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The House of Silent Screams – Tracing Untold and Lost Stories of the Colonial Era


Is a single story enough to understand a place? How vulnerable are we in the face of a single story? All places are palimpsests with rich and diverse histories and stories waiting to be unearthed. But do all the stories find expression in mainstream narratives? This thesis set in Dutch Cemetery, Fort Kochi-Kerala, India explores the power of architecture to question stereotypes, capture obscure traces and ‘retell’ lost stories. It spatializes stories and memories of African slaves (Kappiri) in Indian Sub-Continent (often sub-alterned and overshadowed by contemporary European heritage) through a design of a Museum, series of repositories, archives, temporary exhibition spaces and urban public realm to unite diverse communities.

The thesis revisits the stories of Colonial Period and its influences on Indian culture and architecture by juxtaposing the long overshadowed story of ‘other worlds’. The thesis looks at spirits often termed as Kappiris. ‘Kappiri’ is the local slang for African slaves shipped to Kerala by the Portuguese. The story of African people in India, began in 16C during Portuguese rule that promoted slave trade. Once the area become a Dutch stronghold in 17C they pushed Portuguese traders out of Kerala. The myth goes that Portuguese traders buried their riches under large trees and sacrificed their African slaves. Though the story of Africans remains unacknowledged in mainstream narratives on Colonial legacies and architecture, it gradually became assimilated in the local folklore and tradition and came to represent the benevolent guardian spirits that inhabit Kappiri shrines. The Dutch cemetery at Fort Kochi becomes a crucial area to house these forgotten memories. The cemetery though long overshadowed has been a silent observer of the cities past. Since this thesis roots the underlying theory from the idea of architectural uncanny, a site like cemetery falls fit for this exploration. The Kochi Muziris Biennale attracts a large foot fall with diverse communities who participate and engage with the exhibits. The positioning of this hypothetical intervention as a culmination of the Biennale path would highlight the necessity of introspection in any socio-cultural experiment.

The primary program of the thesis is a cenotaph, an exhibition space and a museum, while the secondary program includes smaller artist rooms, service rooms, reception, toilets etc. The total built up area of the program is 6250 sqm. The thesis uses five archetypes in architecture like the ‘ruins’, ‘towers’, ‘labyrinths’, ‘gardens’ and ‘cave’ to constantly evoke disruptive and contemplative emotions and experiences ranging from ‘uncanny’ to ‘peace’. The design invites viewers on a journey of self-discovery by pondering, questioning or simply losing oneself in the myriad corridors and meditative spaces. The project seeks to create dislocating and uncanny spaces by distorting familiar forms. The design is a result of intersecting pure geometries to create unique yet familiar forms. It takes something that is already established and de-familiarizes it to achieve what we call ‘the Unhomely’ or the ‘Unheimlich’(Vidler). Ideas of purity, perfection and order become sources of impurity, imperfection, and disorder. Uncanny in this project does not function as a physical motif that threatens the bodily integrity of passers-by, but rather as a theoretical concept that helps to undermine and - indeed - deconstruct traditional humanist and functionalist architectural discourses. The thesis hopes that a critical engagement of stories, memories, places and spaces in this design will reignite the debate on why ‘all’ stories need to be told, heard and experienced through architecture.

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