Recently I had the good fortune of travelling to Mumbai for the jury for the IIA National Awards for Excellence in Architecture 2015. I had always wanted to visit the new Internatinal Terminal designed by SOM and this was a lucky opportunity to do just that.
Airport architecture in India is generally characterised by a pseudo-contemporary approach to design, an attempt to create an international language,one which would supposedly portray the global ambitions of the Indian cities. Though the inherent idea behind this approach is noteworthy, the end results leave much to be desired. An airport, as with any other space should respond to the local context even while espousing a contemporary vocabulary. This however, has not been achieved with most of the new airport designs, including the larger airports in the metros. The designs even though nice, are not something one would classify as jaw-dropping, and the response to the local context is totally missing. It is in this background that the design for the new airport in Mumbai gains significance.
The airport, at first glance is simply amazing. The thing that really stands out is the wonderful fractal inspired columns which seamlessly merge into the ceiling as a pattern of coffer slabs. The wonderful concept is detailed out well to create a unique pattern on the ceiling, which combined with the interesting lighting detail, creates a truly amazing space. Long slender spots radiate out from the column capital, creating a dynamic ceiling design. Thus the columns and ceiling create an enclosure which defines the entire space. There are strong references to the traditional stone work so common in Indian architecture, which provides conceptual framework rooting the design in the larger context.
The interiors are well detailed out, with attention paid to even minute things. This attention to detail creates a sense of exclusivity and luxury. The design is unapolegetically contemporary in essence, yet provides references to our past through patterns, materials and colours.
In spite of such a wonderful design, the main attraction for me was the amazing art collection which was featured on a long linear wall on the way to the boarding gates. There is an extensive display of art from across the country, which was painstakingly curated by Rajeev Sethi, right from traditional woodwork which displays the intricacy and refinement of our crafts to contemporary installations, all referencing the richness of our art and craft traditions. The linear wall rises to a height of over 3 levels, creating a scale for the display of such grandiose art works. The passengers can also have a much intimate experience of the smaller sculptures which dot each level. There is no better way than a well curated display of art, to portray and celebrate the vibrancy and richness of our culture and that too in such a terrific setting. Hats off the the GVK group for having the vision and supporting such a complex, diverse and expensive collection.