Punashlok Ahilyadevi Holkar Community Halls

"Architecture in villages in India often takes a back seat and produces mediocre buildings. We believe that great architecture and beautiful buildings should be within the reach of every class of society."

- Lillian Cooper, Critical Places Architect

We have partnered with the Government of Maharashtra to design and build community halls in 57 villages throughout Maharashtra. These halls are built in honor of Ahilyadevi Holkar, the revered 18th century warrior queen, and will be used for community meetings, and cultural events such as weddings. Integral to this project is the engaging of community members through site visits and workshops to understand the specific needs and desires of the community. By engaging community members in the design and construction process, we hope to engender a sense of ownership and belonging in this space. The Punyashlok Ahilyadevi Holkar Community Halls have the potential to become landmark community facilities that will form the cornerstone of participatory design and planning in the State of Maharashtra, setting a precedent for the entire country.




2018 - Ongoing


Research + Public Participation + Design


Alpa Nawre, Saurabh Lohiya, Gaurav Lohiya, Lilian Cooper, Liga Brammanis, Carolyn Angius, Arunraj VR, Vipin Chavan, Alysoun Wright, Caroline Craddock, Camila Huber, Danni Jin, Zhenfang Chen, Rahul Sahu, Parmeshwar Vaishnav

The community halls are designed to be low-maintenance, flexible spaces that provide multi-use interior and exterior public spaces.


Punyashlok Ahilyadevi Holkar was born in the state of Maharashtra and reigned over the Maratha Malwa Kingdom from 1757 to 1795. She is revered for being a strong and just ruler, a military leader, a mother, and a patron of art and architecture. She was empathetic and accessible to all she served. She is also responsible for building many temples, ghats, wells, water tanks, and rest-houses across the country of India. We aim to honor her spirit and her example through both community engagement and the design of the community hall as an accessible public facility.

Bust of Punyashlok Ahilyadevi Holkar: Team architect, Lily Cooper, paying her respects to Queen Ahilyadevi Holkar at a public participation event.

Site understanding is a critical aspect of our design process. We walk each site with villagers and document important features, dimensions and challenges, discussing all aspects to understand the site's use as well problems at all times of the year and day. Through the documentation of the site in a series of drone photographs and videos, we develop appropriate site plans.

Aesthetic Details: The community hall will also be used for festive events such as weddings. Therefore, ornamental features including intricate details for Jali and carved doors, inspired by Holkar architecture, and paving patterns that accentuate spatial geometries, adding beauty and dignity to the space.

Strategic Geometries: A rectangular entry hall doubles as a meeting space for smaller events, while the main hall and spill-over plinth support events varying from small to very large in size. The hexagonal geometry not only lends itself to good acoustics, important for lecture events, but also provides a centrality that allows for multi-directional use.

Stakeholder Testimonies: During the building layout phase, villagers discuss their feelings about the new community hall being built in their village and the process behind it.


Buildings in Indian villages do not have air-conditioning nor any artificial cooling and thus, it is essential to incorporate climate conscious principles such as natural ventilation, stack effect and similar. Through natural stack ventilation, the roof opening draws hot air out of the building as it rises. Through natural cross ventilation, the Jali walls and large openings in differing faces of the building allow prevailing winds to circulate – providing ample air flow without implementing costly technologies. Lastly, the public hall’s large openings provide a direct connection to the outdoors and spillover space for large events. The building dissolves into outdoor public space that serves both the patrons of the hall when the facility is being used and the villagers when it is not in use.

Energy Conservation: The design incorporates climate conscious elements like Jali windows and stack effect for natural cross-ventilation.

"You are gathering views of the public, you are incorporating various people of that village, you are taking their concepts, you are talking with them...That is the beauty of this particular project ."

-- Sri Ulhas Debadwar ji, PWD Chief Engineer, Nagpur Region, Maharashtra


We see the project as an opportunity to reconnect people to the history and legacy of Maharani Ahilyadevi Holkar and involve the villagers in the design of the facility to create an emotional connection and interest in place. We start by giving a presentation to the villagers to educate them about the proposed project. We then hold a group discussion to receive feedback on the project site and talk about the project with community members. Villagers are then invited to participate in a drawing workshop, from which the artwork will be included in an art display panels hung inside the hall.

Drawing Workshops: During community workshops, villagers draw their ideas.


Because the project is in 57 villages which fall in different districts of the state of Maharashtra, it has involved government officials and community leaders in many different locations and positions. Coordinating with so many different stakeholders has been one of the unique defining character of this project.

Public Works Department: PWD Chief Engineer Sri Ulhas Debadwar ji discusses the importance of public participation to this project and to future government projects.

"It is an over ambitious project. Why? You see, the work done by Ahilyadevi Holkar is very inspiring and we must do justice to the things she has done for society. [Critical Places'] response is to achieve that goal through public participation...Many times missing in government projects, public participation has been considered in this project, that is why I appreciate it. "

-- Sri Ulhas Debadwar ji, PWD Chief Engineer, Nagpur Region, Maharashtra

We assist villagers and contractors in the building layout of a community hall in Roha, Maharashtra.


Construction has started on several village sites! Due to the remote nature of these sites, potential lack of maintenance in the future, and rough use, low-maintenance and durable materials that can withstand heavy use, such as reinforced cement concrete and glass reinforced cement are chosen to support both easy construction and longevity of structure.

Under Construction: Community hall construction in process.

Impact at Scale: The community halls will be built throughout the state of Maharashtra, serving over 250,000 villagers.