About The Author:
Himanshu Burte, is an architect and an Assistant Professor at the School of Habitat Studies, at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. A graduate of Sir JJ College of Architecture, Mumbai (B. Arch. 1990), has been actively involved in architectural practice, research, writing and teaching. Himanshu has written extensively on architecture, art and urbanism in the popular and professional press, and has been invited to speak at many national and international conferences in India and abroad.
His first book, ‘Space for Engagement: The Indian Artplace and a Habitational Approach to Architecture’ was published in 2008 by Seagull Books, Kolkata _ Read more about him here.
Our cities have very little to offer for children. The lack of space and money is often cited as a reason. However, it is as much a lack of imagination and will. Saptaparani, a children’s cultural centre located in Banjara Hills, Hyderabad suggests as much. Saptaparani’s engaging facility built in 2004 was once a home. Now it seeks to provide “the child with an alternative source of leisure and learning, interaction and introspection”. The brainchild of G. Anuradha Reddy, who also directs its activities, it has been physically remodelled as a cultural centre for children by local architect B. Nandakumar. Saptaparani has many things on offer for children- Classical music and dance classes, a children’s bookshop, music and theatre performances. These are supported by spaces that are comfortable, correctly scaled and also offer the occasional surprise.
Perhaps the most important achievement of Nandakumar’s design is the informal but graded transitions across interior space and the variety of outdoor settings- garden, pergola, amphitheatre. Nandakumar has woven all spaces together in such a way that they are remembered as distinct but also tightly connected. And the architecture? Well, you don’t remember the building as an isolated object at all, except for snatches of elegant, yellow painted walls with the white coping bands that were part of the old house design. The reticence of the architecture allows the garden to become the dominant image. Since a garden is occupied and not only viewed at a distance from outside, the small campus succeeds very quickly in making you feel welcome, at home and also stimulated.
Some of the stimulation comes from the unexpected sequences inside the building which perhaps have to do with the way a new use is fitted into an old arrangement of spaces. The reception lobby opens up suddenly into a much larger space, one with a wall-hugging staircase leading up to another room. This multipurpose space leads through a short passage to a children’s bookshop which itself peeks out at the garden behind the building and adjoining the outdoor amphitheatre. Deeper inside the building is the biggest surprise- a darkish room you descend a few steps below ground into. A strip of window runs along the backrest of built in seating on the periphery of the room has you look out at the garden outside- only you are surprised at how close the cill level is to the grass in the garden outside! The same garden you walked across earlier, suddenly looks different.With touches like this it is not surprising that the campus is always alive with activity.