Lotus Temple, New Delhi – Fariburz Sabha

About the Project:

  • Location: New Delhi
  • Total Site area: 24 acres
  • Climate: Tropical with great variations in temperature
  • Building Type: Worship Place
  • Architect : Fariburz Sabha
  • Time of Construction: 1979-1986
  • Cost of Project: Rs 10 000 000

Design Challenges:

  • Generation of form
  • Engineering Challenge
  • Climatic Challenge
  • Bahai Faith
  • Financial restriction

Bahai Temples:

  • Nine sides
  • Nine entrances
  • Dome
  • Walk ways and Gardens
  • Design should relate culture and environment


  • Form plays the major role
  • Light and Water are the only elements of ornamentation

Light in interiors

  • The whole superstructure is designed to function as a skylight.
  •  The interior dome is spherical and patterned after the innermost portion of the lotus flower. Light enters the hall in the same way as it passes through the inner folds of the lotus petals.
  • The central bud is held by nine open petals, each of which functions as a skylight.
  •  The interior dome, therefore, is like a bud consisting of 27 petals, and light filters through these inner folds and is diffused throughout the hall.

Need for Passive Cooling Techniques:

  • The climate in Delhi is very hot for several months of the year, and the degree of humidity varies,
  • It seemed as though the only solution for the ventilation problem would be air-conditioning
  • But it requires involves large amount of energy to maintain it . For a temple in India it is not favorable

Cooling method adopted:

  • Building as a chimney
  • The central hall of the temple is designed to function as a chimney, with openings at top and bottom (stack affect) This ensures a constant drought  of cool air to pass over the pools in basement and hall
  • Cool air  (heavy) is drawn from the bottom openings and hot air (light) is emitted out from the top
  • This process is reversed in humid days
  • The natural slope of land is used in creation of certain large basement at the level of pools . The floor of auditorium is lowered by five steps so that they act as lovers for cool air entering
  • Two sets of exhaust fans complement this system .
  • The first of dome cools the concrete shell and prevents transference of heat
  • The second set funnels air from the auditorium to the cold basement for cooling and recycles it back.


  • Problem of glare
  • Problem of acoustics
  • Undesired identity


  • First Honour award from the Interfaith Forum on Religious Art and Architecture, Affiliate of the American Institute of Architects, Washington, D.C., in 1987
  • Special award from the Institution of Structural Engineers of the United Kingdom in 1987
  • The Paul Waterbury Outdoor Lighting Design Award-Special Citation, from the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America in 1988
  • Recognition from the American Concrete Institute as one of the finest concrete structures of the world in 1990
  • The GlobArt Academy 2000 award for “promoting the unity and harmony of people of all nations, religions and social strata, to an extent unsurpassed by any other architectural monument worldwide”

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Rahul Mehrotra and Associates – House in a Plantation, Ahmedabad

This second home designed by Rahul Mehrotra is in a mango plantation extending approx. 8 hectare, about 5 km north of Ahmedabad. The climate of north-west India is largely dry and hot, so the detached house was placed in the centre of the plantation, so that the evergreen trees can act as a natural filter. Heat and sunlight are greatly mitigated by the all-year-round tree filter, and the direct view into the green shade provides another source of relief. Visitors are intended to experience the house as an introverted stone oasis, protecting, calming, after they have crossed the sea of trees.

The centring theme is continued in the house. A cruciform ground plan places the living-room centrally as a connecting and linking zone. Each arm of the cross acquires a different function: access area with accentuated main entrances and an enclosed courtyard with seating, opposite the dining area with kitchen and ancillary rooms, at right-angles to this the bedroom area for the family and the guest wing on the end. The central residential area opens up into a courtyard with high walls. This means a great deal of extra living space when the large sliding windows are open, as the division consists entirely of glass.

The courtyard is a location for the soul of the house. The area, which is ambivalently placed inside and outside, avoids the stiffness of an unduly rigid cross figure, which would suggest an inappropriate symbolic quality. The centre extends in this simple way, flowing from the roofed, protecting living area into the open outdoor space, and celebrating fundamental elements of our existence: the sphere of the omnipresent blue sky and a narrow pool running along the entire length, clad in blue material. Here the great horizontal of the spatial composition tilts into the vertical: Mehrotra colours the wall that follows the pool of water blue as well, making pool, wall and sky all of a piece. The extension of the water with the blue wall into the living room suggests the concept of living expressed by the courtyard: a spatial connection on the one hand and on the other hand the inclusion of the refreshing and stimulating element in the main area where much time is spent in a hot climate. The very presence of a shimmering pool is enlivening, but the pool also suggests a cooling swim, of course. This “synthesis in blue” becomes the most expressive design element in the house. The architect very deliberately allows the cooling effect of this colour to dominate as a counterpoint to the outside temperature. In this house, colour is not something applied, but entire walls are “plunged into colour,” like the red in the corridor leading to the dining area. It becomes an integral  part of the architectural sub-figures, and lends them an individual quality, but this does not break the whole composition down. Coloured, smoothly rendered surfaces inside are contrasted with the tactile qualities of natural materials: on the outside the house is clad in sandstone, large wooden doors form independent areas of material, the entrance is a rough exposed concrete frame reminiscent of Le Corbusier, and a stainless steel rain-shield caps the living room window. The extremely carefully balanced scale of materials and colour demonstrates the architect’s high degree of sensitivity in an entirely Indian way: strong colour contrasts are derived from an everyday Indian world of magnificent hues, the sandstone,quarried in the vicinity, suggests historical Indian buildings and at the same time reminds of the nearby desert climate. The white of some of the interior plastered walls and materials like exposed concrete and stainless steel are reminiscent of classical-modern design principles. Modern details like profiling, material connections, door furniture and floor coverings show precise workmanship, but above all the intellectual intensity of the architect’s handling of his brief. The interior’s openness to the courtyard contrasts with the hermetic quality of the block-like exterior with its identical window slits. Introversion, a classical Indian motif, attempts to create communicative space that will bind the family together in the centre. The courtyard, the patio, the centre open to the sky, appears all over India as part of a domestic culture that is millennia old.

But Mehrotra enriches his building by another dimension: the roof terrace becomes a stone plateau garden, and acquires an exposed concrete pavilion for the cooler evening hours. It is only when looking out over the extensive view of the treetops from the terrace that they become aware of their central location, and the plantation becomes part of the house, a green, organic sea of trees, harmonising with the building’s broken autonomy. The strictly consistent geometry of the ground plan figure can be experienced from the roof showing the designer’s lucidity and precision, but the timelessness of the building’s formal language also expresses its occupants’ attitude to life.

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The development of Modernist architecture in India

The concept of “Modernism” in 20th century Indian architectural development remains difficult to grasp, as it was used within numerous stylistic developments, following the spirit of the day. Starting with the efforts made by Europeans in the 1920s, the idea of “modern architecture” as a revolutionary and innovative force started to make cautious headway in India in the early 1930s. But at that time any Western thought and practice introduced as a British import was seen as “modern”, as India had no uniform independent architectural movement in the early 20th century. Ideas influenced by the Bauhaus and Le Corbusier and then brought to India were modern, and the subsequent Art Deco movement, influenced by both regional and exotic motifs, also counted as modern. Even neoclassical architecture was still pronounced modern into the 1950s and even the 1960s. But Modernism in India was more like an overall approach to life. It meant designing the world positively, improving it, doing better than the required standard, being progressive and inventive, and this certainly included great visionary minds like Tagore and Nehru. British architects in India felt themselves to be modern, because they could work within an experimental field, almost without constraints and regulations, with an unusual degree of freedom. These various trends will now be discussed in a little more detail.

One consequence of the consolidation of British colonial power in the 19th century was that public buildings in particular became the centre of interest. Great educational institutions like Bombay University in 1870 or stations as gateways to the world, like Victoria Station in the former Bombay in 1887, or also important monuments like the Victoria Memorial in Calcutta in 1906, were prestigious structures by a self-confident class of British architects who wanted to demonstrate the superiority of European culture. This was particularly evident when the seat of government moved from Calcutta to Delhi and in 1912 Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker were commissioned to realise the government buildings in “New Delhi.” The architects designed a monumental urban street complex that was essentially alien to Indian cities, with a grandiose geometry of axes and avenues and above all two symmetrical administrative buildings flanking the view of the viceroy’s palace. Lavish colonnades, open verandas, tall, slender windows, chhajjas (wide roof overhangs) and cornices jaalis (circular stone apertures) and chhatris (free-standing pavilions) were used at the same time as decorative elements from typical historic Indian architecture. The viceroy’s palace has a dome reminiscent of the Buddhist stupa in Sanchi. Even though Lutyens and Baker fused classical European and Indian elements, the complex seems modern for its day, with its two-dimensional walls, reticent décor and austere geometry in the case of the palace in particular. The seat of government was not opened until 1931, after a building period of almost 20 years.

The main neoclassical period lasted well beyond the 1930s, above all because of the influence of the Indian Institute of Architects which existed since the 1920s, a British institution first headed by a Briton, Claude Batley. His theories were based on studies of Graeco-Roman, but also of Indian, classicism. His enormous influence led to the foundation of the conservative school, whose major exponents included Sudlow-Ballardie- Thompson, for example, and Ganesh Deolalikar, who worked up until the 1950s. His Supreme Court in New Delhi imitated the Lutyens-Baker buildings down to the last detail. The conservative, so-called revivalists also included B.R. Manickam with his monumental historical Vidhana Soudha government building in Bangalore built in 1952, reminiscent of Indian palace complexes. Colossal columns, Mogul domes, symmetry and monumental mass were evidence that historical European-Indian forms were being retained. But a new thinking had long since taken hold, based on the reduced formal language of the “international style,” but also attached to European abstract Expressionism, as can be seen in Arthur G. Shoesmith’s St. Martin’s Garrison Church in New Delhi of 1931, whose volumes loom like pure prisms of solid mass thrusting into one another. De Stijl, the important Dutch movement that ran parallel with the Bauhaus, had very little influence on India, however, even though Willem Marinus Dudok did realise some buildings there. In the early 1940s the austerity of what was later called classical Modernism started to be mixed with Expressionism and with decorative motifs, and above all fluent lines, often curved, markedly horizontal and vertical: the highly influential Art Deco movement, which spread over the whole of India, made a triumphant entry into the world of Indian architecture. France, but particularly America, stood model for this movement, whose architects raised Art Deco to an art form of great virtuosity. “Streamlined architecture,” as Art Deco was also known, developed its distinctive form partly from the technical achievements of its day, the rounded shapes of aircraft and cars. Then Frank Lloyd Wright discovered the decorative world of the Mexicans and of the Aztecs and Mayans. Their essentially geometrical motifs, along with associated devices like palms, aircraft and sunbeams, finally made their international début on the Art Deco stage. Indian Art Deco was also increasingly mixed with regional applications, leading to some lavishly decorated façades. In an age without television, architects were particularly fond of the generally popular cinema buildings, where they could create Art Deco designs with a monumental gesture. Many of these picture palaces have survived to the present day, providing evidence of a great architectural phase.

At the time of independence in 1947, India had only about 300 trained architects in a population of what was then 330 million, and only one training institution, the Indian Institute of Architects in Bombay. Those who could afford it studied abroad, preferably in the USA, as some Modernist heroes, especially from the Bauhaus, like Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer had emigrated to America from Fascist Germany. The first generation of Indian architects came back from America with a new optimism, free of the British influence at the Bombay school, euphoric and able to offer their urgently needed services to a free country. One of them was Habib Rahman, who studied under Gropius at the MIT in Boston, another Achyut Kanvinde from Harvard and Gautam Sarabhai, who worked with Wright in Taliesin. Thus the influence of the Bauhaus masters came to India for a second time, this time directly via their pupils, whose somewhat over-functionalistic interpretations were realised by Kanvinde in particular. But at the same time a new concrete Expressionism was developing in South America, in the work of for example Felix Candela or Oskar Niemeyer, based on the technical possibility of being able to bridge large spans. These impressive constructions stimulated young Indian architects to endow the rigid rationalism of the German teachers in America with fluent form. One of the most important pupils returning from the MIT in Cambridge/Boston in the 1950s was Charles Correa. He had worked under Minoru Yamasaki in Detroit, who later designed the World Trade Center in New York. Correa came back to India in 1958, at a time when the most important architect of the first half of the 20th century, Le Corbusier, had already realised his life’s greatest project in India. Le Corbusier was invited by Nehru in person in the early 1950s and built Chandigarh, the new capital of the state of Punjab. Le Corbusier’s visionary powers, which he proved in urban developments from the 1920s onwards, seemed to be precisely the right person to Nehru, who said that India needed “a slap in the face.” Working with his cousin Pierre Jeanneret and the architects Jane Drew and Maxwell Fry, Le Corbusier realised the entire urban structure, designing himself the government building, the Capitol. His béton brut, the unrendered surfaces of the buildings, still showing the marks of the rough shuttering, and the expressive and sculptural effect made by solitaire monuments spread over a large area, came as something of a shock to the Indian architects, who had found a new hero for themselves from now on.

Le Corbusier’s messages became the new gospel for the next generation, who recognised a new intellectual dimension in them. Le Corbusier was commissioned to build more villas and a museum in . Here he had an Indian at his side who had already worked for him in Paris, Balkrishna Vitaldhas Doshi. It was Doshi who in the early 1960s got in touch with Louis I. Kahn in order to develop the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad. Kahn was impressed by the offer and realised the project during a period of over 13 years. Kahn was the next significant architect for India: his structures built on pure geometry to illustrate inherent order, his turn to a pictorial language for architecture that went beyond functionalism and the use of rough brick for the façade in order to express the nature of the material, added yet another dimension to Indian architects’ experience.

Charles Correa developed his work when these two towering 20th century masters were both building in India. His 1963 memorial for Mahatma Gandhi in Ahmedabad, which is reminiscent of Kahn’s design for the Trenton Bath House, marks the beginning of his mature work. The most important buildings after that were his Kanchanjunga high-rise apartments in Mumbai, built from 1970 –1983, then the government building in Bhopal, 1980 – 1996 (see p. 26 – 93), and the art centre in Jaipur, 1986 – 1992 where he discovered the spiritual dimension of Indian thought and integrated it into his work. Correa is the most important representative of his generation and still India’s most significant contemporary architect. Alongside Doshi and Correa, Anant Raje is another major architect of this generation. Raje realised the Indian Institute buildings as Kahn’s right hand and added others in the spirit of Kahn. His work is clearly shaped by Kahn’s structures, but he interpreted them independently. Raj Rewal also belongs in this group. Educated in Delhi and London, he was influenced at an early stage by the Japanese Metabolists, but later found his own identity in India’s history, pursuing the concept of a Modernism based on tradition. His parliament library (see p. 42 – 49) is one of the outstanding Indian building projects of the last ten years.

The selection of architects from the younger generation introduced here does not claim to be complete or comprehensive within the limited scope of a publication of this kind. Architects who are not mentioned in any more detail here but have certainly made a significant contribution include Laurie Baker in Kerala whose life’s work follows economical, ecological and sustainable criteria in building and is devoted above all to people in lower income groups. Similar approaches come from architects like Anil Laul, S.K. Das or the “barefoot architects” in Rajasthan who work together with many people employing their craft skills in the construction process and who use only locally available materials. This book presents a varied spectrum of building types and architects with different approaches to illustrate current trends in Indian architecture, with aspects of ecology and sustainability playing an increasingly important part.

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Modern bamboo architecture


It is a fact that literature about bamboo in modern architecture is hard to find. At this time bamboo is just used as a forming and constructive element.  Bamboo was introduced to Europe through some sporadic organizations and
trial projects. In regions where bamboo is domestic, it was not just integrated in culture, but even in architecture. The logical conclusion is that architects of these regions are more interested in presenting the qualities of this material to us.

Bamboo has the image of being the building material of the poorer class, for example in Colombia the upper class especially prefers concrete. In India the highest caste builds with stone, the middle castes use wood and only the lowest castes use bamboo. The material bamboo is not standardized so people in Europe are confronted with difficulties, if they want to build with bamboo.

Nevertheless some famous architects and engineers already made their experiments with this natural product. The qualities of bamboo are also appreciated by Renzo Piano. He was interested in combining light metal elements [tubes /slabs] with bamboo. In this way there arise intersections between bamboo- and modern light metal- constructions, Arata Isozaki, Buckminster Fuller und Frei Otto.

Modern bamboo- architects:

Simón Vélez:

Vélez is a graduate architect, from the University of Colombia in Bogotá. He was born in Manizale/ Colombia in 1949 and has completed over 100 projects using concrete, bamboo (Guada Angustafolia), mangrove wood, woven palm mat lathing (or expanded metal lath) and clay roof tile. Simón Vélez works from Bogotá, Colombia, South America. As much of his work has been in very rural areas for ranchers, he has been allowed to experiment with the locally available materials due to a lack of a regulating authority and the relative difficulty of importing the standard building materials of brick and mortar.Vélez has developed a very interesting model for building experimental structures. He builds only with his own well-trained crew of workers, so he is able to constantly draw upon past successes and failures in detailing. He intentionally keeps drawings simple, usually freehand on single sheets of 8×11 graph paper. Cad- drawings only are made for the purchaser or for building improvements. The clearest concept to be seen in his drawings is the necessity for balance. These cantilevers are very large, but maintain an obvious center of gravity over the support. The main mistake some architects do is to use bamboo like wood. His efforts are trials, because he always tries to plan with respecting bamboo and its peculiarities. Very often bamboo only was tested on compression, but the real quality exists in its capability to compense shear tension. Vélez used this in his framework constructions, which were able to cantilever more than 9 meters and to strain about 27 meters. 1998 Simón Vélez took part in a summer-workshop in Boisbuchet/France, which was arranged by the Vitra Design Museum and the Center Georges Pompidou. At this opportunity he realized his first project in Europe – a garden pavilion. One year later he set up a prototype of a ‘low-cost-house’, which could be built by the inhabitants. The building is extremely resistant to earthquakes and is based on bamboo and loam. It has 60 square meters divided on two floors and the value in Columbia is about 5000$. Most of his buildings served to create a good image of bamboo even in higher social class of Columbia. This may be the way to integrate and establish bamboo next to concrete, steel, wood and stone as a full building material.

Shoei Yoh

Shoei Yoh was born in 1940 in Kumamoto-City/Japan.1970 he founded his office ‘ShoeiYohArchitects’ .In his long career he won many architecture prizes and at this time he teaches at the ‘Graduate School of Keio University’. In two projects he used bamboo as main static structure. He also designed a geodetic cupola [1989]. He also attended with ‘grating- shell construction’ .In Chikuho-Fukuoka he was inspired by the local artisans.

Rocco Yim:

The “Festival of Vision” in summer 2000 connects the cities Berlin and Hong Kong, while both are in a time of change and reorientation. The ‘House of the Cultures of the World’ demonstrates in this context the important attitude to contemporary art made in Hong Kong. In this context the pavilion of the architect Rocco Yim from Hong Kong was distinguished in front of the ‘House of the Cultures of the World’ in a lake. Bamboo on the one hand has an essential meaning for his static structure for high buildings, on the other hand for temporary stages or Chinese

Michael McDonough:

Michael McDonough is an architect and furniture designer, who discovered bamboo some years ago. Since that time he attended with the possibilities of this material. After some furniture designs he wanted to realize his project ‘Mendocino high-tech Bamboo Bridge’ in 2000 . This should be a demonstration of the constructive qualities of bamboo. This framework construction is able to strain over 33 meters and is also able to compensate more than 60 times of its own weight. The static structure is based on the principle of ‘tensegrity’, which was coined by Buckminster Fuller and Robert Le Ricolais. “The word ‘tensegrity’ is an invention: a contraction of ‘tensional integrity.’ Tensegrity describes a structural-relationship principle in which structural shape is guaranteed by the finitely closed, comprehensively continuous, tensional behaviors of the system and not by the discontinuous and exclusively local compressional member behaviors. Tensegrity provides the ability to yield increasingly without ultimately breaking or coming asunder.” (“Synergetics”, by R. Buckminster Fuller ).

Darrel DeBoer:

The architect Darrel DeBoer lives in Alameda/ California. He was inspired by the buildings of Simon Velez. During the time he worked at different books and he arranged the moving exhibition with the topic ‘resource-efficient building components’ . Furthermore he is responsible for the straw-baleproject. Timothy Ivory Timothy Ivory is the Director of Design for BambooFurniture.com and trained originally as a theatrical designer at the University of Michigan and New York University, receiving his MA in Design from University of Michigan. He also studied Pantomime with Marcel Marceau’s mentor , Etienne Decroux and at the L’Ecole de Cirque Nationale de Paris. He is now designing and building original pieces by commission and developing a line of Bamboo furniture. His past work has included creating theatrical environments mixing six foot masks on bamboo poles with fabric as wings, staging performance pieces mixing circus, theatre and bamboo sculpture and creating temporary or transitional structures to educate as to the benefits of building with bamboo as a green/sustainable material. In 1995 he created a Bamboo Pool Bar and also a Massage Spa Shade Structure using Tonkin Cane Bamboo at the Delano Hotel. He also designed and built a pool house using Guaduas Angustifolia from Colombia.


Oscar Hidalgo:

Oscar Hidalgo, also a Colombian architect, was born in a bamboo house in Chinchina . He is focused on research and science, but he also realized some bamboo projects. He traveled to Asia, Costa Rica and Brazil for his profession.
Jules Janssenn Dr. Jules J.A. Janssen is a well-known expert in the field of bamboo as a building and engineering material. He has been keynote speaker on several congresses, and has acted as a member of steering committees, chairman in several sessions, and referee of papers submitted for congresses. Further he has acted as member of committees for Ph.D. studies at several Universities and has been the supervisor of the National Bamboo Project in Costa Rica from 1987 till 1995.


BAMBUCO is the group of artists and climbers brought together by Artistic Director Simon Barley to create unique aerial performance construction events. Simon has been designing performance space and building site specific installations for some years, with an emphasis on exploration of aerial space. Study of bamboo construction followed from an interest in lightweight structures. After research in SE Asia and a period as a trainee scaffolder at Kowloon Bay CITA, Hong Kong, he collaborated with the contemporary dance company Danceworks to produce the giant bamboo installation BRIDGE for
Melbourne International Festival 1995. The crowds gathering to watch the builders at work confirmed the idea of a
spectacular construction process viewed as a performance event. BAMBUCO has a core artistic and management group based in Melbourne, Australia. Construction crews are drawn from many countries. Construction involves techniques adapted from modern rock climbing – although the work appears dangerous, attention to safety at height is given the highest priority. Once on site they add to this a sense of humor in several languages and a willingness to engage with the audience. “The intention is always upward, the imagery muscular, architectural.”

Land Art:

Hiroshi Teshigahara:

The Japanese artist Teshigahara uses bamboo- ledges to make landscapesculptures landscape- installations from
bent bamboo- blades

Antoon Versteegde:

This sculpture was made in cooperation of the Environmental Bamboo Foundation, the trust De Lutteltuin and the artist Anton Versteegde. It was installed within a touring exhibition at different sites.

“…..Meanwhile classical standards have become obstacles for lively arts. The artist only can recover his liberty by temporary installations, by the design of vulnerable objects, that pass like organic time bombs or are destroyed by
vandalism. A dynamic work of art only becomes alive outside the museum…” (Antoon Versteegde)

Stephen Glassman:

Stephen Glasssman is an American artist who develops among others things free form strudtural bamboo siteworks.
This bridge was calculated ba Oscar Hidalgo. It was installed in Ubud/ Bali in 1995.

Ecological orientated architecture:

This project by the engineers and designers Darren Port and Mark Roberts unites bamboo with straw- bale architecture. This building in Puerto Rico is called “hooch” by the owner. The bamboo- construction is put up on an existing concrete base with cesstank and is used like a bedroom. sun- collectors on the roof produce current for a ventilator and a small lamp.

Architects/ engineers/ specialists:

Architects and designers

  •  Prof. Cassandra Adams; Prof. at UC Berkeley specialized in construction, mainly in environment and Japanese construction
  • Jorge Arcila, Marizales – South America – “stacked house”
  • Darrel DeBoer, California
  • Doug La Barre; USA, manufacturing facility for creating laminated lumber from imported Guada
  • Bobby Manoso, Philippines
  • Michael McDonough
  • Carlos Vegara; Cali – South America (deceased ) – whole houses from bamboo, multi column system, loads carried by septum of the bamboo
  • Simón Vélez, South America
  • Marcelo Villegas, South America
  • Rocco Yim, Asia
  • Shoei Yoh, Asia


  • Karl Bareis
  • Wolfgang Eberts
  • Prof. Jules A. Janssen
  • Oscar Hidalgo


  • Anton Versteegde
  • Teshigahara


  • Vitra Design Museum, Grow your own house .


  •  http://europa.eu.int/comm./dg10/culture/program-2000_en.html on 08.02.2000, 22:00
  • straw bale- architecture
  • Mendocino Bridge by McDonough
  • Shoei Yoh – ‘grating shell construction’ in photos
  • construction principles of the whire by Anton Versteegde

Raj Rewal – CIDCO Lowcost Housing, Navi Mumbai

This building project by the City and Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO) by Maharashtra state represents a complex, specifically Indian problem: creating accommodation for people on subsistence incomes. Fundamentally, these are homes that can never be owned by their occupants, because in most cases the people who live there will never succeed in breaking through the income barriers. People usually get stuck within a social stratum that is clearly defined and demarcated without any hope or chance of improvement because of inadequate schooling and professional training. Other factors, too, play a part in the Hindu social system, especially the caste system, a millennia-old structure into which one is born. Over the centuries, a system that ordered and stabilised society into professional classes degenerated into an unworthy class system that despises human beings. Despite the Indian government’s best efforts to break away from it, sometimes using force, and to guarantee better chances of success for those involved, this scourge still remains firmly anchored in people’s consciousness.

Raj Rewal’s practice was commissioned to plan 1000 accommodation units for residents on the edge of a large planning area in New Mumbai, a new area that was being developed at the time east of Mumbai old town. As is the case with all urban development projects, despite a very low budget it was important not just to provide the bare essentials in terms of space, but above all to develop a home environment that was simple but of high quality. The difficult balancing act between finance and ambience could succeed only if inexpensive but lastingly effective building materials were used, and if the planning process was not too costly and led a simple implementation procedure. The Rewal practice designed the project as a high density structure. On the one hand it was because the area available was strictly limited, but also in order to achieve quality for the outdoor space that was effective in urban terms, yet reminiscent of a naturally developed village. These accommodations cells, or “molecules” (Rewal), now consist of one to three room units 18, 25, 40 and 70 m2 large. They have essential sanitary facilities and water tanks on the roof for a constant water supply, which is still by no means to be taken for granted in essentially rural India.

One important problem had to be solved: what reasonably priced and durable materials could make a lasting effect within a very tight financial framework. The final choice was a combination of concrete cavity blocks, exposed plasterwork, hand-made terracotta tiles and locally available rough granite stones for the base. This combination can endure the hard monsoon climate and will develop an acceptable patina. Electricity was also guaranteed for the entire complex, not just in the dwellings themselves, but in the public areas as well. Roads were moved to the periphery to allow for safe but reasonably priced footpath connections within the development. There is access on all sides from the outside, and it is easy for people to filter through the building groups. With the concept of a very dense residential quarter, Rewal accomodated the enormously high level of social interaction in everyday Indian life. People do not just live in their own homes, but are in intensive contact with neighbours, friends and fellow occupants almost throughout the day and night.

Thus opening the homes up to the outdoor space is an important design consideration. Increased urban density is now not usually born of necessity, but an important concept for life in general. When developing urban space the quality of indoor and outdoor space have to go hand in hand, as life takes place to a large extent in the street. So when planning the chain of “molecules”, great emphasis was laid on the connections implied by communally used spaces. In India, a “village” consists of an accumulation of squares, courtyards, loggias, terraces and balconies where people communicate and make the exchanges that are so essential to life. Rewal considers these factors on a large scale and builds these zones into his architecture. He develops a type of building kit system with cubic basic elements. These admit a wide range of highly flexible variation as a design principle and can thus be used almost universally: courtyards turn individual blocks into chains, modules are set very close together, blocks with courtyards are grouped as quarters. This shows a theme being kept consistently and implemented with great virtuosity. Efficiency is not the only key factor, it is important to create a living environment on the basis of a wealth of space. A structure emerges that is completely homogeneous not just as a physical entity, but also in terms of its materials, a design that is all of a piece, and yet at the same time a highly sophisticated residential unit with complex spatial diversity. The fact that the buildings all have different numbers of storeys contributes to this, being staggered from one to four levels, and so does the slope on the site. A sloping site dynamises and extends the space and the physical quality of the buildings and enhances the image of a living organism that seems as though it could be extended at any time. The totality of the planning is expressed in homogeneity, emphasising the holistic design. There is no attempt to duplicate the individual dwellings artificially, no false sense of growth, which gives the architectural approach its complete credibility. Rewal is very consistently demonstrating a concept that has nothing nostalgic about it in terms of overall appearance: reduction was essential, and from this necessity is born an abstract and thus unambiguously modern form, entirely committed to its time.

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Charles Correa – Town Planning in Mumbai and Bagalkot, Mumbai

Planning for New Mumbai Mumbai, formerly Bombay, is the commercial and financial centre of India, with a population of about twelve million at the time of writing. The huge city is growing by many thousand hopeful immigrants from predominantly rural areas each day. Mumbai‘s particular topography – it is a long, narrow peninsula – meant that the constantly needed extension of the city limits was possible in one direction only, northwards. Britain‘s efforts as a colonial power 200 years ago were directed at „citifying“ something that was essentially a withdrawn little town because of its outstanding location as a harbour and trading centre. But Bombay did not start to flourish until 50 years later, when the turmoil of the Civil War cut off American cotton export. So the world focused its interest on Indian cotton, and Bombay became the centre for the shipment of goods. Ultra-fast growth began, the port became the largest in India, and rapid urban expansion created the problem of a housing shortage and a proliferation of emergency accommodation. The centre of Mumbai, now and then, is at the southern end of the peninsula, where commercial life developed and population density and land prices are highest. The extreme expansion of the urban area to one side of a fixed commercial centre created Mumbai‘s major problems of long transport routes. Journeys lasting several hours on express trains had to be accepted if people were to get to work, a state of affairs that eventually reached its natural limits.
As early as 1964, Charles Correa with his colleagues Pravina Mehta and Shiresh Patel proposed to the Mumbai city authorities that they should not expand any further northwards, but use an eastern site cut off by a sea bay for urban expansion, with the aim of establishing New Mumbai. The government did not finally accept this plan until 1970, when it started to buy land east of Mumbai old town. Large bridges then made it possible to create a direct link with the old centre, so that there was now nothing else in the way of the actual goal of a new commercial centre with a new urban structure. The City and Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO) was founded, and Charles Correa headed it as chief architect from 1970 to 1974. Their aim was to settle at least four million people in New Mumbai, thus containing the spread of further emergency accommodation and creating enough new jobs. There were two key aspects to be dealt with: creating living space and setting up mass transport systems. The southern sub-centre called Ulwe, for which Correa produced a development plan, is now part of New Mumbai. The intention was to carry out real town planning here, with the colonial British planning in Old Mumbai definitely providing a model: a development and use plan was drawn up in co-operation with CIDCO, rules were fixed, i.e. the building development structures, building heights and street width etc., and a start made by designing 1000 dwellings for 350,000 inhabitants. Every income group was to be considered here, and cost/use factors devised in categories, for example clay or bamboo buildings for lower income groups, masonry buildings for middle income groups and apartments for high earners. The complexity of a city as an urban organism meant that flexibility had to be a factor as well, with room for natural growth. Urban quality in the sense of an ambience appropriate to human scale meant considering factors like varied living space dependent on urban density, structures like neighbourhoods and quarters, public buildings and areas, also sufficient green areas and open spaces, and transport with adequate stopping points. Correa developed a complex and flexible urban structure for Ulwe, but at the same time laid down strict building guidelines to guard against Indian urban sprawl: urban blocks as the basic structure, with fixed building height, numbers of floors and street and rear façades, and also fixed use dependent on position within the city. An urban centre offered administration, public buildings, green areas and transport links with buses and trains. This ambitious, fixed structure – and thus inimical to the Indian free spirit – has been under construction for several decades.

Planning for New Bagalkot New dams caused the Ghataprabha River in the state of Karnataka to rise and flood parts of the old town in Bagalkot. A new centre, New Bagalkot, was proposed and planned to accommodate 100,000 people. Charles Correa was faced with similar problems as in Ulwe, just on a smaller scale, but even greater flexibility was needed for the building development and the street space. Here what were called „planned-unplanned“ elements had to be factored in, as a great deal was to be left to the people themselves. As natural growth was seen to be desirable, it was important to lay down rough urban development guidelines only. These addressed the size of the quarters, linked routes through the town, the transport systems and stopping points, and not least, the building development structure. Correa prescribed a hierarchical geometrical structure that resembles the diagram of the Mandala, the old Hindu symbol of the cosmos. Indian town planning has been linked to the abstract idea of the cosmos for centuries, an idea that Correa takes up here.
A square, consisting of seven times seven quarter zones, is oriented precisely according to the points of the compass,
and is broken down into green areas running right on into the centre along its diagonals, but also along its orthogonal
lines. Here a pool of water framed by stone steps, a Kund, acquires the symbolic importance of the axis mundi, the
world axis of the universe. The centre was developed strictly in blocks, grouped around the pool of water in the prescribed geometrical fashion. The design that Correa prescribed for the building development inside the quarters is very dense in the centre and slowly but surely decreasing in density towards the edges of the quarters, with the possibility of breaking up altogether. Only a few dominant street links are laid down, so that connecting routes can emerge by their own accord during the growth period. Different housing types were to meet the needs of all income groups, with relatively high density development packed tightly into the quarter as a whole, was intended to create the typical oriental bazaar atmosphere. This design, which applies metaphysical symbolism to historical models in particular, has also been under construction since 1985.

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Source:Klaus-Peter Gast Contemporary Architecture in India Modern Traditions

Raj Rewal – Indian Parliament Library, New Delhi

There was scarcely a more prestigious new building commission put out to tender in India in the last 15 years than the one for a site near the parliamentary buildings from the colonial past. Just like the client, the government, the competition winner, Raj Rewal, was aware of undertaking a historical commission that demanded to be addressed in a way that was up-to-date and could live up to its dominant neighbours. It was essential not to waste the opportunity to present a modern India in this building still aware of its mighty history. The particular difficulty was now to develop an architecture whose credibility hung on a harmonious synthesis of tradition and modernism, that had to be neither historical, nor uncompromisingly modern. The kind of approach that Nehru had intended 50 years ago as a “slap in the face” for India, would not have worked here. Urban development, genius loci and complete respect for the parliament buildings demanded a high degree of subtlety in the treatment of the new building stock. The imperial breath of a not so distant past could still be felt in the place the British architects Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker had shaped as New Delhi in the early 20th century with their large-scale planning and impressive buildings. Derived from European cities planned under monarchies, but also influenced by the American design of the capital of Washington, Lutyens and Baker developed geometrical strategies for an urban street plan based on ceremonies and grandeur, the climax presenting the former viceroy’s palace, two symmetrical administrative wings and the actual parliament building as a gigantic circle. An important element of the planning was that large areas were to remain free, so that the width and magnificence of the axes should not be impaired.

Lutyens tried to harmonise Western classicism and historical Indian features in his buildings, while Herbert Baker’s parliament remained in its structure a purely classical import. An enormous pedestal storey, colossal columns with bases and capitals and a projecting roof level evoke European classical-ancient models. But the building itself, in its sheer size and monumental stereometry turned out to be definitely “modern.”

One of the important questions for both the jury and the architect was how to cope with the close proximity to the immense breadth of this colossus. The library site is a triangle adjacent to the parliament, which also has a triangular ground plan, so that it was impossible not to respond to the parliament and indeed to include it in the new plans. Raj Rewal solved this difficult problem magnificently. He did not try to outdo the parliament or confront it with a boastful competitor. He was concerned not to detract from the dominance of the historical and highly esteemed ensemble of buildings, but to retain that dominance, indeed to enhance it if possible in order to create a new weighting. So Rewal transfers the parliament’s monumental gesture only in the form of a strictly axial quality running through both centre points and creating the first main link. He further chooses the square as a basic geometry, which equals the circle as an archaic element, and also contains its concentricity, with the diagonal of the library square corresponding to the diameter of the parliament’s circle. The figures of both buildings draw life from this centre, where the most important things happen. The architect shows self-confidence by choosing a geometrical figure with a double axis allowing the new building to assert itself emphatically vis-à-vis its neighbour. But one quality in particular concerns him that the parliament does not have, and that is the typological feature of a typically Indian continuity.

In contrast with the mass of the parliament as a unit and an entirety, illustrated in the building’s exterior by the infinite curve of the circle, the mass of the library is a multiple, consisting of curved individual building sections, but tied together in a rigidly fixed ordering structure. The parts of the library are assembled like satellites around an interior that is also structured. By choosing this motif of an “active” concentricity, by allowing exterior and interior to communicate like this, Rewal is trying to derive his design directly from the historical context of India’s most important buildings. Millennia- old Hindu temples vary this motif in a multitude of ways, Mogul architecture like the Taj Mahal, the city of Jaipur in north Rajasthan or also the ideal cities in south India are all based on this concentric structure. The form is seen as a spiritual motif alluding to a cosmological dimension, a “cosmogram.” Largely divided into nine parts which indicate seven existing and one imaginary planet of the solar ecliptic, the centre as the axis mundi, the axis of the universe, the source of all creation. Architecture as an image of the cosmos is a primeval motif of Indian building, and is interpreted here in a new context as a “house of growing knowledge.”This is a simple but highly abstract motif, and with its pure geometry it contains a timeless dimension. Yet its very real differentiation also suggests the complexity of the secular element of the building commission. In this way the library design emancipates itself completely from the predominance of the parliament and retains its own identity.

One external dimensional aspect in particular underlines this intention: Rewal does not allow his building to rise any
higher than the base floor of the parliament, it retains a pointedly humble horizontal quality, with only the internal
roof superstructures attaining any greater height. Two additional storeys are buried underground, thus creating a low, pavilion-like group of buildings. With this basic concept, the architect achieves a successfully subtle solution to the parliament building and the need to integrate his work into the prominent urban structure. The main entrance is thus placed on the parliament side, and its hall leads visitors and users into the centre or the wings that form the ring. The administrative section is placed on the outside, and departmental functions like press centre, digital library and large auditorium are at the nodal points. The centre is made up of the parliamentarians’ reading room, research area and archive, and the committee room. But the junction point in the centre remains empty, the axis mundi becomes a multi-storey hall, with a glass dome and flooded with light as it is the only hall, symbolising growing knowledge and consciousness to the point of “enlightenment.” Because of the presence of an existing grove of trees, one corner of the powerfully symbolic square remains empty, the essentially rigid and austere figure of the library is broken up and changes into an asymmetrical, incomplete fractal geometry. Here Rewal is following an entirely modern structural idea of axiality, symmetry and the disturbance of symmetry as a component of our thinking today. The whole that is entirely complete as such, absolute and fixed, in equilibrium, does not exist as an ideal, the break suggests change, development, growth, it symbolises the relative and includes the unpredictable. Courtyards are created between centre and ring, also a classically Indian motif from a hot climate, offering protection from heat, dust and noise, but also making spiritualisation and concentration possible. This produces charged, changing spatial sequences as one moves through the building: halls as centres of sectional areas with vertical connections, corridors with adjacent horizontal outer spaces that open up, and introverted zones for reading and work.

Rewal’s choice of materials for his wall claddings emphasises come close to the atmospheric quality of a historic spatial
sequence: all the façades are covered with red and beige sandstone, left rough outside and polished inside. Of course this seems like a reference to the building’s neighbour, as the parliament is also built in this particular stone combination, but the link with Indian history is more in the forefront of Rewal’s mind. He contrasts massive piers with slender columns, articulates the exterior walls with a decorative structure and grades the building in transitions from circle to square to create deep areas of shadow. And yet concrete and other modern materials remain visible everywhere, and the honesty of the structure adds to its enduring presence. But the architect goes further, stepping up his structural design elements in an unusual way. The halls at the junction points inside the structure and the special spaces like the great reading rooms, the central research and archive areas, but also the cafeteria, are given dome structures made of prefabricated lightweight concrete segments fitted together in a hexagonal and octagonal honeycomb structure. Rewal braces these domes with tubular steel systems that are also hexagonal and octagonal, acting as a substructure. The forces are dispersed via enormous tubular circles on piers. Here the architect employs classical Indian elements from Mogul architecture in particular, as domes were important features of Muslim rulers’ buildings. These great models are quoted in the hatlike protrusions of these domes, but above all in the almost full openings in the circular hearing zones which indirectly control the light. Thus light is admitted to the space below the dome, which is then reflected by the dome as a kind of light trap, and the dome itself is placed “in the right light.” But Rewal emphasises the interpretative character by his choice of construction method, thus wishing to see the historical model transported into our day. It is only the steel connections of contemporary technology that make this multiform material symbiosis possible. At the same time they evoke European models that Rewal must have got to know on his working visit to France, Henry Labrouste and Viollet-le-Duc.

Seen from the Western European point of view, the new library building for the Indian parliament perhaps slightly
overemphasises the classical-historical interpretation. But for Indians the library seems to have the right expressive quality at the right point. Its form symbolises an implicit and diverse democracy, integrating the spiritual dimension that is rooted so deeply in the Indian soul and thus showing the neighbouring government buildings from a different era in a new light: the government quarter has become truly Indian.

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Klaus-Peter Gast Contemporary Architecture in India Modern Traditions