Jai Jagat Theatre
Jai Jagat theatre’s construction was envisioned as part of the celebration for the 100-year anniversary of Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad, India. The 1500 children that live or study at the Sabarmati Ashram today are taught with the same philosophy that in 1917, Gandhiji, established; setting up his community there, near the river Sabarmati and between a prison and a crematorium. The Jai Jagat theatre is an armature of the educational philosophy that was practiced here. It functions predominantly as a theatre space but its ability to address other human movements, pilgrimages and emotions makes it more than just a playground for students to practice their performance skills.
The site plotted in nature between two places of polarised expression, a prison and a crematorium became the home of a loving educational philosophy. Around a similar time, in 1937, a Montessori school was established on the outskirts of this new theatre and converted into studios for arts’ educational purposes. Surrounding the rest of the site is are indigenous trees, housing native birds and creating a peaceful enclosure to this new built insertion.
The circular plan of this building allows its journey to be read concentrically, starting from the outside. From the exterior the theatre reads as just a simple white wall with a modest human scale. The pilgrimage up until this point is along a simple brick pathway, similar to other connections of the area. Slipping into the built and natural landscape, Anand Sonecha wrote that it was ‘designed below the existing trees and connecting other buildings of the ashram, library and school.’ So that ‘along the pathway the different niches invite people to sit and observe nature. Bigger spaces with seating areas welcome small gatherings or a pause for eating together. This path slowly transforms into a larger area, a plaza, that anticipates the amphitheater and that becomes a foyer, a space for events or for informal rehearsals. The entry to the theatre is done through a gap between two moments of the wall and a ramp leads us down to the center of the space. With a movement of a spiral, this wall unfolds and surrounds the stage and the audience, placed at a level below ground.’
Traces of the exterior environment are still visible within the interior of the theater. The undulating wall opens up to create specific vistas towards objects of the outside, including the school or a high water tank – other objects of communal significance. This singular wall is dynamic and undulating, with unique moments and differing openings.
Architect Anand Sonecha wrote ‘It is designed to be fun, interactive and to be at a scale that facilitates the movement of children. It successfully enhances and participates in the children’s plays.’ ‘But it is also modest and silent, and therefore can be used as a place to meet, to talk or to just be alone.’ It is both an object of exploration with multiple uses and a tool to be used in the housing and scenario of the theatre; creating different points of entry and exit to the shows within.
To maintain a visual serenity of the natural place and to not compete with the historically significant buildings in its surrounds, the amphitheater was designed half below ground. At 1.83 meters below the natural ground level this dimension is mimicked in the height of the exterior wall, creating an even intervention between sky and ground and doubling the perceived internal height within the open-air structure. Because of it position at the lowest area of the site, monsoon water is collected in a 70,000 liter water tank below the stage and reused to irrigate the many indigenous trees that were planted in the area that surrounds the theatre.
The versatility of this theatre is supported by the layered and stepped maneuvers of the circular plan. It is playful and rich with an architectural depth that is highlighted through the simplicity of its construction. A strong connection is drawn from the architectural product and the philosophy of the Sabarmati Ashram; we a desire to create an all round architecture, one that facilitates the child as well as the grown woman/man anyone that facilitates the mind and body. This theatre has encouraged playfulness with its multiple entries, outcrops, steps and open spaces, but the journey within and around the theatre also allows for pause; where careful moments of the surrounds are plucked from the context and framed for reflection.
It can be seen as a micro campus within the much greater campus of the surrounding buildings. The surrounding area is an aggregation of the Sabarmati Ashram and the Montessori School’s facilities over time; the theatre represents ultimately, many of these moments in a singular and still structure. It is a stage for the many already present interactions, objectives and philosophies of the school and its activities and has allowed the students and community to prosper and prolong these qualities. From the words of the architect, ‘It is a place for expression. It is a landmark for an education that is “an all-round drawing of the best in child and man, in body, mind and spirit”