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Nehru Memorial Museum in Jaipur, India by Charles Correa

Archive: Correa’s plan is based on a Vastupurusha mandala as described in the ancient Vedic text

First published in AR January 1992, this piece was republished online in June 2015

Charles Correa has based the plan of the new museum at Jaipur on a mandala as described in the ancient Vedic text. The device relates the new building to tradition, yet gives a whole series of dimensions for different displays.

The wonderful city of Jaipur was created in the eighteenth century by the philosopher maharaja Jai Singh. The pink city was built in a green wooded valley near a small lake, and it is plain that, initially, Jai Singh wanted to plan the place on the basis of the Vastupurusha mandala, nine squares within a square which, according to the teachings of the ancient Vedic shastras, was a model of the cosmos, with each square corresponding to a heavenly body. Jai Singh was forced to compromise this perfect pattern to take account of a hill and to encompass an existing village, so one of the smaller squares was detached and moved to the east (AR September 1982, p35).


Guru Mahal which the library shares with a winding pool

When Charles Correa was asked by the state government of Rajasthan to design a museum in Jaipur dedicated to the memory of Jawaharlal Nehru, the Vastupurusha mandala became his model. Again, one of the squares has been displaced, or rather inflected, not for topographical reasons this time, but to make an entrance, and to slightly set apart the theatre element of the programme.

The rest of the brief had to be equally clearly divided up, so that each of the squares could contain a more or less discreet function. As the collections are of very different kinds, it makes sense to separate them so that, for instance, small-scale objects like jewellery and manuscripts can be seen in intimate and highly controlled spaces, while a street of traditional houses where local craftsmen can show their skills plainly needs completely different treatment.

Four of the 30m x 30m squares are devoted to exhibitions. The other squares on the perimeter are occupied by the library, the cafeteria and the administrative offices. Each square has an opening to the next (usually in the middle of the wall) so that there is a circular route open to the sky round the whole series of spaces. Each square has its own planetary symbolism (related to its function) and hence its own colour, so that each has a particular atmosphere. When they are seen in enfilade, they can have a magical cumulative effect.


Mangal Mahal: the entrance and administraive area

The circular route does not have to be followed slavishly, for the central square can be reached from the surrounding ones and is laid out as a traditional kund: a space for congregation open to the sky, where performances of local music, dance and drama can be held. The walls that surround the kund are clad in red Rajasthan sandstone (red for the sun, which is the heavenly body symbolised) with copings of Dholpur stone (these two were the stones of Fatehpur Sikri and the Red Fort at Agra). The same wall treatment (over a concrete frame with brick and stone infill) is used on the outside of the building as well. The rather alarming (to a European) use of sandstone fixed with its strata vertical may be justified in a hot dry climate, where frost spalling is not to be expected, for the technique gives a rich texture that enlivens walls that might otherwise seem very austere.

Building the museum as a series of courts had practical implications as well as symbolic ones. Each square could be dealt with as a separate building problem, so that the museum could be phased to be completed as funds became available. (In fact, due to a strange set of circumstances. the main phases were completed simultaneously, with three different contractors beavering away within, and a fourth completing the external walls.)

Undoubtedly, these grand, almost imperforate walls give the building great presence in its rather humdrum grey surroundings. Their massiveness is made rather less daunting by the way in which they are stepped down at the corners, giving glimpses of the different kinds of space in each square. But though the interiors of the courts may be suggested on the outside, they become a series of continual surprises once one enters. Colour, decoration and the very different use of space in each court make the whole place into a magic labyrinth. It is to be hoped that the exhibits will be arranged and mounted with poetry and passion which equal that of the building itself.

Museum, Jaipur, India

Architect: Charles Correa
Photography: Ram Rahman

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