By Vishal J. Singh | GURDWARA DESIGN |
“Fashions come and go, but geometry lasts forever,’ — Paraphrased from an interview with Ieoh Meng Pei, Chinese – American Architect, (1917–2019)
Leoh Meng Pei, or simply I.M. Pei, was an extraordinary man. Born in China but grew up in the United States, and worked as an architect till the ripe old age of 102, and passing away in 2019, he is best known for modern buildings that projected bold, geometric designs internationally.
Undeniably, his biggest accomplishment was when he was commissioned to design the new extension of the Louvre Museum in Paris, France, specifically the striking glass pyramid that marks the entrance of the museum. The elegant glass pyramid was a beautiful manifestation of his ideas. He believed that geometry, engineering and structure should be the driving force behind any design. It should be celebrated (meaning shown and not hidden) in architecture, and designs should not blindly follow popular trends or fashions that come and go in the creative arts. In almost any building, it is the structure of the building, typically a reinforced concrete skeletal frame or a steel based one in our times, that holds up the complex, and gives it its strength and integrity. The walls, either metal, brick, glass and anything else, serves as a series of infill panels that cover the building up to offer protection and shelter.
Based on this idea that architecture is a celebration of geometry and engineering, which leads to the development of the structure and subsequently the whole building, the following proposal for a modern Gurdwara complex embodies and expresses that idea in a conceptual design. This proposal celebrates the structure of the Gurdwara by allowing a good deal of the skeletal frame that supports its presence in the landscape exposed for public appreciation and for future expansion. The buildings ‘envelope’, meaning the way it is covered, are a various combination of metal deck sheets, glass panels and mobile metal cabins.
The Gurdwara proposal is basically a building that is constructed of a typical reinforced concrete skeletal frame, where part of that frame is left exposed, as its main method of support, while the other important parts of the building that consist of the Darbar Sahib and the Langgar Hall are designed with panels of light-weight metal deck sheets and tempered glass that act as protective divisions from the outside. The Darbar Sahib in particular is elevated above to the first floor, leaving the ground floor totally open for the Sanggat (congregation) to enter and circulate freely, while also allowing natural ventilation to take place as unhindered as possible.
The ground floor is an open, ‘free-flowing’ platform, meaning that no permanent walls are built to house any specific functions such as offices, storerooms and the kitchen. These areas are defined by the incorporation of mobile metal cabins, seen as large metal boxes in orange, like individual shipping containers, that can be ‘installed’ and removed as needed. This design approach allows for flexibility in the usage of the space in the long run, and can allow for a multitude of functions and additions to take place over time as and when required.
(On a side note, all the visuals in this article are now supplemented with white human-like figures to convey a sense of scale and to allow for the readers to perceive a sense of how big the building is in relation to the size of people shown within.)
The Darbar Sahib is located on the first floor of the Gurdwara complex, and can be accessed by a main staircase located near the main entrance foyer, where a bridge-like platform above a water feature connects the outside to the inside. The Darbar Sahib has metal cladding covering its structure and creating an enclosure with a dramatic double height volume for prayer and for congregating.
The Nishan Sahib Plaza is located next to the main entrance of the Gurdwara Complex and behind the Nishan Sahib is the mobile metal cabins that act as a kitchen for the Langgar Hall located at the back. A sense of openness permeates the entire complex so as to allow pedestrian circulation to take place freely from anywhere on the premises.
The Langgar Hall is located at the back of the complex on the left and is divided into both open areas that’s next to a water feature, and with an enclosed hall for the Sanggat to commune, perform ‘sewa’ and eat and drink with their fellow brothers and sisters in a more internal setting. The Langgar Hall also has part of its skeletal frame exposed as to allow for possible future expansion of the space if the need to house a bigger Sanggat ever comes into place.
The Langgar Hall on the left, is a triangular shaped enclosure, and follows the same triangular like design for the Darbar Sahib to maintain a sense of planning and aesthetic consistency. The similar slope and frame allows for the whole Gurdwara to be viewed as one complex, despite being separated by the connecting open platform that allows the Sanggat to circulate freely within its premises.
Occasionally in literature, the human body is sometimes simply referred to as ‘flesh and bones’, although clearly it is, medically, a far more complex biological entity than that. It’s the bones, and by extension, the skeleton that gives the body its rigid but flexible humanoid form, that allows it to stand up straight and perform a variety of actions while the flesh is what clings on to bones to give it mass.
Similarly in architecture, it’s the structure, firstly expressed through its skeletal frame once the design starts taking shape, that holds up the building and gives it it’s form, and there are architects who feel that this critical aspect and function in design should be visually celebrated out in the open rather than concealed unacknowledged in the walls. This conceptual Gurdwara proposal seeks to validate that belief in architectural thought, that is to say that structure, or at least parts of it, should be celebrated out in the open, shown through the visuals presented in this article, to allow for a better sense of appreciation of what actually allows a building to take form, to be built, to be habited and eventually used rather than just pretty colours or fancy superfluous decoration.
Architecture and engineering (the act of technically drawing and building a structure) have had an unbreakable relationship with each other from the day the first building was built eons ago, and simply cannot exist without each other. Architecture is about designing spaces that serve and uplift the human spirit, and engineering is the means, through making a structure, that allows for those needs to be fulfilled. A century ago, it was once said by a well known architect, Walter Gropius, that ‘architecture begins where engineering ends,” and in the field of design, those words were true then, and they stand true till today.
The next proposal will imagine designing a Gurdwara that is built of sustainable timber and meant to be an eco-friendly structure placed by the edge of a forest or a jungle that incorporates traditional design building methods and ideas with modern aesthetics and sensibilities.
* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.
Shelters of Concrete (Asia Samachar, 27 Dec 2019)
Science and Spirituality (Asia Samachar, 5 Dec 2019)
Steel Sanctuary: A metal gurdwara celebrating industry spirit (Asia Samachar, 23 Sept 2019)