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Turtles in White China

October 15, 2012

Turtles of Gufa: How a building came out of the ground and went back under, literally

Gufa, earlier named as Hussain Doshi Gufa, and now called Amdavad ni Gufa was a funny project from the start. The story of it’s conception is told, re-told many times, and modified according to it’s teller/ listener’s interpretation. The version I have is that it was dreamt up as multiple turtles emerging out of earth. Now, Balkrishna Doshi is as good a dream-weaver as any. Recognising the importance of associations for a building (as for any artifact), he created a story and led his audience through a fantasy path, establishing it as valid design motivation. Thus the die was cast and its form found finance.
What happened then…
Gufa was one of the first buildings to use the Ferro-cement technology where a wire mesh is plastered on both sides, creating a membrane that is both a cover and the building itself. It cost a bomb, literally.
It was meant to be a studio cum gallery for Mr. M. F. Hussain. But you couldn’t paint in it even if you were MFH. There was not one flat surface within. To MFH’s credit, he did, although paint a snake on it’s ceiling, with black paint and a broom. But that was the end of it. There was an inaugural exhibition where the smaller of his paintings were placed awkwardly and watched by clueless visitors in dim light. Although there are a few instances  of displays and a bit more colour added to the interior in form of a painting here and there, it’s not amounted to anything since. The whole circus came to end pretty quickly, arguably because of the cost of keeping it air-conditioned. Even a dance performance by Mallika Sarabhai on the roof couldn’t change its fate.
Enter the alternative that was, and is even now, used… Herwitz Gallery (the gallery space where you could actually display something without worrying about 20 things), a black and white painted shed outside the Gufa. Even though some weirdos attacked it when MFH’s work went on display in there for the first time, it started being used as the primary display space, with bare, tall parallel walls, slit windows and some natural light thrown in by a skylight. After a run on its garden for displaying sculptures et al, even today, Herwitz is the only functional building in that complex, if you discount the newly developed Zen cafe beside and some kids walking on top of the white China Mosaic clad roof of Gufa.
Ergo: Function abandons useless Form, even a fancy one at that.
Additional info.: In return of Gufa becoming a part of CEPT, the campus was renamed K L CEPT Campus, after the erstwhile shreshthi Kasturbhai Lalbhai. A barter between AES and the powers that be at VSC and CEPT. Otherwise unremarkable except the fact that it upset some students and required all the stationary to be reprinted.
AES – Ahmedabad Education Society
VSC – Vaastu Shilpa Consultants
CEPT – Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology

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