Curvilinear Community Center Integrates Salvaged Bricks and Ceramics

Inspired by the traditional terracotta temples of the region, this new community center near Kolkata uses recycled bricks and ceramic blocks in its walls.

gallery house abin design studio exterior

Edmund Sumner

Parking garages are a necessary evil in car-centric urban areas. Being generally utilitarian in aesthetic, parking garages are often built to rise up vertically in order to maximize the number of cars that can be packed into a limited footprint. But no matter how you slice it, parking garages aren't all that green, unless they're transformed into something different (like using them to park bicycles or farm mushrooms, for instance).

In Bansberia, a city in the state of West Bengal in India, Kolkata-based firm Abin Design Studio managed to convince their client not to build a parking garage as originally intended, but to build something that would give back to the community instead. In its place, the architects have completed Gallery House, a beautiful new community center that's open to local residents, and doubles as a dormitory for staff to sleep in at night.

gallery house abin design studio exterior
Edmund Sumner

Constructed out of curving walls dressed in intricately patterned brickwork, the Gallery House's bright entry stairs seem to spill out into the street. The brickwork is inspired by the region's traditional terracotta temples, and re-interprets the typology with a modern flair.

gallery house abin design studio exterior
Edmund Sumner

The new complex, which sits on a site measuring 3552 square feet (330 square meters), is characterized by sinuous, asymmetrical walls of exposed brick, and further inlaid with artisanal ceramic blocks that have been made by a local artist. Some of the ceramic blocks were discarded ones that have been salvaged and reused here, while much of the terracotta bricks were taken from a nearby brick field, located right by the river.

gallery house abin design studio bricks
Edmund Sumner

Looking up close, there's a lot of variation in the types of bricks used, as well as their shape and configuration. In addition to the conventional, rectangular bricks we are most familiar with, this project also includes zigzag-shaped bricks, as well as larger bricks that function as open shutters to let air flow through, and other uniquely shaped specimens.

gallery house abin design studio bricks
Edmund Sumner

The initial commission by the client (who lives across the street in another project designed by the same architects) was to build the parking garage on the ground floor and a staff dormitory above; now the ground floor functions as a community hall, while the upper floor hosts a multipurpose room, a sitting area and a place to store food.

gallery house abin design studio interior
 Edmund Sumner

During the day, the multipurpose room hosts training workshops and yoga classes. During the night, the upper floor serves as a dormitory for staff. As the architects say, this change in program has had a positive impact, not only on the community level but also on a personal level:

"The client enjoys a sense of pride and joy of ownership seeing the space put to good use."
gallery house abin design studio interior
Edmund Sumner 

In addition, the architects explain that they have incorporated architectural elements like the grand entry staircase, which respond not only on a functional level, but also on a social level:

"Every year this locality holds a festive procession along the narrow, winding neighborhood lanes, as a part of a cultural celebration. Reciprocating this, the building steps down towards the street forming a gallery for the onlookers to sit, who gather at the street-side during this event. Through judicious planning and play of voids in volume, the integral space of the building was shared with the neighborhood people as a humane gesture of giving back to the local community, without disrupting the privacy and security of inner functions."
gallery house abin design studio entry stairs
Edmund Sumner

That social engagement with the street is carried up to the building's roof terrace, which also features amphitheater-like seating in one corner, allowing users to sit down for an elevated view of the street below.

gallery house abin design studio night exterior
Edmund Sumner

It's generally not easy for architects to convince clients to modify a design brief so radically, but in this case, the result is a dramatic improvement over a mere parking garage. Using a traditional material to clad a modern form, this hybrid project combines the best of old and new, and skillfully integrates the private with the public, thus creating a distinctive building that engages the community and the urban fabric of the local neighborhood in a positive way. To see more, visit Abin Design Studio and on Instagram.

gallery house abin design studio axonometric drawing
Edmund Sumner