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Jawahar Kala Kendra

Jaipur, India
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Open-to-sky performance area/amphitheater at JKK, Jaipur. | © Mahindra Raj

The Jawahar Kala Kendra Arts center located in Jaipur was designed in 1986 by Charles Correa. It was commissioned by the Rajasthan state government to preserve Rajasthani Arts and Crafts. The plan is inspired by the original city plan of Jaipur, consisting of nine squares with the central square left open as an open-to-sky courtyard amphitheater. The center is an analog of the original city plan of Jaipur drawn up by the Maharaja, a scholar, mathematician and astronomer, Jai Singh the Second, in the mid-17th century. His city plan, guided by the Shipla Shastras, was based on the ancient Vedic mandala of nine squares or houses which represent the nine planets (including two imaginary ones Ketu and Rahu). Due to the presence of a hill, one of the squares was transposed to the east and two of the squares were amalgamated to house the palace.

The Concept

Correa's plan for the Kendra invokes directly the original navagraha or nine house mandala. One of the squares is pivoted to recall the original city plan and also to create the entrance. As in the plan of Jaipur city based on the nine square Yantra in which one square is displaced and two central squares combined, in Kendra, the squares are defined by 8m high walls and are a symbol of the fortification walls of the Jaipur old city. The squares correspond to real and imaginary planets, such that each becomes the symbolic representation of the setting.

Externally, the planets appear on the red sandstone facades as symbols inlaid in white marble and granite, while the plan configuration of nine squares corresponds internally to the mythical qualities associated with each planet. Mars signifies power, so the place of Mars, or Mangal Mahal, houses the offices of administration; Guru represents knowledge, and so forms the museum library; Venus as the artistic sign encloses the theater complex, and so on. At the very center of the universe, and imparting to the planets its creative energy, the sun manifests in the stepped tank, a reservoir of knowledge and confluence, of meeting and reflection.

Traveling Through the House

The journey through the building, the movement through its celestial divisions are marked by a diversity of spatial densities. Individual buildings inside coalesce into a kind of cellular reordering - random accretions of requirements, that either lean against the surrounding high walls like architectural parasites, or group and regroup in independent formations. Such accretions create their peculiar definitions of court, suggesting the qualities and scales intrinsic to the functions housed within.

The experience of the museum begins to redefine the very act of cultural display. Heritage, as the design conveys, is a matter of accidental encounter and discovery - a process that relies on the instincts and inclinations of a person moving through space, between the stage set of walls, past recreated incidents and rituals of art and craft. Such a design conception - suggesting perhaps a multitude of internal variations - questions the very conventions of museum design and presents a physical rethink of the idea.

It is easy to accept the inherent arbitrariness of this internal occupation because the external confinement is formed by so reductive, so severe a delineation. Within the setting of the nine squares is an architecture of wit and whimsy, as singularly playful in its creation as it is specific to the functions demanded of it. Enclosed by high parapets, life goes on inside in the numerous demolitions, insertions or reorganizations. But the exterior, irresolute in its material joining - like the wall of the old city - remains undisturbed. Like Jaipur, enclosed by high sandstone walls and approached through framing portals, the Jawahar Kala Kendra relives a more contemporary historical destiny.

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daniele, October 10th, 2020
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