A sanctuary by the sea


Vishal J Singh | Malaysia | Asia Samachar | 8 June 2015

In this second article, design consultant Vishal J Singh explores what a modern gurdwara could look like. Here, he let’s imagination run wild for a gurdwara by the sea.


In my previous article, I had proposed that perhaps the time has come for us, as a community, to redefine what a Gurdwara can look like in the modern age, and more importantly how best do we represent our most sacred of institutions in a present social and cultural context. The question then it seems, leads us to a question of identity. The more pertinent aspect of that question is how do we redefine the designs of our Gurdwara, while maintaining a link to our architectural past?

In this instance, I direct my gaze towards Japan.

Japan has always been a fascinating country from an architectural point of view. We all know how technologically advanced the country is, but what is less known is that the designers of Japan always tend to look back at their own historical and cultural roots when attempting to design something for the present age.

If observed at a glance, these are undeniably contemporary architectural projects, evidenced by their relatively simple appearance, which is one of the hallmarks of modern design. But if observed closely, as modern as they are, they are always traditional architectural elements from Japan’s beautiful past that are well incorporated into the visual language of the building, such as through the usage of light timber, ‘shoji’ ( paper ) screens, tatami mats, and so forth. This a conscious attempt by Japanese architects, when given adequate control over their projects, to ensure that their buildings still possess some sense of Japanese aesthetics. It celebrates the idea that despite living in the modern age, the past is not forgotten, and in fact subtly “celebrated” in a contemporary context.

So that’s where we can begin. 

I personally believe, that if we can take the first approach in designing a modern Gurdwara, this would be a good stepping stone to get us started in thinking how can we propose ideas that would bridge our glorious architectural history with the demands of the modern era we reside in. So let me take this exciting opportunity to propose what a modern Gurdwara could potentially be. Please be informed that this design is strictly conceptual. As such, consider it as an experiment, a play with the imagination.

Imagine a proposal by a nominated committee to design a modern Gurdwara by the sea. As the project architect, I would be thrilled. I would design a modern Gurdwara incorporating certain historical design elements. It will look contemporary, but specific traditional elements have been redefined and incorporated into the visual language and spatial organisation of the building.

Those elements are :

All designs by Vishal J Singh - ASIA SAMACHAR
All designs by Vishal J Singh – ASIA SAMACHAR

1. A gold plated metal screen that incorporates geometry, specifically the pentagon, and not floral patterns, as a way to create something both traditional and modern to shield the building from excessive sunlight and brightness.


2. The usage of vertical timber posts in a simple fashion to create a perceptive and tactile sense of warmth as compared to the rest of the complex. This timber façade will have a pointed arch gateway and an elevated timber bridge at the main entrance to give people a sense of focus as to where the main entrance is and lead into a atrium that visually accesses all the prominent spaces of the complex.


3. The traditional onion-shaped dome will be replaced with an angled circular skylight. It will create the impression that a dome above the Palki Sahib is not be covered by an internal concrete shell, but illuminated by the divine interplay of sunlight, blue skies, white clouds and even menacing thunderstorms. It will be a dome of light and sky and not a dome of concrete.


4. A community hall for samelans, internal sports, gatka classes, public assemblies and so forth will be incorporated into the scheme of the complex, along with the usually placed, kitchen, langgar hall and offices. Other facilities include a multimedia centre with wifi access, a hostel for outsiders and a series of classroom and workshops for the propagation of Punjabi language and education.


5. The Nishan Sahib will be the prominent focal point for a public square in the complex, instead of being tucked away in a corner. This public square will serve as an assembly area for all outdoor activity and indeed, and in a sense, for the entire Gurdwara complex itself. It will be supplemented with pavilions for social bonding and gatherings. A water feature for the act of “amrit” will also be built into the complex.


An architectural dream that I pray will come true someday. 

Please review my humble proposal for what I think a modern Gurdwara can be designed as. In my heart of hearts, I know that a Gurdwara can look and function with so much more relevance to the modern lives we experience moment to moment, than the Gurdwaras that are being built today, which are usually copies of the past that really are out of place in the era that we live and exist in.

NEXT: We review how a modern Gurdwara can look like in a more realistic urban setting, perhaps somewhere in the city of Kuala Lumpur. It will be supplemented with site photos and general information.



Vishal J.Singh, Aspiring architect, Bachelor of Architecture, Infrastructure University Kuala Lumpur.


[ASIA SAMACHAR is an online newspaper for Sikhs in Southeast Asia and surrounding countries. We have a Facebook page, do give it a LIKE! Visit our website: www.asiasamachar.com]



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