By Vishal J. Singh
The desert is a fascinating place.
Exotic and ruthless at the same time, it truly presents a surreal landscape of curves of graceful formations and scorching waves of heat, making living here a daily challenge for the inhabitants of this part of the world. However, life, being as resilient as it is, has still found a way not only to survive in such harsh conditions, but in some instances even thrive and prosper in the most unlikeliest of places within the landscapes of the desert. And this of course includes us human beings as well and where human beings come together, inevitably commerce and culture will begin to take shape and society starts to flourish.
Along with the development of commerce and culture, which are the backbones of societal progress, cities too, will start to take shape, which is only a natural extension of the needs of humanity to survive, to socialize, and to eventually succeed in the greater scheme of things. In the past two decades or so, one part of the world where things have really progressed at an astonishing pace is in parts of the Middle East, undoubtedly fuelled by the wealth generated through oil-based revenues.
Dubai in particular has seen tremendous progress on its shores, where it almost seems as if an entire city of steel and glass seemed to have appeared out of nowhere, akin to a modern day mirage found in a desert. Surrounding the merciless sands that border Dubai, a world famous Gurdwara, The Guru Nanak Darbar was built and now stands as being one of the most well known in the world. Inspired by history and culture, the Guru Nanak Darbar projects a majestic identity celebrating architectural tradition, and lovingly serves the sangat of Dubai.
However, as an architect, I can’t help but wonder that if I was given a chance to design a Gurdwara in a desert, how would I go about accomplishing such a privileged task and what design strategies would I employ when setting out such a blessed commission. And so, in this article, I visualize myself in a position where I was asked to design a Gurdwara in the Middle East and allow my imagination take a fanciful flight to purely engage in a hypothetical situation.
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Before I continue, let me please make it perfectly clear that design being proposed here is not an alternative design to the The Guru Nanak Darbar in Dubai, but simply my personal interpretation of what I would like a Gurdwara in the desert to be, and the inspiration for the design, in terms of material and form, comes from the very landscape in where the proposed Gurdwara is situated.
In architectural circles, there are some architects who believe that the best designs are directly inspired by the sites in which those buildings are based. This approach, where the design of a building is based on its environment is called an architecture that follows “The Analogy Of The Landscape” and for this design, this was the strategy that was used as a concept. In studying the topological features of a desert, there emerges a certain visual and tactile palette of forms, materials and colours that precisely reflect the environment of the desert. The most obvious of these elements is the sand itself, which gathers and curves as silhouettes and dunes in the landscape, generally in light beige, possessing a fine or coarse texture.
It is this physical characteristic of the sand itself and all the wondrous forms it naturally takes, carved by wind, that serves as the primary inspiration behind the design of this Gurdwara, in terms of planning, form, materiality and aesthetics, and the end result of the design is meant to allow the architecture of the Gurdwara to visually “blend” in with the landscape itself [Photo 1].
The general form of the Gurdwara follows a curvilinear shape, inspired by the curves found in sand dunes and silhouettes. It is a physical attempt to create a connection with the environment, by mimicking the curved formations found in the desert into the very structure itself, resulting in a graceful building composition.
The front visually incorporates elements of the desert, which includes light stone finishes for walls and floors related to the colours of the sand. The dome is a folded triangular dome, inspired by Bedouin tents, and a water plaza, reminiscent of an oasis, marks the entrance. Symbolically water in the desert represents the very essence of life itself, and the location of the water plaza here signifies the flourishing of life within the complex of the Gurdwara in such an unforgiving locale.
The entrance is a long sheltered corridor inspired by intricate geometrical patterns typically found in many buildings in the Middle East, which leads straight into the complex and into the Darbar Sahib on the left. These screens are culturally important in this part of the world, but also serve to allow for winds to flow through while providing shading from the scorching desert sun.
An open gallery (or atrium) allows wind to flow from one end of the Gurdwara to another and also serve to ventilate the interiors of the complex naturally where possible, and provide open verandahs and corridors for the Sangat to walk through unhindered from anywhere they like along the building [Photo above].
The same open gallery or atrium (Photo 4) curves along the whole building, allowing wind to flow from one end of the Gurdwara to another and its form and colours are meant to convey the same graceful curves found the desert landscape.
And finally, the long sheltered corridor that marks the entrance of the Gurdwara goes right through the end where it leads to the Nishan Sahib Plaza and the Langgar Hall, also adopting a curvilinear form in its appearance. The Gurdwara is solidified by strong stone walls of a light beige colour meant to connect closely to the material components and visual elements found in the desert, and its presence helps to shade and cool the interiors of the building as well.
The proposal for this Gurdwara honours and pays respect to the unforgiving environment it is based in, and to view that environment not as a source of difficulty, but as a source of inspiration. It is meant to serve as a testament that like the Gurdwara, the Sikhs themselves take inspiration from the challenges they face everywhere they go, and via the true spirit of ‘Chardi Kala’, inevitably overcome such challenges and obstacles to emerge triumphant in the face of adversity. This Gurdwara is a physical representation of that idea of Sikhs and their culture being strong and resilient, expressed in architectural form, and is meant to celebrate the strength of that faith and culture on the world stage.
[NEXT: The next proposal will centre on the idea of building a Gurdwara placed in a winter landscape, such as the mountains of Scandinavia or the Himalayas, as a tribute to the coming year end festivities]
* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.
[ASIA SAMACHAR is an online newspaper for Sikhs in Southeast Asia and surrounding countries. We have a Facebook page, do give it a LIKE. Follow us on Twitter. Visit our website: www.asiasamachar.com] 16883
FROM THE SAME AUTHOR:
A Gurdwara Of Light For Spirit And Mind (Asia Samachar, 1 Aug 2017)
An architectural tribute to Bhai Kanhiya (Asia Samachar, 15 May 2017)
Gurdwara Design: Food from the streets, for the people of the streets (Asia Samachar, 16 Jan 2017)
Where music is as lovely as prayer (Asia Samachar, 26 Sept 2016)