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Architecture (MA)

Ramit Saksena

Ramit is a British Indian researcher, writer and architectural designer based in London. He graduated from the University of Cambridge with First-Class Honours in the BA Architecture course. Ramit’s first year design project at the RCA, Dadi-maa ke nuskhe explored the possibility of non-transactional spaces of care in India, in the wake of the devastating Covid-19 crisis. His design was inspired by inherited, familial bodies of knowledge and indigenous epistemologies of care, and was shortlisted for the RIBA London Student Award.

Furthermore, Ramit has been working with Historic England and the Greater London Authority on drafting the new London Heritage Strategy. As part of the latest London Plan, this project aims to support the development of a new strategic approach to community engagement and policy, particularly focusing on empowering communities who have traditionally been excluded from frameworks of planning and heritage.

Ramit’s interests lie in celebrating the rich but often underrepresented experiences of communities on the margin of power, by providing compelling platforms for these stories and knowledges to be shared.

An arrangement of objects relating to personal experiences of hybridity and diaspora.

In 1979, police brutality at anti-fascism demonstrations led to the death of Blair Peach. Suresh Grover, a recently arrived Punjabi immigrant representing the Southall Campaign Committee, stated –

'The black community is here to stay. If this means fighting against racism, then we are here to fight as well'.

What is particularly powerful about this message is the expansive use of the term black, as a political ideal and bond of resistance between a broad range of marginalised communities. Returning to Southall 40 years later, this projects aims to foster this magic of cross-community solidarity, through the radical redesign of a block of previously inward looking and enclosed high street shops, to provide spaces of storytelling, exchange and resistance. The project asks -

By drawing from the hybrid, creolised logics of Southall’s diverse communities, how can settings of cross-diasporic solidarity be created?

The design aims to generate a collective body of resistance in the face of inter-community hostility and rampant regeneration, and celebrate the unique position of diaspora – allowing connection to cultures and communities that power structures and colonial borders prevent happening 'back home'. 

It is also project of post-colonialism, challenging a dominant politics of gentrification and division to foreground those on the margin, and creating defiant spaces where their voices, practices and rituals are seen and heard. 

The project's site of focus, Southall, has seen waves of immigration through the 20th and 21st century. This has led to inspiring examples of cross-community resistance - in 1979 when facing fascism and structural racism - but more recently has led to increasing isolation and hostility between different migrant communities. The project looks to challenge this, and to challenge a movement of regeneration in Southall, where the arrival of the Elizabeth line has been accompanied by large scale speculative development projects, that propose a vision of a whitewashed, profitable capitalist monoculture. 

A gif showing how the pronunciation of Southall has changed with the arrival of immigrant communities
Pronunciation as a record of MigrationThe changing pronunciation of 'Southall' mirrors the arrival of migrant communities.
A GIF showing maps of Southall over time
Waves of migration over timeIrish, Polish, Punjabi and Somali - Southall has seen waves of migration, growth and adaptation.
Image of Newspaper, with articles detailing examples of cross-community hostility
Site of Rupture - Cross-Community HostilityThe project situates itself within, and counters, a a context of increasing cross-community conflict, between those more established and newly arrived, or due to prejudices that too have migrated from the homeland.
Image of Newspaper, with articles detailing Tudor Rose development
Site of Rupture - RegenerationThe project situates itself within, and counters, destructive and exploitative redevelopment projects, in this designated 'Opportunity Area', that views Southall as tabula rasa and ripe for rebranding.
Image of Newspaper, with articles detailing The Green Quarter development
The Green Quarter - wreaking both social and direct environmental damage, in the context of Southall.

The project draws from a close reading of the diasporic logics and rituals of the site, to inform the design proposal.

Design logics are drawn from a study of the signage along this row of shops on The Green. This study of signage not insignificant – each sign is loaded with meaning, an active choice to dress these otherwise generic shop units and represent their identity and business.

Furthermore, the project draws inspiration from the community assembled stalls that support a range of activities, change and adaptation during the festival of Vaisakhi in Southall. Alongside this frame system, the project develops a toolkit of hybrid components, combining and creolising cultural and material practices of the Green’s diverse communities – these are deployed and combined where appropriate throughout the design.  

The Green, Southall - A logic of Signage
The Green, Southall - Vaisakhi as ritual and logic of street occupation
Signs and Signifiers: Shop Signage LexiconIn their current condition, each shop exists as an isolated, self-enclosed unit serving only their respective community. However, close reading of their signage reveal common techniques, such as allusions to the iconographic or sentiments of conviviality, or intrinsic links that connect previously separated shops.
Cross-Community Hybridities: Cultural and Design LexiconThrough close observation and research into cultural, material and architectural practices amongst the diverse communities of The Green, Southall, a toolkit of components has been developed that build on community commonalities and support a new hybrid and dynamic spatial language.


Film, Drawing, Collage, Render

On a clear night, you can see the light of Lahore from Amritsar. These sister cities, only 50km away from each other, emerged and flourished together in Punjab, but are now separated and pitted against each other, either side of the arbitrarily drawn Indian and Pakistani border. This scenario curiously recreates itself on the Green in Southall, where Kulcha Express Taste of Amritsar and Lahore Savour sit as two, inward looking and distinct restaurants. Even their signage alludes to this implied but denied relationship between them - with almost exact inverse colour schemes and logos. 

The design looks at this idea of mirroring and inverse, and challenges the idea that these restaurants must serve as two disconnected spaces through the use of stage set constructions that allow for a two rotating floor plates.

A render showing the proposed performance space in a closed position.
Performance Space - In Closed PositionThere are two conditions – the closed condition where the two room’s walls meet and close off from each other, as two separate spaces.
A render showing the proposed performance space in a open position.
Performance Space - In Open PositionHowever, at specific moments of performance, the spaces rotate creating a dramatic opening through into both spaces. This shared central space becomes one to celebrate shared cultural practices such as the embroidery of phulkari or rich musical heritage.
Render of proposed performance/gathering space showing different cultural influences.
A Southall-i Space of Cross-Community Storytelling and ConvivialityThis space does not remain static and specific to only these two communities. Somali Kebed and West African Kente are introduced into this space to produce new, uniquely Southall fabric traditions. These innovations and creolisations translate back to the architecture – the jali of these two circular spaces become backdrops for colourful experimentation and expression.

The Tudor Rose has legendary status in Southall – a site where dub, reggae and bhangra music would meet, where in 1979 a concert named ‘Southall Kids are Innocent’ was staged, as fundraising to provide legal fees for those arrested during the Southall protests. The proposal looks to celebrate this Southall cornerstone, whose demolition has precariously become a subject of debate, and create reconnections and synergies between this space and its neighbours on the Green through a dynamic, shared courtyard. 

Drawing on the site’s sonic history, this courtyard design centres around components of sound. A new dynamic façade is constructed from Southall’s famous and culturally hybrid DIY sound systems, whilst a co-dependency is fostered with the neighbouring mosque, with tannoy speakers that can play music for outdoor performances but can also sound the adhan – the call to prayer.

A render showing the courtyard space in the scheme, where mosque, cinema, nightclub and shops spill over.
Cross-community courtyard - between Cinema, Nightclub, Shops and Mosque
A render showing the cinema space of the scheme.
The Dominion Cinema - A space of Baraka and StorytellingThe cinema interior draws from some of the fantastical palatial signs of the site. Façade elements are alluded to through lighting, taken from two neighbouring shops Royal Lyallpur and Baraka Palace, that refer to palaces in Pakistan and Oman respectively, and the Himalaya Picture Palace, another former cinema in Southall.

Currently on the site, each shop acts as a self-enclosed container for the communities they are catered to. The West African and Caribbean community go to a boxy, half unit sized space for their haircut, the Somali community go to a thin, long café space for their sambusa and Punjabis go to artificially lit, stuffy fabric shops for their pagri

The design of this central space looks to challenge this confinement and separation, through interconnected open spaces that encourage exchange and visibility, and create opportunities for building trust, co-dependence and solidarity.

A rendered view of the central Atrium space
An Open Atrium of Visibility and ExchangeEveryday spaces are staged and celebrated - the sociality of the black barber shop visually and physically connected to the fabric shop, CD seller, remittance shop, cafe and food carts, with the logic of awning and neon to unite, direct and animate.
A plan drawing showing proposed scheme
Proposal PlanThe proposal carves open the existing shop spaces - the rhythm of the shop facade is kept with a rhythm grid of scaffolding columns, amongst which floors and platforms set up sight lines, before opening out into a shared courtyard, enclosed by cinema and nightclub.
A GIF showing the Dominion Cinema's changing facade
Dominion Cinema - Art Dekho Spectacle and Diasporic InstitutionThe Dominion cinema served as an important community institution, showing Bollywood films and whose profits went towards community initiatives. Its design followed the Mumbai tradition, of Art Dekho (meaning to look or eye-catching). It stood as an outwardly looking, loud and proud symbol of diasporic presence and a fantastical space of drama.
Drawing from Bollywood Narratives and Bhangra FusionsThe project also takes inspiration from the dramatic first generation and second generation immigrant narratives of Bollywood, many of which are actually set in Southall, and other forms of popular culture such as Bhangra music, that has been able to absorb diverse cultural influences to not fetishise, but hybridise.

The initial research stages of the project involved exploration into the condition of diaspora: namely, the way in which everyday spaces and objects are loaded with meaning, memory and significance, and the way in which everyday rituals evolve and transform as a result of temporal and geographic disconnection from 'back home'. This work began on a very personal level, exploring mine and my family's associations and adaptations - in what Homi Bhabha would refer to as the 'third space'.

An illustration showing a tabletop of food, loaded with Diasporic Association, in Kingsbury
Shree Sai Vada Pav : A Site of Diasporic Association – A table top of food items and objects: that hold significance and trigger memory of the half-real, half-fictionalised homeland.
A series of menus showing different memory and diasporic connections between me and my parents.
Shree Sai Vada Pav : Memory Menus – The diasporic menu of this space is structured not by food items, but by the types of spaces that are evoked and reconstructed – from the domestic living space, the fragrant halwai and bustling dhaba, or even the urban street itself.
A chart tracking the different spatial evocations caused by different objects, for different people.
Shree Sai Vada Pav : Diasporic Associations – These menus are different for each person, and undoubtedly influenced by generational differences (1st generation associations more connected to urban, where South Asian food rituals encountered, 2nd generation associations more connected to the home, a focused and isolated site of exposure to South Asian cultural practices).
Remaking Rituals in the Third SpaceA film exploring the morning rituals of my mother, and how, since moving country from India to the UK, these have creolised and adapted. Through these negotiations, the everyday space of her chest of drawers in her London room, upon which these object are arranged, is transformed daily into the sacred and elsewhere. Not only is geographical and temporal distance momentarily reconciled, but also new rituals and practices are forged that take on their own material and spatial language.


Illustration, Drawing, Text, Film, Photogrammetry, Photography