Maya Somaiya Library at the Sharda School by Sameep Padora & Associates is a unique composition that leverages children’s affinity for landscapes over built forms to create a dynamic space for studying (within) and playing (atop). Featuring an exploration of material and construction efficiency in brick tile work, the project was conceived using principles from the 16th-century Catalan tile vaulting system, a compression ring detail from the work of Eladio Dieste in Uruguay, and a form-finding software plug-in made in Switzerland. This project, a regional application of globally developed sensibilities, is located in an area where teaching resources are scarce and aspires to create an engaging spatial experience to attract students from nearby settlements. The site chosen for this small addition of a children’s library within a school in rural Maharashtra was a sliver between existing buildings and the school boundary that almost implied a linear building footprint to adjust the programme for the chosen site. Alluding to the affinity children have for landscape over a building, we imagined the library building to be a formal extension of the ground plane—a place inside for study and a place above to play.
On our first visit to the site, it was interesting to see geodesic structures built by an engineer for a few of the school buildings. We were somewhat encouraged by this to pursue a project that followed from a construction perspective. Hence, we parsed through several possible material configurations, ranging from concrete shells to brick vaults, to build this “architectural landscape.” With the limited teaching resources available in the vicinity, we needed the inspiring spatial experience to be a magnet to attract students and other residents from the nearby settlements after school hours. The library lies at the intersection of a student’s daily routine. It became a pavilion accessed from multiple sides, with students potentially engaging with books while traversing through the library or over it. The library interior has varied spatial and seating systems, with a floor-mounted stool system towards the edges for a more intimate study area and, towards the centre, tables and stools for collaborative study. The self-structured window bays are striated profiles for increased stability with economical window section sizes.
At this point, we were captivated by the material efficiencies of the Catalan tile vault from the 16th century, its use by Gustavino in the early 19th century, and the incredible details in the work of Eladio Dieste from the mid-twentieth century. While working with the specific site condition, we used Rhino Vault, developed by the Block Research Group at the ETH, to articulate a pure compression form. The construction technology for the project also makes a case to reexamine the age-old binaries of the global and local as being in opposition. The regional or the local within the South Asian paradigm typically manifests within the strict formal constraints of the style in memory. This is often at the expense of material efficiency. Our effort to search for material and construction efficiency in brick tile leveraged the networks of knowledge that our practices are situated in, allowing us to enrich the regional or local through the extended capacities of the global. Using principles ranging from the Catalan tile vaulting system to the compression ring detail from the works of Dieste in Uruguay to a form-finding software plug-in made in Switzerland, the library is a result of not only lessons learned from various geographic locations but also various lessons learned through time and history.