Banganga Crematorium Redevelopment Competition by S|BAU / Suprio Bhattacharjee

The design for the Banganga Crematorium evolves as a series of diverging paths and routes traced out on a restored site topography and affected by pre-existing conditions – such as Samadhi structures that needed to be retained, a community temple that needed to be redesigned at the exact same location within the plot, children’s burials that were retained at their existing locations and existing, worn-out metal structures that too were retained. These paths along winding routes amplify a ‘distancing’ from the cacophony of the city – heightening the sense of procession along a sequence of narrow and constricting volumes until space is released and the physical/perceptual senses and views expand – to encompass the sea, the sky and the barren landscape.

Interpretations, such as a memory or association to a place, is referenced in the remnants of pre-existing constructions that are maintained in their original locations – rust-covered steel roof frames of the previous pyre sheds – reinterpreted as abstract pieces set within the landscape and re-used as support for the new roof structure of the wood-fired pyre pavilion – now raised upon a plinth to allow for expanding views across the western boundary wall onto the distant horizon of the Arabian Sea.

Visitors would perceive the building as a landscape formation where fragments of ‘built’ elements – raw pigmented cast-in situ concrete elements that read as extensions to the barren landscape mingling with steel and pivoted polycarbonate (in the congregation space) – create a sense of place by immersing the individual in the phenomenology of the site – heightening the awareness of natural elements, modulating these elements such as the sunlight and the expansive views across the Arabian sea, and reinforcing connections with the ground, with the earth. The individual is offered the space to withdraw and observe, the opportunity to record, or ‘trace’ the sense of stillness as natural forces continue unabated – the motion of the sun cast as shadows upon walls, the changing intensity of the wind as it funnels through the building, the reverb of the sea crashing against the craggy coastline of basalt – all the while one is aware of the motion of people as they engage in the act of mourning, remembrance or quiet contemplation.

As the individual moves further in, vistas expand to allow for release, and adjacent spaces are subtly demarcated through level differences, through the use of walls that enclose, low walls and platforms that act as seating ledges or benches, raked concrete planes that heighten a sense of enclosure and porous screening elements of bamboo, wood or stone. Time will eventually weather the raw concrete surfaces and the other natural materials to offer us a beautiful allegory to the cycle of life, death and harmonious universal balance – the acceptance of mortality and change.

A sense of isolation is created to allow for inner realisation and peace, stillness and silence broken only by the sound of waves crashing against the rocks below. The culmination of all the paths leads to an intimate promenade that follows the western boundary along the restored topography of the site. A pre-existing exit to the rocky coastline (through a band of informal setttlements) affords those willing to venture beyond, the opportunity to connect directly with the breath of the sea.

The project thus constructs an extended journey across a narrow, linear site, perceptually expanding its cross-section through non-linear, sinuous routes, whilst deflating the compression of urban life through a choreography of spatial experiences. The set of splayed paths leads from the gross-ness of the outside world, to an intimate yet expansive experientiality that offers the individual a sense of spiritual inner release coupled with a one-ness with the vastness of the forces of nature. The predominant sense is that of a sense of incomplete-ness (or perhaps a choreographed ruin?) – much like our lives and how the loss of a loved one makes one – but perhaps with a realisation that this ‘incomplete-ness’ is a mere reflection of the tangible self – with the necessary permanence of nature ensuring one’s sense of wholeness and completion.



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