Studio Archohm and MVRDV collaborated to design the Oranje Castle

Project: Oranje Castle, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh

Architects: Archohm & MVRDV

Oranje Castle is an exemplary project about Dutch and Indian architects collaborating. As an architectural firm, MVRDV may be based in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, but we are globally active, with approximately 140 projects in 25 countries. The Indian approach to architecture is quite different from the Dutch one, and as our second project in India, this design was a great opportunity to challenge both our views of architecture to get a better result in which East and West meet.

We were quite excited to cooperate with Mr Sourabh Gupta of Archohm on the large residential and leisure development in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh. Mr Gupta is an architect who likes to think outside of the box when it comes to spatiality. He was educated at the Delft University of Technology, the same university where I was educated and where I taught. His approach to housing is playful and open-minded.

Thus, when MVRDV advised to refrain from the usual housing towers, but to create a ‘brick castle’ with a central courtyard instead, he was very enthusiastic.

Together we created Oranje Castle, a 90,000 square metre complex of apartments and leisure spaces which don’t consist of one tower, or even multiple separate ones, but of no less than 25 connected towers surrounding a lush private courtyard of 14,000 square meters, the size of two football fields. The building embodies the growing expectations of the country’s young families, providing an aspirational housing district that incorporates the lessons learned at MVRDV through twenty years of designing cost- effective social housing in Europe.

In the design West meets East, a fact that is perhaps most apparent in the choice of bricks for the façade. Oranje Castle is made entirely from brick, a material that is very familiar – perhaps even comforting – to both Indians and the Dutch, highlighting an interesting similarity between the two cultures. The orange colour of the brick gives the project its name (and of course, West meets East in using ‘oranje’, the Dutch spelling of the word!) But the choice of a single colour for the entire building hints at how different the two building cultures from opposite hemispheres really are. In addition to Archohm, we also collaborated with landscape designers Topotek 1, adding some German influence to the East-West mix. Their founder Martin Rein- Cano explains that in their design of the courtyard, “an important starting point was to create a space without hierarchies or dominant directions, which lead to the implementation of the circle motif”. The circular elements, many of which continue the theme of brick materiality, “create a non-edgy, dynamic, and flowing space”. Commenting on the mixture of Eastern and Western culture, he adds that “another key idea was to translate traditional Indian landscape features such as the birdcage, colourfully planted pergolas, palm trees, and large stepwell-esque stairs (that connect the courtyard to the parking garage below) into a modern aesthetic language”.

India is a country that, due to its rapid development, often finds itself prioritising expedience over quality; the Possible is sometimes needed more urgently than the Good, and complex projects risk being compromised at any moment by a decision about what is possible. On a project that, by nature of its size, is inevitably complex, imperfections can be avoided and minimised by applying a simple rule: a simple, bold-coloured brick for the entire façade eliminates unnecessary complexity and controls the outcome of the construction.

With his Indian background but Dutch architectural training, Sourabh is perfectly placed to help us incorporate the traditions and expectations of Indian design into our Dutch thinking. He was perfectly placed to explain to stakeholders how this Dutch twist to his country’s usual architectural process could improve outcomes for both future residents and the client. And he is perfectly placed to exercise control over the design in a construction industry that, to the eyes of a Dutch architect brought up in a culture that values punctuality and bureaucracy, can seem chaotic and unmanageable.

It can be difficult to entrust the realisation of a design to someone almost 7,000 kilometres away, especially when regular updates are hard to come by. But we know that behind each update we do receive from Sourabh – in which everything always seems to be progressing at a steady pace with no major problems – is probably a whole lot of discussion, small changes of plan, negotiations with contractors, and so on. Despite some challenges arising from our different cultures, we trust Sourabh with this project because we believe in his ability to navigate a very different industry to the one we are used to in the Netherlands, and because we see how strongly he believes in the design which we produced together.

This is the trick we have learned when collaborating between different cultures: you have to understand the differences between each side, and although you do not have to be an expert in the opposite culture (no matter how hard I try, I will never be able to convince anybody I am Indian, and not only because of how I look), you need to work with people you trust. Oranje Castle is an exemplary project of combining Dutch and Indian design thinking, yes, but it is also an example of the process of cultural collaboration—one we have learned a lot from.

The Oranje castle is a housing project where Archohm invited the globally renowned Dutch architectural firm MVRDV to collaborate. The 7-acre site is situated in one of the upcoming areas of Lucknow, just off the Amar Shaheed path, which is the main artery connecting the city to its airport. Overlooking the Gomti River across its green buffer, the Oranje Castle is a self-contained housing development in which there are total of 437 units with a mix of typologies.

Text by: Architect Jacob van Rijs

Professor and Architect Jacob van Rijs is a co-founder and principal architect of MVRDV

Clients: Ashish Khemka, Ravindra Kumar, Mahesh Meetal, Sandeep Mittal Principal

Architect: Sourabh Gupta

Partner Architect: Jacob van Rijs – Founding principal, MVRDV

Design Team: Sukhmani Brar, Tejpal Singh, Shekhar Durgapal, Ganesh Singh, MVRDV

Site Area: 28,878.58sq m

Built-up area: 131,602.13sq m

Completion Date: On going

Consultants: Structural – Shekhar Design Centre; Mechanical – Consummate Engineering Services Pvt Ltd; Electrical – Consummate Engineering Services Pvt Ltd; Civil – Archohm Consults Pvt Ltd; Landscape – Topotek1; HVAC – Armstrong Engineering Services; Plumbing – Consummate Engineering Services Pvt Ltd