The Smritivan Earthquake Museum Introduces A New Kind Of Inclusive Memorial In North Gujarat

  • 13 Feb '24
  • 3:52 pm by Vruti Desai

Commemorating the earthquake of 2001 that decimated the northern region of Gujarat, The Smritivan Earthquake Museum and Memorial is a symbol of the strength and resistance of the victims in Bhuj. Spread across 470 acres, the memorial is married to a museum experience conceptualised by Architect Rajeev Kathpalia of Vastu Shilpa Consultants, thoughtfully curating the succinct brief of “plant a tree for each victim” to signify the act of regeneration. Seated on the mounds of Bhujiyo Dungar (Hills) on the outskirts of Bhuj, which hosts a medieval fortification, the memorial is a tribute to the trauma of the natural calamity and the human loss in its aftermath. With an intent to unite different communities that grieved together, the architect and team created a new kind of inclusive memorial that symbolises resilience and celebrates the unique heritage, craft, and culture of the Kutch region. Creating a forest of memories, The Smritivan Earthquake Museum and Memorial recognises its role at large, ensuring that this architectural marvel reflects its natural surroundings and at the same time stands distinguished as a cultural monument. 

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The Smritivan recharge wells spread across the natural landscape of the hill. Image Credits: Vinay Panjwani

The structure draws cues from the unruly topography of the region and the vagaries of nature in Bhuj. With water remaining the scariest natural resource, architect Rajeev Kathpalia ingeniously addresses the needs of the city by creating a massive green patch, transforming the built composition into a living monument. The team meticulously traced water streams and placed 50 recharge reservoirs that irrigated 200 acres of planted trees of local species, which became the memorial. “The ground that shook and caused misery became the repository of memory and promise of life,”  states the architect. Mimicking the relics of the fort walls, two structures are placed on either side of the meandering green memorial: the Sundial, and the museum. The Sundial marks the peak of the mound with its “acropolis” as a viewpoint – overlooking the terrain, while the circular pathway going up the hill defines the sacred path designed to evoke a sense of local belonging that dates back to pilgrim pathways. The sundial defines the cosmic time and a symbolic connection to the infinite, reminding the visitor of their existence in the most surreal environments.

The varied exhibitions and galleries inside the Smritivan Museum. Image Credits: Vinay Panjwani

Covering a stretch of 10,900 square meters, the museum houses an extensive collection of local arts, crafts, and textiles, with numerous exhibitions that showcase not only the heritage and uniqueness of the region but also the earthquake-related artefacts. The galleries express tragic events and relief activities through varied innovative mediums, both tactile and virtual, with the use of technological advancements in engineering and visualization. The central ‘spine ’ acts like a veranda holding all the box-structure exhibition spaces together. This zig-zag spine runs fifty meters upwards, connecting the base of the museum to the sundial, where one can pause, reflect, and absorb the landscape. Covered by a polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) canopy with funnel-shaped roofs, this tensile structure references the covered markets prevalent in hot, dry climates. The construction techniques of the museum constantly follow the principles of local vernacular architecture, where both the materials and form are dictated by the existing terrain. The brown local stone pathway seems to circumambulate the sun and shade as one looks into the green landscape memorial. It then opens on to a sundial space which invites the gaze upwards, into the celestial.

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The Smritivan Memorial Sundail overlooks the museum and the natural terrain of the region. Image Credits: Vinay Panjwani

The Smritivan Earthquake Museum and Memorial in this way narrate a story beyond just the cultural symbol of rejuvenation and resilience. It redefines the public space to include a sense of belonging and adds to its function as a diverse memorial. The elements of nature dictate the spatial experiences of the Smritivan, while the culture, tragedies, and memories that defined the city are now woven into the space.

The Smritivan Earthquake Museum and Memorial overlooking the scenic landscape of Bhuj. Image Credits: Ab Gusai