Contemporary Architecture

Raj Rewal – Indian Parliament Library, New Delhi

There was scarcely a more prestigious new building commission put out to tender in India in the last 15 years than the one for a site near the parliamentary buildings from the colonial past. Just like the client, the government, the competition winner, Raj Rewal, was aware of undertaking a historical commission that demanded to be addressed in a way that was up-to-date and could live up to its dominant neighbours. It was essential not to waste the opportunity to present a modern India in this building still aware of its mighty history. The particular difficulty was now to develop an architecture whose credibility hung on a harmonious synthesis of tradition and modernism, that had to be neither historical, nor uncompromisingly modern. The kind of approach that Nehru had intended 50 years ago as a “slap in the face” for India, would not have worked here. Urban development, genius loci and complete respect for the parliament buildings demanded a high degree of subtlety in the treatment of the new building stock. The imperial breath of a not so distant past could still be felt in the place the British architects Edwin Lutyens and Herbert Baker had shaped as New Delhi in the early 20th century with their large-scale planning and impressive buildings. Derived from European cities planned under monarchies, but also influenced by the American design of the capital of Washington, Lutyens and Baker developed geometrical strategies for an urban street plan based on ceremonies and grandeur, the climax presenting the former viceroy’s palace, two symmetrical administrative wings and the actual parliament building as a gigantic circle. An important element of the planning was that large areas were to remain free, so that the width and magnificence of the axes should not be impaired.

Lutyens tried to harmonise Western classicism and historical Indian features in his buildings, while Herbert Baker’s parliament remained in its structure a purely classical import. An enormous pedestal storey, colossal columns with bases and capitals and a projecting roof level evoke European classical-ancient models. But the building itself, in its sheer size and monumental stereometry turned out to be definitely “modern.”

One of the important questions for both the jury and the architect was how to cope with the close proximity to the immense breadth of this colossus. The library site is a triangle adjacent to the parliament, which also has a triangular ground plan, so that it was impossible not to respond to the parliament and indeed to include it in the new plans. Raj Rewal solved this difficult problem magnificently. He did not try to outdo the parliament or confront it with a boastful competitor. He was concerned not to detract from the dominance of the historical and highly esteemed ensemble of buildings, but to retain that dominance, indeed to enhance it if possible in order to create a new weighting. So Rewal transfers the parliament’s monumental gesture only in the form of a strictly axial quality running through both centre points and creating the first main link. He further chooses the square as a basic geometry, which equals the circle as an archaic element, and also contains its concentricity, with the diagonal of the library square corresponding to the diameter of the parliament’s circle. The figures of both buildings draw life from this centre, where the most important things happen. The architect shows self-confidence by choosing a geometrical figure with a double axis allowing the new building to assert itself emphatically vis-à-vis its neighbour. But one quality in particular concerns him that the parliament does not have, and that is the typological feature of a typically Indian continuity.

In contrast with the mass of the parliament as a unit and an entirety, illustrated in the building’s exterior by the infinite curve of the circle, the mass of the library is a multiple, consisting of curved individual building sections, but tied together in a rigidly fixed ordering structure. The parts of the library are assembled like satellites around an interior that is also structured. By choosing this motif of an “active” concentricity, by allowing exterior and interior to communicate like this, Rewal is trying to derive his design directly from the historical context of India’s most important buildings. Millennia- old Hindu temples vary this motif in a multitude of ways, Mogul architecture like the Taj Mahal, the city of Jaipur in north Rajasthan or also the ideal cities in south India are all based on this concentric structure. The form is seen as a spiritual motif alluding to a cosmological dimension, a “cosmogram.” Largely divided into nine parts which indicate seven existing and one imaginary planet of the solar ecliptic, the centre as the axis mundi, the axis of the universe, the source of all creation. Architecture as an image of the cosmos is a primeval motif of Indian building, and is interpreted here in a new context as a “house of growing knowledge.”This is a simple but highly abstract motif, and with its pure geometry it contains a timeless dimension. Yet its very real differentiation also suggests the complexity of the secular element of the building commission. In this way the library design emancipates itself completely from the predominance of the parliament and retains its own identity.

One external dimensional aspect in particular underlines this intention: Rewal does not allow his building to rise any
higher than the base floor of the parliament, it retains a pointedly humble horizontal quality, with only the internal
roof superstructures attaining any greater height. Two additional storeys are buried underground, thus creating a low, pavilion-like group of buildings. With this basic concept, the architect achieves a successfully subtle solution to the parliament building and the need to integrate his work into the prominent urban structure. The main entrance is thus placed on the parliament side, and its hall leads visitors and users into the centre or the wings that form the ring. The administrative section is placed on the outside, and departmental functions like press centre, digital library and large auditorium are at the nodal points. The centre is made up of the parliamentarians’ reading room, research area and archive, and the committee room. But the junction point in the centre remains empty, the axis mundi becomes a multi-storey hall, with a glass dome and flooded with light as it is the only hall, symbolising growing knowledge and consciousness to the point of “enlightenment.” Because of the presence of an existing grove of trees, one corner of the powerfully symbolic square remains empty, the essentially rigid and austere figure of the library is broken up and changes into an asymmetrical, incomplete fractal geometry. Here Rewal is following an entirely modern structural idea of axiality, symmetry and the disturbance of symmetry as a component of our thinking today. The whole that is entirely complete as such, absolute and fixed, in equilibrium, does not exist as an ideal, the break suggests change, development, growth, it symbolises the relative and includes the unpredictable. Courtyards are created between centre and ring, also a classically Indian motif from a hot climate, offering protection from heat, dust and noise, but also making spiritualisation and concentration possible. This produces charged, changing spatial sequences as one moves through the building: halls as centres of sectional areas with vertical connections, corridors with adjacent horizontal outer spaces that open up, and introverted zones for reading and work.

Rewal’s choice of materials for his wall claddings emphasises come close to the atmospheric quality of a historic spatial
sequence: all the façades are covered with red and beige sandstone, left rough outside and polished inside. Of course this seems like a reference to the building’s neighbour, as the parliament is also built in this particular stone combination, but the link with Indian history is more in the forefront of Rewal’s mind. He contrasts massive piers with slender columns, articulates the exterior walls with a decorative structure and grades the building in transitions from circle to square to create deep areas of shadow. And yet concrete and other modern materials remain visible everywhere, and the honesty of the structure adds to its enduring presence. But the architect goes further, stepping up his structural design elements in an unusual way. The halls at the junction points inside the structure and the special spaces like the great reading rooms, the central research and archive areas, but also the cafeteria, are given dome structures made of prefabricated lightweight concrete segments fitted together in a hexagonal and octagonal honeycomb structure. Rewal braces these domes with tubular steel systems that are also hexagonal and octagonal, acting as a substructure. The forces are dispersed via enormous tubular circles on piers. Here the architect employs classical Indian elements from Mogul architecture in particular, as domes were important features of Muslim rulers’ buildings. These great models are quoted in the hatlike protrusions of these domes, but above all in the almost full openings in the circular hearing zones which indirectly control the light. Thus light is admitted to the space below the dome, which is then reflected by the dome as a kind of light trap, and the dome itself is placed “in the right light.” But Rewal emphasises the interpretative character by his choice of construction method, thus wishing to see the historical model transported into our day. It is only the steel connections of contemporary technology that make this multiform material symbiosis possible. At the same time they evoke European models that Rewal must have got to know on his working visit to France, Henry Labrouste and Viollet-le-Duc.

Seen from the Western European point of view, the new library building for the Indian parliament perhaps slightly
overemphasises the classical-historical interpretation. But for Indians the library seems to have the right expressive quality at the right point. Its form symbolises an implicit and diverse democracy, integrating the spiritual dimension that is rooted so deeply in the Indian soul and thus showing the neighbouring government buildings from a different era in a new light: the government quarter has become truly Indian.

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Klaus-Peter Gast Contemporary Architecture in India Modern Traditions

Contemporary Architecture



  • Location : Denver, Colorado
  • Design started : 1990
  • Design completed :1996
  • Total floor area : 133,000 sq. Feet (renovation) & 405,000 sq. Feet (new construction)
  • Structure : structural concrete waffle slabs on concrete columns
  • Material: cast stone, natural stone, timber & copper roofing
  • In1990, graves won a design competition for the renovation and expansion of Denver’s landmark library building which was designed in 1956 by the architect Burnham Hoyt.
  • The library is sited on civic center park between the city’s art &museum.
  • The expansion, much greater in size than the original building, becomes backdrop to Hoyt’s composition and completes the library block south to thirteenth avenue,
  • The scale and coloration of the addition, as well as the individualized massing of its various components, allow the original library to maintain its own identity as one element of larger composition.
  • Two major public entrances establish an east-west axis through the great hall, a three story public room of urban scale which is the focal point for visitor orientation and circulation.
  • The south-facing rotunda contains special such as the reference room, the periodicals center and, on the top floor, the western history reading room.
  • The latter room, which contains special functions of local materials, is centered on a timber derrick like structure that figuratively recalls the nation’s westward expansion.

Introduction:Michael Graves:

  • Date of birth: April 1934
  • Place of birth: Indianapolis in Indiana, USA.
  • Nationality: American
  • Education: received architectural training at the university of Cincinnati & Harvard University, won “the Rome prize” in 1960 & studied for 2 years at “American academy” in Rome.
  • Profession: began his practice in 1964 in Princeton, New Jercy.
  • Firm: Michael graves & associates, 1964, (a 75 persons firm)


  • Graves continues to turn to architecture itself for his inspiration.
  • He has a deep interest in existing architecture: – ancient, neo- classical, modern – & derives pleasure from reinterpreting it’s forms & compositions.
  • He gives credence to the basic tenet that there is no such thing as an original idea but that everything original is based on the reworking of what already exists.
  • One very strong influence on the work of graves is the interest in & appreciation of; the simple domestic rituals of life that one enjoys or ought to be able to enjoy, despite the speed at which technology is rustling us into the cyber space.

Japan travel:

  • Graves has been steadily developing his practice in Japan for the last 15 years.
  • He explains that Japan has “become a place to experiment a bit with abstraction. In Europe & America I’m probably a bit more conscious of historic context”. Because so often the cities we’ve been asked to design for there are completely rebuilt.
  • In Japan graves architecture was seen as ‘humanistic’ rather than ‘mechanistic’ i.e. In terms of materials & the anthropometric qualities of the building. He used man as the metaphor rather than the machine


  • Grave’s language of architecture operates on a number of levels. It is meant to be legible & a part of everyday life.
  • Secondly, & certainly no less important although admittedly more understandable to the trained eye, is a passionate & sometimes playful interest in reworking the commonly accepted language of architecture into a uniquely personal expression of what it might become, without losing its identity.
  • The reworking of what exists into what is unknown but still recognizable is the goal.
  • Grave’s practice is practice in the literal sense of the word. He is constantly practicing the rules & principles of architecture.
  • He desires to create a pleasant, comfortable environment for the people in his building.
  • His continually evolving experimentation with architectural form & language at the level of abstraction & figuration, scale & color, size & structural system is such that, there is emergence of new ideas without denying existence of traditions.

Architectural style:

  • Graves has been an architect who is not simply concerned with formal manipulation a self- referential language but is equally occupied with a building’s significance with time & place.
  • He designs building in a near-populist attitude, so that non architects can recognize distinct architectural elements within their compositions & relate them in scale to their own bodies.
  • His early projects reveal distinct references to the environment that the buildings are a part of:-
    • a curve referring to the clouds above.
    • A mural expanding the perspective of a room.
    • a yellow rail referring to the sun
    • a terracotta base suggesting grounding in the earth.


  • Graves strategy has been “to internalize the events  of the building”, identifying particular components     of the program that can be given formal emphasis. The result is that these large complexes become cities into themselves, self contained by somewhat inward looking.
  • Whether the emphasis of the building is primarily  horizontal or vertical, a hierarchial route is established through the repetitive spaces.
  • Relationship b/w indoors or outdoors by “pushing the wall as far out as it can get to make a bay window    that grabs the light” e.G. Humana building or by carving something out of the face of the building so people can literally go outside, e.g  Tazima building.

Architectural details:

  • Built form
    • Influenced by the roman style, Graves tried to create grand interior spaces but broken down to human scale.
    • Cubical facades treated in the classical three part division or tripartite form with the base, shaft & cornice.
    • In later projects, the strict form of the cube is broken.
    • It forms the basic element as surface texture, due to their proportion & repetition.
  • Façade:
    • Uses column as surface treatment & defining the cornice or the head of the building &   entrance.
    • Facades are symmetrical &  linearity broken by adding vertical bands of colors &   windows.
    • Uses square windows but tries  to achieve the principles of neoclassical style.

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Contemporary Architecture



  • Sendai Mediatheque is multi-function complex accommodating a mixed program of library, art gallery, audio-visual library, film studio and café.
  • It was a competition winning scheme chosen in 1995 from amongst 235 competing proposals.
  • Sendai Mediatheque is  widely recognised as one of Ito’s seminal works.


  • The Sendai Mediatheque project received the Royal Gold Medal in 2006 by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA
  • Its structural innovation, functional versatility, its symbolic meaning for the residents of Sendai.
  • But perhaps what has made this building is a milestone is that has tried to capture on architecture the ethereal, fluent, multidirectional and virtual nature of the computer world that characterizes our time.


  • The general concept, evident already from the competition entry, was the free public accessibility.
  • Located in an area of 50 x 50 m, the multimedia library should contain several features: library, internet booths, areas for watching DVDs, galleries, cafes, etc.
  • Sendai Mediatheque is located in front of a grove and surrounded on three sides by streets.


The design is based on three basic elements:
3.The skin


  • There are 7 platforms in the building.
  • These are the support where the functions are carried out.
  • They are 80 cm. thick.
  • It is actually a grid of metallic beams welded to two metallic plates, similar to those used in shipbuilding. This metal grill can also be seen on the roof, crowning the composition of the building.


  • There are 13 bundles of steel tubular structures covered in glass, resembling a twisted organic structure like a weed.
  • They cross and support the platforms, extending beyond the ceiling.
  • Freely dispersed in the building, they vary in shape, diameter, inclination and dimension, while providing light to the interior. The larger tube has a vertical circulation that connects the different levels of the library.
  • Despite its fragile and transparent appearance, these structures provide flexibility, strength and horizontal and vertical stability to the building in an area of high seismic activity and constant typhoons.
  • It is a transparent membrane that allows fluid visual communication between interior and exterior, and at times the boundary between the two seems to vanish.
  • Ito proposed different facades according to the character of the surrounding environment they face. For example, the main façade, located on the south side facing the boulevard, is a double layer of glass (very useful in the winter months of strong winds …
  • The outer extends slightly and increases the effect of lightness of the building.
  • The west side facade, which faces another plot, is opaque, coated with a metal frame that reveals the emergency stairs. The north and east facades, which face neighborhood streets, have different finishes on each floor: glass, polycarbonate and aluminum.
  • The first floor, called Open Plaza, contains the reception, a cafe and a store of books and magazines. It is totally extroverted toward the street.
  • The second level is the children’s library, internet and administration. It is a very open space, defined only by the furniture.
  • A very interesting aspect is that the separation between the public reading area and the private administration is simply a translucent curtain, resembling a floating wall.
  • At the third level and fourth level (the fourth is actually a mezzanine) are the area of loans of books and reading rooms.
  • In the fifth and sixth floors exhibition galleries are located, used by the citizens of Sendai.
  • Here, mobile rectilinear panels can be accommodated to the needs of the exhibition, in a clear reference to the sliding doors of Japanese architecture .
  • On the seventh floor there is a cinema and conference rooms, which are wrapped in a matte glazed wall (Ito calls it a “membrane”) of curvilinear forms, that is located in the middle of space.
  • Here are also an area for listening tapes and DVDs and areas of assembly. The furniture is also curvilinear and organic.

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