Gandhi Smarak Sangrahalaya, Ahmedabad – Architectural Case Study

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Did you know that?

Mahatma Gandhiji was one of the greatest freedom fighters whose values and ideas have spread across the world and inspired many filmmakers, poets, writers, activists across the world and also ARCHITECTS.

  • There have been a lot ideological interpretations in the form of movies, books, documentaries and even buildings about Mahatma Gandhiji
  • But in today’s case study we would be focusing on the Architectural Interpretation of his ideas and philosophies
  • Out of the many buildings built in memory of Mahatma Gandhiji, there is one such building that has truly incorporated his values and philosophies in the most sympathetic way possible
  • And the building which we are talking about is none other than the Gandhi Smarak Sangrahalaya in Ahmedabad

Project Name- Gandhi Smarak Sangrahalaya

Project Location- Sabarmati Ashram Complex, Ahmedabad

Architect- Ar. Charles Correa

Year – 1958-1963


The memorial museum was erected in the Sabarmati Ashram where Mahatma Gandhiji resided from 1917 – 1930, and from which he started on the historic salt march to Dandi. And the task of designing this building was given to Ar. Charles Correa

And on top of that this was his very first of its commission as an architect that gained him a lot of recognition.

He was awarded various national and international awards like The Bharat Ratna Award, The Aga Khan Award etc. for his remarkable work and the Gandhi Ashram stands one of his finest masterpieces in the history

The building gained so much recognition that the late Prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru during the inauguration mentioned it to be the perfect building that suits this holy place and also the great Architectural Critic Kenneth Frampton went on to say that it remains one of the most compelling NATIONAL MONUMENTS erected anywhere in this century.

So now the question lies what was so special about it that it gained so much recognition wide across the world?

Case Study Framework

Brief + Challenges

So the brief that was given to Ar. Charles Correa was

  • To design a memorial museum to house a treasure of 30,000 letters written by Gandhiji including photographs , books and documents, so this was the formal brief

But the major, hidden challenges lied in,

  • How can one interpret the Philosophies, Ideas & Thoughts of such a great leader that preached simplicity into a built form.

Planning of the Museum

The entrance to the museum as we would imagine it to be HUGE and MONUMENTAL but it turns out the complete opposite; one never realizes when he is entering the museum complex

So you hit the dead wall firstly which makes you turn and step down further towards the museum

The plan of the building resembles the plan of a village with structures arranged around a meandering pathway with a modular grid of 6m X 6m brick piers which form the covered and uncovered spaces

The museum plan unlike all other typical museum buildings consists of only some closed sections which houses the books section, the photographs and paintings section,  the letters section accompanied by some administrative office and meeting rooms and rest of the spaces are semi open for people to freely move and contemplate in the space.

The openness of the structure creates lightness and transparency.

The major advantage was that, the plan being modular some of the units are scooped out to introduce courts and water body which act as “PAUSE SPACES” where the eye can rest and mind can think

Structure of the Museum

Due to the loose soil in the foundation the brick piers go deep tied by a plinth beam which was raised slightly above the ground to give the building a floating effect which also adds up to the aesthetics in elevation

The modular 6m X 6m pavilion like structure rests on H-SHAPED brick piers supported by a grid of RCC beams preforming a dual function of structure as well as water spouts roofed with Mangalore tiles from the inside and wooden boards from the inner fascia

The flooring consists of a simple Kota Stone which is reminiscent in most of the traditional dwellings with wooden battened doors and louvered windows allowing the cool breeze to flow thru

Owing to the structure’s modularity it becomes easy to expand the building in the form of modules, maintaining the same hierarchy

And now, coming to the amazing structural features of this building that need to be highlighted would be the –

1) The square proportions of the module in plan and elevation looks balanced and soothing to natural eyes

2) Breaking away from the conventional column to create niches which can accommodate exhibits or as storage spaces and also to pass services if any so that they are not visible on the outside, and also it breaks solidity to create a depth in elevation

3) The wooden battened doors and the operable wooden louvered windows create interesting play of Shade & Shadow and also a play a major role in the aesthetics of the building

Therefore, the structure is Simple – modular – humble – human with a GENTLE TOUCH

Material Palette used in the Museum

The materials that were used in the building were already present in the existing house of Gandhiji – so the major challenge lied in the use of these materials in a Contemporary Way to suit the building’s functionality as well as the aesthetics

The RCC Plinth beam with the Kota flooring tied by brick piers, enclosed with louvered operable louvers and supported by a the beam acting as water channels and eventually collecting water from the roof

Climatic Response of the Museum

Any building when placed on a particular site has to respond to the climate where it is situated in, which brings me to the last challenge of Climatic Response

Adapting to an open pavilion like typology instead of a solid built form allows the wind to flow easily in the hot and dry climate of Ahmedabad and also wisely responds to the Sabarmati Riverfront below

The addition of Courts and Water Body help in keeping keep the microclimate cool.

So, the structure is a perfect response to the hot climate of Ahmedabad

Genius Moves by the Architect

And the study would be incomplete without understanding the architect’s smart moves in it

1) Response to Context

The first genius move lies in the open pavilion like planning of the entire building which welcomes the breeze flowing thru the Sabarmati River.

This is simply a genius move in understanding the context correctly

So you have to be Patient & Listen Consciously what the site and its surroundings have to say.

2) Response to the great personality

The building is “MODEST” but not “MONUMENTAL” and truly adheres to the values of Mahatma Gandhiji

It emanates PEACE in true sense which Gandhiji preached people throughout his life

So the building inculcates the values and ideas of Mahatma Gandhiji right from Planning to the Materials in every possible way.

3) Response to museum as ‘dead spaces’ idea

Due to the gallery after gallery approach to museums people tend to get bored and the footfall drops drastically which impacts the economic benefits, and eventually affects the maintenance of the museum building

But due to the village like planning and pause spaces it has kept people glued to the space and the footfall increases to a great extent

4) Response to the ‘museum fatigue’

Usually museums become boring after a point filled with a lot of artefacts after artefacts and gallery after gallery

So this building breaks free from the conventional museum typology of going from gallery after gallery cramped with a lot of artefacts to create open and semi open spaces where people can relax and really think about what they have seen

Therefore, it is a clear cut answer to the problem of “MUSEUM FATIGUE

5) The Open Plan Approach

And now this lesson, well everyone will relate with me on this is that,

Whenever we get a site to design, we first start off by putting walls and enclosing the space instead of thinking in a more rational way

So while planning the museum there were not to many walls except some galleries to create an open environment.


And lastly, it stands true to this quote by the man himself,

“I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the culture of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible.”–Mahatma Gandhi,

So this museum breaks free from the conventional approach and most importantly Ar. Charles Correa had done this project in his formative years when he had just started on to practise, so his sensitivity at such age is really getting deep into.

And what are your important takeaways from this case study comment below in the comment section

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