On January 26, 2001, an earthquake devastated the town of Bhuj, and its effects were felt throughout northwestern India and some parts of Pakistan. Smritivan Earthquake Museum was conceived by Design Factory India as a memorial for those who lost their lives to the geographical vulnerability of the region, and as a tribute to the resilience and fortitude of the people who survived the devastating earthquake.
But how do you build a memorial that takes you back to the tragedy and yet stands as a symbol of hope and resilience? The museum experience design has been conceptualised and curated by Siddharth Bathla and Prashasti Chandra of Design Factory India. Design Factory India (DFI) is a Noida-based multidisciplinary design studio with a vision to inspire and evolve society by creating narratives and experiences. They do this by strategizing, designing and building solutions across mediums and typologies.
For the curators of the design narrative, Smritivan Museum was meant to be a place of reconciliation and contemplation, a place symbolising rebirth, regeneration, renewal, and above all, eternal change and resilience. The challenge was to create a narrative that navigates the balance between homage and hope; and at the same time devise a new typology for museums. One that doesn’t consider the visitor as merely the audience who appreciates, but as someone who participates, interacts and adds to the narrative.
“The challenge was how one makes a museum which may trigger old memories and make one cry but to balance it
with a storyline as hope. How the narrative converted a natural disaster to a natural occurence and celebrated the resilience of Kutch,” says Siddharth.
We met Siddharth and Prashasti at Smritivan, where they took us through the nuances of curating experiences, the design language, the built environment, and the intricacies of navigating a space that’s a tribute to the past, relevant in the present, and a legacy for the future. Here’s an excerpt:
Seema Sreedharan (SS): The Smritivan Earthquake Museum was conceptualised as a space for those affected by the devastating earthquake of Bhuj. It must have been difficult to base the narrative on something so tragic and create a space for contemplation. Take us through your thought process.
Siddharth Bathla (SB): The starting point was the 2001 earthquake and its effects on every aspect of life around Kutch. But soon we also realised and came across the immense resilience and grit of the people of Kutch and Gujarat. The storyline sets the vision. Building a museum is like building a film in space—it has a beginning, a climax and an end.
We uncovered many stories of resilience, which is an integral part of life and the region’s reality. The process of gathering and assimilating stories and events related to the quake for the museum was heartbreaking, but the resilience and hope of the people of Kutch gave impetus to the overall design. The museum’s content design, scenography and installations are drawn from the rich local living traditions and crafts of the Kutch region.
SS: Take us through the curation process. What was the relationship of the curation to the existing architecture?
Prashasti Chandra (PC): The architecture of the museum building, consisting of independent blocks dotted with interconnected galleries, open to sky courtyards and a central interconnecting spine was the backdrop for the museum’s experience design.The architectural planning of Smritivan was done by Vastu Shilpa Consultants. The interconnected and flowing nature of ramps in the galleries and the central spine created interconnections between our thematically designed spaces. The storytelling in the galleries takes shapes through a conscious journey of immersive experiences and interactive installations. Within the galleries, the ramps were used for orientating the visitor about the upcoming gallery. The courtyards and open terraces act as pause points and extend the experience outward, through games, experiments and installations.
The strategy was to create a distinct identity, theme and feel for each of the 7 identical museum blocks – to deliver unique experiences within the overall storyline. Apart from the unique thematic and craft-based treatment of each block, DFI also intervened at the programme level to create a ‘living museum’ experience, accessible and enjoyable for all. As an entrance landmark, an orientation sculpture was conceptualized and created which traversed the indoors and outdoors– to bind the space together and orient visitors to the metaphor of continuum and resilience.