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Home > News> Big Story > Bengaluru’s circus of ideas 

Bengaluru’s circus of ideas

An urban living lab gives Bengaluru a vibrant new space to discuss and practise sustainability 

Fire-flow artist Sarena Beri during the recent Sustainability Festival; and (below) a playful use of materials turns The Circus Canteen into a bright meeting place
Fire-flow artist Sarena Beri during the recent Sustainability Festival; and (below) a playful use of materials turns The Circus Canteen into a bright meeting place (Vanessa Zwick/ BCC)

Walking into the converted warehouse that is the Bangalore Creative Circus (BCC), I am greeted by an elderly gentleman who ushers me in with great pride and a certain assurance. He seems a bit incongruous in a setting I visualise as a “young” place; one where art and design and sustainability-thinking collide.

It is all of that but the elderly gentleman, known only as Lakshman, is its guardian spirit, says BCC co-founder Ajay Raghavan. Lakshman was a worker in the steel factory that first occupied the space we are standing in, and a caretaker in its second avatar as a tile warehouse. In its third avatar, as a collaborative urban design and sustainability lab that opened officially last month, Lakshman is invaluable as the person who knows it inside out. 

Founded in 2019, the story of BCC started with finding and buying the space, which is integral to the work they do, says Raghavan. Having someone like Lakshman, who also represents the local community, is an important part of the story.

The main floor area of the BCC featuring a hanging sculpture made of scrap metal 
The main floor area of the BCC featuring a hanging sculpture made of scrap metal  (BCC)

Located in the semi-industrial north Bengaluru area of Yeshwanthpur, a stone’s throw from the Yeshwanthpur railway station, in a low-income but rapidly gentrifying neighbourhood, the 20,000 sq. ft space is at present home to two non-profits working on urban sustainability. One is the new Flourishing Bengaluru Collective, a community that seeks to answer the question, “how will Bengaluru flourish in the era of climate change?”. The other is Initiative for Climate Action (ICA), a volunteer community of lawyers, policy experts, artists, climate scientists, marine biologists, architects, civil society workers and academicians who work on aspects of planning for and mitigating climate change.

While the Flourishing Bengaluru Collective has adopted three wards—the city’s zoning principle—around the BCC and aims to turn them into flourishing neighbourhoods, the ICA works on long-term policy solutions along with other non-profits, like the Socratus Foundation. In a sense, the BCC—which Raghavan, an employment lawyer and former partner at the prestigious law firm Trilegal, runs with his co-founder and wife, Manisha Vinod and menor/investor Alok Agarwal —is the physical extension of initiatives that had started earlier.

The space is designed primarily using found materials   
The space is designed primarily using found materials    (Shrabonti Bagchi/Mint)

“A physical meeting space is very necessary for bringing people working in different ways but with similar goals and principles, together. That is how connections happen and we are able to join the dots. In the urban scenario, there are many problems, and someone has already figured out a solution, but they are not working together. Our job, in a sense, is to bring all these layers together,” says Raghavan.

The BCC also plans to act as an incubator for startups in the sustainability space, as an informal gallery with an artist residency, and as a space for talks and demos. It even has a maker space with tools for building products— it helps that there’s a Workbench studio right up their street. In addition, it has a farm-to-table café and a permaculture food forest, lovingly tended by permaculture expert Siddharth Lakshman, on the premises.

A permaculture food forest on the premises
A permaculture food forest on the premises (Shrabonti Bagchi/ Mint )

On a tour of the BCC, I get to see all the physical spaces earmarked for these activities, and while some are still works-in-progress, the café is up and running, the food forest, and aquaponics lab are thriving. There is already an artist, Nithin Sadhu (he works with light and industrial materials to create psychedelic pieces of art), in residence, and several lectures have been held. In October, a Sustainability Festival was organised to formally declare the BCC open. “Although we started working on the space since 2019, the pandemic set us back and delayed our opening. But in a sense it also gave us the time to get everything ready,” says Manisha Vinod.

As you walk around, it becomes clear why the founders have chosen to call it a “circus”— built using 90% found materials, it’s a psychedelic mishmash of colours, patterns, materials, textures and objects. The Circus Canteen, in particular, comes alive in a pleasing, kitschy way. Smita Thomas, the designer, used materials scrounged from a variety of places—restaurants that were changing hands, bits of tiles from the former tile warehouse, old hangings and cubicle dividers from Raghavan’s former office at Trilegal. So you discover odd objects that have found new uses, such as an old car that is now a cute booth-for-two, a boring office chair covered with a cheerful fabric, and a bunch of seats put together with all sorts of odds and ends—from iron fencing to the base of solar water heaters. “Earlier this year, we ran a drive where we asked people to donate stuff they had lying around. Many of the materials used here came from that,” says Vinod.

A variety of materials were used to reupholster chairs and seats
A variety of materials were used to reupholster chairs and seats (Shrabonti Bagchi/Mint)

On a tour of the BCC, I get to see all the physical spaces earmarked for these activities, and while some are still works-in-progress, the café is up and running, the food forest, and aquaponics lab are thriving. There is already an artist, Nithin Sadhu (he works with light and industrial materials to create psychedelic pieces of art), in residence, and several lectures have been held. In October, a Sustainability Festival was organised to formally declare the BCC open. “Although we started working on the space since 2019, the pandemic set us back and delayed our opening. But in a sense it also gave us the time to get everything ready,” says Manisha Vinod.

As you walk around, it becomes clear why the founders have chosen to call it a “circus”— built using 90% found materials, it’s a psychedelic mishmash of colours, patterns, materials, textures and objects. The Circus Canteen, in particular, comes alive in a pleasing, kitschy way. Smita Thomas, the designer, used materials scrounged from a variety of places—restaurants that were changing hands, bits of tiles from the former tile warehouse, old hangings and cubicle dividers from Raghavan’s former office at Trilegal. So you discover odd objects that have found new uses, such as an old car that is now a cute booth-for-two, a boring office chair covered with a cheerful fabric, and a bunch of seats put together with all sorts of odds and ends—from iron fencing to the base of solar water heaters. “Earlier this year, we ran a drive where we asked people to donate stuff they had lying around. Many of the materials used here came from that,” says Vinod.

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Nayantara Bagla, the chef and former food consultant who runs the café, says her menu too keeps changing, depending on the produce from the food forest and aquaponics farm. Arvind Badrinarayanan, the expert who has developed Terra Neeru, a low-cost aquaponic system for farmers, shows her a strawberry freshly harvested from the farm. “My aim here is to show that sustainable food doesn’t have to be boring—that it is possible to eat meaningfully but deliciously,” says Bagla. 

This ties in neatly with the overarching theme of the “circus” itself—that a deep commitment to sustainability doesn’t mean you can’t also have fun.

  • FIRST PUBLISHED
    15.11.2021 | 08:00 AM IST

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