducing the precept for column size and each column is ‘partially embedded within the glass, whilst being integrated with the ventilation system.’

To accommodate underfloor ducts, the building in parts is contrived as false floors. The course of assemblage is further gentrified by ensuring thoughtful inclusions such as a Robertson Deck that warrants the removability and recyclability of the deck slabs.

Systems
Oriented to the South, the Photovoltaic Farm empowers the Plaza, the public areas and the street lighting.

Photovoltaic Farm toward the southern edge of the site.

Each system responds to a pursuit of sustainable development and serves as a mandate for self-sufficiency. Elaborating on these systemic integrations, the architect explains, “A Thermal storage system is piggybacked on a 100 per cent fresh air, earth cooling system.  Displacement ventilation techniques are used to introduce cool air from below the floor; this in turn is extracted through the glass skin and layered the roof. Designed as an exhaust duct, the glass skin has a void in between; beyond a certain point, a pressurised glass cavity is created which exhausts the air. This air coming out is at around 27 degrees C, and hence, the convection heat transfer is completely negated. Grey water is used for landscaping. Every other element such as Golf carts, an ice-cream van, plasma screens are typological inserts that may get amended over time.”

Materiality
The expressive palette opts for materials such as glass, steel, fabric, ‘sadarali’ stone, and locally obtained timber with an elongated life span for ease of maintenance, modularity, composition & assembly. The combinations used thereof are self-reflexive. Re-augmenting the object as visual, the exposed structure is furbished with water-based paint and the longitudinal trusses with vinyl.  While most materials contribute to the structure and surfaces, ‘Sadarali’ stone is used to define a synchronicity with regional context and infers a resolved finish for the ramps, lotus pond etc. The layered frit printed glass, grey on the outside and white inside, eschews in favour of tactile combinations of moments for the user – a dynamic that facilitates reduction of heat in the interiors, and an animation of patterns and light.

In this apparent sectional experience, light emerges as an imaginative sensory material, distilling moments of vitality; thus, characterising the essence of the architecture itself and intensifying connections. The materiality is of poetic sensibilities – embellished by acute consideration to details such as the red balustrade of the stairs and the Indianness of the lotus motif in the lotus pond.

Landscape
Alluding the formal layout, the reticent landscape relies on a selective plantation of endemic ferns and grasses that quickly change in colour and texture to greet the visitor with an ever-changing ambience.

An integral inclusion, the excavated top soil also contributed to berming thereby creating an extensive gathering space and conditioning a suitable response to the climate.

“The building had to tell a story, the concerns of the township and of course demonstrate the residential and commercial characteristics of the development. Optimising the sky, light and air quality in Bengaluru, the intent was create a progressive design experience that would demonstrate the core value of a high quality of life in the development. Innovation is therefore crucial, and something distinctive had to be created that would not only stand out in form but also in colour, revealing a narrative for the township. In a derelict zone with no clear indication of what was to come in up in the imminent future, a palette that would enable all these aspects is adopted, ” mentions the architect.

Everything is celebratory, everything is about an immaculate user experience, and every detail bespoke in its clarity. Although it focuses primarily on the ideas of a sculptural aesthetic requiring tactility and trial, it also tends to find itself in the minutiae. As a building, it does not reject its context but outlines constructive criticism for its typology. One sees numerous site offices, connective infrastructures formulated out of containers and much like that this design emerges as a refreshing change for this practice working outside the exhausted aesthetic reputation of its counterparts and their limitations. It is not a definitive exploration but it may be a much-needed communique for these practices to take control of the design processes and synthesise multiple and complementary sources to arrive at newer possibilities. The traditional role of architecture blurs here to explore alternative civic, social & physical agendas for not only a requirement but also for the community.  The power of its architecture is independent of scale. It manoeuvres the luxury of a blank canvas, of a responsibility so replete with sustainable integrations beyond prescriptive, to reveal a pattern of the everyday simple rearranged in its fabric.

Areas:
Site Area: 5 Acres
Built-Up Area: 37,000 square feet
Information:
Project: Discovery Centre
Location: Bengaluru
Principal Architect: Akshat Bhatt
Design Team: Aditya Tognatta, Nishant Malhotra, Nidhi Khosla
Client: Bhartiya City
Structural: Isha Consultants Pvt Ltd, Project Lead: VP Aggarwal
Electrical: Lirio Lopez, Project Lead: Linus Lopez
Landscape: BDP London:  Chris Stanton (assisted by Design Milieu)
HVAC: Gupta Consultants & Associates, Project Lead: Nirmal C Gupta / Sameer Uddin
Plumbing: Deepak Kumar & Associates
PMC Façade Engineering: Lyrita Audio / Viren Bakhshi
Lighting: Lirio Lopez: Linus Lopez
Photographer: Jeetin Sharma
Completion: November 2013

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