In a dialogue with Nashik-based architects, CAUSE – an initiative, author Rama Raghavan poses questions and explores themes on practice, conservation, publicness, ambition of a programme, perceptions of constraints and challenges through the lens of their project – Shanti-Krishna Museum of Money & History.
A conversation with the architects on the nuances of their practice and the project.
The Coin Museum and Numismatic Centre in Anjaneri is a building that has been an integral part of the city of Nashik. The institute founded in 1980 by the Indian Numismatic, Historical and Cultural Research Foundation has been a landmark of the city. Earlier constituting a research centre and a library relating to numismatic studies, it was also home to an impressive privately owned collection of coins and artefacts. The museum known locally as ‘Nane Sangrahalaya’ (Coin Museum) flourished for a while but gradually began losing ties with the community over a period of time.
Recognising this fading dialogue, the trustees, with the support of the Ministry of Culture, the Government of India, decided to establish a renewed identity for the museum. The new extension spanning nearly 9000sqft was thus conceived and rechristened the ‘Shanti-Krishna Museum of Money & History’. A product of thoughtful, responsive processes emerging from context, the extension to the coin museum was conceptualised and completed in 2018 by a Nashik-based architectural firm, ‘CAUSE – an initiative’ co-founded by architects, Ali Kaderi, Purva Shah, Nandan Malani and Amol Suryawanshi.
The brief that was given to the architects specified augmenting the number of exhibits four times the current facility. The architects decided to elevate this brief of the museum extension and its programme of providing a viewing space for the artefacts to a larger, more transformative vision. There being no other built context around the existing museum buildings, apart from the serene natural setting and the views of the scenic Brahmagiri hills, the architects were befuddled about the style to envisage for the extension with respect to historical context.
At this point, without immediate contextual dependency, the thought was that the extension could be free from the spatial notions of a traditional museum, and could move towards a contemporary language with a modern expression. The building could play a solid yet subtle backdrop to the culturally rich exhibits that speak of ancient coinage. However, the process of building the extension had to be a derivation from contextual cues for it to converse effectively with the past.
The site spread across an area of around five acres had linearly placed pre-existing buildings built in varying styles over two and half decades. These housed the former coin museum and research centre. The arbitrary visual language of these buildings became an encumbrance in obtaining a clear process of designing the extension. Fortunately, an opportunity was identified within this constraint when the architects discovered that the skeletal framework of the existing buildings would be perfect for envisaging the extension.
While driving along the Nashik-Trimbakeshwar highway, the building set strong in the solemn foreground of a rugged monochrome landscape, is impossible to miss. As one approaches the site, the rocky terrain gently slopes ahead and upward, then soars in a sublime sanguine. At this point, the eye wanders up and along this towering, linearly spread, earthy arcade wall and pauses at an encased arch that seems to be the apparent entrance. The elongated envelope exudes an aura of importance yet seems to beckon one to enter and engage. The idea behind the outer arcade wall that runs the length of 100m was to create a unified whole that brought together the old buildings with the new, said the architects. Even the external forecourt flows in continuation with the dialogue that the built space triggers. The dusty landscape, reminiscent of an archaeological site, becomes an apt setting for an excavation pit that has been planned as a hands-on activity for students.
As one steps in through the arched portal, the volumes in the interior space feel strangely liberating. The robust outer façade that appeared as a porous armour from the exterior softens into pervious courtyards on the interior. The space calls out for an involuntary movement and somewhat reminds one of a perforated labyrinth. The muted tones of grey and the frames set within frames formed by arched openings indicate an implied path of exploration.
The clear structural grid of 12ft by 12ft that based the skeleton of the existing buildings instantly set a predetermined set of rules to design the extension. This module also clearly supported the clients’ brief of separate display halls for 27 varying categories of exhibits from across themes of natural history, archaeology, and anthropology, amongst others apart from ancient coins. The grid was replicated and extended linearly ahead until the allowable building line where the new space was to be conceived, acknowledging the formerly built.
The design process was nothing short of a puzzle with the superimposition of the programme to a space matrix. The binding element that the architects chose to negotiate the grid with was an element woven into the historic fabric of the old city of Nashik – an Arch, one that was to be translated into a contemporary expression.
The scale of the Arch was varied with respect to the nature of the transition. They found the element perfect for softening the rigid geometry of the grid and supporting the large volumes that were to become the exhibit halls.
The punctured maze conceived with the derived grid is broken at the central circulatory spine to reveal a wide visual axis that opens out to a large, double-height central atrium. Diffused sunlight streams in at the atrium, lighting up the bluish-grey interior walls and forming shadows beyond. The entire space has been designed with varying ceiling heights that provide an interesting play of volumes- monumental and humane.
On either side of the central atrium are the exhibits of a smaller scale to provide an intimate, focussed viewing experience. The architects claimed that the heights were lowered to control direct sunlight to protect the age-old artefacts. The exhibit halls are intercepted by intermediate un-built volumes that become courtyards. These unite the space with the sky and allow visitors to linger, pause and absorb the surroundings. These also act as transition spaces that enable choice-making in the navigation, making the viewing experience less monotonous. Some connecting passages also in grids have double heights that embed clerestory windows, further articulating the walk with ethereal light and shadow. The interior constructs an experiential jigsaw of tangible and intangible patterns guiding the visitor silently with implicit cues.
The strategic fenestrations also naturally ventilate the large volumes and help mitigate heat gain, thus reducing running costs, said the architects. The exhibits are designed in display cases with bright backgrounds that add a pop of colour in the otherwise monotone space. The intention behind this, the architects claimed, was that the exhibits that were the museum’s soul were to be the highlight, and the architecture was to play a supporting role. Shifting roles from a protagonist and a stage, in its dynamic spatial narrative, the museum takes one through a new journey with each visit.
Buildings in the public urban realm shoulder enormous responsibility. Laden with multiple meanings, their values directly or indirectly permeate through the people. The ethos of a city can be deciphered from the structures it chooses to hold on to. These emerge as an intangible thread of connections that bead time, people, and buildings of value in an urban ensemble. It just so happens that in satellite cities, these gems tend to be somewhat hidden, unnoticed and away from the larger public eye.
In the case of the coin museum in Nashik, fortunately, the government was forthcoming in supporting the upgradation of a building within the private domain – a Museum and recognised its role in informing and shaping opinions. Ada Louise Huxtable, an American architectural critic and writer in her essay titled ‘What should a museum be?’ written in 1960 for The New York Times, acknowledges a museum’s role as a social catalyst to spark critical conversations with the community. She says that a museum without people is no museum at all. How can museums go beyond their purpose of showcasing antiquity to engaging with the community?
The Coin Museum was designed to extend a spirit of inquiry and create an osmotic connection with the people. The building transforms from only serving a function to a device for churning discourses.
With this broader architectural goal, there was a reflexive impetus in boosting marketing and outreach through programmes and events to draw in more and more visitors. An Information Plaza has been planned in the premises that would inform visitors about Nashik and its context, to ensure that the museum connects with the city at large. During the pandemic, since the museum has not been in operation, the authorities plan on releasing virtual tours to keep the communication with the people thriving.
A phoenix rising from the ashes, the new Coin Museum at Anjaneri goes boldly beyond its role as a mere repository. It is a space with layered interpretations that connects with a larger context, amalgamates the past with the future, fuses the old and the new, and switches its role between an artefact and a backdrop. It not only inspires and moves visitors with its towering yet humane presence, its poetic frames, fleeting patterns and immersive experience but the critical dialogues it strikes render a whole new set of connotations to its positioning as a Museum building ♦
Project: Shanti Krishna Museum of Money and History
Client: Indian Numismatic, Historical and Cultural Research Foundation
Location: Anjaneri, Nashik
Architects: CAUSE – an initiative
Structural Consultant: Deltacom – Bhanuvilas Bhavsar
Contractors: Charwak Constructions – Manish Das
Project Site Area: 6850sqm
Built up area of extension: 815sqm
Year of Commencement: 2016
Year of Completion: 2018
Site Visit & Authoring by
Rama Raghavan is an Architect and Academic based in Pune. She is currently an Assistant Professor in SMEF’s BRICK School of Architecture, Pune. She graduated from Sir J.J. College of Architecture, Mumbai, and post-graduated from CEPT University, Ahmedabad. She has worked on diverse projects in Accessibility and Sustainability. She is a trained Carnatic musician and a self-taught artist who enjoys creatively feeding her interests into her projects through out-of-the-box storyboarding. Rama believes that multidisciplinary perspectives enrich design thinking and trigger critical discourses. She is passionate about expressing her ideas through Architectural Writing to enrich the perspectives she brings as a pedagogue.
About CAUSE – an initiative
Co-founded by Ali Kaderi, Purva Shah, Nandan Malani and Amol Suryawanshi, CAUSE – an initiative is a Nashik based social architectural firm. The team established the firm with an aim to use their expertise of architectural and allied knowledge towards their social responsibility. Since its inception, CAUSE is committed to its endeavour of improving the socio-cultural environment of the context they are working in. CAUSE has worked on various prestigious projects that have challenged various expertise of the team from landscape planning to urban design and urban conservation.
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