D A Studios designs a crematorium that intuitively concentrates on the encounter of ritualistic orders of funeral obsequies for Hindus, appropriating individual and collective spatial layers, a subdued palette and a silent language of architectural gestures.
The architectural genre belonging to utilitarian buildings such as crematoria in India remains conventionally non-descript. It forms an invisible part of the built fabric, one that is not stitched into the aesthetic explorations of a city’s transforming viscidity. It may be read as a singularity in this space. The notion is perhaps of the bare and essential that need not be formally inscribed with ideas but which can be waylaid with smaller, agile solutions – neither necessarily artful nor thoughtful. In rare instances such as this, designers do get involved in the process.
Touted in the local media as a welcome change and setting a precedent for 30-50 similar projects with a range of amenities is Mahaprasthanam in Hyderabad, Telangana by D A Studios. The design uses an existing 3.7acre cemetery as its canvas, replenishing it with structures playing with relevant customary alignments and metaphorical geometries and weaving generous interconnected spaces within. D A Studios was commissioned by the Phoenix Foundation collaborating with the local Municipal Corporation to materialise ‘a state-of-the-art’ space to ‘accommodate cremation rituals for Hindus, culturally and contextually.’
A multi-faceted narrative composed of an Entrance Pavilion, a Cold Room, a landscaped area, a pavilion for an Electrical Crematorium, Administration Blocks, Ceremonial Yards, a Waiting Hall, Changing and Rest Rooms, a Canteen, Traditional and Public Funeral Pyre, Existing Graves and a Parking is generated. The outcome is a series of disparate forms organically arranged over the gentle gradients of the topography to enjoy connections and interactions with carved out central and ambient spaces. The understated network of pavilions sets a sense of the precinct and organises an ambulatory within. Explaining the functional aspect of this layout, the architects say, “Due to building on an existing crematory, the open land pockets left a scattered layout to the built forms. This leaves an organic layout of spaces. A screen and stone posts and plants add further privacy to each pyre.”
The polylithic place-making discovers a meaning in the underlying philosophies of the Bhagavad Gita, wherein ‘life’s purpose is fulfilled when one goes through the 16 phases called Shodasha Samskara. Death in Hindu Philosophy is but a journey in search of perfection and eventual Moksha’ and the prescribed ritualistic stages where ‘Antyesti, the final stage of life is the funeral ritual. Divided into 5 major stages- preparation, cremation, mourning, purification and commemoration- the last rite is fulfilled.’ The concept carries the responsibility of curating the idea.
“Never the spirit was born; the spirit shall cease to be never,
Never was time it was not; end and beginning are dreams;
Birthless and deathless and changeless remaineth the spirit for ever
Death hath not touched it at all, dead though the house of it seems.”
Sir Edwin Arnold, 1900
The design evolves from the appropriation of characteristic forms and the exploration of these as spatial experiences. At the outset, the stark angular structures are neither overtly declarative nor ornamental. Each pavilion is isolated, taking each fragment of architecture individually and purposefully. More than a graphic persuasion, the outlines of the constructs set an angle in reflection of the architects’ concept as ‘lamenting the lost; the built forms are shaped in such a way that; Pavilions embrace to console the loved ones, Waiting halls silently bow in honour, & Pyres open up to liberate the lost in a farewell.’
The western corner of the site marks the entrance, leading to a rectilinear driveway concluding in a space allocated for parking. A tangential path rimmed partially by engraved walls marks an inconspicuous entryway circumscribed within an entrance Pavilion. Integral to and inherent in the aesthetic throughout are the extracts from the Bhagavad Gita which are etched in sharp relief on the concrete surfaces. Intuitively, the architecture from hereon reconciles with the observances of the religious ordinance to recreate a disciplined and coherent transition from space to space.
A north-south axial circulation bisects the site where sequentially the Electric Crematorium, Canteen and beyond them the existing graves extend from its western edge, the Waiting Hall and Funeral Pyre – 1 (Traditional) form its southern tip and the Administration, Ceremonial Yard, Public Funeral Pyre, Waiting Hall -2, Funeral Pyre – 2 (Traditional) and Parking are compartmentalised along its eastern hem. In terms of its rigour and stylistic affinities, there are may be many effective descriptors but the ethos implicitly aims to affix the vocabulary in a distinct idea of symbolism.
Elaborating on the details & symbolism, the architects say, “The customized script casting onto the precast walls were assembled on site in a month. The cavaedium of forms with their angular tendencies behold the culture and concept. Wall surfaces with splash-over texture add the wrinkle of the wise to these lone standing structures. Every step, every stone & every turn empathises with the loss and lost as much as it was for the living and the life shared. It symbolises the significance of love and loss as continuity.”
While the analogical references are subtle, the structure itself is indicative of a strong contemporary outlook. With the brutal virtue of pre-cast concrete panels with hollow core slabs, the gravel-finished masonry walls, terracotta tiled pathway and the efficiency of imported electrical equipment, solar panels for lighting and water supply, the measure is far from being genial. A softened quality is induced by a determinate landscape that has an inanimate synergy within the surroundings. In favour of the evocative, the detailing makes for the authenticity and transparency of the volumes. Clustered and bound by visual stimuli, the counter-narrative as a sprawl is an absolute, not as an evolving form but as a distillation of these extrapolated interpretations.
These gestures articulate a slowness of experience, reflective and expressive in essence. The porosity reacts to a state of function where everything is brought together by parity, rather than hierarchy. The balance of materiality, of interventions, of visceral frameworks bear a suggestion to a sense of temporariness. In a shift defying fixed prepositions, the project plays an important role in ascertaining an archetype as a public interface. Spurring further dialogue, it transgresses from the singular to the plural, where the movement is set by the parameters contributing to an architecture of a cultural & public identity, religious beliefs, and the requisite.
Site Area: 3.7 Acres
Location: Hyderabad, Telangana
Year of Completion: 2015
Architectural Firm: D A Studios
Architects: Chaitanya, Kasi, Pradeepthi
Client: Phoenix Foundation in collaboration with Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation, built under Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative.
Contractor: Preca and Phoenix Foundation, Hyderabad
Text: Maanasi Hattangadi