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‘The office complex in New Delhi by Raj Rewal appears as a fortress in the landscape’

To cope with the harshness of the Indian climate, this vast office complex in Delhi merges traditional forms with modern technology. 

Originally published in the AR in 1995

Much of the best recent architecture in India fuses essons from masters such as Kahn and Le Corbuser with traditional ways of dealing with climate, space, urbanism and habitation. Of this peculiarity fertile synthesis, William Curtis has noted it… has to do with a post-colonian re-examination of roots, but also involves a reconciliation of both modern technology and traditional methods. The hope is to combine valid propositions from the sphere of international knowledge with ones that are still relevant in local traditions (AR August 1988 p33).

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The work of Raj Rewal is an exemplary embodiment of this fusion. His campus of housing for National Institute of Inmunology in Delhi is massed in a manner reminiscent of a Rajasthan citadel, around an interlocking series of well shaded courts (AR August 1988). More recently, Rewal has also addressed the less promising typology of the office building. His latest project is a complex for a consortium of public enterprises that require the usual working and administrative spaces, but also share common facilities such as an auditorium, seminar rooms and a restaurant. The site is in a newly redeveloped office zone for government organisations on the outskirts of South Delhi. Barely a quarter of a mile away are historic sites containing the Hamayun Tomb and the Khankhanan.

‘The influence of historic Indian structures is also apparent in the umbrella-like viewing towers’

Planning stipulations in respect of height and size of floor plates established the precedent of a densely built form, that Rewal has courageously strived to humanize in various ways. The great amorphous mass of office accommodation (housing an astonishing 7000 workers) has been subdivided into a more manageable composition of eight blocks. These interlock around a central courtyard - a traditional Indian device - that provides diffuse natural light and ventilation. Although part of a much greater whole, each block is regarded as an individual administrative and social unit, so that workers can identify with their particular territory. Blocks are arranged around a central circulation and services core. At the top of each block is a cafeteria enclosed by segments of barrelvault. Intended to provide a welcome respite for workers, these roof-top eyries are approached through open roof gardens, and afford splendid views of the nearby monuments.

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The influence of historic Indian structures (such as the palace of Datia) is also apparent in the umbrella-like viewing towers or chatris that articulate the roofline. Yet although the building sits like a fortress in the landscape, it has a rich and complex inner realm, offering the potential for fruitful colonisation by its inhabitants. Particular attention has been paid to ways in which the building form can temper the unremitting harshness of the climate. On the external perimeter, the upper floors overhang to create deep shadows. Throughout, windows are deeply recessed to shield the interior from the sun’s glare and give the building an almost sculptural articulation.

‘With its complex vocabulary of interacting courts the entire ensemble exhibits all the density and diversity of a traditional city’

On the courtyard side, the floors are recessed at different levels to create a series of stepped, protected terraces.The structural system is based on a basic module of a 12 m square slab supported at each corner by a cluster of four columns. The column clusters (which contain services and air-conditioning ducts) are expressed on the facade in the manner of structural minarets. Each cluster terminates in a chatri and the contrasting pink and beige bands of masonry recall ancient Mogul geometries. With its complex vocabulary of interacting courts, galleries, terraces and platforms, the entire ensemble exhibits all the density and diversity of a traditional city yet this prodigious anthill of activity is resolutely ordered around humane and civilizing principles.

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