A gifted architect will always design the open spaces of a building — the spaces mandated by local authority to be left open, such as setbacks, minimum uncovered area; the residual spaces between buildings; courtyards, parking, driveways, etc. — with the same precision, meticulousness, and painstaking detail, as the building itself. While most people can usually understand covered spaces, as defined by volume, shape, size, four walls and a roof, they are not so adept at evaluating the quality of that space which is not a finite structure. An irresponsible and lazy architect might dump his shoddy work onto a landscape architect, whose unfortunate job it then becomes to mask another designer s follies, bringing to mind the hoary cliche that doctors bury their mistakes, architects hide theirs behind trees.
And conversely, when two highly talented designers collaborate, each working to bring out the best in the other, the result can be nothing less than truly magical, as in the case of Tara Apartments in New Delhi.
When they started work on the project in the early 1970s, both Charles Corral, the architect, and Ravindra Bhan, the landscape architect, were acknowledged giants in their field, legends whose every work was closely followed. Correa designed this housing complex as a low-rise, densely packed series of flats in 2 parallel rows. The deceptively simple plan belies the rich visual and spatial complexity of the built form and provides the canvas upon which Bhan works his wonders. As Correa himself writes — «The site layout forms two long walls of these terraced units, creating an enclosed garden in the centre of the project — a large multi-level, generously landscaped garden that generates its own micro-climate so essential in the dry heat of Delhi.»
The entrance and doubly-loaded driveway, with parking on either side, are low-key, with the car bays, sheeting on a cantilevered steel frame, covered in greenery. The living rooms of the flats look out on to the lawn, a continuous strip of green unbroken by any partitions, enabling you to walk from one flat to the next, and encouraging neighborly bonhomie.
The crowning glory, of course, is the central promenade which Correa has mentioned. He deliberately designed the access to all the flats from this core, and all the staircases, corridors, links between the two rows, overlook this hub.
Thus, all movement and passage is clearly visible. Bhan upped the ante with his landscape design. At the upper level, the sunken mini amphitheatre, a multi-purpose space for interaction at all ages and for all reasons, segues into the double-height space provided by Correa. And cascading down to the lower level is a series of steps which instantly evoke the imagery of traditional Indian step-wells, although he has the last laugh. While referencing history, the designers have cheekily put the water tanks behind the steps.
Trees add further calm and peace to this space, and the original intention was to have low-rising trees to enable a view right from one end to the other. Coming down to the smallest scale, low enclosures protect the flower beds along the length of the promenade. From the macro to the micro, all elements of the design have been scrupulously thought out.
The acid test of any work is the end user s experience. Residents, and visitors, always remark on the activity and liveliness of the central space. The seamless integration of the built and the open afford a remarkable degree of safety and assurance at all ages for the users — parents can relax knowing their children are protected, and women and the elderly can interact freely. Spontaneous events are provided a platform, and the whole focus shifts from individuals living in their flat, to a community, mingling and forming relationships at a much larger level.
One of the residents, Rajiv Pandey, states, «We have peace of mind, and do not have to worry about the security of the girls, or my elderly mother living with us. Tara Apartments has a beautiful ambience, and looks even prettier at night with all the small lights in the different blocks».
Another resident, Ajay Dhingra, adds, «We find its layout, open spaces, greenery and construction rather unique and appealing. It gives us the impression of a perfect place for a home.»
Chhavi Auplish, a third generation resident and college-going student, observes, «Tara is the most beautiful colony — I have not seen any colony in Alaknanda that can match this! I only have to go down from our flat and there is enough to keep me busy and amused.»
Given recent tragic events in Delhi, and the current focus on gender sensitivity, safety of women and children, increasing emphasis on design of spaces which have factored in protection, it is interesting that Tara Apartments has all along quietly incorporated all these issues. It would be simplistic to say the designers were ahead of their time. Quite on the contrary, they were following the classic and timeless principles of design, which was to make one comfortable, at ease, and reassured. These attributes are absolutely crucial to a building which is in use 24 hours a day, and where the residents are permanent, such as a housing complex.
And the credit goes to the designers. Correa is all praise for his colleague and landscape architect — «Ravindra Bhan did such a phenomenal job of landscaping — without him, there would literally have been no heart to Tara».