How to Build with Time? Learning from Bimanagar, Ahmedabad, India.

About the Research Project

Kingston School of Art, London and CEPT University Ahmedabad

The research project “How to Build with Time”, funded by a QR-GCRF grant (2018) and a follow up grant (2020) is a collaboration between researchers at Kingston School of Art London and CEPT University Ahmedabad. It is a detailed study of strategies, tactics and techniques used by two co-producers of space. First the eminent, Pritzker Prize winning architect B. V. Doshi who planned and completed Bimanagar in 1987, and second, the inhabitants of Bimanagar who have since upgraded the environmental performance of their homes over a series of iterative and sometimes radical steps, and adapted their dwellings to changing needs.

Since 2018, we have documented the tactics that inhabitants have employed to claim space by extending their own apartments, as well as the mechanisms of negotiation amongst neighbours to reconcile claims and reconfigure shared spaces. The interstitial courtyards exemplify such inter-dependencies and resultant spatial dynamics. Designed as three-dimensionally interwoven by the internationally recognised Indian architect BV Doshi, the courtyards have further gained in spatial intricacy and interest through their transformation by habitants. Many transformations have yielded mutual benefits. For example, a new room added by one family provides a terrace to neighbours living above. The need to maintain exposure to daylight and ventilation for all spaces has served to foster elaborate repertoires of negotiation and compromise amongst habitants. As in an experimental laboratory arrangement, Bimanagar’s initial configuration of 54 identical blocks has triggered a series of richly varied transformation narratives that played out and grew in complexity over the course of more than three decades. Habitants’ lived experience, desires, trials, failures and successes are encapsulated in an assemblage of diverse, characteristic and nuanced spatial configurations. Unlike informal construction carried out entirely by inhabitants or grafted onto buildings designed without such consideration, BV Doshi anticipated the agencies of habitants. His plans for Bimanagar foster adaptation and negotiation through a building section that facilitates expansion onto terraces. In tandem, Doshi’s strategic design encouraged social cohesion by mixing apartment sizes and income groups within each block. Bimanagar’s residents have accrued, through trial and error, richly varied spatial repertoires and expressive languages of time-based architecture. Much of their tactics and repertoires, e.g. the incremental progression from “kachcha” (=uncooked), reversible features such as metal roofs and canopies to “pakaaya” (=cooked) permanent additions such as concrete roofs or enclosed rooms are shared by informal practices of construction and appropriation across Ahmedabad and India. As a laboratory subjecting BV Doshi’s innovative conception to the test of time, as well as a condensed archive of highly differentiated transformation narratives, Bimanagar affords us unique opportunities for focussed study of architectural strategies and tactics of habitants; for documenting, diagramming and analysing the resultant sophisticated spatial register. This will enable new insight into how architects and habitants might henceforward co-produce space.

Research Team:

Christoph Lueder, Inigo Cornago,  Dan Ryder-Cook, Kingston School of Art

Vishwanath Kashikar, Aarti Gandhi, Dharini Tamakuwal,  CEPT University Ahmedabad 

Specialist contributions from: Gauri Bharat, Riyaz Tayyibji, Melissa Smith  and Pallavi Swaranjali,