Gurdwara design that listens to earth

In this fourth in a series of articles on Gurdwara design, VISHAL J SINGH proposes construction of a gurdwara keeping in mind timeless environmentally sensitive building strategies


| Vishal J Singh | Gurdwara Design | 1 Oct 2015 | Asia Samachar |


In the era that we live in, designing and constructing buildings that are environmentally sensitive have become of paramount importance.

In architecture, as in many other industries around the world, there is a “green” movement that is actively taking place. The word “green” here doesn’t refer to the colour that nature herself adores, but refers to a kind of thinking that uses eco-friendly principles, such as recycling waste and materials or reducing energy consumption, as an attempt to be kinder to mother nature, by lessening our impact on her earth and her resources. Good examples of recyclable materials that are used for construction are steel and wood, that can be used over and over again to build new structures. Observe the materials: wood (Photo 1), steel (Photo 2) and broken glass (Photo 3).

These materials can be easily be refurbished and recycled as building materials. Every time a material is recycled creatively or practically, we can easily reduce the exploitation of more resources to build buildings, thus lessening the impact on the earth. For a building, however, to be truly ecologically responsible, it needs to create a beneficial relationship with its immediate environment.

For instance, let us assume that we are building a structure for a tropical environment, where there is plenty of sunshine and wind and natural materials, such as recycled stone and timber are easily available for the construction of a new project. In a context like this, the following design strategies and building principles are employed to allow for the building to comfortably be placed in its environment.

  • In a tropical climate, buildings were traditionally raised or elevated above the ground, usually 6 to 8 feet or so, in order to catch the prevailing winds that would flow through the interiors of the building. This was done to naturally ventilate the building so that the interiors remain cool without the need to mechanically ventilate the building such as using a ceiling fan.
  • Buildings that were designed in a tropical climate also had various sun – shading devices that would prevent heat from increasing within the interiors due to direct sunlight exposure. These sun shading devices, called screens, would allow air to ventilate but would keep out excessive sunlight.
  • Water was used in traditional buildings not only for its soothing presence, but as a means to keep the surrounding atmosphere of the building cool through a natural process called evaporative cooling. As water evaporates, it creates a cooling effect and decreases the temperature on the outside, and this was used in some buildings to naturally create a thermally comfortable environment. Water was also collected and recycled when needed, specifically through the catching of rainwater for domestic non-drinking purposes.
  • Surrounding areas of building were extensively landscaped to create a shaded atmosphere, again to keep the environment cool and comfortable, specifically in public areas for people to socialise and congregate for the wellbeing of the society.
  • As much as possible, natural materials were used as they are, without any form of superficial embellishment, to prevent excessive manipulation of natural resources, that would increase human impact on nature. For instance, stone was used to build walls or foundations as they are, and wasn’t painted over or reinforced with another material for cosmetic purposes. It was recognised to beautiful as it was, and therefore used as naturally as possible.

Based on these design principles, I propose the building of a gurdwara that takes into consideration such timeless environmentally sensitive building strategies in its construction, and the visuals below best express my ideas in regards to this ideals and principles.


The “Green Gurdwara” will have extensive landscaping to keep the exterior areas well shaded and cool naturally for the benefit of the public, and will use as many natural building materials as possible, such as recycled stone and timber to blend in well with its environment. [See Photo 4].

The “Green Gurdwara” will be elevated above the ground to capture as much wind as possible to permit a better flow of wind to naturally ventilate parts of the building. Sun shading devices, such as recycled wooden pallets will be used to shade the building from excessive sunlight and reduce heat buildup in the interiors. A water feature will also be incorporated to help with the natural cooling process at the site and the Langgar Hall will as open as possible to allow for the passage of wind to naturally ventilate the dining hall and the kitchen. [See Photo 5].

The “Green Gurdwara” will have a separate addition, also made of recycled stone and timber, that will act as collection centre for items that are meant to be recycled for charity or humanitarian purposes. People can just drop by and leave whatever appropriate items they deem useful, and if so, they can leave once the task is done. This is in alignment with the idea that this “Green Gurdwara” also practices certain principles that considered environmentally and socially beneficial for the public. [See Photo 6].

The addition of the “Green Gurdwara” will be called the “Daswanth Recycling Centre”, as a reminder to the members of the Sikh faith to always practice “sewa” in the service of the public, and this case, wherever possible to be actively involved in enterprises that are socially beneficial to all layers of society. Of course, the “Daswanth Recycling Centre” will also happily engage with non-Sikh members as well, as this addition is meant to establish close bonds with everyone, and not just Sikhs themselves. [See Photo 8].

The “Green Gurdwara” will have a green plaza for public gatherings and assemblies, but will predominantly use grass and recycled concrete as its main floor base. This ‘checkerboard’ pattern is implemented to allow the flourishing of grass in between the recycled concrete slabs, and over time, will create an aesthetically striking composition on the floor that is both practical and lovely to experience. [See Photo 7].

The idea for the establishment of “Green Gurdwara” is something that I feel needs a deeper and more retrospective consideration for the benefit of the public, looking at how things are going in terms of the well-being of the planet itself, which is evidently clear, is quite worrying to say the least. Perhaps, in a small but significant way, we can start to help to contribute to making the earth a better place for us and our children when we go to our local Gurdwaras, and design our houses of worship to have a respectful relationship with the Mother Nature herself, thus obviously helping our state of wellbeing simultaneously. Waheguru Bless.

NEXT ARTICLE: Review how a modern Gurdwara can act as a vibrant youth and community centre, to cater to the mental, physical and spiritual needs of our young.


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


Creating deeper social connections (Asia Samachar, 13 July 2015)

A sanctuary by the sea (Asia Samachar, 7 June 2015)

Rethinking gurdwara design (Asia Samachar, 21 Apr 2015)

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