Samskruta Pathshala, Sringeri: by GNA
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Gayathri and Namith Architects - founded by architects Gayathri Shetty and Namith Varma is a Bengaluru-based design studio - well-known for their commitment to sustainability, respect for traditional technologies, and sensitive handling of materials. The practice founded in 1993, has grown on the same ideology and has won much national and international acclaim.
Feature here is one of their earlier projects, reflecting the core values of the firm – the Samskruta Pathshala. Located in the resplendent greenery of Sringeri in the Malnad region of Karnataka, the Samskruta Pathshala built for the Shankar Math is one of GNA’s earliest projects - a fine example of a gloriously relevant built structure achieved through a mix of eco-responsive, heritage-adaptive, material re-cycling applications.
The design of the Samskruta Pathshala is clearly defined by the purpose for which it is built as well as the site it is located on. The Math at Sringeri is one of the four original centres set up by Adi Shankaracharya himself, the foremost seer of the Shaivaite stream of the Hindu philosophical tradition. The Samskruta Pathshala was set up by this Shankar Math for the dissemination of knowledge of the Sanskrit language and furtherance of Vedic studies.
The Pathshala being located on a thickly forested hill, the Narasimha Vana on the Tunga river bank in Sringeri, consequently posed the issue of avoiding damage to local ecology through its building. To avoid touching trees on the location, the required facilities including classrooms, office, library, prayer hall and others were spread around the vegetation on site, connected by a roofed, meandering corridor. This created an open plan that enabled the surrounding landscape to merge seamlessly with the built form. The school is approached from the northern end by a pathway winding through the woods.
The predominantly vocal medium of dissemination practiced in such a curriculum, chanting in groups being the primary activity, demands a fair amount of acoustic segregation between various groups to anull disturbance from each other. This was the dual purpose achieved by placing classrooms at some mutual distance from each other to avoid damaging trees.
Malnad, the geographical region around Sringeri constituting four districts, has a rich architectural heritage that is responsive to the cool, humid nay, wet climate of this region and the consequent thick vegetation growing in this hilly area. The design for this school by GNA borrows from that very heritage with its predominantly single storeyed, low rise brick walled structure having timber posts and trusses to hold up a Mangalore (clay) tiled sloping roof with a heavy overhang to keep out the rain.
The entrance is negotiated through a pillared verandah with benches on either side, made of Chappadi or flat, wide slabs of locally available granite, to serve as spaces for informal discussion/ interaction which are the essential prerequisites of good institutional design.
The materials used in the interiors, which exude a warm and earthy aura, include wire-cut bricks for the walls, locally available traditional clay tiles in combination with red-oxide for the flooring and minimal or no furniture at all as most studies are conducted while being seated on the floor. The octagonal prarthana mandir or prayer hall used to assemble for prayers, events and announcements, is provided with wooden flooring and niches in the walls to showcase paintings of gods and seers. The sub-terrainian granthalaya, or library, is approached from here by a steel staircase. The walls being perforated at floor level provides ventilation to the interiors. The carved pillars of the corridor and other semi-open spaces have been sourced from dilapidated old traditional buildings in the region.
The outdoors have been laden with wide chappadi slabs which step down aligning along the descending contours of the hill and appear to fan out in a star shaped plan. These form ideal spots to hold outdoor classes, with the teacher seated a step higher than the students in keeping with the Guru-Shishya Parampara or tradition. The landscape introduced by the designers too is simply a non-invasive continuation of the natural landscape existing there.
A project that re-affirms the value of traditional building practices based on experience and knowledge gathered over centuries and establishes its practical relevance even in today’s tech-powered world, this design by GNA for the Samskruta Pathshala in Sringeri attracted accolades from a world on a desperate watch for sustainable and eco-responsive solutions. For this project GNA was shortlisted for the Aga Khan Awards for Excellence in Architecture from India, 2000; and was honoured with the Inside Outside Designer of the Year Award for Eco-friendly Architecture 1997 and the J K Architect of the Year Commendation Award for Recycling of Architectural Heritage 1995.