Artist Retreat in Mumbai by Architecture BRIO aims to bring art, ecology and society together

How do you design a flexible workshop for hot and humid tropical weather and a site known to flood seasonally? To add to the complexity, it should be self-sufficient, passively cooled and resilient to the future challenges of climate change and sea-level rise. This is the set of challenges that Architecture BRIO has tried to address with Mumbai Artist Retreat.

The Mumbai Artist Retreat is conceptualised as a community space built on a low-lying site full of coconut palm plantation, near a beach. The site provides a spacious natural environment away from the stress of a megacity like Mumbai, but its proximity across the bay still maintains the visual connection to the city. The project offers space to the artists to work in a spacious, natural environment.

"Many coastal areas around the world are facing an immense dilemma," said Studio BRIO. "Coastal areas are, however, some of the most desirable places to live and work."

Randhir Singh
Architecture Brio | Site Section

The workshop is built using primarily steel and bamboo, and the lightweight structure is lifted off the ground. This is due to the decreasing groundwater; there is saline water during the summer months. Given the soil's low soil bearing capacity and occasional flood, the architects decided to lift the structure off the ground.

Randhir Singh
Edmund Sumner

The property is divided into three zones, the temporary residential zone, the workspace zone and the residential zone for long term accommodation.

The building is made for disassembly, comprised of a tropical shed 12m x 9m with two roofs that are six metres high. It consists of two skylights integrated with photovoltaics that chop off the pyramid-shaped roof on the top. These skylights are openable and therefore encourage a natural flow of air across the workshop.

"By shifting the roofs away from each other asymmetrically, they define the two spaces below from an experimental perspective. A storeroom with screen printing equipment creates an additional loft with a workspace on top of it," explains the studio.

Edmund Sumner
Edmund Sumner

To reduce the disturbance on-site during construction, the architects employed off-site construction and steel components are designed as nut and bolt connections. This method of construction offers the option to reassemble the building on a different location if desired. The steel rods anchor the columns into a chiselled depression in the stone boulders which were sourced from another construction project in the vicinity.

While the stilts, columns and beams are made up of galvanised steel, the roof structure is built of V-shaped bamboo beams.

"Indian bamboo often suffers from irregular shapes and diameters. In order to avoid the natural irregularity of the bamboo from becoming distractive, the layout of the rafters follows a zig-zag pattern," explains Architecture BRIO.

 "While the framework is exposed from the inside, on the exterior a lightweight roofing of cement sheets cover the bamboo framework," they add.

Randhir Singh
Edmund Sumner
Architecture Brio | Section showing passive cooling

The workshop is envisaged as a flexible space, which features movable walls to create different layouts based on the need. These timber slat panels keep out rain and direct sunlight where it is not desired.

"The artists’ workshop can be used as a single large workshop, multiple simultaneous workshops or an exhibition space," further explains the studio.

The artists’ retreat is designed to inspire reflection, creativeness and belonging while creating a space for people to engage and immerse in Nature.

"The Mumbai Artist Retreat is conceptualised as a community space. It is an art lab of sorts, that aims to bring together art, ecology and society," says Architecture BRIO.

Randhir Singh
Randhir Singh

The Studio hopes that the project will bring people from diverse backgrounds together and foster an environment for them to engage in various form of artistic expressions in a creative and critical way. 



Project Name: Mumbai Artist Retreat
Location: Alibag, India
Year: 2019
Design Team: Shefali Balwani + Robert Verrijt, Neethi Dorairaju, Sakshi Minocha, Shivani Mehta
Program: Artist Retreat
Photographer: Edmund Sumner Randhir Singh



Architecture BRIO with offices in Rotterdam (the Netherlands) and Mumbai (India) was set up in 2006. Over the years the studio has thrived with an energetic team of architects led by Shefali Balwani (C.E.P.T, Ahmedabad) and  Robert Verrijt (Technical University of Delft).

The seed of Architecture BRIO was planted in Sri Lanka, where the founders met in the early start of their life as architects. They immersed themselves in the tremendous body of work by the late architect Geoffrey Bawa. His work is often situated in the most breathtaking but sensitive environmental settings. His interventions are nonetheless bold and often extreme.

Contradictorily, this does not lead to domination and submission of its surroundings. This duality, explored within the context of a drastically changing world, has become one of the main themes in the work of the practice. The studio strongly believes that architecture should remain a backdrop to life rather than taking centre stage.