Contemporary Architecture

Frei Otto – Tuwaiq Palace

About the Building:

  • Recipient of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, 1998.
  • enclosed by inclined curved walls, forming a sinuous curvilinear spine 800 m long, 12 m high, and 7-13 m wide, used for guest services and accommodations
  • outdoor sports facilities, gardens, and extensive landscaping laid out in a pattern of complementary spirals, circles, and curves, in harmony with the building’s undulations
  • Mushrooming from the spine are tents supported by tensile-structure technology
  • design makes reference to two local archetypes – the fortress and the tent
  • The tents enclose the large-scale spaces: main lounges, reception areas, multi-purpose halls, restaurants, and a café
  • dramatic contrast between the lush greenery of the outdoor spaces enclosed by the spine and the arid rocky plateau beyond its walls
  • The white tents are made of Teflon-coated, woven fibre fabric
  • The tents are enclosed by glass walls


  • Began experimenting with tents for shelter
  • After the war he studied briefly in the United States
  • Visited Erich Mendelsohn, Mies van der Rohe, Richard Neutra, and Frank Lloyd Wright
  • Began private practice in Germany in 1952


  • 1974 Thomas Jefferson Medal in Architecture
  • 1996/7 Wolf Prize in Architecture
  • 2005 RIBA Royal Gold Medal


  • authority on lightweight tensile and membrane structures
  • concerned with space frames and structural efficiency
  • experimented with inflatable buildings

Inflatable buildings:

  • structure constructed using two layers of membrane connected together
  • cavity formed between the layers is pressurized with air producing a rigid structural element
  • pavilions, airships, furniture, airspace structures, boats, escape slides, security mattresses, swimming pools, coverings, games and castles, air bags


  • Otto founded the famous Institute for Lightweight Structures at the University of Stuttgart in 1964

List of Buildings:

  • 1967 – West Germany Pavilion at Expo 67 Montreal
  • 1970 – Tuwaiq Palace, Saudi Arabia, with Buro Happold
  • 1972 – Roof for Olympic Stadium, Munich
  • 2000 – Roof structure of the Japanese Pavilion at Expo 2000, Hanover Germany (provided engineering assistance with Buro Happold and architectural collaboration with Shigeru Ban)

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Vernacular Architecture

Padmanabhapuram Palace

If you ask an architecture enthusiast from Kerala to name one building he or she regards as a must visit to understand the Vernacular Architecture of Kerala , the answer would be the Padmanabhapuram palace. To be documented in a book by Sir Banister Flecher itself is a thing of great honour for us Keralites. Sadly I never had chance to visit the Padmanabhapuram Palace(Common don’t stare in disbelief. I will!!!). The reason why I’m still writing this post is to share some good documents I found over the internet.

It’s a little difficult to find the  plans , elevations and sections of the building, but thanks to a study by renowned architect Raj Rewal we have some good Architectural Drawings of the Padmanabhapuram palace.

Click here to download it.

Now I have an article on the Padmanabhapuram palace from Kerala Calling, the magazine run by Government of Kerala.

Have a look at it here.

I also have some snaps taken by a friend of mine. I will surely upload more as soon as I make a visit to the palace myself. Below you can also find some info courtesy Wiki as usual.

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Padmanabhapuram Palace (Tamil: பத்மநாபபுரம் அரண்மனை, Malayalam: പത്മനാഭപുരം കൊട്ടാരം) complex is located in at Padmanabhapuram Fort, close to the town of Thuckalay in Kanyakumari District, Tamilnadu. It is about 20 km from Nagercoil, and about 50 kilometers from Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. The palace complex is inside an old granite fortress around four kilometers long. The palace is located at the foot of the Veli Hills, which form a part of the Western Ghats. The river Valli flows nearby.The palace is administered by the Government of Kerala archeology department.

The palace was constructed around 1601 A.D by Iravipillai Iravivarma Kulasekhara Perumal who ruled Travancore between 1592 A.D. and 1609 A.D. In the late 18th century, the capital of Travancore was shifted from here to Thiruvananthapuram, and the place lost its former glory. However, the palace complex continue to be the best examples of traditional Kerala architecture, and some portions of the sprawling complex are also the hall mark of traditional Kerala style building art. The Padamanabhapuram Palace complex consists of several structures:

  • Mantrasala, literal meaning, King’s Council Chamber
  • Thai Kottaram, literal meaning, Mother’s Palace – believed to have been constructed before 1550
  • Nataksala, literal meaning, the Hall of Performance, or of Performing Arts
  • A four-storeyed building at the centre of the Palace complex
  • Thekee Kottaram, literal meaning, the Southern Palace

Mantrasala (Council chamber)

King’s Council chamber is the most beautiful parts of the entire palace complex. It has windows, with coloured mica, which keep the heat and the dust away, and the inside of the council chamber remains cool and dark. Delicate and beautiful lattice work can be seen all around the council chamber.

The floor is also beautifully done, with a fine and perfect finish. The floor is dark coloured and is made of a mixture of varied substances, including burnt coconut shells, egg white and so on. The remarkable aspect is that this particular floor finish and texture could not be duplicated in any other construction.

Thai Kottaram (Mother’s palace)

Mother’s palace, designed in traditional Kerala style, is the oldest construction in the entire palace complex and is believed to be constructed around mid-16th century. True to the traditional Kerala style, there is an inner courtyard, called ‘nalukettu’. In the inner courtyard, sloping roofs from all four sided taper down. Four pillars on four corners support the roof.

On the south-west corner of the mother’s palace, there is a relatively small room, called the chamber of solitude or ‘ekantha mandapam’. The chamber of solitude has very beautiful and intricate wood carvings of every description all around. Of particular interest is a pillar of single jackfruit wood, with very detailed and beautiful floral designs.

Nataksala (Hall of performance)

This is a relatively new building, constructed at the behest of Maharaja Swathi Thirunal, who reigned in Travancore from 1829 to 1846. He was a great connoisseur of arts, especially music and dance. He himself composed music and has left a rich legacy to classical carnatic music.

The Nataksala or the hall or performance has solid granite pillars and gleaming black floor. There is a wooden enclosure, with peepholes, where the women of the royal household used to sit and watch the performance.

Four-storeyed central building (UPPIRIKKA MALIGA)

The four-storied building is located at the centre of the palace complex. The top floor (called upparikka malika) served as the worship chamber of the royal household. Its walls are covered with exquisite 18th century murals, depicting scenes from the puranas, and also few scenes from the social life of the Travancore of that time.

There are several rooms just below the worship chambers, which included the king’s bedroom. The ornamental bedstead is made of 64 types of herbal and medicinal woods, and was a gift from the Dutch merchants. Most of the rooms here and in other parts of the palace complex have built-in recesses in walls for storing weapons like swords and daggers.

Thekee kottaram (Southern palace)

The southern palace is as old as the ‘Thai kottaram’ (Mother’s palace), which would make it about 400 year old. Now, it serves as a heritage museum, exhibiting antique household articles and curios. Collections of items give an insight into the social and cultural ethos of that period.

Other interesting features

The Padmanabhapuram Palace complex has several other interesting features:

  • The Palace though surrounded entirely by the Tamil Nadu is still part of Kerala and the land and Palace belongs to the Government of Kerala.
  • The clock tower in the palace complex has a 300 year old clock, which still keeps time.
  • A big hall now bare, which can accommodate around 1000 guests, and where ceremonial feasts were held, on auspicious occasions.
  • A secret passage, now blocked, through which the king, his immediate family members, and their entourage could escape to another palace, located several kilometers away in the event of any emergency. Name of this palace is Charottu kottaram.
  • A flight of steps leads to a bathing pond, which has lost its freshness due to neglect and years of disuse.
  • The Palace complex also has a section of curios and several interesting objects:
    • An entire room filled with old Chinese jars, all gifts by Chinese merchants.
    • A variety of weapons (which were actually used in warfare), including swords and daggers.
    • Brass lamps, wood and stone sculpture, a variety of furniture and large mirrors made of polished metal.
    • A gallery of paintings depicting incidents from the history of Travancore.
    • A wooden cot made of up to 64 wooden pieces of a variety of medicinal tree trunks
    • Polished stone cot, meant for cool effect
    • Toilet and well