DECODING THE LE­GEND

A le­gend in the field of good de­sign, sus­tain­abil­ity and ar­chi­tec­ture. Raj Re­wal is the force be­hind some of In­dia’s most beau­ti­ful and iconic struc­tures.

India Today - - HOME - By RIDHI KALE Photograph by VIKRAM SHARMA

Ar­chi­tect Raj Re­wal on his in­cred­i­ble jour­ney, cur­rent projects and de­sign phi­los­o­phy.

There is some­thing about a Raj Re­wal de­sign that keeps you riv­eted. Even if they are just mod­els that sur­round his desk in his of­fice in New Delhi’s Sheikh Sarai. You can spot the iconic Par­lia­ment Li­brary, Is­maili Cen­tre in Lis­bon, the de­mol­ished Hall of Na­tions at the Pra­gati Maidan Ex­hi­bi­tion Cen­tre, of­fice com­plex of Coal In­dia in Kolkata and the Asian Games Vil­lage, to name a few. In a ca­reer that spans 36 years, 84-year-old Re­wal has been in­stru­men­tal in chang­ing the In­dian de­sign land­scape. Re­wal like his de­signs can’t help but stand out from the crowd. A reser­voir of in­for­ma­tion, an af­ter­noon with him will leave you with a wealth of in­ter­est­ing anec­dotes. It is easy to see why his ar­chi­tec­ture has been called po­etry in stone. They are much more than bricks and mor­tar, they sym­bol­ise dif­fer­ent facets of life. No won­der, his works have been widely ex­hib­ited and pub­lished, with mono­graphs in English and French. Rein­vent­ing his­tor­i­cal ar­chi­tec­tural forms and con­cepts for a con­tem­po­rary world while pay­ing heed to sus­tain­abil­ity and tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances makes Re­wal well ahead of his time. In­dia To­day Home speaks to the stal­wart about his views on de­sign and ar­chi­tec­ture.

You be­lieve in the rasa of ar­chi­tec­ture. What is that?

Rasa means the spirit em­bod­ied in per­form­ing arts such as comic, tragic or erotic. In ar­chi­tec­ture the rasa is slightly sub­dued. Some build­ings are pow­er­ful and dy­namic and some are gen­tle and quiet, but all need to be user friendly. It is a very im­por­tant in­gre­di­ent. The first job of an ar­chi­tect is to ful­fil the func­tional as­pects of a build­ing. It can be a school, a li­brary, hous­ing or a cam­pus. Once the re­quire­ments of the build­ing, are met, the sec­ond part of the job is to do it very well so that people en­joy be­ing there.

Tell us about the de­sign of the iconic Par­lia­ment Li­brary Cre­at­ing the Par­lia­ment Li­brary build­ing which is next to the Par­lia­ment was a chal­leng­ing task. The build­ing had im­pe­ri­al­ist con­tent and the sur­round­ing spa­ces were all Lu­tyens and Baker de­signs. I con­sid­ered the In­dian idea of en­light­en­ment as a ba­sis for the de­sign of the li­brary. Af­ter all, a li­brary is sup­posed to en­lighten you. It has in­te­rior pas­sages over­look­ing court­yards sym­bol­is­ing val­ues of the In­dian con­sti­tu­tion like free­dom of speech, so­cial jus­tice and equal­ity. The glass dome de­signed like petals brings in the idea of en­light­en­ment and it lights up all the books inside.

New projects that are close to your heart

I have just fin­ished a cam­pus (State Univer­sity of Per­form­ing and Vis­ual Arts) in Rohtak. It is a very in­ter­est­ing project. It has mul­ti­ple dis­ci­plines such as a film, fash­ion, ar­chi­tec­ture, ur­ban­ism, and arts. The 20-acre plot is di­vided into four quad­ran­gles, four court­yards for each dis­ci­pline and a cen­tral court­yard where all of them meet. I think the main pur­pose of ed­u­ca­tion is not only lim­ited to what you are study­ing but also to en­sure there are spa­ces to ex­change knowl­edge. That is what we tried to do. The en­tire cam­pus is uni­fied around a li­brary, au­di­to­rium and con­fer­ence room, which is crowned with a cir­cu­lar em­blem sig­ni­fy­ing the idea of right­eous liv­ing, Dharna Chakra. We have also used a num­ber of so­lar pan­els. The build­ing is fin­ished in sand­stone be­cause it is in­ex­pen­sive and is durable. There’s also a small am­phithe­atre with a four-lay­ered glass top to re­flect heat and since it is open on all sides it is nat­u­rally ven­ti­lated. It took three to four years to com­plete. We have also just fin­ished one of the most im­por­tant projects that I have ever done; the Jang-e-Azadi me­mo­rial (in Punjab) to com­mem­o­rate free­dom fight­ers who laid down their lives for in­de­pen­dence and strug­gle

for free­dom in Punjab. It is a me­mo­rial and a mu­seum. It is al­most be­com­ing a place of pil­grim­age. This is a very large project—there is an am­phithe­atre, a mi­nar and the domes on top are de­signed to look like a flower. The flow­ers are a homage to people who were mar­tyred. When I was asked to do the mi­nar I was a bit re­luc­tant as mi­nars in mod­ern ar­chi­tec­ture are very rare. Here it is sup­posed to be a sym­bol of vic­tory, so we have also added a flame. Many people come and pay their re­spects. Young cou­ples come to seek bless­ings for a strong and coura­geous baby. This took about three years to com­plete.

How many projects do you work on at the same time?

I don’t like to do too many projects to­gether. Ideally, I would like to do three projects at a time. One at the de­sign and model stage, another at the work­ing draw­ing phase (where you make draw­ings to de­cide how to make the build­ing on site), and the third when it is on the site. Of course, some­times there are more projects to jug­gle around.

What kind of projects do you like to de­sign?

I would like to do larger projects. Life in ar­chi­tec­ture is a long jour­ney. You start with smaller projects, then you grad­u­ate and people trust you. You have more con­fi­dence. Now I de­sign large projects such as the Par­lia­ment Li­brary build­ing, which have a sym­bolic con­cern. This is far more ful­fill­ing than sim­ple func­tional con­cerns. The hu­man­ist con­tent in a build­ing is very im­por­tant. There should be some po­etry about the build­ing.

Your thoughts on sus­tain­abil­ity?

In our last few projects we have been very con­cerned about sus­tain­abil­ity. Em­brac­ing the sun is im­por­tant. We use a lot of pho­to­voltaic pan­els. For ex­am­ple in Kolkata we have done the of­fice build­ing for COAL In­dia Ltd. The build­ing stands tes­ta­ment to how to use pho­to­voltaic pan­els in a much more cre­ative man­ner, rather than just putting them on the roof. We have also used glass as a sun breaker here. This is a dif­fer­ent coloured glass that re­duces heat and cuts down the glare.

Who in­spires you?

When I started there were Le Cor­bus­ier and Louis I Kahn in In­dia who greatly in­flu­enced me. How­ever, over a pe­riod of time I re­alised that for me true in­spi­ra­tion comes from tra­di­tional In­dian ar­chi­tec­ture. In this kind of ar­chi­tec­ture there was a lot of wis­dom about how to con­quer the heat and how to live well. Fateh­pur Sikri in Agra is one of my favourites.

Ar­chi­tec­ture in In­dia, then and now... There was a point of time when the se­nior ar­chi­tects judged the com­pe­ti­tion and pro­fes­sional fee was awarded as per guide­lines set by the Coun­cil of In­dian Ar­chi­tec­ture. Slowly this de­gen­er­ated and the pub­lic sec­tor, which was the ma­jor pro­moter of ar­chi­tec­ture, gave way to the pri­vate sec­tor and even the gov­ern­ment started giv­ing works on quo­ta­tions. In such cases the per­son or firm that gives the low­est quote is given the con­tract. This has been a dis­as­ter for us. It’s im­por­tant that people who com­mis­sion or judge a work of ar­chi­tec­ture, go and see the build­ing.

AT www.ra­jre­wal.in

Photograph by VIKRAM SHARMA

DE­SIGN WITH A DIF­FER­ENCE Raj Re­wal with the model of Jang-E-Azadi me­mo­rial com­plex in Kar­tarpur, Punjab

SPACE CRAFT Li­brary for the Par­lia­ment in New Delhi (right); of­fice com­plex for Coal In­dia Ltd in Kolkata (be­low)

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