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‘A thoughtful synthesis of Western Modernism with what is essential in Indian traditional building’

PG 39

If flawed in some respects, these projects do promise great things to come

Originally published in the AR in August 1987

1. Raj Rewal

Housing for National Institute of immunology, Delhi

The site, located within Jawaharlal Nehru University in south Delhi, is surprisingly dramatic: it is rocky and on a ridge with distant views towards New Delhi and to the twelfth-century Qutb Minar minaret. The potential offered by contours of the ground was carefully considered by the architect and the housing and Institute located on the sloping ground for easy accessibility from the surrounding road. The housing, which formed the first phase of the project (begun in 1983), consists of 12 apartments for senior staff, 12 apartments for junior staff and a 25-room hostel for research scholars.

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A main Institute building is now also complete with the auditorium and ‘essential’ staff housing nearing completion.

The housing is organised as three separate clusters with their own internal courtyards of different character. However, the overall unity of the complex is maintained as all the buildings are interlinked with paved pathways.

The framed views from one cluster to another create a visual link along the pathways. Perhaps the moat important element of urban design is the discovery of almost hidden interior courts along the central and diagonal axis.

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The internal court surrounded by senior staff housing can be approached from four corners as the building is laid out on a diagonal axis to the main road. The internal space not only functions as the entrance hall for all the apartments but also provides a apace for residents to meet and so encourages the development of a sense of community.

The roof terraces of upper units overlook the central court, which is in shadow during moat of the day, and an appropriate place for children to play. Individual apartments of the cluster consist of eight maisonettes on the ground and first floor with private courtyards and roof terraces.

There are four more apartments on the second and third floor with private roof terraces as extensions to living rooms and bedrooms. The upper apartments are approached by diagonally placed open staircases.

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The cluster of junior staff housing is placed on a central axis, in alignment with the auditorium. Its internal courtyard is more intimate and through it rises the flight of steps linking the lower road to the upper level ridge. The 1 2 apartments are grouped around two staircases at three levels overlooking the internal court. Each apartment is provided with a roof terrace and the cluster follows the form of the land in its stepped section.

The hostel for scholars consists of individual rooms around an octagonal court, built as a small amphitheatre following the contours of the site and incorporates large boulders found on the site. The plan is symmetrical on both axes and provides roof terraces on successive upper storeys. The one side of the octagon along the diagonal axis frames distant views of the hills.

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The Institute is a far larger building of less complex form but it also contains a courtyard; however, since the accommodation is air conditioned, the courtyard galleries are glazed. The essential staff housing-the most modest of the constructions in the complex-is particularly successful for it is nearer in scale to the desert courtyard house prototype that is one of the prime influences behind this scheme. The building steps up, following the rise of the land with the accommodation arranged around well-shaded courts and provided with terraces walled in by tall parapets pierced with jaalis.

All the buildings are constructed of reinforced concrete frame infilled with 9in brick walls rendered with an aggregate of coloured stone chip.

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National Institute of Public Finance & Policy, Delhi

The National Institute of Public Finance & Policy is primarily an academic institution engaged in research and training programmes. lt is located beside the National Institute of Immunology in South Delhi. The Institute was begun in 1979 but later phases are still to be built.

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The concept of the design is based on dividing the entire complex into three major components - academic, hostel and residential - and placing these three main areas on the site in an integrated manner forming a hierarchy of internal and external open spaces.

The three-storey academic building consists of lecture halls, offices, an auditorium, a library and canteen.

Joined with the academic complex is a hostel building for about 35 research scholars with common facilities. Residential accommodation for the Director and the teaching staff has been provided in a separate wing.

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The buildings are constructed with in-situ concrete frame structure. The roof ceilings have natural exposed concrete finish of wooden planks.

All the external walls are clad with buff-colour sandstone pinned to the brick panel and concrete frame behind with concrete ‘bolds’, finished with sandstone grit.

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French Cultural Centre, New Delhi

The client’s requirements included a small school (12 classrooms,), pfficies and rooms for visiting archaeologists along with a multi-purpose hall for audia-visual presentations.

The building, completed in 1986, is located between an existing Classical bungalow, typical of the work of the Lutyens & Baker period and a cluster of eight servants’ quarters at the rear of the compound designed by the architect in 1967-69. The bungalow faces onto Auransingh road.

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The problem was to relate the new structure with the stuccoed bungalow, the brick servants’ quarters and the existing mature trees.

The plan of the cultural centre revolves around the trees. The branches almost touch the verandahs or external windows. The school and the audio-visual wing wrap around the old bungalow creating a court, dominated by the central tree.

The buildings are clad with in situ concrete panels made of white sandstone chips horizontally defined with sandstone bands of the same colour at cill, door and cornice level reflecting the form of the bungalow but not copying its Classical details.

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2. Doshi

Gandhi Institute of Labour Studies, Ahmedabad

The Gandhi Institute is located on the semi-rural outskirts of Ahmedabad and is, initially, notable as a development of certain design and climatic ideas explored at the architect’s own studio - ‘Sangath’ - near which the Institute stands.

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The most striking similarities between the two buildings are the white ceramic chip clad concrete and terracotta wrought barrel vaults which create shaded, well-ventilated and softly-lit interiors. B. V. Doshi explains the building:

‘Over the years, I have observed that architecture in a hot, dry climate has evolved a dual system of structuring: there is one main system to support the activity areas and another to support an envelope which protects the inside from the harsh weather conditions. This duality, of building within a building with a central court, is like the body and the soul. Often the court achieves a formal geometric character while the external edge of the building responds to the configuration of the site. The other characteristic I have observed and incorporated into the design of the Gandhi Institute is the way traditionally designed sacred buildings relate to the ground with the use of a plinth which makes a building no longer seem ordinary but important.’

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‘Then there is the village square, which usually has a large tree under which a platform is raised. Essentially it is a court surrounded by buildings and has a character which gives the place a sense of belonging. The scale and modulation of such groups of buildings around a court somehow efface all the social disparities, and generate a cohesive community.’

‘These varied aspects of an accessible and yet respectful place, within a small-scale urban setting responding to the local climate, constitute the main theme of the Gandhi Labour Institute. ’This state-owned institute, which conducts research, training, seminars and workshops in labour management and welfare, is relatively small but has the potential to grow. The functional demand are similar to those of any such institute: a library, claasrooms, seminar, rooms, administration, trainees’ accommodation, canteen, etc.’

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‘In order to generate a design comprehending the functional, symbolic, and notional levels, I have referred to and adopted the models of a temple at Vadtal, an inner court of a large Havali from Jalaalmar and a typical village square. To accentuate the meaning of these images, I employed a series of thresholds and linkages of varied scales. For example, the front plaza with a long and wide flight of approach steps allow sufficient time for the visitor to absorb the experience of this otherwise imposing building.’

‘The counter-balancing of different structural systems, along with constantly changing floor configuration and the skewing of the dormitory block from the right-angle geometry of the lnstitute’s building, are natural reflexes much like our constant inhaling and exhaling.’

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Studio, Ahmedabad

B. V. Doahi writes: ‘In order to create a built-form to match the dynamic concept of “Sangath” (in the vernacular it stands for moving together to a goal), it appeared that equally dynamic articulating methods had to be discovered. One way of doing this was to incorporate into the built-form a series of contrasts such as spaces pushing below ground and surging above ground, or high spaces which are flooded with light and low spaces which are dimly lit.’

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‘Such articulated spaces with particular- structural systems also make the built-form specific in some regards. For exa mple, the entire building has three different, closely interlinked structural systems. One comprises load-bearing brick walls carrying the vaulted roof; the second with a retaining wall and brick column structure of irregular shape supports a flat roof; the third employs loadbearing walls combined with post and beam structure to carry heavier loads. Each system has been optimally used to create the variety of spaces described.’

‘Likewise, three means of allowing light into the interior were devised: one through normal windows punctured in the wall, another through a skylight, the third through direct penetration from the flat roof through the glass brick.’

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3. Ashish Ganju

House, Delhi

The house, sited on the outer ring road of Delhi, is flanked by a pair of gigantic water towers and building sites while on two sides it is adjoined by buildings. 

This fairly inhospitable environment has caused the house to be largely inward-looking. So the west wall - which not only faces the traffic noise but also the hot afternoon sun - is largely blank while the south wall, which contains the main door, is more ‘porous’.

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Yet the openings in the south wall are not immediately apparent from the street for they are protected by a wooden screen of ingenious design. Like the traditional Jaali, this screen provides shade to the interior while permitting the entry of cooling draughts. But, unlike the Jaali and, perhaps inspired by the wooden screens in the eighteenth-century Padmanabhapuram Palace in Kerala, this screen provides privacy and throws off the rain because of the angle at which the louvres are set in the frame.

This angle does not interfere with light because the louvres at first-floor level are tilted to allow filtered sunlight to reach down into the court. This frame is also a device for ‘enlivening the facade’ and forma a climbing frame so that the facade will ultimately be ‘clothed in plants’- an embellishment which will add to the screen’s effectiveness as a protection against Peeping Toms, but will not do much for draught and light penetration. 

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If the climate and site largely determine the orientation and elevation of the building, then the plan within the envelope is more the result of client demand. The husband and wife have no children, are both keen cooks and one set of parents lives in. Hence the house has generous living rooms which flow together as one apace with the ‘formal’ route from front door to living room being via the open court.

The informal route is via the kitchen: a seemingly awkward arrangement but one required by the client who wanted the kitchen to be large and in the centre of things. The presence of the parents means that the house is separated informally into two self-contained sections which both share the courtyard and the stairs from the main door.

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