Architecture

MAKING PUBLIC PLACES ACCESSIBLE TO ALL

It is not so much about developing barrier-free architecture as it is about barrier-free becoming a way of life, instead of a compulsive gesture

Words: Revati Rajwade

It is the most natural part of our lives – as we alight from the train and hurry towards the steps leading us to the foot over bridge. On other occasions when we visit malls, we nonchalantly follow the signage’s and pass several shops and perhaps an atrium to reach the washrooms.

However, the simplest of such daily activities prove to be terrible hurdles for thousands of differently-abled people. While our only thought is to climb the railway steps as fast as possible before a scuffle ensures due to over-crowding, wheelchair bound people have to worry about how to reach to the foot-over bridge in the first place.

While we are briskly walking towards washrooms the blind have to wonder about how they would be able to find it on such a huge floor plate with no tactile guidance whatsoever.

This kind of architecture can be termed non-inclusive as it proves to be a hurdle in people’s lives and forces them to be dependent on others for assistance. Architecture is primarily for people and this comprises the broad spectrum of people of all age-groups, gender and ability.

1. Yellow Tactile Band in the pavement

Even if it causes discomfort to one of its users the design is bound to be faulty in some way or the other. Architecture should be such that there should be no instance where a person is reminded of his or her lack of ability.

Hence, I find the term barrier-free more appropriate than disable-friendly. It speaks only of the architectural service to be provided and conveys clearly that the entire onus is on the design and construction.

It speaks nothing about the ability or rather the lack of it, of its user.

Also, it does away with the general perception that inclusive architecture is a requisite of the disabled. Barrier free architecture aims at creating a comfortable environment for everyone such as pregnant women, dwarf-sized people, the aged, mentally and physically disabled, obese and many more.

Thus, it is not merely restricted to building ramps and railings as it comprises detailed nuances like appropriate zoning, use of materials, the range of natural light and several more.

Since the past several years there have been various organisations who strive for making all public places easily accessible. A heartening example of this is the Red Ramp project under which the Kiri beach in Goa was made accessible for differently-abled persons so that they could visit on their own terms.

With this view, one organisation built a temporary ramp that enabled people on wheelchairs to access the beach on their wheelchair. Though this was temporary it was a great initiative and thought.

Efforts are also being made at the national level to create suitable infrastructure which would cater to all citizens. The Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities and Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment have formulated the Accessible India Campaign (Sugamya Bharat Abhiyan).

This is a nation-wide campaign for achieving universal accessibility. The campaign targets three separate verticals for achieving universal accessibility namely the built up environment, transportation eco-system and information-communication eco-system.

The department has instructed State Governments to identify 100 public buildings in the metropolitan area, which if made fully accessible would have the highest impact. This is the first step towards the transformation of all utilitarian buildings of our country.

A striking example of an all-inclusive building design of an Institute can be observed at the International Institute for Social Entrepreneurs (IISE) in Trivandrum, Kerala. It offers a training programme in social entrepreneurship. What sets it apart from other institutes is that it embraces participants who have overcome significant life challenges ranging from vision impairment or any other form of disability, poverty, discrimination and exploitation.

The site housing the built forms is a linear strip of land where the zoning is convoluted so as to facilitate easy accessibility and circulation within the institute. Several features have been added and chalked out during the planning process so as to make the place disable–friendly with a primary focus on visual impairment since IISE functions under the banner ‘Braille without borders’.

Some of the thoughtful incorporations in design are that every room has a distinct texture and is of a different size and shape so as to enable the blind to easily identify the area. The academic block has a courtyard which acts as a landmark for the visually impaired.

Use of different textured tiles and materials in the landscape and walkways help identifying the paths easily. For example, the main circulation zone has a concrete paving while the one at the amphitheatre uses china mosaic. The interiors have vitrified tiles. There is a change in material – a stone–tile pattern before the stairs which provides a subtle warning before the change in site levels.

BP_Pedestrian_Bridge

The olfactory senses have been elegantly utilised by planting different scented flowering plants throughout the site. Yellow coloured bands have been used along the paths so that partially impaired people can differentiate contrast in colour and be guided to walk along the path with greater comfort. This design is the brainchild of an organisation called COSTFORD which creates exemplary open-brick and cost-effective structures.

Says Architect Parul Kumtha, who has been practising and rooting for accessible design for over a decade: “Barrier Free and Accessible Universal Design is the right of every citizen. All public places: educational premises, places for transportation, public buildings like courts and police stations, places for recreation, etc. must be accessible to all sections of society, irrespective to their disabilities, socio-cultural backgrounds, age or gender.”

Awareness about barrier free architecture and its dire necessity is spreading rapidly in India. “Recently, we organised a workshop on this subject where the estimated participants were 50 but we saw an attendance of around 110 delegates,” adds Kumtha.

2. Lift buttons in Braille

Over the years, she has worked on projects at St. Xavier’s College, Reserve Bank of India main building, General Post Office, National Gallery of Modern art, Indira Gandhi Institute of Developmental Research, besides prototypes for road crossings, bus-stops and making public toilets accessible.

Her firm, Nature-Nurture Architects and Planners is an empanelled access auditor with the Access India Campaign, Ministry of Social Empowerment and Justice, Government of India.

As we can see through the cited examples, a lot is already being done to improvise on the past negligence but the road ahead is still very long and turbulent. Amongst the various stakeholders, architects should play a pivotal role in bringing about a sea change in the attitude of people and the language of building.

For this purpose, architects should be provided concise training courses which introduce them to the needs and difficulties of a person with any kind of disability. Most of the built areas have faulty and non-complying designs owing to lack of information and awareness.

The simplest example of this is that toilet signages are designed as backlit silhouettes of a man and woman but for an autistic person, this signage is extremely difficult to comprehend.

Curitiba_10_2006_05_RIT

Indications have to be simple such that they can be understood by all. Another example is the creation of levels in a landscape which is known to be a fascinating design concept for every architect.

Several housing complexes have this play of contours and steps in the play areas which lead to kids getting injured while running or playing. Hence, the foremost necessity is to educate budding architects in architecture schools and then proceed towards other supporting activities such as creation of norms, conducting workshops to educate people from the construction industry etc.

Finally, the journey is not as much about constructing barrier free architecture as much as it is about barrier free becoming a way of life instead of a compulsive gesture.


Revati is an Architect and Interior Designer by profession and a writer by passion. She can be reached at: revati@urbanvaastu.com

DEVELOPING LAKEFRONTS

India is a land dotted with several fascinating lakes. Unfortunately, years of neglect and haphazard planning have destroyed many of these water bodies. It is time to preserve these lakes and ensure planned development of lakefronts

By Revati Rajwade

Lakes are one of the most soothing water bodies which, unlike the seas and oceans, can be enjoyed even by people residing away from coastal areas. Lakes create a sense of belonging as they are endemic to a particular place unlike rivers which flow through various districts or states.

In the hustle bustle of the city, lakes provide serenity; in the mountainous regions they provide solitude and in dense forests they provide respite. Being in a space with a lake as the backdrop has a calming effect over a person. Would the glorious Taj Lake Palace appear equally enchanting if it was not located amidst Lake Pichola? It has been awarded the Best Luxury Hotel and surely, partial credit goes

to the scenic location and the picturesque views it offers.

Apart from the scenic beauty that they offer, India also has a cultural connection with lakes. Since olden times they have been an integral part of people’s lives and customs. For example, the Vembanad lake in Kerala, which is India’s longest, is where the famous Snake Boat Race is held every year. The wide spectrum of the importance of lakes in our country is widely evident through several such examples.

However, in spite of this, lakes that are revered for their scenic beauty have been exploited tremendously by the tourism industry leading to

rampant development along its boundaries. The Tsomgo Lake in Sikkim is one such example of unplanned development and lack of facilities for tourists and locals.

The lake lies amidst snowcapped mountains and the picture on God’s canvas is so enchanting that the visual remains etched in our memory forever. For several months of the year the lake transforms into a sheet of ice with fog dancing in the air above it. However, just as one’s gaze falls on the other side of this charming sight, there lies a row of haphazard shanties selling local food items. The waste is often disposed in the surroundings making it worse.

Taj-Lake-Palace-at-Lake-Pichola

Tsomgo-Lake-at-Sikkim

The lack of the basic public necessity of a toilet is apparent as the zone behind the shanties is extensively used to answer nature’s call. There are numerous such instances of lakes all over our country where the threat of degradation owing to human negligence looms large. Hence, a movement to sensitise people through design is vital at this stage. This process has begun in a few Indian states where there has been a radical transformation in the character of a lakefront.

It is essential to comprehend certain concepts prior to venturing into the model of lakefront development. The most important one is that the planning of facilities or development around a lake needs to be specific as per its geographical location and must be determined by its surrounding land use.

For example, the word development would form an entirely different architectural vocabulary when expressed to, in the reference to the Dal Lake and Hussain Sagar Lake. Dal lake is a famous tourist destination and lies in Srinagar with a sparse population as compared to the Hussian Sagar lake which lies in the bustling city of Hyderabad. It attracts tourists and locals alike.

In such a scenario, the purpose of development should be driven by the purpose of converting the lakefront into a recreational zone. Cities require breathing space and what could be better than the natural gift of a water body? The Lumbini and Sanjeevaiah Park and NTR gardens are major public recreational areas around the lake. Activities like sailing are also encouraged. The statue of Buddha in the lake has boosted boating.

In contrast to this, the character of Dal lake is radically different and hence, the architectural intervention needs to be in tandem with those needs. A proper garbage disposal system for houseboats, provision of sanitary facilities, an organised system for boating and other ancillary activities and information about the Dal lake for tourists is essential in that area.

However, the foremost and commonly observed principle should be that there should be no long term environmental damage or immediate detrimental impact while undertaking development. This needs to be an intrinsic part of every single planning process.

Thus it is apparent that development could mean anything from building eco-friendly toilets to creating a holistic recreational zone comprising parks, zoos, fountain shows, cycling tracks and food stalls. The character of the public space needs to be envisioned prior to planning such expansion.

Automobile-oriented projects should be avoided for the pollution and congestion that would follow. Pedestrian friendly spaces blend into the landscape and circumambulatory path provides appreciation of space. It is common knowledge that lakefronts are prized possessions with private real estate developers vying for it.

However, the cardinal rule of lakefronts primarily being public spaces must be adhered to irrespective of the pressures to privatisation. A balance of public-private development is an ideal scenario. On that note, surrounding neighbourhoods should be integrated into the waterfront to strengthen connectivity between destinations.

Shikara-at-Dal-Lake

Kankaria-Lake---Ahmedabad

One of the most important aspects of the entire concept is access to water. Access means ways through which people can actually interact with the water in numerous ways–from swimming and fishing, to picnicking dockside and boating. However, this depends largely on the nature of the lake and security of the people. Boardwalks, interpretive displays, and even more active uses such as playgrounds and picnic areas can be incorporated into the design without sacrificing environmental benefits. As mentioned earlier, several lakes have cultural associations and with changing times, appropriate provisions must be made to improve functionality.

One excellent project that helps us understand urban design surrounding a lake and its role in the present day context in the re-making of a recreational space is the Kankaria lake located in the heart of Ahmedabad. The lake had always been one of the most-visited spots.

Says Rahul Shah, a businessman who has been visiting the city for the past 20 years: “Over the years, the development around the lake could not keep pace with the number of people visiting the area due to which cleanliness, environment and other facilities suffered immensely. It was urban chaos characterised by unclean roads, traffic snarls on the peripheral road, unorganised street life including a congested eating area.”

Thus, the basic concept behind the redevelopment was to revive the

charm of the place and create a public zone for people of all age groups. Strategies included creating large pedestrian zones along the lake’s edge, developing about six km of access roads, creating access points to the lakefront, enhancing recreational potential by improving public facilities, conserving historic buildings and encouraging overall development around it.

The plan emphasised on good design detailing for sidewalks, carriageways, street parking, facilities for the informal sector and access ramps to the lake. The pedestrian and vehicular pattern was studied in detail and routes were marked and planned for their better movement. Signages were planned to be installed at regular intervals. Along with the massing of the structures, street design and street furniture was given importance. Public attractions such as a zoo, toy train, water rides, food stalls and other such entertainment facilities formed an enthralling lakefront. Lighting played an important role in creating the necessary vibrant atmosphere in the evenings and late nights.

Sometimes, temporary events also have the power to transform the character of a lake. The Upavan lake in Thane near Mumbai is usually a quiet place with few visitors enjoying the atmosphere. However, the Upavan Arts Festival, which was an event celebrating all forms of art, transformed the road along the lake into a zone throbbing with vibrancy. The play of light offered playful vibes and for a week, the nature of the space was unlike anything the city expected.

Such events should also be encouraged in places where there are several constraints in opting for a permanent development solution. India has a wealth of lakes with each state boasting of several such water bodies. If all of these are given the importance they deserve, there would seldom be a dearth of public zones catering to all strata and age groups in the areas surrounding these water bodies. Through several such methods, the true essence of lakes can be highlighted and architecturally and socially responsive environments could be created.

Buddha-Statue-at-Hussain-Sagar-Lake

Marvels Of Ancient India

India is home to some of the most ancient and beautiful temples that awaken your senses when you visit them. We list out five of the oldest temples which is very famous in the country.

By Anmol Sharma

That India is a land of temples is something everyone knows. It is a country, after all, where almost every lane and by-lane boasts of its own temple, even if it is mostly only a Peepal tree with the statue of a god kept under it.

It is not hard to believe then that the birthplace of Hinduism has always had many temples to boast about. While new temples are constructed every day, with increasingly elaborate architecture and using the newest of construction technologies, there is something in the ambience of an ancient temple that always awakens your senses.

Of all the ancient architectural marvels in India, a large percentage is that of temples. From the north to the south, almost every state lays claim to one ancient temple or another. So we decided to bring you a list of five of the oldest temples in the country.

Shore temple

One of the oldest temples in the country, the Shore temple is so called because it is located on the shores of Mahabalipuram, in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. It was declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1984.

The temple was most probably built between the years 700 and 728, during the reign of the Pallava dynasty. Unlike most ancient Hindu temples, it has not been sculpted out of rock, but has been built of granite. The stones used to build the temple were hauled to the site from a quarry.

The structure of the temple is that of five storeys. The temple consists of three shrines – two dedicated to Lord Shiva, and one to Lord Vishnu. Its pyramidal structure rises up to 60 feet. The main shrine is dedicated to Lord Shiva, and has a huge image of a Shiva-Linga.

ShoreTemple3

Like most Hindu temples, the main shrine is east-facing, so that the rays of the rising sun fall on the inner sanctum. Built in the Dravidian architectural style, all three shrines are replete with sculptural ornamentation and carvings of mythical figures. Two walls especially depict scenes from daily life through sculptures that are real and artistic.

The temple was right in the middle of the site hit by the tsunami of 2004 that ravaged the Tamil Nadu coastline. But happily the temple did not suffer a lot of structural damages. On the other hand, the tsunami ended up unearthing a number of ancient sculptures on the site, including two other temples and a cave temple. The Shore temple is not a living temple any longer, but is an artistic marvel. Every year the Mahabalipuram dance festival is held in the foreground of the temple.

Kanchi Kailasanathar temple

Another temple located in Tamil Nadu in the small town of Kanchipuram is the Kanchi Kailasanatahr temple, also constructed in the Dravidian style of architecture. It was constructed at the height of the Pallava dynasty by King Rajasimha.

Kanchipuram is a city of pilgrimages and has many ancient temples of which this is probably the oldest. It is also one of the earliest Dravidian structures in the country and was constructed when the Dravidian style was newly emerging.

The temple has a pyramidal shikhara and the complex is enclosed by a perimeter wall. Often considered older than the Shore temple, this was probably constructed around 685-705 AD.
While the foundation of the temple structure is made of granite, the main above-ground structure is made of sandstone. The complex has all the features of a Dravidian temple, including an inner sanctum, a mandap, and a circumambulatory passage.

The passage walls comprise 58 small niches that are finely carved with depictions of the many forms of Lord Shiva. Moreover the passage requires visitors to move up and down seven flights of stairs and many narrow paths. The main temple structure, made of sandstone, has intricate and elaborate carvings depicting many half-human, half-animal deities.

Like the Shore temple, this too is not hewn out of rock but is made of stones brought from elsewhere.

The sanctum sanctorum of the temple houses the main attraction – a 16-sided Shiva-linga, made of granite. Most of the temple though is now in ruins and it is a protected monument.

The temple is adorned with numerous panels of Lord Shiva as Nataraja, which is a treat to the eyes. It has sculptures of Lord Shiva in 64 different poses depicting different scenes from mythology.
The temple is famous worldwide for its Mahashivratri celebrations, which attracts thousands of people.

KailasanathaTemple1

Dwarkadhish temple

Also called Jagat Mandir, the Dwarkadhish temple is located in Gujarat on the banks of the Gomati river near where it meets the Arabian Sea. It was here at the banks of the river, where Lord Krishna’s kingdom Dwarka was located.

The temple is located in the district of Jamnagar. It is believed that the Dwarka of Krishna’s time is now under the Arabian Sea. The temple is dedicated to Lord Krishna and it is even believed that the original temple was actually built over Lord Krishna’s residential place.
The temple is one of the four that fall under the Hindu pilgrimage of the ‘char-dham’, the four most sacred places for Hindus. While the temple was enlarged in 15th-16th centuries, it is believed to be more than 2,000 years old. The main temple complex is a seven storied building that is supported by around 72 pillars.

The temple was made of limestone and the stone used to build it is still in good condition. Among other things, the temple is recognisable by the flag flying atop it, depicting on the two sides the symbols of the sun and the moon.

The shikhara that houses the flag rises up to 170 feet. The flag is often changed three or more times in a day. The main statue in the inner sanctum is that of the four armed Vishnu, of whom Krishna was an incarnation. The temple moreover stands testimony to a number of dynasties that ruled over the state, all of them adding to the sculptural richness of the structure. The temple has two famous entrances, called the moksha Dwara (door to salvation), and the Swarga Dwara (door to heaven).

Dwarkadhish3

Mundeshwari temple

Mundeshwari temple, one of the oldest functional temples in the country, is speculated to have been constructed anytime from 105 to 108 AD, during the Saka era, and just prior to the Gupta era, the two periods of which this temple shows characteristics.

Ever since its construction it has always had rituals and prayers performed, up to this day, which accords it the status of the oldest functional temple in the world. It is located in a small town called Kaura, in Bihar. It is one of the earliest specimens of the Nagara style of temple architecture.

It is believed that this stone temple was actually built on the site of a more ancient Vishnu temple that was probably built in 3-4 B.C. Now the temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and Goddess Shakti. It is also known as Mundeshwari Maa temple.

The inner sanctum houses a kind of Shivalinga known as the Chaturlingam because it has four sides or faces. The Chaturlingam is accompanied by a statue of goddess Durga, also known in the parts as Mundeshwari Devi. The statue has been constructed along a niche on one of the temple walls.

Interestingly, while it is the linga that has the central position in the temple, it is actually goddess Shakti or Durga who is considered the main or presiding deity of the temple.

The temple is octagonal, an uncommon shape for temples. Moreover it does not have the tell-tale shikhara, the original one having been destroyed centuries ago. It has a flat roof now, after the renovation of the destroyed structure. The temple is well known for its annual fair during the nine sacred days of Navratras when it is visited by thousands of people from all over the country.

Mundeshwari3

Brahma temple

It is rare to find, even in India, a temple dedicated to Lord Brahma, the creator of the universe. It is believed that the Brahma temple in Pushkar in Rajasthan is one and probably the most famous of the few such temples.

The temple is located near lake Pushkar, which is believed to have been created where a lotus flower fell from the hand of Lord Brahma. The temple is believed to have originally been built more than 2,000 years ago.

The most recent changes that finally led to what amounts to the present structure of the temple were made in probably the 14th century. The temple is set on a high platform that is accessible through a number of marble steps, which lead to the main entrance gate which is also flanked by pillared canopies.

Made of marble and slabs of stone joined together with molten lead, the colours of the temple structure are fascinating.

It has a distinctive red shikhara which is about 700 feet in height. And the inner sanctum houses a life size statue of Lord Brahma with four hands and four faces and his consort Goddess Gayatri.

The four faces of Lord Brahma face the four cardinal directions. The Brahma statue is also made of pristine marble and is said to have been sanctified by Adi Shankracharya around 700 AD.

The walls of the temple are painted with beautiful imagery including images of the peacock, Brahma’s vehicle and of Goddess Saraswati. The images of a swan and a turtle adorn the entrance.

The floor around the image of the turtle and also some of the inner walls of the temple are studded with coins of silver. A door made of silver leads the way from the main temple to a small cave which houses a temple of Lord Shiva.

The temple sees lakhs of visitors every year, most of whom visit it during the famous Pushkar mela (fair).

BrahmaTemple2

Sacred Architecture

Have you ever entered a place of prayer, a temple or a mosque or a church, and wondered why it looks the way it does? Why is it that in most cases you can by simply looking at the architecture or structure of the place, recognise whether it is a place of worship for Hindus or Muslims or Christians?

By Anmol Sharma

MOST sacred architecture differs from religion to religion, and there are recognisable differences between these. That is not to say that all temples look the same or that all churches do. There are often wide variations within the architecture of worship places within a single religion. But there are some representative features of sacred architecture from three of the many religions practiced in India.

HINDUISM

Most Hindu temples have some common architectural features. Two styles of architecture, the Nagara and the Dravidian are the most common ones. The Nagara style is usually associated with north India and the Dravidian style with south India. One prominent difference between the two styles is that the Dravidian style often incorporates elaborate gateways.

A Hindu temple is generally characterised by an inner sanctum, or a garbha-griha which houses an idol of the deity, a circumambulatory hall around the inner sanctum, that allows for ‘parikrama’ or circumambulation around the garbha griha, and a congregation hall.

The garbha griha is usually encompassed by a pyramidal structure on top, called ‘shikhara’ which is probably the most distinctive outward feature of a Hindu temple.

The shikhara in Nagara style is often beehive shaped and the shikhara in Dravidian style is often pyramid shaped.

Ornamental features on temple walls include statues or idols of deities and other human or animal forms. Building material includes stone boulders and rock cut. Generally temples have multiple pyramidal towers.

As to why most Hindu temples are constructed this way, one can look at Indian astronomy and ancient geometry. A Hindu temple is supposed to represent the entire universe, and its sacred inner space. A Hindu temple represents Mount Meru, the axis on which the universe balances itself. It is therefore supposed to look like a symbolisation of the universe.

Here are five Hindu temples located in India that are representative examples of Hindu architecture:

Akshardham temple

Located in Gandhinagar, Gujarat, it is one of the largest temple complexes in India. Inspired by Swami Pramukh, it is dedicated to the life and teachings of Swaminarayan. The Akshardham temple in Delhi is quite similar to this one and inspired by the same Swami Pramukh. No steel or iron has been used in the construction of this temple, following Vedic architectural principles. The idol of Swaminarayan in the inner sanctum is made of gold leaf.

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sidhhivinayaka

Siddhivinayak temple, Mumbai

Beloved of most Mumbaikars, this is a temple our popular media also seems to be very fond of. A number of Ekta Kapoor serials, for one, often feature this temple. Dedicated to Lord Ganesha, the temple has a small womb with the shrine, the wooden doors to which are carved with images of the eight manifestations of Ganesha. One of the richest temples in the country, its inner roof is plated with gold.

Meenakshi temple, Madurai

A historic temple located in Tamil Nadu, it is dedicated to Meenakshi, or Parvati, the consort of Lord Shiva. It was built sometime in the 17th century and is a popular tourist destination and attracts thousands of visitors every day. There are around 33,000 sculptures in the temple. It was in the list of nominees for the new Seven Wonders of the World and is a beautiful representation of Hindu architecture.

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jaganathpuri

Jagannath temple, Puri

Situated in Orissa, this is one of the most famous Hindu temples in India. Part of the Char Dham pilgrimage, this temple was built in the 12th century. Unlike in most other temples, the idol of Jagannath is made not of gold or metal, but of wood, and is ceremonially replaced every few years with elaborate rituals. The temple is very famous for its Rath Yatra, where statues of three deities are hauled on ceremonial rathas or chariots.

Khajuraho temple, Chatarpur

Situated in Madhya Pradesh, this is actually a group of Jain and Hindu temples and monuments. Made in the Nagara style, this temple is famous all over the world for its erotic sculptures. It is listed among UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. Built in the 11th century, this is the oldest temple in the list. The mixture of Jain and Hindu elements also suggests that the temple was and is a symbol for religious tolerance, acceptance, and integration.

khajurahotemple

ISLAM

Most Islamic mosques have distinctive architectural features. They are generally dome-shaped and not pyramidal. They are characterised by domes, arches, vaults and minarets. Ornamental features include flowers, Arabic writing, geometric patterns and ornamental writing.

Building materials include sandstone, marble and used structures. Since there is no idol to be housed, mosques do not have a garbha griha, but have a large prayer hall instead. Most mosques have a double-dome architecture.The curious feature of Islamic architecture is that it is often an amalgamation of various features of architectures of different cultures.

While mosques generally were in the shape of a hemisphere, the Mughals also popularised onion shaped domes in South Asia and Persia.

Most mosques include a wall called a Qibla, which is set perpendicular to a path leading to Mecca. So, the worshippers offer prayers facing the Qibla. Usually at the centre of the Qibla is a depression called Mihrab which is often empty except for sometimes on Friday, when a pulpit is located to its side for a speaker to offer a sermon. Usually the speaker or the imam uses the Mihrab to lead the five daily prayers.

Here are five of the most popular mosques in the country:

Jama masjid

One of the oldest and biggest mosques in India, it is located in Chandni Chowk, New Delhi. The mosque is characterised by its pillared corridors. The western chamber of the mosque alone has 260 pillars. The architecture of the masjid shows a confluence of Hindu, Jain and Islamic features and extensive use of gold and marble. It is a living mosque, and that is probably the reason why it has escaped the kind of harm from neglect that most other old monuments face.

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makkamasjid

Mecca masjid, Hyderabad

Also called Makkah Masjid, it is one of the oldest mosques in Hyderabad. Constructed during the reign of the Qutub Shahi dynasty, the mosque takes its name from the fact that it was constructed using stone made from soil that was brought to the country from Mecca.

Jama masjid, Agra

Located in the Fatehpur Sikri complex, this is a beautiful mosque and also among the oldest in the country. It was completed in the 16th century by Sheikh Salim Chishti. The mosque complex includes the famous Buland Darwaza and the tomb of Salim Chisti.

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Bara Imambara, Lucknow

It is generally considered to be India’s largest unsupported structure. It is one of the most stunning architectural marvels. Completed in the 18thb century, it is made of small sized Lakhnawi bricks and lime paste. No wood or metal was used in its construction. Moreover the arched roof of the mosque stands unsupported by any beams or pillars.

Adhai din ka Jhompra mosque, Ajmer

Situated in Rajsthan, this is a Sanskrit college-turned mosque and is located just beyond the famous Chisthi dargah of Ajmer. It was given the form it has today with a wall that was raised within two and a half days by Muhammad Ghori who vandalised the Sanskrit college that used to exist there. The mosque has representative Islamic calligraphy on the limestone walls.

adhaidin

CHRISTIANITY

Of all sacred architecture, it is church architecture that probably has the most varied and colourful history. The style in which churches have been built over the ages has successively changed from early Christian to Byzantine to Romanesque to Gothic to Renaissance to Baroque to Revival and finally, to Modern and even Postmodern.

Thus even within Christian church architecture one has seen wide variations over the two millennia that mark the prevalence of Christianity. One can, however, notice a number of architectural features that most churches have in common.

While the distinctive Christian cross over most churches marks them as places of Christian worship, it is an interesting fact that most churches are constructed in the shape of a cruciform or cross as well.

Most churches have an axis running from east to west with the entrance often from the west end, so that the congregation faces east, which is the direction of the coming of Christ.

Most churches are then also additionally illumined by the sun and the west end since it marks the entrance to the church, which is often the most prominent and ornate feature of a church.

Also called façade, it is often the part that distinguishes churches from each other. The central decoration of a façade is often an ornamental sculptural or stained glass depiction. The altar is often located at the east end.

The longer form of the cruciform forms the main part of the building, called nave, and also the part where worshippers congregate. ‘Nave’ is the Latin word for ship and it tells us why most churches look like they do. They are supposed to symbolise ships supporting God’s people through the storms of life. The high roof of most churches, following a similar logic is constructed to look like the hull of a ship.

Another distinctive feature that marks churches is a prominent vertical structure rising upwards, a tower or dome often finishing with a spire or a pinnacle.

Here are five of the most popular churches of India:

Basilica of Bom Jesus, Goa

One of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites, this basilica holds the mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier. It is an example of Baroque architecture and is often considered the earliest minor basilica constructed in India. It was finished in the 15th century and is famous for its murals.

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Velankanni church, Tamil Nadu

This church is considered one of the country’s biggest Catholic pilgrimage centres. It is an example of the Gothic style of architecture and hosts an annual footfall of 20 million worshippers from all over the world.

Our Lady of Dolours Basilica

Situated in Kerala, this is the third tallest church in Asia, and is built in the Gothic style of architecture. It is the largest church in India and well known for its murals and stained glass images of saints and famous biblical scenes.

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St Francis church, Kochi

This is regarded as the oldest European church in the country. It is most popular for being the resting place of Vasco da Gama, who was buried here before his remains were taken back to Portugal. Presently, this is a protected monument and is open to public service throughout the week.

St Paul Cathedral, Kolkata

This church, built in the Gothic Revival style, is among the most beautiful churches in the country. It is famous for its beautiful stained glass in its arched windows that look breathtaking lit up by the rising sun’s rays. It hosts a popular midnight mass on Christmas Eve and is a feast for the eyes.

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Most religious architecture then is dictated by the demands of the particular religion. So most mosques are constructed in a way the congregation will face the direction of Mecca. The congregation in churches will always face the east because that is the direction of Christ’s coming.

In a Hindu temple, the congregation also often faces the east, which is the direction of the rising sun, but in many cases that is not the rule and idols can be placed in any direction. The architecture of these places of worship is most definitely affected by the significance attached to specific directions and shapes.

MUSEUMS THAT TAKE YOUR BREATH AWAY

We take a look at half a dozen unorthodox museums around the globe

By Anmol Sharma

Jim Rohn, American entrepreneur, author and motivational speaker, once said: “If you are not willing to take the risk, you will have to settle for the ordinary.” Millions of creations by human beings would just not have been possible if the risk of trying to do something extraordinary had not been taken.

When we talk of museums, the general perception inclines towards what they consist of rather than how they look, which is why most of the museums are built in a simple form, in terms of architecture. Here we look at some of the unorthodox museums that will simply take your breath away because of their extraordinary look.

Louvre Pyramid (Pyramide du Louvre), Paris, France:
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Part of the traditional Louvre museum, this structure stands as a symbol of the ancient versus the new. One would be amazed to know that this staggering structure was built fairly recently, in the 1980s.

The grand pyramid stands 71 feet tall and acts as an entrance to the famous Louvre museum. Because of the many compact and confusing entrances and exits, visitors found it difficult to navigate the museum and hence the idea of a grand entrance was born.

The mastermind behind this was I.M.Pei, a Chinese-American architect. Made of glass and metal, the pyramid entrance is surrounded by three other small pyramids and fountains which enhance the beauty of the courtyard.

The stunning entrance has around 603 rhombus shaped glass segments accompanied with 70 triangular shaped glass segments which are held together by 128 steel girders and 16 steel cables. The Louvre Pyramid looks excruciatingly beautiful at night when it is lit up.

If in Paris, a selfie with this Louvre Pyramid is a must. The pyramid was also made more famous than it already was by the prominent place it held in Dan Brown’s bestselling book The Da Vinci Code. The pyramid was, after all, (spoiler alert!) the final destination of the hero’s quest.

Niteroi Contemporary Art Museum, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil:
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If someone tells you that all the UFOs are unidentified, do not buy that statement. Not when the Niteroi Contemporary Art Museum looks the way it does. Located in Rio de Janeiro, this museum, after all looks like a standard pop-culture UFO.

Boasting of unique and futuristic architecture, it is shaped like a saucer and stands on a Cliffside with beaches around at its base. This architectural marvel was designed by famous Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer and was inaugurated in 1996.

The height of this astonishing structure is 16 metres. From an aerial view, this museum looks as if it is floating, and from inside the museum one can capture encapsulating and panoramic views of the great city of Rio.

Wonderworks Museum, Tennessee, USA:
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Truly a work of wonder, this museum will attract you in just one glimpse. It is basically an upside-down building and reflects how creative a human mind can be.

It is a testament of the potential of creative architecture. The structure of the building seems to be based on the motto of the museum: “Let your imagination run wild!” It serves as a science museum as well as an amusement park, so it has a lot more for children than adults. And if you are into yoga, doing a sirshasana (headstand) and walking towards it would definitely be an enthralling experience.

Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, USA:
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Located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, this museum is simply a treat to the eyes. Quite ancient, it houses over 30,000 art works and has gone through various expansions through time.

Besides the elegant looking War Memorial Center which is constructed in an abstract geometrical style and placed on a pedestal, this museum complex consists of the Quadracci Pavilion which boosts and magnifies its uniqueness.

The Pavilion was added in 2001 in a bid to make the museum more visible. It boasts of cafes, parking lots, a reception hall, auditorium, exhibitions and much more. The exterior of the pavilion is just phenomenal.

The Pavilion is built in around 142,050 sq m space. The most interesting part of this unusual structure is that it is made purely by hand. Though built using concrete, it has a very wooden look. The entrance hall to the Pavilion named Windhover Hall is another magnificent structure boasting of a glass roof 90 feet in height. Located just next to Lake Michigan, it looks like a kind of a ship and adds to the value of the lake.

Mercedes Benz Museum, Stuttgart, Germany:
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If you love cars, this place is heaven for you. If you love shapes and structures, this place is paradise for you. Germany is known for angry Hitler, beautiful football and state-of-the-art cars.
If you want to know the history of Mercedes Benz, this is the place for you. Without doubt, you will be mesmerised by the history of the car which everyone admires but what will enchant you more will be the beautiful and unique design of this place.

The concept of this building is quite unique and comes from a leaf. Yes you heard it right. It is based on a cloverleaf design with three overlapping circles. The museum tour is quite unconventional as the visitors are first lifted to the top floor where the tour starts. This marvel took around five years to be built and was ready in 2006. The project was undertaken by a Dutch architectural company called UNStudio.

Graz Art Museum, Graz, Austria:
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You won’t need a microscope to see this huge amoeba-shaped museum. Like the UFO shaped museum in Rio, this place is known as a ‘friendly alien’. This museum opened in 2003 and since then it has become an architectural landmark of Austria.

The unusual openings at the top makes it look like an imaginary alien which is why its creators called it ‘friendly alien’. When the sun sets and the computerised lighting lights up in this blob-shaped museum, it makes the whole city of Graz glow.

The roof of the structure is quite outstanding as well as it being organic and made up from over 1,288 semi-transparent acrylic glass panels. This massive structure covers a space of around 27,000 sq ft.

Bridges across forever

We take you across some unique bridges around the globe, designed over the centuries, and which still continue to fascinate visitors.

By Niharika Joshi

While the design of bridges lies in the realm of engineering, with factors of structure, stability and construction in focus, a bridge is as much a piece of architecture and art as a product of engineering.

For centuries, man has sought to link landscapes, cross rivers, span gorges and make a statement with the design of bridges. There are instances of great symbolic connection and folk tales associated with timeless bridges such as the Caravan in Turkey and the Rakotzbrücke in Germany. Sometimes, beautiful landscapes are further enhanced by a breathtaking span of steel such as the Millau Viaduct, France. There are also great feats of engineering and planning, such as the Akashi Kaikyo (or Pearl) bridge, Japan and the Danyang-Kunshan Grand bridge, China. Bridges not only lead to great destinations, but have become places of interest.

This list of magical, incredible and inspiring structures invites you to take the first step on the bridges of the world, the planet’s ‘Bridges across Forever’.

GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE, SAN FRANCISCO, USA

Perhaps the first image that comes to mind when we talk of bridges is the Golden Gate bridge in California, United States. This is because it is said to be the Most Photographed bridge in the world.The ‘international orange’ paint and a striking presence on the city’s skyline make it impossible to miss. The bridge, built in 1937, has attracted millions of tourists and become an important icon for the city.

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SYDNEY HARBOUR BRIDGE, AUSTRALIA (Widest bridge)

The width of a bridge is as important as its length or span. The widest bridge is the steel arch above the Sydney Harbor,Australia, measuring 160 feet across. This bridge accommodates 8 lanes of traffic, 2 rail road tracks, a pedestrian walkway and a bicycle path. A recent creation, which took 8 years to build, this massive structure opened to public in 1932. Undoubtedly, this is one of Australia’s most well-known landmarks.

AKASHI KAIKYO (OR PEARL) BRIDGE, JAPAN (Longest Suspension)

Of the two types of bridges, suspension and cantilever, suspension bridges are known for their delicate and tensile nature, with the ability to cover long spans. Some well-designed suspension bridges such as the longest one in Japan, the Akashi Kaikyo are spectacular and enormous feats of technology. With three connected spans — two at 3,150 feet and one at 6,532 feet — the Pearl stretches a total of 12,831 feet across the Akashi Strait. It took 12 years to build and opened to traffic in 1998; the bridge stands tall even in the most extreme weather and seismic conditions of Japan.

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MILLAU VIADUCT, FRANCE (tallest vehicular bridge)

Well-designed bridges have the potential to transform provincial, forgotten towns into major tourist attractions. The Millau Viaduct, France, does just that. The enormous cable-stayed road-bridge spans the valley of the river Tarn, in north France, and is the tallest vehicular bridge in the world, with the highest pylon’s summit at 343 m (1,125 ft) — slightly taller than the Eiffel Tower. From its conception in 1987 to finishing touches in 2004, the Millau Viaduct is not just statistically impressive but the visual effect makes the experience real. White, ultra sleek steel cables, suspended on pylons stand tall and almost inseparable now from the lush green valley below and cloudy blue skies above.

THE DANYANG-KUNSHAN, CHINA (longest moto-rail bridge)

China is definitely at the cutting edge when it comes to bridges, being home to 11 of the world’s 15 longest bridges. The Danyang-Kunshan, which opened to public in 2011 ranks as the world’s longest, at 164.8 km. The bridge hosts a rail road, with a high speed train which reduces what used to be a 10 hour journey to half the time. The bridge runs through a mountainous region, with several tunnels on the way.

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CARAVAN BRIDGE, TURKEY (oldest)

As technology and innovation continue to push the boundaries to create new possibilities in bridges, some old structures have survived over two millennia, and continue to inspire and impress. The arched stone Caravan bridge, running over the river Meles, in Izmir, Turkey was supposedly built in 850 BC, and is over 2,800 years old. The structure is simplistic and the physical aspects of the bridge are not as significant as its age and the people associated with it. Legends like Saint Paul and poet Homer have reportedly crossed the bridge, which still stands today.

CHAPEL BRIDGE, LUCERNE, SWITZERLAND (oldest covered bridge in Europe)

The Chapel bridge,crossing the Reuss river in Lucerne, Switzerland is the oldest covered bridge in Europe. It was constructed in 1333, and said to have been designed to protect the city from attacks. Inside the bridge are panels of paintings from the 17th century, showing historic events. Most of the bridge was destroyed by an unfortunate fire in 1993, but was quickly restored. An important part of the image of the bridge is the octagonal brick water tower (Wasserturm), adjacent to it. This tower was once a prison, watch tower and treasury, and is now a club room for the city’s association. The saints depicted in the paintings have blessed the bridge, which has now become a tourist attraction and symbol of the city.

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HELIX BRIDGE, MARINA BAY SANDS, SINGAPORE

Recent explorations in pedestrian covered bridges have led to innovative designs, such as the Helix Bridge at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore. This bridge is significant because it is the world’s first ‘double helix’ pedestrian bridge, comprising spiraling steel members and is 280 m long. The steel members are held together by inter-connecting struts to create a tubular structure, within which pedestrians walk. This architectural marvel was assembled over 2 years, with 2,250 meters of steel used in total. The dynamic night lights in the bridge create interesting moods at different times for the visitors.

RAKOTZBRÜCKE, KROMLAU, GERMANY – (a circular optical illusion)

This bridge is not as well-known as the others, but unique and enigmatic due to its history. This medieval looking bridge dates back to the 1860s. It arches delicately over the waters of the Rokotzsee and creates an unusual and miraculous optical illusion of a full stone circle, with its reflection in the water. The usability of the bridge is in question, for the aesthetics and the magnificence are more important here. The stone arch bridge, set in a beautiful nature park is prohibited for people to cross, so as to keep it intact for future generations to admire.

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RIALTO BRIDGE, VENICE

Some bridges are crossed by accident, and sometimes reached without planning, but are important nevertheless. Rialto bridge in the city of canals, Venice, Italy was one of the first bridges over the Grand Canal, around the 1850s. This single span bridge is supported by wooden piles at the end, and surmounted by arched shops, with a larger arch crowning the centre, allowing pedestrians to pass. Today the bridge is a backdrop for many films and is a mark of the city of Venice. The bridge is best enjoyed from a gondola, escaping the crowded streets to pass under it, in the bright Italian sun.