As part of a research and documentation field visit, the 4th semester students of Interior Design, ISDI Parsons, Mumbai, visited the Museum at the T2 Terminal of Mumbai International Airport with me and some faculty members of the Design School. This Museum is known as the Jaya He GVK New Museum, and most of us are familiar with it from the large multi media installations that cover its huge walls. We might have wondered about the reason and meaning of these but never failed to appreciate them. This trip helped us unravel the story behind the Museum.
Last week, I had taken a project with faculty members Shreyas More and Supriya Thakker on devising a Curatorial & Spatial Experience Plan with all the batches of the Interior Design, ISDI Parsons students. With very less working plans, design documents and even curatorial plans in the public domain, it is quite difficult to explain the concept, process and details of exhibition or museum project planning in India. We mostly become aware of exhibitions or museums when they have been executed and presented in a physical form in front of us. But how many of us are lucky enough to experience the detailed and sometimes painstaking process from concept to fabrication of these projects?
A chance discussion over phone with Shanaz Surin regarding a visit by students, whom I was teaching ‘History of Architecture’ last semester, led to the actual visit this week. She was very helpful since the first phone call and was ready to facilitate the student visit. Shanaz was present when the Museum project was conceptualised, put together and finally executed at the T2 Terminal. Though she is no longer associated with the project and we missed Shanaz, her name kept coming up through the entire visit, she was a positive driving force behind the Museum – hope to hear of your experience soon Shahnaz.
The visit was facilitated by Rekha Nair, Head, Jaya He, Ashish Kumar, AGM, Marketing, Jaya He, Shrutika Jain, Assistant Manager, Jaya He. Without the immense help from Shrutika from getting familiar with the several stages of security clearance to a guided tour around the different levels of the, this visit wouldn’t have been possible at all. Thanks a lot Shrutika 🙂
Mr Rajagopal Anilraja, VP, Project – Construction, addressed the students and shared valuable information and statistics that completely baffled us. We never realised that the T2 Terminal could cater to 40 – 45 million passengers annually, and flights take off and land every 42 seconds since there is only 1 runway!!! This startled us out of our comfort zones when we remembered the number of times we have grumbled about the boarding gates closing at a precise time or why the flight is circling and not landing when we would like it to. This meeting with the team was a big reality check for all of us!
The foundation of the entire airport goes down 16 meters below ground, and the entire old building was razed to the ground and dug up from the foundations to make the new building. This was essential as the new building supports 30 pods, each 40 meters in size, with 250 metric tonnes of steel in each pod. We cannot even envisage how mammoth a task it must have been to conceive, plan and build this beautiful airport in less than 5 years. There are 250 individual glass pieces in each pod and each panel was customised for the project. Due to its ecological sustainability approach, 23% energy is saved and from 8am to 6pm most parts of the building use natural light. At one given point of time there were 20 – 22 thousand people working at the T2 to make this dream take such a lovely form!
Practical problems like encroachment of airport land by slums, non availability of old building plans, environmental clearances and paucity of space for storage of construction material, along with keeping the airport fully functional without hampering the construction of the new Terminal were resolved by precise and effective planning and system management. We were informed how GVK Reddy and his son Sanjay were very crucial and important forces behind the whole project. Without their ideas, inputs and constant supervision and guidance this project would have been inconceivable.
We were also told that this is the only airport where security screening is before immigration due to the high security risk to this airport, and how manual security checking is given same if not more importance than the technological ones.
Just when we were grappling with these facts, and the students were stupefied by the immensity of this project we were appraised with anecdotes like the leakage from the roof despite the use of sealants all over it. The investigation led to the discovery of the theft of the sealants by eagles and kites for their nests! The solution was simply to put the sealants in aluminium casing. But, I wonder what the birds told their young ones in the nests, maybe that there is bit of T2 in all our homes? 😉
After a detailed discussion on the project, its challenges, parameters, problems and solutions the students were able to better comprehend the practical implications of such massive public projects. We are used to hearing complaints that why does India have less large public architectural projects unlike the developed countries, but wonder how many of us would think on those lines now. We’ll probably get more realistic and compare less!
The Jaya He GVK New Museum was the brainchild of Sanjay Reddy, he had been very particular about creating a strong identity of the entire project from the beginning. This identity, Indian in origin, had to reach out to the Indian travellers and not just to the people arriving and departing from here from all over the world. He felt that we in India are not always able to connect and appreciate our own culture and what better than such a huge space for creating a public art initiative. The idea of taking inspiration from the white peacock as the main design form for the entire Terminal came from Sanjay. He always wanted to dedicate this Museum to the Indians and not foreigners.
The museum stretches across 3 km, 4 levels and 1, 00, 000 sq ft of space. It has 83 installations and more than 5, 000 artefacts were purchased from all over India for it. It is a brainchild of Rajeev Sethi, the Scenographer for the entire project.
The themes of the Museum are: layered narratives, thresholds of India, and baggage acclaimed.
The objects ranged from a 5 tonne elephant to site and theme specific installations made at T2. Crafts traditions carried out by communities from each nook and corner of India were sourced, some seamlessly amalgamated with contemporary art and some given a different scale and dimension. The traditions range form Kalighat style painting of Bengal to Molela terracotta making of Udaipur, from artists from Bihar to those from Kashmir. Gond artists vie for space with a sensor based water installation by Shekhar Kapur. Installations by Ritu Kumar, Zanda Rhodes and Manish Arora can be admired at the Baggage Claim belts.
Charmi Shah was asked to create an installation and she was used to small scale works but this was of to be a much larger scale. She initially refused but with constant motivation by Rajeev Sethi, she made this stunning one on memory and loss – so appropriate to the travellers. Aren’t we all leaving behind so much in each of our journeys?
This is the first time that Gond artists from Madhya Pradesh created a 3 dimensional installation as their creative world is 2 dimensional – and what an awe insipiring work!
The students couldn’t get enough of the Shekhar Kapur created sensor based water installation. When you run your hands through the water spouting from the fountains you can hear music – we had so much fun playing with the water in this highly interactive and calming space. Why don’t you go and look for it and make music of your own the next time you are departing from the T2 Terminal?
We also learnt how the housekeeping staff have been trained to clean and maintain the installations as each has its own requirements due to the their materials and dimensions. They are cleaned every week and intense cleaning is carried out every two weeks. Thankfully, travellers have been careful enough to respect the artworks and installations and not write over them or scratch them though there has been an incident where a traveller kept her child on an antique wooden swing and it broke!
A visit that overstretched by an hour due to the intense engagement with the actual space was so engrossing! This visit helped the students understand so much about public spaces if well planned and designed with a clear vision could lead to a stupefying result. Hard work, sincerity and intense dedication can only drive such projects to a satisfying end, and that satisfaction comes when the people for whom the project is made feel happy. Planning well in advance with clarity on Curatorial and Spatial Design Plans go a long way in generating projects where the vision matches with the objective.
There is so much more to share … The Museum is planning on starting 30 minutes tours from April, one just needs to fill in details of their flights and departure times online to avail these tours. But don’t forget to catch your flight in this stunning time capsule 🙂
My sincere thanks to the ISDI Parsons team of Dean, Mookesh Patel, Vice Dean, Meena Krishna, Admin staff, Arsheen Ansari, Interior Design Program Director, Shreyas More, Faculties, Supriya Thakker and Prarthana Patil. Without your help and permissions this visit would not have been possible.
Of course, many thanks to the Interior Design 4th Semester students for being excited about this trip since some time, and being able to relate it to not only the courses I have taken with you but to other courses you have been taught at School. Looking forward to more such adventures and journeys with you 🙂
All photographs have been taken by the author with permission from the concerned authorities.