Bridging The Old And The New

What happens when you design a modern structure next to an older gurdwara building? VISHAL J SINGH finds out in his latest entry in Gurdwara Design series

By Vishal J. Singh | GURDWARA DESIGN |

The city of Paris is a beautiful city.

Walking on the delightful avenues of Paris, one is almost immediately overwhelmed by just how astonishingly beautiful the city of Paris truly is. Its splendid classical buildings and plazas, its resplendent churches and cathedrals, its verdant parks and gardens, and its world famous landmarks have undeniably rendered the French metropolis a true masterpiece of artistry and elegance in the field of urban design in the eyes of the world.

One of its most famous landmarks, the ever so popular, The Louvre Museum, or simply called The Louvre where the Mona Lisa is displayed, is an example of classical French architecture at its finest. Its classical appearance has mesmerized many an eye, and the aesthetic of its renaissance design  projects a timeless quality, to be appreciated by all of humanity, and not just the citizens of France.

Louvre by night, Paris, France – Photo: Piotr Gaborek

However, what makes the Louvre even more visually stunning, other than its gorgeous classical veneer, it’s the incorporation of a rather modern steel and glass pyramid, that sits right in the middle of the vast plaza in front of the Louvre building itself, that acts as an entry point into the Louvre Museum Complex located below.

Initially called ‘a scar on the cheek of Paris’ by the Parisians themselves, due to its controversial and contrasting look next to a classically inspired complex that the citizens didn’t like in the beginning, the glass and steel pyramid has become an icon onto itself that creates a modern identity for the entire museum, tying the Louvre Museum from its roots in the past to the present day era.

The placing of architectural structures next to each other is an interesting exercise in contemporary architecture, particularly so in designing a modern structure next to an older one. Indeed, to find a way to visually and structurally connect an older building with a newer one, is one of the more interesting challenges architects face in the modern era, and its planning and design can be an exciting commission to explore and execute.

Typically, a good number of Gurdwaras in Malaysia that were built in the past, say within a span of a 50 to 100 years or so, will follow a rather straightforward formulaic appearance. These Gurdwaras are usually a single storey or a double storey structure, that usually has a dome on top, decorative arches and other flowery designs built into the building, and these were done to create an appearance that would visually ‘tie’ these Gurdwaras with the older Gurdwaras that were built in the past in India. Now, there is nothing wrong in attempting to celebrate one’s architectural heritage in the design of our houses of worship by incorporating these elements, and in that sense all these Gurdwaras have done a wonderful job in bringing the Sanggat together under one roof to worship the Supreme and to perform sewa for the community by incorporating such an aesthetic.

Exploring on this premise of designing the new next to the old, let’s make an assumption that a committee for a Gurdwara built with the traditional look has decided to do some renovation work that will require a new extension to be built next to the existing traditional Gurdwara. Let’s assume, purely on a hypothetical basis, the older Gurdwara is double storey structure with a Darbar Sahib on the first floor and a Langgar Hall, an office and a couple of rooms on the ground floor – relatively common for such buildings – and that the committee has acquired the land next to the traditional Gurdwara for the renovation project. The Gurdwara could look something like the following picture, but next to an empty plot of land where the new extension will be built.

As a requirement for the new extension, let’s assume, again, purely hypothetically, that the new conceptual building needs to house two multi-purpose rooms, rooms for staff (granthis, etc) and guests, and finally some offices too for administrative work and the committee has decided to adopt a modern design for the new extension. The Darbar Sahib and the Langgar Hall would remain as they are in the existing traditional Gurdwara but perhaps could be enhanced with an updated look to accommodate the rest of the modern aesthetic that’s being proposed for the extension. The other important requirement will be to allocate enough space for carparking as well to ensure that enough parking bays will be provided for the Sanggat. Based on all these requirements, the proposed conceptual extension could be designed as shown in the following visual.

As mentioned previously, this is purely a conceptual idea and this extension is simply a proposal that is rooted in imagination and the occasional bouts of day dreaming on the part of the author. Based on the requirements given by the committee, the proposed extension could be an elevated structure that would house all the needed areas above the carparking area, so as to not sacrifice too much space below meant for the Sanggat to park their cars. A new corridor could be built that would directly connect to the Darbar Sahib on the first floor with the rest of the new areas, making accessibility convenient and practical for the daily running of the Gurdwara complex.

The new extension shown on the right above, connects to the traditional Gurdwara on the left through an elevated full height glass corridor, covered with a screen of geometric designs and connected with a staircase built of metal and shown in yellow, to create a visual, colour based connection with the yellow ( or various shades of yellow or sometimes orange ) seen in the domes of such traditional Gurdwaras. The ground floor has an enclosure that can be used for any purpose, but in this case, it is used as guardhouse and as a security centre of sorts for the rest of the complex. The rest of the open areas are meant for parking and can be converted into an open area for open – air activities, such as gatherings for Vasakhi or Diwali.

The proposed extension would have accommodation for Gianis and guests located on the far right of the structure, that can easily be accessed by the staircase also located at the end of  the proposed extension. This would allow easy connectivity to both the Giani and the guest to come and go as they please and would make it easy for their belongings and their luggage to be carried from the ground to the top from a drop off point on the ground floor. Offices too are located within this area, that are protected by a series of tall ‘fins’  – that are also sometimes referred to as ‘blades’ because of their sharp, streamlined look –  that act as sunshading devices to prevent too much light and heat to enter the rooms above.

The extension would have two multi – purpose rooms at the back and that can be used for various purposes such as classrooms, seminar halls, office spaces and such, depending on what the future requirement of the Gurdwara could be. These areas are easily accessible from one end of the extension to another, where the Darbar Sahib is located and are therefore in a strategic location within the new complex. An additional staircase is located below to further facilitate an easy flow of pedestrian traffic from the ground to the first floor.

In many instances in the professional world, a proposal for an extension to an existing building is a relatively common request that architects receive globally, and as written previously, can be an exciting prospect to plan and carry out. This design exercise, where two structures are placed next to each other with contrasting appearances that would make them stand out even more, is sometimes referred to as ‘Juxtapositioning’ in architectural circles, and provides an intriguing possibility of proposing a design that implores the design team to find a way to skillfully combine the old and the new to create a cohesively new structure while respecting the need for each structure to remain faithful to their original designs.

This conceptual extension is an expression of that request, where very often, clients will need a design that helps them to supplicate the needs of an existing building with a new design. Simply tearing down an old building to build a new one might not be feasible due to budget constraints and due to the fact that the old building may have both significant cultural and historical value that must be preserved. A solution to create and combine a new extension with the existing one usually is the most practical course to pursue when requiring a new set of needs to be met, and the design of a new extension can celebrate contemporary ideas and concepts into an older context, and create something entirely new and exciting, while preserving the old and the cherished.

Waheguru Bless.


The next proposal will imagine designing a Gurdwara that is ultra-futuristic in its appearance as a means to celebrate the incredible accomplishments of modern technology in the 21st century.


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.



A gurdwara merging out of a mountain (Asia Samachar, 17 Oct 2020)


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