Swati Janu writes about Sambhavna Clinic, Bhopal 2011, landscapes of memory
The Sambhavna Clinic is situated in the heart of the gas-affected area of Bhopal, half a kilometre from the disused Union Carbide factory and directly south of JP Nagar, the worst hit neighbourhood. It was opened in 2005 and designed and built by House of Consultants (GoodEarth), Bangalore.
After hours of lining up in the sun to avail government medical facilities and bearing the cost of medicines the survivors could not afford, within their meagre compensation; Sambhavna Clinic was much needed and welcomed by the people of Bhopal. Bhopal People’s Health and Documentation, a charitable trust run by a group of doctors, scientists, writers and social workers, started the Sambhavna Clinic in September 1996. Meaning both “possibility” and “compassion” in Sanskrit/ Hindi, Sambhavna has been providing free medical services to the survivors of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy.1
The new clinic, designed and built by the Bangalore based architectural firm, House of Consultants, was opened in April 2005 and acts as a holistic health care, research and support centre for the survivors. Apart from being a clinic and workplace to enhance healthcare, it also acts as a community space for the development and health education of the people. Based on the principles of ecological medicine, the clinic provides medical care through traditional Ayurvedic and western Allopathic therapy, along with Yoga. With an acre of medicinal herb gardens, Sambhavna’s integrative approach to medical relief also involves training the community to grow medicinal plants and producing their own medicines from them.
Situated on a two-acre piece of land just two kilometres from the Union Carbide Plant, the clinic acts as a research and documentation facility for the study of industrial disasters. The proximity of the clinic to the site of disaster is no coincidence, and stands as a defiant testimony to positive development in the area. The location of the thoughtfully designed architectural intervention, in one of the poorest precincts of Bhopal which was also the worst affected by the disaster, is symbolic of lasting change that architecture can bring about.
“Architecture is a tool to improve lives… a medium to strengthen cultural and individual confidence, to support local economies and to foster the ecological balance.” These lines by Anna Heringer 2 best summarize the intent behind the design of the clinic. The building has been instrumental in helping build the confidence of the community, instilling in them a sense of pride and giving them an identity. It has succeeded in healing not just the survivors physically but also the psyche of a scarred community.
By providing space in the middle of a dense, run down district, the clinic has also provided a ‘face’ to the spirit and resilience of the survivors. In addition, by offering the important public space for the community to gather, the design encourages the people to take ownership of its spaces and help in maintaining them as well. The natural vegetation has been blended with the architecture to provide tranquillity to the people who come here for treatment. Designed for human scale and comfort, the clinic makes them feel welcome due to its sense of harmony and aesthetics.
Sambhavna is a model example of environmentally appropriate healthcare architecture, which is at the same time low cost and low maintenance. Through creative interpretation and not by being restricted by the low budget, the design successfully illustrates that even with the help of inexpensive materials; high quality architecture can be generated that does not require any maintenance. Employing the local vernacular, this ‘green health centre’ has used traditional building techniques and local materials in their natural form and colour, such as brick, locally available stone, earthen tiles and bamboo. The sense of relation of the users to these materials and aesthetics further inculcate a sense of ownership in them. The low height structures woven around courtyards, characteristic of traditional Indian architecture, lead to a sense of comfort and belonging in them.
It is often the poor or post-conflict areas that need sensitive and good design interventions the most; through its careful integration of aesthetics and sustainable design strategies, the architecture has managed to address the vision of the Sambhavna Trust. From a small, makeshift clinic to the two acre site with healthcare standards that are now being lauded at the world level, Sambhavna stands as a successful example of socially as well as environmentally aware architecture. Designing for a socio-cultural change of this nature, requires for the identification and a careful interpretation of the needs of its users and brief as the project architect Jeeth Iype explains, “… It could even be pieces of sketches people have made, it could be poetry, it could be prose … the brief is a very interesting document where you get as many inputs as possible… there is a lot of human behavioural science research that is in designing buildings… [architects] have to learn that, otherwise you will be designing only brick and mortar and not a living building.”3
Employing bioclimatic design, the building has been designed for the hot, local climate of Madhya Pradesh. The design has been planned around courtyards for passive cooling and day lighting, which also act as open community spaces. The site also makes extensive use of rainwater recharge and harvesting, as well as greywater for irrigation. Through simple indigenous techniques and traditional elements such as chajjas, verandahs, jaalis and cavity walls, the building manages to be naturally ventilated as well as day lit. For its artificial lighting and other power requirements, it uses solar energy.
The building effectively demonstrates the relationship between an environmentally conscious architecture and ecological healthcare. Through its environment management design, it has integrated landscape, trees, grey water, rainwater, storm water, solid waste management and energy. Moreover, in its endeavour to ‘create possibilities through compassion’; it has proven that it is ‘possible to evolve simple, safe, effective, ethical and participatory ways of treatment.’4
1 Guenther, Robin &Vittori, Gail (2008). Sustainable Healthcare Architecture. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley’, p. 57-59
2 Young German architect, recipient of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture and the AR Emerging Architecture Award (2006 and 2008)
3 Interview with JeethIype, principal architect at Good Earth, conducted by Jan af Geijerstam
4 The Bhopal Medical Appeal.
1.The Architecture of Healing an article by Jeff Stephens in Healthcare Design Magazine
2.The Toxic Legacy. Poisoned water – a new. Bhopal health hazard. 777. The Bhopal. Medical Appeal. Newsletter. Winter 2010
3.Sambhavna a film by Joseph Malone
5.A Healing Garden Grows in Bhopal a film on the Clinic by Health Care Without Harm