Democracy by Design – Addressing spirituality and politics

Addressing politics openly, with class, dignity and integrity, in a parliamentary kind of setting within our Gurdwara complexes. That's the latest offering from VISHAL J SINGH in his the GURDWARA DESIGN series



A dominating political ideology that essentially at its core, simply believes and states that all men (and women, of course) are equal in the eyes of the law, drawing parallels with our faith, Sikhi, clearly stating that everyone is equal in the eyes of a Higher Power. In democracy, everyone has a voice and everyone’s opinion matters, and to quote the 16th president of the United States, the much admired President Abraham Lincoln, a government of democracy is a “Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.”

Reminiscing what Lincoln said, on 9 May 2018, a surprising political miracle of sorts happened in my tanahair (homeland) of Malaysia, where against huge odds, the spirit of democracy prevailed and a new government was elected to rule the country. The unexpected victory for the Opposition at the time caught everyone by surprise and renewed the Malaysian peoples’ faith in democracy that we the people, through resolve and determination, really can mobilise to make things better as nation if we feel that change is necessary for the betterment of society, and the means of the change we wanted was through the democratic process of casting votes and electing officials we believe in.

This renewed faith in democracy led my train of thought to the notion of politics, and just as sure as the oxygen we breathe, wherever we go and wherever the affairs of the people are discussed, the issue of politics will be present. In our community, too, it is inescapable that matters relating to our people, our society and culture will be tinged by political influence, either subtle or otherwise.

And so I wondered, instead of reluctantly admitting that politics plays a relatively substantial role in our community and affairs pertaining to how our Gurdwaras are managed, why don’t we fully embrace the rigours of societal politics in our lives and design spaces that would allow politics to be addressed openly, with class, dignity and integrity, in a parliamentary kind of setting within our Gurdwara complexes?

The principal point of democracy is already very much a part of who we are as a people, where Sikhi clearly espouses that all of mankind, regardless of caste, creed and colour are equal in the eyes of God and other such values of democracy such as transparency, openness and inclusivity are architecturally incorporated into the design of the Gurdwara complex through the usage of clear glass to highlight transparency, open plazas and corridors to allow for public congregations, and open areas from all sides as symbolic gesture of equality by providing unhindered access in all directions.

Therefore a space designed to openly discuss and debate matters pertaining to mutual affairs relevant to our society such as education, finance, culture and so forth in a setting where everyones’ voice is heard and considered seems like a natural architectural extension of sorts to incorporate, and that idea led to the proposed design of this conceptual Gurdwara as shown above.

This Gurdwara, where the Darbar Sahib (upstairs) and the Langgar Hall (downstairs) located on the left proposes an incorporation of a Parliamentary Hall on the right within a full height glass enclosure, inside of which political matters are openly discussed in a dignified and respectful manner. The two separate buildings are connected by a series of open corridors that are connected to a plaza in front of the entire Gurdwara complex.

The open plaza in the middle of the complex faces a giant digital screen showcasing the parliamentary procedures of discussions and debates happening in the hall for everyone to see so that everyone can have clear visual access to see what’s going inside the hall. It also has a Speakers’ Corner where people are encouraged to share opinions and ideas with the Sanggat.

The Darbar Sahib is elevated above the ground floor where the Langgar Hall is located. The walls of the Darbar Sahib are surrounded with a series of curved geometric frames that provide a semi-public cover and the Langgar Hall itself is totally open to encourage active social participation with the Sanggat and members of the general public.

The Parliamentary Hall is located within a huge glass wall on all 4 sides, again to consistently symbolise its transparency as a message that all should have access to the democratic process and be part of its structure to contribute to society as positively as possible.  Clear entrances marked by graceful semi-public screens mark all 4 sides of the entry points to also reinforce the message of openness from all sides to access the hall.

The Parliamentary Hall and the Darbar Sahib project a sense of uniformity in design where the front of the complex and the back of the complex seems almost visually indistinguishable, and this was done to create an identity where the entire Gurdwara itself projects a cohesive and unified appearance. Establishing a design where the entire complex seems cohesive from all the major viewpoints and individual perspectives promotes a sense of equality and access for everyone to appreciate and this concept of equality strongly shaped the visual language of the proposed Gurdwara design.

Beyond mere aesthetics though, the incorporation of the Parliamentary Hall to address evident politically influenced matters that affect certain issues in our society still remains the main guiding principle in this proposal. Perhaps if we can openly share our opinions and concerns in an architectural setting that promotes discussion and debate in an ideally dignified and democratic manner, then we can contribute more to benefit our community as whole, without fear or favour, and feel a sense of belonging and acknowledgment while we contribute as valuable members of the Sanggat. In this way, we address the issues closest to our hearts as an individual through the beauty of Sikhi and address the issues closest to our community through the inclusiveness of democracy.

Waheguru Bless. And for all my Malaysians brothers and sisters, Happy Merdeka the 61st on 31 August, 2018!


Vishal J.Singh, an aspiring architect, holds a Bachelor of Architecture Degree from Infrastructure University Kuala Lumpur and enjoys engaging in architecture and its theories as his first love.

* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.


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Serenity in snow and stone – A Gurdwara in Scandinavia (Asia Samachar, 1 Jan 2018)

A Gurdwara Of Light For Spirit And Mind (Asia Samachar, 1 Aug 2017)


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