By Vishal J. Singh | Gurdwara Design |
The Fellowship Camps in Cameron Highlands carry many a fond memory for me, and I’d like to start off this article by taking a heartwarming stroll down memory lane.
As I reminisce the past through my rose-tinted sunglasses, I began to remember all the lessons in camaraderie and community-building that I was lucky enough to experience with my fellow Sikh brothers and sisters, while attending these camps that were usually held around the Chinese New Year Holidays on an annual basis. Never did I feel so connected to my own culture, and never did l learn more about my own faith than when I was attending these Fellowship Camps, and I do remember adoring every moment of being there. Friendships that last a lifetime really do have humble beginnings, and I truly am grateful for these camps.
Thinking about these camps, I began to daydream, that if I had the chance to design a Gurdwara in the highlands, either for the local Sanggat or for the Naujawan who attend camps like these, then what kind of design could I propose that would suit the environment of the highlands as optimally as possible?
This line of mental questioning led me to envision what a Gurdwara for the highlands could look like, and the following is a conceptual proposal only that was composed in my mind’s eye to satisfy the floating queries of my occasional bouts of architectural daydreaming, as I like to call it. As mentioned before in all my previous articles, this proposal is conceptual only, meaning it is not a real commission or project, but simply my vivid imagination having a little bit of fun from an architectural point of view.
This conceptual Gurdwara, located in the highlands, is designed primarily around the idea that whatever structure that needs to be built on the sensitive hill slopes of the highlands, there should be as minimal structural impact on the natural terrain as possible. Instead of building a structure that forcefully flattens the terrains of the gentle slopes, the structure is designed to “sit” lightly on its site, and the inspiration for this idea comes from nature itself, specifically from flying insects such as dragonflies or butterflies.
Observing the anatomy of dragonflies for example, the body of the entire insect is supported on its long and slender legs, which gently lands on whatever surface it lands on, and there is no fear of collapse that the legs will not be able to support the entire body of the dragonfly. Similarly, clever engineering principles of contemporary architecture can also be applied to create lightweight structures that mimic this miracle of natural design, thus allowing for buildings to be built on slopes that create a minimal impact on the natural terrain of the site, thus trying to preserve the sensitivity of the landscape as much as possible.
The entire Gurdwara is conceived as a series of structural steel and bamboo platforms, that follow the natural terrain of the hillside, and sits on a frame of slender white columns to provide the necessary support it needs to stand. The Langgar Hall and the Giani’s Accommodation Quarters, with whatever supplementary rooms that are needed, are located below the Darbar Sahib, shown in light brown in the image above. There is a bamboo staircase that leads to the Nishan Sahib Plaza above and the Darbar Sahib too, connected to the entrance court and the Langgar Hall Level too.
Looking from the right side, this proposed Gurdwara carries a very strong horizontal look that is elevated above the hillside itself, thus allowing for the natural terrain of the site to remain as it is, untouched and unaltered as much as possible. The Darbar Sahib is on the highest level, and the Langgar Hall and the Giani’s Accommodation Quarters are located below, next to an open – air gazebo for people to spend time in to enjoy the surroundings.
The Darbar Sahib is fitted with a series of recycled bamboo slats arranged diagonally, that create a striking visual language for the walls of the Gurdwara itself, and the gaps in between allow for cool mountain air to circulate in and out of the Darbar Sahib.
There is even a part of the Darbar Sahib that is totally open to the outside but can be closed with sliding glass doors, so that the sanggat can enjoy the spectacular views of the surrounding areas, while allowing cool gusts of wind to cross the entire hall from one side to another.
The usage of recycled bamboo for both the floors and the walls are rooted in the commitment of using natural, sustainable materials that are preferably locally sourced, for the partial construction of this proposed Gurdwara, where possible. This decision of using bamboo here, is thus is part of the greater ‘green’ agenda that is integral to the eco-friendly design of this Gurdwara.
The left side of the elevated Darbar Sahib is connected to a bamboo staircase that leads to a platform below allowing the Sanggat views of the surroundings, while allowing them to also walk along the slopes, should they want to explore the landscape as well.
The natural environment as we know it truly is under a lot of pressure. Just recently, they have been devastating floods in Germany and China, and relentless heat waves and wildfires are raging across parts of the United States and Canada. Clearly, the effects of climate change are beginning to take place more aggressively, which is projected to be even worse in the future. Perhaps the time for a new paradigm truly has arrived, where instead of plundering nature for our benefit, we start to look for ways to work with nature, and the architectural industry has a momentous role in helping to lead the way to a safer, greener world. This proposed Gurdwara design is born from that hope, of designing buildings that work with nature, rather than against it. We can all do our part, and the simplest of ideas, either conceptual or action-orientated, can and do lead to great changes in the future.
Stay safe. Waheguru Bless.
The next proposal will imagine designing a Gurdwara that can expand structurally and reconfigure its general look and layout as required over time, for specific functions or events.
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.
Into the Future: Gurdwara that walks (Asia Samachar, 19 Jan 2021)
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