The Kanoria Centre for Arts (KCA) sits cosily in the heart of Ahmedabad, often mistaken by some as an extension of the CEPT University. Inspired by Rabindranath Tagore’s Santiniketan, Urmila Kanoria aspired to build a world-renowned centre for creativity. She had moved to Ahmedabad from Kolkata in the early ’80s. At a kathak dance performance by Kumudini Lakhia at architect BV Doshi’s residence, the idea for KCA took shape. “Doshi agreed to build the centre and Priyakant Munshaw, then honorary secretary of the Ahmedabad Education Society, gave me land for Rs 50 lakh. At the time, it was a lot of money. People told me that it would be a waste because in Ahmedabad not many cared about arts and culture. But I was determined,” says Kanoria.
Since it began in 1984, KCA has grown to encompass a variety of art spaces. Currently, it has nearly 20 studios and offers an art residency programme with scholarship for architects, designers, writers, and performers from all over the world. While MF Husain laid the foundation stone for the centre, many leading artists such as Ravindra Reddy, Walter D’Souza and Prithpal Singh Ladi, were among the first fellows of the centre. It has since then been a “sub-campus” for many artists, who cut their teeth here.
Setting it in the CEPT campus expanded the idea of knowledge sharing. Doshi, who was founder-dean of CEPT, and founder director of KCA, could think of no better way to dissolve these boundaries. Since the 22-acre university campus was used as a brick kiln before, Doshi retained the vocabulary of bricks across the structures, including KCA. He has designed a space that would have staggering stacks of studios, one above the other, to provide a visual and physical connect, ample light and ventilation. He manipulated the space around the low-lying brick kiln area and moved the building over the pit, so that the contrasts of sloping and flat surfaces could make KCA an immersive experience.
Doshi arranged the rooms to express a medieval town, and kept the spaces flexible such that studios can be conducted on the lawns, the terrace, or any space in the building. While the open space in the middle of KCA is apt for performances, a hidden room at the bottom of the stairs, near the open space, doubles up as a green room during performances, or can become a meeting room.
“There was no gallery or cafe in Ahmedabad at the time, where people could just come together and connect with each other. We wanted an open space and that is how we went about designing the centre. We incorporated trees so that people could sit under it and discuss, or just have a cup of chai. The indoor spaces have also been created in a way that it celebrates the nature and greenery around,” says Doshi. The presence of artists, journalists, Gujarati film industry members and college students at the cafe testifies to its vibrant energy.
“Over the last five years, we have had literature festivals, children’s festivals, movie screenings, dance performances and lectures around art. The centre might look small but we can expand it in many ways,” says Kanoria.