In April of 2012, we executed a small walkway covering at 24
Sunder Nagar. In April 2010 we executed a small outdoor courtyard covering at
540 Khel Gaon. Two projects, with essentially similar briefs, separated by 24
The Outdoor Room (as I like to call it) in Khel Gaon, would
arguably be my first built project, and so holds a certain dearness. It was
built, with a team of masons, and small-time steel fabricators. The design
hinges on two half –vault roofs in tensile fabric – one sliding over the other,
and the use of sliding channels -one right way up, and one upside down! It was
another experience to make drawings for someone untrained to read drawings that
would enable him to fabricate and construct a complicated sequence of
production and assemblies in steel, glass, bamboo-mat, stone, and engineered
tensile fabric. And a roof moved with
manually operated sliding mechanism. A
kit of available parts, some modified and then assembled.
The Walkway Canopy at 24 Sunder Nagar, is just what its name
says – a covering over a walkway. It covers a walkway, 21 feet long, from a
gate to a front door, on the southern edge of a garden. This covering too
moves, but more like an accordion, the 6 segments of fabric, each riveted to a
central spine, (when collected to one side) droop and collapse into a neat
little collection hanging below a quiet stainless steel archway. When stretched, the single cable that holds
the covering suspended over the walk almost completely disappears. The covering
feels more like a soft green vault –umbrella, floating gently in a garden.
But what makes the walkway covering a triumph of sorts, is
not that it was made, but how it was made**.It isn’t always hard and sweaty and
blood- drawing work.
The first time around at Khel Gaon, on a much simpler
assembly, it took six weeks of site visits almost every day to get it right. A
painful period of directing, convincing, and most of all overcoming the mason’s
staunch refusal to do things in ways he had not done before. And a lot of sweat
in the April sun.
The second time around, was a set of drawings, weekly site
visits to a small shanty, where things were cut shaped and fabricated. And
after 4 weeks of this, a truck loaded. A kit of parts dispatched to site, and
assembled there, from scratch to working retractable walkway canopy in 9 hours
That is why it is something you want to write home about.
Things can be done, they take a little blood and sweating (the first time
around), but they get better with practice. And once you have proved the point,
a reluctant mason and doubting fabricator can become willing and keen
collaborators to hair-brained, but awfully interesting design interventions.
And then, when the opportunity presents itself, you can take the idea even
further, (wait till you see our entry to the Jaipur ISBT Competition). Ideas
**Having used the same team
on other occasions, post the roof in Khel Gaon, I realized one could get a
little more adventurous. Here though it was not out of choice, but necessity.
Considering the brief’s explicit requirement for no columns, and as little
interference in the garden, the only options was to attach to existing
structures, the gate and the house itself. And use a spine between them as the
mainstay. Sliding on a cable is an easy enough idea, till you discover a) you
do not get grooved pulley wheels in 3 inch diameters, with in built sealed
ball-bearings (these were made out of Royal Enfield axle bearings, with steel
bushes mounted on them and lathed), b) you do not get assemblies to hang spines
from the cable, c) Well I could go on, but the point being, everything, barring
the cable, and the turn-buckles, every single component was customized.
Labels: architecture, custom, Customised, Fabrication, India, Khel Gaon, new delhi, Retractable Roof, Roof Design, Roofs, Sliding Roof, Tensile Roof