Making Space:Sensing Place

In October 2009, along with artist Thurle Wright, I was awarded a Making Space:Sensing Place Fellowship; part of the HAT: Here and There International Exchange Programme, managed by A Fine Line:Cultural Practice. The Fellowship includes residencies with Britto Arts in Dhaka, Bangladesh, with Arts Reverie in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, with The V&A Museum of Childhood, Bethnal Green, London and with The Harley Gallery, Nottinghamshire. Working and collaborating with artists and craftspeople from the UK, Bangladesh and India, responding to the collections and spaces we encounter and sharing these experiences through a touring exhibition and educational workshops.

This blog, which is still developing and being added to, is a record of my experiences during the MS:SP Fellowship. Steven Follen.

Sunday, 28 February 2010

Arts Reverie, Haveli's and Pol's

Arts Reverie will be our base for the majority of our month long stay in Ahmedabad. Lokesh Ghai - a textile artist, has very kindly offered for me to stay with him for the first few days whilst a HAT LAB project takes place in the house. Thurle is due to arrive in a few days, having stayed on in Bangladesh. 

Lokesh will be travelling to the UK in May for 3 months, along with both Tarun and Tapan, as part of the Making Space:Sensing Place project.

'Arts Reverie', is a 'Haveli' located in 'Dhal ni Pol', close to Astodia Chakla; one of the gateways which used to form part of the wall around the old city.

Ahmedabad has two distinct areas; the new city to the west of the Sabarmati river and the old city, positioned roughly between Gandhi Bridge to the North and Sardar bridge to the south and extending east to the ring road from the rivers edge. This old part of the city is made up of 'Pols' (from the Sanskrit word 'Pratoli' meaning entrance to an enclosed area); self contained, gated and enclosed neighbourhoods.
Map of the old city

The original houses which formed the Pols were called Havelis they are tall, narrow and deep buildings; arranged around narrow lanes which help to keep the Pol areas cool in the hot summer months. Together the Pols form a labyrinth across the city, linked by hidden passages and tiny pathways. Each Pol has a name and is generally identified by the community or trade of the residents, 'Dhal ni Pol' is a Jain Pol (directly in front of Arts Reverie is a Jain temple), other Pols have different religions and beliefs. As well as a Temple or Mosque, the pols will often have other shrines.
Each Pol once had, and many still retain; a gated entrance, this would have been guarded at night from a small room above the gate. Other features which are visible in the Pols include: 'Parab' - water pots at the entrance for thirsty passers-by, a communal well, often a diary, shop, laundry, rice mill, a tailor, a large blackboard for communication of information for the community, (dates of weddings or festivals etc). Each pol has an 'council' and this is where they would communicate information to the other inhabitants.
The intensity of the built environment in the old city, the lack of green spaces or trees in the Pols has lead to the creation of nesting holes for birds built into the walls of the houses and the positioning of a 'Chabutro' or bird feeder in each Pol. In many Pols the Chabutro offers a central focus point acting as a place for the residents to meet as well as providing a platform, away from the dogs and cats, for the birds, squirrels and Mynahs to feed on food provided by the pol community. The Chabutro are sometimes used as a focus around which hawkers display and sell their wares or act as a stage or backdrop for speakers. Made from wood the Chabutro are often ornate and intricately carved.

The Arts reverie house is of a traditional style called an 'Haveli', a tall deep thin building built around an open central space or atrium. The open area in the house acts both as a reception area as well as a 'chimney', drawing the cool air from the shaded alleys up through the house and releasing the heat. The buildings are sensitivetly and thoughtfully designed, shuttered windows on each floor open out into the central atrium through the building accessing the cool air which moves up through the building at night.
Their construction is of brick and timber, built in sections with wooden beams creating a frame and ' breaks' in the courses of bricks (should an earthquake occur, which happens with regular frequency in Gujarat, then the shock through the walls will be halted by the flexible course of the timber, the walls are less likely to break and fall). Often the buildings make use of shared walls reducing the surface area exposed to the sun and helping to keep the spaces cool and the structure stronger. Each Haveli has a roof terrace for sleeping out during the summer nights (and for kite flying!), the large open space provides a catchment area for 'rain fall harvesting' during the wet season, connected by guttering to a large ' Tanka' or underground storage vault built of purifying limestone the initial rains are diverted to drains. when the system is washed of the years dust the fresh water is diverted o the 'Tanka' .
The many floors of an Haveli are linked by ladders and many have intricately carved details and facades. The entrance to the houses from the pol are often raised to allow for the rain in the wet season and a flat platform normally exists beside the entrance for people to sleep, sit, read or chat with neighbours. The Pols are very social spaces their orientation to the sun and their self cooling, water catchment designs make them important reference points for contemporary sustainable design.

The beauty of the buildings both in their appearance and design has lead to a growing campaign to try to get the old city listed as a world heritage site. Amhedabad for World Heritage Status is one of a number of organisations and individuals passionate about telling the world how important this urban heritage is and is leading a series of cultural activities to educate both local. national and international audiences of the value of the old city. The Pols have a great atmosphere,children run and play and families meet chat and talk. In recent years the city has seen a exodus of wealth to the new western part of the city, families wishing to live in modern spacious houses with ease of vehicular access ( many or the lanes leading into the pols are too small for vehicles other than the motorised rickshaws or scooters). The old city with its rich heritage and narrow lanes, architectural details and social systems has suffered, families unable to afford to repair and maintain the properties they have inherited means many houses are falling into disrepair leaving developers to move in and 'upgrade' the old houses by knocking them down and replacing them with new concrete constructions.

Arts Reverie
Tfrench the House is marketed as an arts house and many of the previous HAT project artists from around the world have stayed here. The house is jointly managed by Anupa Mehta of Art Works, India and Jeremy Theophilus and Barney Hare Duke of A Fine Line: Cultural Practice.

The house is full of beautiful details; there is a small shrine with a painting by Sanjay Chitara a skilled draftsman and textile artist who produces 'Mata-ni-Pachedi'. He has created images at the entrance to the house too.

The ground floor of the house is a tiled floor covered with cow dung which gives a warm soft touch underfoot like walking on a coir door mat. The dung has anti bacterial properties and helps keep the dirt from the streets out of the living space.