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A Symbol of Communal Harmony

Posted by
on August 19, 2014 at 05:01 PM

A path-breaking project for socially underprivileged classes from a slum settlement in Ahmedabad, is even more special because of its unique site specifics. A Ram temple (a Hindu place of worship) and a Dargah (a Muslim place of worship) located in the same compound, are unified through a community learning center for children in the neighborhood. Locally known as the Ram-Rahim Tekro (because of the temple and mosque co-existence), the newly developed center embodies a sense of communal harmony. Architect Hiren Patel’s sensitivity to social issues and refined approach to design challenges brings forth a simple and sustainable design solution.   

© Courtesy of HPA

The brief was to create a Community Center in an underprivileged urban area. The design concept started from the need to reform and restructure the space, and create one that will dissuade negative usage of it. The typically unhygienic conditions in such urban settlements had to be addressed. In this complex, existing structures were modified sensitively, respecting the fact that they were made by the locals and also keeping in mind their religious significance. A few more spaces were created to be used as a community-learning place for children. With all local constraints posing challenges, the design solution evolved a world-class community space and school for local children, where locals also participated in the process of construction.


The design concept emerged from an approach that “a child does not know poverty, rather he shouldn’t.’’ This very premise filtered out the possibility of creating a substandard facility. The idea that the children of weaker socio-economic backgrounds deserve the same facilities as those from the higher strata, became a powerful philosophy; driving the architect to create international class of architecture, while also blending with the immediate neighborhood. 

While conceptualizing the complex, it was clear that the architecture itself would instil many values in children using the community center; sustainability being the primary one – as a lot of recycled and reusable materials and elements have been used in the building. “The interesting aspect we got to learn while studying the neighborhood is that the houses built by the locals too are quite sustainable, due to constraints of finance and space. We, at HPA faced the same constraints while designing but we had technology on our side, which helped us through the project,” informs Ar. Hiren Patel, who had the vision to see a magnificent opportunity hidden among the many challenges and limitations of the project.

Another significant factor in the design was the fact that Ahmedabad has three world-class institutes: CEPT, NID and IIM. “All the institutes, well-known for their standard of education are also architecturally famous worldwide – with their exposed brickwork and RCC façades. Inspired by these structures and to continue the same architectural language we used the same material palette,” says Patel. “Going further in terms of maturity and material sensitivity, we used recycled glass bottles and bamboo for screen windows.”

Retaining the existing buildings, new structures were designed such that the two respect and complement each other. The beauty of this project lies in its adaptability; the idea can be replicated in any underdeveloped urban area. Similar endeavours can be made in several such settlements across the country. This will inculcate a sense of responsibility in the locals for better usage of common areas, and also promote the causes of literacy and communal harmony. 

The sustainability of the project was also addressed appropriately. Keeping the existing building intact, modifications and improvements were made wherever required. This saved the half cost of the building compare to creating new building. Use of local materials, and reusing materials resulted in considerable saving of energy and cost. 

Known as Ram-Rahim Tekro which means the hill of Lord Ram (Hindu God) & Allah (Muslim God), the other side of this little hillock faces the river Sabarmati. This settlement has an almost equal proportion of Hindu and Muslim families. Mainly comprising the families of rickshaw drivers of Ahmedabad, and earning daily wages, the womenfolk of the settlement work as maids helping in household chores for the well-to-do homes in the surrounding localities. Children here have hardly any access to schools or any other learning facilities. Hailing from rural communities, and having no means to upgrade their living conditions and no access to facilities, they have faced a lot of hostility over the years. This program, the first of its kind in Ahmedabad, seeks to treat the community with kindness and respect, and to help rebuild their self-esteem.

HPA considers it a great privilege to be the design firm selected for this job. The main challenge was to understand the locality and its interpersonal equations. “The project posed a few serious questions; with 'how to win the trust of this neighborhood’ being the most significant one. These are hardworking people and most of them are illiterate and many of them are addicted. But as designers we wanted to deliver the best, we held on to this belief and that’s the reason we were able to deliver this beautiful project to community despite facing difficulties. The most satisfying thought is that it could alter the future of the children from the community,” asserts Patel. The once neglected area now has a sense of place, and has become the community’s pride and identity; besides being a symbol of religious harmony.


Working on an urban scale, on a live and complex problem is a huge learning experience; and to arrive at a comprehensive and sustainable solution would be indeed an extremely rewarding feeling.




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