By Vishal J. Singh | GURDWARA DESIGN |
I see trees of green, red roses too,
I see them bloom, for me and you,
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.
I see skies of blue and clouds of white,
The bright blessed days, the dark sacred nights,
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.
– The Great Louis Armstrong
For those of you who aren’t familiar, Louis Armstrong was an American trumpeter, composer, vocalist, and actor who was among the most influential figures in jazz in the United States in the earlier part of the 20th century. One of his more famous songs ‘What a wonderful world’, starts of by celebrating how splendid nature is where the trees are green and the skies are blue, but more than that, it speaks on how beautiful our Earth truly is and how it contributes to our survival and happiness in one way or another.
The beginning of this song sparked an interest in researching how nature can be respected and appreciated in our contemporary world, and in one instance led to the idea of how architecture and landscape can merge as single entity that brings the best of both worlds together in one design.
In present day architecture, there’s been a strong and growing interest in finding ways to merge the landscape of a site directly with a proposed building that is meant to serve a specific purpose such as say for a school or a hospital. s a result of this thinking, a relatively new but progressive field called ‘Biophilic Design’ has become more and more popular globally, and seeks to increase occupant connectivity to the natural environment, and to allow the end users to enjoy a host of benefits derived from this direct connection to the natural world by means of verdant greenery and abundant sunlight.
Based on this idea of connecting a building directly to nature, the conceptual proposal for this Gurdwara is placed by the side of a mountain, where part of its structure is embedded directly into the mountain itself, and sooner or later, part of the landscape of the mountain begins to ‘envelope’ the Gurdwara complex. This creates a ‘hybrid’ form of architecture, where two seemingly very different components are brought together and ‘weaved’ as a unified composition of elements that unites them as a single design, rather than two separate ones that just happen to be placed next to each other.
The idea for this Gurdwara is purely conceptual, but in essence the Gurdwara forms a direct bond with its environment, a symbiotic one at that, where each component depend on each other for survival and support, and is designed in such a way that it allows part of the features of the natural landscape to be part of the Gurdwara physical design as well, creating a connection between architecture and nature.
The Gurdwara sits on the base of a mountain, surrounded by greenery on all sides. Its general form is almost completely open to nature, except of the Darbar Sahib (placed on the left and marked by a series of full height windows). The entrance to the Gurdwara above is accessible by a timber deck, covered by a series of lightweight, recycled timber screens that goes up to the Darbar Sahib and the Langgar Hall (placed in the centre where a small office is also located) that follows the natural contours of the mountain.
Its appearance and size emphasizes the horizontality of its location, and its modest height seeks to allow nature to slowly embrace its presence over time, rather than to create a design that towers and alienates itself over the natural landscape, where nature is treated only as a base for the building to stand out rather than to connect.
A lift lobby placed on the far right is also built to allow for direct access to the floor above, primarily for the transportation of goods and supplies straight to the Langgar Hall, and to allow the disabled and the elderly to access the top level if they need to.
The Gurdwara is accessed by a series of concrete slabs placed on the earth that lead to a timber deck, covered by timber screens, that leads to the Darbar Sahib and the Langgar Hall itself, perched on the top by the base of the mountain. The entire Gurdwara sits on a reinforced base of stones that are walled up and form a foundation of sorts called a ‘gabion wall’ that supports the structures and the roof above above.
Walking up to the Darbar Sahib and the Langgar Hall, a ‘green wall’ creates a division between the Darbar Sahib and the Langgar Hall. This ‘green wall’ has creepers and other such plants hanging all over, as a eco-friendly protective division and as an interesting design feature for the Gurdwara itself, where part of the natural greenery of the site becomes part of the physical appearance of the Gurdwara. The roof above is a green roof that has circular openings to allow for pockets of sunlight to enter the spaces below, creating a shaded area that is partly illuminated by sunlight and allows for hot air to escape quickly above.
Upon approaching the Gurdwara’s entrance point where the Nishan Sahib is located, the Sanggat can either go to the left to walk up to the Darbar Sahib and the Langgar Hall or go to the right where a lift lobby has direct access to the same areas. The entire Gurdwara complex is built of mostly sustainable or natural materials such as rocks and stones that form part of the walls and the supporting base, and timber decks and screens that allow access within the premises of the complex.
The main structural enclosures are built of concrete that is left unplastered and unpainted, and will weather over time as the landscape weathers over time as well. Over time, the concrete walls will have plants growing over them as well and will eventually partly cover the surface, creating an even stronger connection with nature and the surrounding environment.
Although almost all of the external and internal spaces are open to the outside environment, all three enclosures however where the Sanggat needs to congregate fully or partially, The Darbar Sahib, The Langgar Hall and the Lift Lobby, are protected by green roofs above, where the grass that grows on the surface of the mountain also extends and grows on to the surface of the roof. Green roofs also have a tendency of cooling down the spaces beneath them, and by allowing a green roof to be built, the verdant greenery of the mountainside can have more space to grow and eventually ‘embrace’ this conceptual Gurdwara, while protecting the enclosures below.
Green roofs are also considered environmentally friendly and help to increase the amount of area where plants can grow, and therefore allow those plants propagate and flourish. The green roof also provides a ‘natural’ cover for this Gurdwara that appears to be growing out of the side of the mountain.
The enclosed parts of this Gurdwara are embedded into the side of the mountain, creating a direct relationship with nature, but everything else is placed and supported lightly on to the landscape such as the timber deck and the roof above, as an attempt to cause a minimum amount of intrusion through construction onto the delicate landscape.
Ultimately, the simple truth of the matter is that the world needs to go green.
There is no denying that the effects of climate change grow stronger and stronger every year, and humanity must now find ways to adapt our lifestyles from its current status quo of never-ending meaningless consumption to a more a sustainable form of living for the sake of both the planet and its people.
One major industry that needs to be re-examined in order for it to be more sustainable and less wasteful is of course architecture and its relevant branches, such as infrastructure, transportation and the likes. By ‘greening’ buildings and allowing nature to take on a greater role in how we construct our cities, we effectively create an architecture that is friendlier to the earth, and is beneficial to both the world and its populace in terms of the physical and psychological well-being of everything and everyone involved.
This conceptual Gurdwara, where the proposal attempts to physically blend in the landscape and the building as one unified complex, is an example of a design strategy that seeks to create a greener architecture for everyone. After all, to be close to nature is to be close to God, and this Gurdwara seeks to reinforce that connection for the benefit of the Sanggat and the environment for all of humanity’s’ continuous prosperity on this planet.
The next proposal will imagine designing a Gurdwara that is built within an urban context, designed to address a specific social issue within the idea of combining the old and the new in a contemporary aesthetic.
* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.
Boxes of Timber – A Gurdwara Exuding The Warmth Of Wood (Asia Samachar, 28 May 2020)