Kolkata has long been recognized as one of India’s key cultural centres. From its time as the capital of the British Empire in India to its current modern era, the city has been home to a diverse group of key personalities, iconoclastic ideas and revolutionary trends instrumental in shaping the social, artistic and literary landscape of contemporary India.
A city with a tradition of folk and popular art, Kolkata was also the site of India’s first School of Art in the mid-nineteenth century. At the heart of India’s avant-garde in the colonial and post-colonial eras, the School and the city became a laboratory of ideas and techniques that coupled Indian and Western art practices and played a formative role in the development of Indian Modernism. This artistic legacy continues to this day, with Kolkata continuing its role as a centre for contemporary art production.
The new Kolkata Museum of Modern Art will represent Kolkata’s cultural renown by establishing itself as an ‘Art City’, bringing modern and contemporary, national and international art together with performing arts, music, cinema, photography, literature, fine art and sculpture. KMOMA will expand the multiple functions that support a traditional contemporary museum to provide a platform for artists, scholars, students and visitors alike to have an enhanced experience of the critical role art and museums play in the community.
Herzog & de Meuron
KMOMA is the first project for Herzog & de Meuron in India. The opportunity to contribute to the history of Indian Architecture is both challenging and exciting. The exploration of Kolkata’s unique local identity, traditions, craftsmanship and its place within the national and global community of modern and contemporary art is fundamental to Herzog & de Meuron’s process in creating a unique proposal with a sense of place. India and Kolkata particularly, offers enormous potential for this creative process.
The site for the new building is situated in Rajarhat, a new commercial, industrial and residential district on the north-eastern fringes of Kolkata, building on the Old City and Salt Lake City from the nineteenth and twentieth Centuries respectively. It is one of India’s fastest growing cities and is destined to become a vibrant hub in Kolkata with an increased presence of cultural activity.
Program and Concept
The fifty thousand square metres of program is divided into two equal zones: a museum containing galleries, art restoration, education, research facilities, photographic facilities, offices and theatre; and a ‘Culture City’ containing dining and event spaces, commercial facilities, artist studios and residences, spaces for the sale of art and crafts, outdoor performance space, public space and car parking.
The concept envisions a collection of simple rectilinear volumes of urban and monumental scale, arranged to express the complexity and diversity of the program. It draws on traditional Indian construction principles of stacking individual elements, producing a coherent and legible whole through the collection and compression of diverse, unique elements. These elements appear as strata in the façade of the volumes and reflect the simplicity with which they will be built. At the east and south entrances to the site, volumes and voids create courtyards, streets, alleyways and market-like experiences which lead the visitor into a central plaza, a place for gathering and orientation. At the west end of the plaza, the museum rises in a vertical stack of volumes asserting a presence within the complex and the greater urban context. Punctuated throughout the complex are a series of public spaces connected by a network of generous staircases carving out the exterior and interior of the building. The assembly of different program, scales and qualities throughout the site gives the proposal a city-like quality, The new Kolkata Museum of Modern art recognizes the importance of public space in India and offers visitors many opportunities for discovery and interaction within a diversity of spaces.
Building and Climate
Kolkata has a tropical wet and dry climate, experiencing hot and humid summers and high levels of precipitation in the monsoon season. The new Kolkata Museum of Modern Art aims to use passive methods where feasible to control the climate in and around the building, offering comfort and relief to visitors during periods of extreme weather. The building is constructed from unique cast masonry blocks which create mass within the facade. Specific volumes are shifted relative to one another to protect facades below from direct exposure to the sun, or to create shaded exterior spaces. Open and dense screens have been employed extensively to provide shade but simultaneously maintain light quality. The urban scale spaces such as residences and market areas are similarly shaded and offer natural cross ventilation through careful planning. Consideration has been given to the selection of materials for such a climate, particularly where visitors are able to interact directly with the fabric of the building.
Landscape and Vegetation
The landscaping proposal plays an important role in bringing together the diverse building program, public space and quality of the cultural and natural landscape. The site is treated as a one, bound by a green wall and planting of perimeter trees. At pedestrian entrances, pathways move through the lush green landscape to the building edge where the hard floor surfaces and building volumes are punctuated by densely planted light wells. Several distinct courtyards create diversity through unique planting, orienting the visitor within the site. Seasonal variation will also be evident, most visibly through a water basin in the Central Plaza which will swell during the monsoon season and retreat during the drier months.