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Sanskritik Kendra - Cultural Centre at Benaras

Part 1 Dissertation 1998
Sharma Ajay Vijay
University of Mumbai | India
Banaras - a magnificent city, rising from the western banks of the river Ganges has been for over two and a half thousand years the pre-eminent sacred city of the Hindus. The power of faith has shaped Banaras as an urban amalgam with unique and subtle flavour - as a citadel of the Hindu tradition, as a seat of ancient learning, as a hive of commerce and crafts and as a theatre of inimitable Banarasi way of life, with its accent on leisure and gaiety.

Cultural & Community centres and clubs are some of the manifestation of man's attempt to make for a healthier and a more caring society. Though Banaras has been able to assimilate diversity and change and evolve with times, culturally it is threatened by the spread of modern values. The famous Banarasi way of life with its emphasis on mauj and masti(enjoyment)is dying out. The stresses of contemporary life with its accent on competition leave little room for large-hearted ease and careless gaiety. Moreover, the younger generation, exposed to Western life-styles, prefers living in modern open houses to the crowded world of the lanes. The Banarasi way of life becomes inconceivable without the close community living.

Hence there is a need for a center, which retains the cultural identity of Benaras and promotes its arts and crafts as well, of which every Banarasi is so proud of. It will also be a place to gather and celebrate the Banarasi way of life, which itself is a big festival.

This Sanskritik Kendra aims at providing a definite place and right environment for the happenings of the cultural activities and celebration of festivals. To create an awareness of the rich Cultural Heritage and provide a true picture of Banaras among the local people and the tourists from the other parts of the nation and world, that throngs the city of Banaras through out the year. It will also encourage and recognise the crafts and the skills involved in light cottage industries by bringing the craftsmen and the buyer together.


Benaras - The Sacred City by Ashok Khanna and Pramesh Rathaker

Building Bye Laws, Varanasi Development Authority

Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander & others

Water and Architecture by Charles Moore and Jane Lidz
Sharma Ajay Vijay

The design dissertation 'Sanskritik Kendra' by Ajay Sharma, truly expresses the philosophy of Humane Architecture in Indian context. The need for an appropriate philosophical framework for any human activity can not be underestimated. Modernism as a movement for a progressive approach to the issues of development resulted in a variety of creative expressions in architecture.

In the field of architecture, in the wake of post-modernism, there has been erosion of values that can stand the test of time. This has resulted in the decadent kitsch, which is being marketed in the name of historicism, regionalism, nationalism and classicism. In India, this has become one of the crucial issues in architecture, since the real estate developers have patronised this new wave of kitsch, all over India.

Sanskritik Kendra project is situated in the historical city of Benaras, on the sacred river Ganga. The setting itself provides unique opportunity to the designer to evoke the timeless spiritual values in architecture. The designer has responded to this opportunity holistically encompassing the human, social, environmental, technical and philosophical issues.

The scale of the project is humane, using ground floor and in some cases an upper storey, the designer has developed a typology of spaces from the functional to ceremonial, and formal to informal. The Centre provides a creative environment for development of culture in various forms such as arts, handicraft, performing arts and other fine arts. The hierarchy of spaces form the interior, in-between transitional to the exterior spaces has been evolved in a harmonious manner. The system of courts of various sizes promotes social interactions among the users and the visitors to the Centre.

The relationship of the Sanskriti Kendra to the river has been done in a most sensitive way, enabling the complex to relate to the interface between land and water. The amphitheatre on the Ghats is perhaps the climax of the architectural expression of the project. The creative expression has fused the functional and the sacred values in with a high degree of sensitivity that takes the project to a higher level of architecture. Yet, the designer has not sacrificed the spirit of time, Zeitgeist, which makes the Centre a comtemporary expression of culture and philosophy of architecture of the late 20th Century.

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