Revitalization of a former colonial structure, expanding it into a cultural institute — 2,000 m² — Park Street, Kolkata, India — 2018 — Goethe-Institut e.V., Munich, Germany
Center for lively communication
For over five decades, Goethe-Institut – also known in India by the name Max Mueller Bhavan after the founder of research into Sanskrit – was based on the outskirts of the city of Kolkata with its 4.5 million inhabitants, discounting the suburbs. However, the original location no longer met current standards and the need for space had increased. By relocating to Park Mansions, a prestigious, heritage-listed building from 1912 and thus the colonial period, the cultural institution has now found a domicile in keeping with its significance.
The architects and interior designers interpreted the institute as the central point of contact in the midst of vibrant urban Kolkata and have sought to interlink traditional forms and a modern idiom: Heeding the needs of the heritage listing, they have integrated the new usages respectfully into the 100-year-old building.
The goal was to create a spatial situation based on transparency and openness as well as different usage scenarios. Across three floors and encompassing about 2,000 square meters of usable space, the architects developed a setting that enables Goethe-Institut to expand its service range beyond merely language instruction and cultural familiarization. Visitors and staff can now enjoy using an auditorium boasting state-of-the-art media technology, a library that runs across two floors, eight class rooms, a room for the teaching staff, an administrative wing, a lobby and Café Müller complete with outdoor patio. Countless interfaces between the various spaces foster lively communication and flexible work.
In the library, whose two floors are connected by a truly sculptural staircase, large seating steps made of teak wood encourage visitors to tarry a while and browse. In a relaxed and leisurely atmosphere, it’s easy to make new contacts and hold exciting conversations. The architects have come up with multi-purpose rooms and what is more the library, the adjacent bistro, as well as the auditorium and foyer are linked to one another and can thus be combined for larger events such as lectures, readings or concerts.
Spanning tradition and the modern
In design terms, the architects have sensitively linked the different cultures, using excellent German engineering to modernize the glorious colonial era building and preserve its substance and character. The traditionally white-washed walls contrast with the dark, exposed steel structures. The original doors in dark woods with carved paneling have been elaborately restored and integrated into the overall design. When it came to selecting the flooring, the planners likewise opted for traditional materials: They are made in Indian patent stone, a fair-faced screed that in the class rooms boasts the typical red pigments. The sanitary facilities boast floors in Indian marble, with a pleasantly warm hue to it.
The architects have designed “Café Müller” to be the central point where all converge: open at lunch time to outside visitors, it scores high in terms of atmosphere: A plaster-coated brick wall has been exposed and coated in an oxide-red wash. Old industrial lamps bring to mind the location’s past and now illuminate the stairwell. In the Park Mansions they come into their own again and stylishly provide an authentic touch to the ambiance.
Mingling Indian and German cultures
Needless to say, there’s also a reference to the man from whom the institute takes its name in Germany: The 3D face of Johann-Wolfgang von Goethe designed by Indian artist Jignesh Panchal decorates the walls in the corridors – not just once but hundreds of times. A stag in front of a forest scene refers to the Black Forest countryside and the silhouette of Neuschwanstein Castle wittily references German culture. Highlights integrate the Goethe-Institut color code into the design.
With the new Goethe-Institut in Kolkata blocher partners has created a worthy representative of Indo-German cultural exchange. They have designed rooms that foster intercultural dialog and in the process have taken a very respectful approach, firmly in keeping with the heritage listing. Indian tradition, German know-how and artistic creativity fuse to form a harmonious edifice that provides a marvelous new home for many a cultural encounter in downtown Kolkata.