Mumbai Artists Retreat by Architecture Brio

Fact file
Location: Mumbai
Size: 1000 sq m
Principal Architect: Shefali Balwani and Robert Verrijt
Photography by: Edmund Sumner


Mumbai Artists Retreat by Architecture Brio is a distinct, adeptly crafted steel and bamboo cabin designed on stilts to withstand rising sea levels. In an attempt to reconcile the allure of coastal living with the perils of climate change, the studio has ensured that the highly contextual architecture has minimal impact on the fragile ecosystems of the region. How do you deal with densification and the increase in population in these areas considering the reality of rising sea levels? Coastal areas are, however, some of the most desirable places to live and work. They are often attractive from the perspective of livelihood or because of their advantageous environmental conditions. Therefore, it is significant to consider when construction activity does have to take place because it builds resilience for an uncertain future. Moreover, it should employ building methods and incorporate materials that have a minimal impact on fragile ecosystems.

The Mumbai Artist Retreat is conceptualised as a community space. It is an art lab of sorts that aims to bring together art, ecology, and society. It will bring people from diverse backgrounds together to engage in various forms of artistic expression, both creatively and critically. Therefore, the space will reflect the intention of “coming together.” Furthermore, it aims to inspire reflection, quietude, creativity, and belonging as a space where people can engage with and immerse themselves in nature. The site of the Mumbai Artist Retreat, on the other side of Mumbai bay, is typical in that respect. Since it is relatively difficult to get to, it still has a rural, agricultural character. However, with the skyline of Mumbai across the bay, it still feels connected with the city. The site is a low-lying coconut palm plantation located near a beach. Because of a decreasing groundwater table, it suffers from saline groundwater in the summer months. To replenish the groundwater table with sweet water, a water harvesting pond has been conceived in the middle of the site. In addition, the pond attracts a significant number of birds. Across the length of the property, three zones define the programming of the site- the temporary residential zone, the workspace zone, and the residential zone for long-term accommodation. The programme proposes a series of temporary structures to accommodate these activities.

The Artist workshop is a 12-metre by 10-metre tropical shed with two roofs, each six metres high. Two skylights chop off the pyramid-shaped roofs on top. By shifting the roofs away from each other asymmetrically, they define the two spaces below from an experimental perspective. A store room with screen printing equipment creates an additional loft with a workspace on top of it. While the stilts, columns, and beams are made of galvanised steel, the roof structure is built using V-shaped bamboo beams. Indian bamboo often suffers from irregular shapes and diameters. To avoid the natural irregularity of the bamboo from becoming distracting, the layout of the rafters follows a zig-zag pattern. However, it also increases the strength of the structural frame. While the framework is exposed from the inside, a lightweight roof made of cement sheets covers the bamboo framework on the exterior. A solar skylight on the top of the roof generates power and pulls hot air from the space below. These solar panels are integrated in such a way that their technological character does not overpower the design. In addition, this skylight is openable and therefore encourages a natural flow of air across the workshops.

Considering the low soil bearing capacity and occasional flooding on the site, a nimble, lightweight steel structure lifts the building off the ground. To further reduce the disturbance during the construction, an off-site manufacturing process was employed. Therefore, all the joints between the various steel components are designed as nut and bolt connections. The columns rest on stone boulders sourced from another construction project in the vicinity. A steel rod anchors the columns into a chiselled depression in the basalt boulders. This method of construction offers the option to reassemble the building on higher ground if desired. Flexibility is a significant criterion for a workshop space without fixed programming. Therefore movable wall panels can connect to each modular bay of columns, allowing the spaces to be modified. These timber slat panels keep out rain and direct sunlight where it is not desired. Depending on the requirement, the Artist workshop can be used as a single large workshop, multiple simultaneous workshops, or an exhibition space. Along with the flexible construction system and flexible arrangement of spaces, the workshop is a future-ready building that can adapt to the fluidity of artistic programming and the uncertainties of its terrain.