San Francisco – Golden Bridge- ‘Resplendent in the western sun’

The Golden Gate Bridge, which spans between the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean, linking the charming city to Marin County, is a remarkable structure that not only provides a key link to motorists, but attracts thousands of citizens and tourists every day

By N.B. Rao


IT features in the Seven Wonders of the World compiled by the American Society of Civil Engineers. The Golden Gate Bridge of San Francisco in the US is considered to be one of the seven wonders of the modern world.(For those interested in knowing the six other wonders, here goes the list: Channel Tunnel between the UK and France; CN Tower in Toronto; Empire State Building in New York; Itaipu Dam between Brazil and Paraguay; Delta Works in the Netherlands; and Panama Canal).

Joseph P. Strauss, who was not only the chief engineer involved in the construction of the bridge, but also wrote three poems relating to his favourite project, put it beautifully in The Mighty Task is Done:

“At last the mighty task is done; Resplendent in the western sun The Bridge looms mountain high; Its titan piers grip ocean floor, Its great steel arms link shore with shore, Its towers pierce the sky.”

Suicide point
Of course, wonderful though the bridge might be, it has also attracted hundreds of people who took their lives jumping off it. Krista Tippett, the American author, referred to the bridge as “a suicide magnet.”

In fact, according to estimates, it is second most ‘deadly’ bridge used by people to commit suicide. At the top is the Nanjing Yangtze river bridge in China, which has seen more than 2,000 people jumping to their death between 1968 and 2006; in San Francisco, about 1,600 people killed themselves between 1937 (when it was ready) and 2012, hopping off golden Gate.


But the authorities have now taken measures to prevent people from jumping from the bridge. A suicide deterrent system in the form of a fence is being constructed along sections of the bridge sidewalk.

The suicide deterrent system consists of a hard, stainless steel mesh platform spanning the entire length of the bridge on both sides.

It will be located 20 feet below the bridge and extend another 20 ft outside. Fortunately, the deterrent system will not block the view of motorists, pedestrians or bicyclists.

The bridge was built at a cost of $35 million (plus another nearly $40 million by way of interest).

About a dozen workers lost their lives while constructing it in the 1930s.

The proposal to construct the bridge was first mooted way back in 1872, but as in the case of most such ambitious projects, it was vehemently protested by thousands of people.

In the 1920s and 1930s, plans were once again revived, but there was massive opposition. In fact, in 1930, there were more than 2,300 lawsuits opposing the construction of the bridge.

Lawsuits against the bridge
One of the lawsuits was initiated by a railroad company which also operated ferries transporting cars between San Francisco and Marin County and was vehemently opposed to the bridge, which would destroy its services.

Strauss, who had submitted plans for a much cheaper bridge (bringing down the cost from more than $100 million to between $25 million and $35 million) finally won the award in 1933.

The single suspension span was anchored by two towers soaring 750 ft high; the suspended roadway was backed by cables running 7,000 ft in length and containing 80,000 miles of wire stretch over the top of the two towers.

Considering the fact that San Francisco is located in an earthquake prone zone, questions about strengthening the bridge always crop up. The worst quake happened in San Francisco in 1906, when 3,000 people were killed after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake rocked the city.

In 1989, a 6.9-magnitude earthquake struck the city, damaging nearly 30,000 structures. The next big earthquake could rock the city anytime between now and 2038 and there’s a 99.7 per cent chance that it could be worse than the 1989 quake.

Golden Gate Bridge officials are now seismically strengthening the central portion of the bridge, after work on the northern and southern approach was completed recently.

The final phase of strengthening the bridge and preventing major damages from quakes is also an expensive proposition; it is estimated to cost nearly $500 million.

Priya David Clemens, a spokesperson for the Golden Gate Bridge District – who was born in Chennai and later moved to America with her parents – admits the bridge won’t collapse in a big earthquake, but there could be significant damage.

Interestingly, the Bandra-Worli sealink, a nearly 6 km long bridge linking the two Mumbai areas over the Bandra creek, is often compared to the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge.

Of course, the Mumbai bridge also underwent a lot of delays and opposition before it became a reality in 2009.

In San Francisco though, hundreds of pedestrians, including those using bicycles and even wheelchairs, travel on the bridge during daytime.

Green projects will save money

Renowned, Vadodara-based architect Karan Grover is passionate about his profession and sustainable architecture. An interview with the famous, award-winning architect and activist designer

By Komal Rao & Tillana Desai

How is the green architectural segment faring in India? Are Indian architects, builders and developers keen on promoting ‘Green Architecture’?

Let me say that it is quite new comparatively. I was the first architect in the world in 2003 to win the US Green Building Council’s (USGBC) “Platinum” Award for the greenest building in the world and it was one of the reasons of the creation of the India Green Building Council (IGBC).

The council was brought together by businessmen led by Jamshyd Godrej and the movement is picking up, but I think slowly; and the reason for this is lack of awareness and building materials.

To build green, you must have elements in the building process and materials which are green. There is no point me building a simple green building and having door handles and locks and window mechanisms which require enormous amounts of energy to make.

This is called embedded energy and we have to reduce that. India is yet to make a major headway in this area. I have now started promoting Green Architecture. I used to go all around the world talking about the importance of green sustainability and saving resources.


Saves money

Everyone used to listen patiently and it was a very moving argument, but it did not have the effect I wanted it to. Recently, I changed the complete tactic and began focusing on the fact that all this ultimately saves you money.

I was making a presentation for Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar and in my first slide I mentioned that these measures could save Rs48 crore. He looked towards his cabinet colleagues and then told me to go ahead and implement the project. There was no need for me to make the remaining presentations with 192 slides.

I have now concluded that executing green projects will save money and will be a big incentive for builders.

I explain to developers that when you put up a green building you have to tell all that it may be slightly more expensive (by about five per cent), but the cost would be recovered in two years. And over the next 60 years, about 60 per cent of energy costs could be saved.

You have to make your environment as less dependent on energy as possible. The biggest boost for green architecture is not emotional, but about saving money and that is a language which everyone understands.

Could you tell us about the student’s green movement which you launched about four years ago and hoped to reach out to over 10,000 architecture students and convince them to develop green structures?

It seems to be a one-man battle because students appear to have been completely won over.

I speak 15 times a year to 5,000 people in different cities of which 60% are students.

They are thrilled. They come and say they want to only do Green Architecture. But the fact is that they are not supported in college.


It’s not in the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) syllabus, so I am now fighting with the nodal agency which controls architectural courses.

When I was studying in the early 1970s, the textbooks prescribed to us were printed in 1903. And I had to go to Bombay on behalf of my class to get them from an antique shop. We were studying architecture that was more than six decades behind our times.

Passion to fight

Isn’t this ridiculous? The point is our education system has not caught up. Students see logic, the younger you are, the more open to common sense you are. The moment you start getting older, you start conforming. Then the passion to fight is lost. I still have the passion to fight. I am 65 but mentally I am 30.

I feel every student feels passionately about these things. This passion is not respected or appreciated or encouraged in college.

And that is my problem. Unless AICTE makes it mandatory to have this as a course it is never going to happen.

I just got the first ever award for ‘Sustainable Architecture’. Had this kind of an award been introduced earlier, a lot of other people would have wanted to win it. We are 15 years too late.


What are the projects that you are currently working on? Are they based only in Vadodara and Gujarat or do you also plan to take up projects across the country and abroad?

As a policy, I never take up projects abroad. I have been in practice for 45 years and I have always maintained this is my country and this is where I will work. But never only in Vadodara! It’s funny how we started in Vadodara, but never did any work here.

Magical architects

Which is your favourite structure?

It is impossible to say. I have never thought of it. But there are many and inspired differently. Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain; the Frank Lloyd Wright building housing the Guggenheim Museum in New York; and the works of eminent architects including Nari Gandhi and Laurie Baker.

These people had a magic, a philosophy, they worked with different material.

The Titanium that Gehry uses is a difficult material, and the magic which Baker brings in brick, a limited material.

Somebody like Wright did those houses that were connected to nature. I don’t like concrete… it is absolutely wrong for India to use it

Today we are about 75% in the rest of the country and 25% in Vadodara. We are doing new legislature buildings in Raipur, Bangalore, Chennai and Patna and did the one in Goa as well. We concentrate on the architecture of the place. Our architecture reflects that of the region we are building in.

We merge our buildings with the architecture of the place we are working in. You will never say ‘That’s a Karan Grover building.’ You will say ‘That’s a building from Raipur or Patna or Bangalore. Who’s the architect?’ I don’t copy architecture, I reinterpret it.


What is a smart city and where do you see India in 2020?

I think it’s the wrong use of the word ‘smart’. You can be a smart person you can have a smart car or a smart office… you can’t have a smart city. A city is much more than a single entity. There are people, human values, emotions… it is ridiculous to call it smart. You are trying to be smart by calling it smart. A city is emotions, feelings, tradition, customs, history. History is not smart, history is history.

And then there are people who want to bring in heritage in ‘smart’ cities. What is smart about heritage? Everything must now fit into ‘smart’. I feel a city is too big, too complex, too human, too humane to be labelled smart. Smart is an inanimate object.


Champaner-Pavagarh project

You have campaigned for the Champaner–Pavagarh project. What’s the current status?

We have been able to put it on the UNESCO World Heritage map. We are now trying to get funding to individually restore the building. There are about 115 buildings above the ground and foundations of about 4,000 buildings below the ground.

I had decided to give 30 years of my life to this. When I was 23, a professor of archaeology (Arun Mehta), who happened to meet me in Baroda, took me to Champaner. One day he said: ‘I want to give it to you’. I said: ‘It’s not yours to give, nor mine to take… it’s a 2,000-year-old buried city!’

One night he told me to shake his hand and give him 30 years of my life and come the next morning to ‘take Champaner’. When I went to his house next day, he had passed away. There was a huge black trunk with my name on it. It contained all his 3,000 drawings of Champaner and his 30 years of work.

So I promised to give 30 years and worked religiously for it. It is now the only World Heritage Site where an individual has campaigned in UNESCO. The then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee made me the Indian Ambassador to UNESCO for 10 days. I went to China to present the project and we won.

Green Building revolution

You are seen as one of the pioneers of the Green Building revolution in India thanks to many of your achievements, including the development of the Sohrabji Green Business Centre in Hyderabad, the first structure in the world to receive LEED platinum rating from the US Green Building Council. What motivated you to undertake these challenging assignments?

I didn’t see them as challenging assignments. I saw them as my work. I started working based on traditions and my understanding of Champaner. So I saw ‘jaalis’ in Champaner which would keep the building cool. I then introduced ‘jaalis’.


I was really not doing anything challenging, anything great. I was just doing my own thing sitting here in Baroda. And then, President Bill Clinton came to India in 2000 and we had this conference in Hyderabad where I spoke on this interpretation of tradition and showed all my work. He came up to me and asked me why I did not bid for the US Platinum award.

Innocently and without any pressure, we went ahead and we won it. There were 7,000 people when they announced this.

You are so attached to Indian roots, culture and architecture. So do you believe in the ancient science of Vaastu?

Vaastu is common sense. For example, the kitchen cannot be in the south west. That’s a wind direction in India and the whole house will be smelling of food. In the beginning when I did not know Vaastu, clients were very happy with the designs. When they showed it to their Vaastu consultants they could add nothing to them. It was sheer common sense.

If I give you the example of my house; my bedroom is built in the opposite direction of the wind. So it gets super-hot and is heavily dependent on the AC as compared to the children’s bedroom in the wind direction which is cooler.

Many architects feel that technology is the answer. It’s funny because then you have no proximity to natural climate and the environments. What we do in our architecture is that we work with the climate and the environment. You must work with the land, the culture, climate, tradition and you have a great building.

In one of my projects, we had an incredibly tiny plot in Juhu. We made this little garden at the back. Then I built a veranda in front of it and then I built two open kitchens in the veranda with bricks and all. It completely changed their eating habits. They started sitting outside in the garden and having their meal. And I am talking about Mumbai. The way you build the house completely changes your lifestyle. And that is nothing but Vaastu.


First to win USGBC ‘Platinum’ Award


Karan Grover and Associates, established in 1985, has emerged into a multi-disciplinary organization with the best associate consulting teams for all the services, which is seen as an integral part of architectural design activity. After being flooded out of their basement office in 2006, they have moved to the topmost floor of a building in Baroda on the banks of a tiny brown nala – the famous Vishwamitri River set amidst 1000 acres of green; with 100 crocodiles which sun themselves every morning near the office car parking.

Karan Grover has enthused children in conservation and been nominated as a “Social Entrepreneur” Fellow of the Ashoka Foundation, Washington in 2004. He won India’s nominations for UNESCO’s World Heritage Site status for Champaner-Pavagadh in 2004, after a 22-year old campaign. In 2004, Grover became the first architect in the world to win the USGBC “Platinum” Award for the greenest building in the world – The “CII–Sohrabji Godrej Green Business Centre”. He also won his second Platinum Award for the interior of ABN AMRO Bank at Ahmedabad. He has been made the Permanent Honorary Fellow of the National Academy of Environment at the hands of former President Dr Abdul Kalam in Delhi. He spoke at the Clinton Global Initiative, New York at the personal invite of President Clinton in 2006.

He won the US GBC Gold Award for the Keendiam diamond factory at Navsari as the greenest factory in the world in 2008.

Karan has been selected as the winner of the Green Globe Award for Architect, Infrastructure Category from Green Globe Foundation. In August 2009 he was given the Keys of the City of Birmingham by the Mayor of Birmingham at the Inaugural Address of the International Green Congress of the Green Building Focus. The World Economic Forum at Davos has named Karan Grover as their member on the Panel for Sustainability for 2009 and Jury for Emerson Cup 2009, 2010 for Sustainable Design as well as first NDTV Greenies Award.

Karan is a founding member of ADaRSH (GRIHA) and has been nominated as Member of the Confederation of Indian Industry Western Region Sub-Committee on Climate Change & Sustainability for the year 2010-11. He has become the Chairman of IGBC Vadodara Chapter on 28th March, 2011.

He was nominated as one of India’s top 10 architects consecutively for 5th year by the Construction World; and in 2012 he has been recognized as one of the five architects in India to receive the CWAB Platinum Award for Excellence. He has been honoured with Lifetime Achievement Award at the “Aces of Spaces” Architect & Interiors India Awards 2012 on 2nd December, 2012 and INDEX/IFJ Award to Creative Genius on 16th November 2013.

Also Lifetime Achievement Award at Estrade Real Estate Awards on 23rd October 2015.

Synthesis Business Park project at Kolkata has been awarded with LEED CS Gold Certification by IGBC in October 2012. West Block 3 at L & T Knowledge City, Vadodara awarded with ‘LEED INDIA GOLD’ Rating by Indian Green Building Council in July, 2013. KGA have been selected as the “Best Architect of the Year 2013” (Residential Category) by the Era Fame Awards 2013, supported by the Indian Institute of Architects in August, 2013.

For his sense of fashion he has been selected as one of “India’s 50 Most Stylish Men” along with Amitabh Bachchan – India’s leading film icon.

Karan Grover is a frequent speaker at national and international forums having addressed over 20000 professionals and students pro bono annually on Sustainability & Green Architecture – a personal commitment he made to President Clinton at the Clinton Global Initiative, New York in 2006. A few notable among them are his presentations at the World GBC in Pittsburg in November 2003, in Portland in November 2004; & in Atlanta in September 2005.

In June 2009 he spoke in Birmingham, Alabama at the Green Congress and in September 2009 at the India Green Building Congress in Hyderabad. He has been Keynote Speaker at the IGBC for eight consecutive years.


The Hoover dam was developed towards the end of the Great Depression in the US to tame the Colorado River and transform the south-western part of the country. More than 80 years after its construction, it still attracts a million tourists every year, who are astonished at the engineering feat

Words: N B Rao


This morning I came, I saw, and I was conquered, as everyone would be who sees for the first time this great feat of mankind. . . .Ten years ago the place where we gathered was an unpeopled, forbidding desert.

In the bottom of the gloomy canyon whose precipitous walls rose to height of more than a thousand feet, flowed a turbulent, dangerous river. . . . The site of Boulder City was a cactus-covered waste. And the transformation wrought here in these years is a 20th century marvel.”

WHEN American President Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke at the inauguration of the Hoover dam (then known as the Boulder dam), on September 30, 1935,

the US was just emerging from the Great Depression that began in 1929 and continued for another four years.Considered an engineering wonder more than 80 years ago when it was built, the dam was then the most expensive project on a river and the highest dam that was developed.

Besides being an engineering wonder, the dam is today also seen as a work of art.

Julian Rhinehart, a writer, a regional public affairs officer in Boulder City, had written about the ‘engineering superlatives’ of the dam.

“Few structures in America display the diversity of design and craftsmanship that you see at Hoover Dam,” he wrote on the 60th anniversary of the dam.

“It is a showcase of seldom-seen skills of artists and artisans – beautifully presented terrazzo tiles, sculpture, metalwork, and even military emplacements.

”According to James C. Maxon, another writer on the dam, who retired from government service after a career with the National Park Service and the Bureau of Reclamation, the impossible became reality with the completion of Hoover dam in 1935.

“This dam became the symbol of man’s ability to harness nature, even an element as ancient and powerful…as the Colorado River,” he wrote in his book, ‘Lake Mead & Hoover Dam – The story behind the scenery.’


According to James C. Maxon, another writer on the dam, who retired from government service after a career with the National Park Service and the Bureau of Reclamation, the impossible became reality with the completion of Hoover dam in 1935.

“This dam became the symbol of man’s ability to harness nature, even an element as ancient and powerful…as the Colorado River,” he wrote in his book, ‘Lake Mead & Hoover Dam – The story behind the scenery.’

James notes that one of the most incredible statistics of all was the time it took to complete the massive project – less than five years to accomplish an engineering feat that would astound the world.

The first generator began operations in October 1936 and the 17th one went into operations in 1961.

Hoover is 660 ft at its base and rises 726 ft above the bedrock. It stretches nearly 1,250 ft across the Black Canyon.

The dam is built on the Colorado River, which ensures irrigation facility to a million acres of land in the US and half a million acres in Mexico. The water needs of nearly 15 million people are met by the river.

Hoover meets the energy needs of half a million homes annually in Nevada, Arizona and California.


THEY are classified under various categories including those built based on their purpose, structural behaviour, hydraulic design and construction material.

There are five types of dams that are built based on purpose: storage or impounding dam, detention dam, diversion dam, coffer dam and debris dam. The storage dam is built to create a reservoir to store water when there is a huge flow and to be used later when there is a shortfall.

The detention variety is built to temporarily detain flood waters in a river. The diversion dam sends water from a river into a conduit or a channel. Coffers are temporary dams built to exclude water from a specific area, and the debris dam is built to prevent debris from entering a river.

Those built on structural behaviour include gravity, arch, buttress, embankment and gravity dams. While gravity dams are classified as solid or hollow, they are generally made of concrete or masonry. Stability in arch dams is through a combination of arch and gravity.

Hoover dam is the largest concrete arch-gravity dam in the western hemisphere, weighing about 6.5 million tons.



A LARGE dam is one that is more than 15 m high (taller than a four-storeyed building) from its deepest foundation to the crest. Giant (or major dams) are those that are at least 150 m high.

There are nearly 60,000 large dams worldwide and more than 300 major dams. China has over 23,000 large dams, the US about 9,200 and India around 5,200 large dams.

Maharashtra tops the list with about 1,850 large dams, followed by Madhya Pradesh (900), Gujarat (630), Chhattisgarh (260), Karnataka (230), Rajasthan (210) and Odisha (200).

The country’s tallest dam is the Tehri, which is 260.5 m high. It is the world’s 10th tallest dam. China has the tallest dam – Jinping-I, which is 305 m high – and also accounts for four of the 10 tallest dams in the world.

Bhakra Nangal in Himachal Pradesh, with a height of 225 m, is the largest dam in India and the second-largest in Asia. Hirakud in Odisha, which is 26 km long, is one of the longest dams in the world.

Nagarjuna Sagar dam in Andhra Pradesh is the world’s largest masonry dam and also hosts the largest manmade lake in the world. Other large dams in India include Lakhwar (204 m) in Uttarakhand (204 m), Idukki (169 m) in Kerala, Pakal Dul (167 m) in Jammu & Kashmir and Sardar Sarovar (163 m) in Gujarat.


Aqua is an 82 storied, mixed-use residential skyscraper under construction in the Lakeshore East development in downtown Chicago. The name “Aqua” is in keeping with the nautical theme most of the buildings in the Lakeshore East development have: The Tides, The Shoreham, The Regatta etc.

Words: Tillana Desai


Aqua is an 82 storied, mixed-use residential skyscraper under construction in the Lakeshore East development in downtown Chicago. The name “Aqua” is in keeping with the nautical theme most of the buildings in the Lakeshore East development have: The Tides, The Shoreham, The Regatta etc.


Capital Gate, Abu Dhabi

One of the tallest buildings in Abu Dhabi, the structure has been certified as the ‘world’s furthest leaning man-made tower’ by the Guinness Book of World Records.


CCTV Headquarters, Beijing

The CCTV Headquarters is a skyscraper in Beijing’s Central Business District. The headquarters of China
Central Television stands at a height of 234 m (768 ft).


Parliament Palace, Romania

This is the second largest administrative building in the world. It was built in Bucharest, the capital, during the Soviet era in the mid-1980s. Besides the parliament, it also houses the Bucharest International Conference Centre and Romania’s Museum of Modern Art.



Though lighthouses are on the decline in the shipping business, thanks to technological developments, they continue to attract a lot of interest from tourists around the globe

Words: Revati Rajwade

The sea appeared menacing with its monstrous waves lashing at everything that came its way. It engulfed the mammoth rock formation which smashed the unsuspecting ships trying to surpass the darkness of the night.

Along the coast, a lone towering structure stood tall amidst this dreadful environment with a light flickering at its topmost end. It was the only help for those at sea and proved to be a solid guiding factor. Such was the picture of a lighthouse in my mind, as painted through Enid Blyton’s novel ‘Five Go to the Demons Rocks’.

Throughout my childhood I was consumed by the thrill and adventure which I had associated with lighthouses owing to the escapades of The Famous Five. The rocky path to the lighthouse, the mysterious levels in its interiors and the treasures they unearthed were extremely exciting.

Hence, my euphoria while climbing the spiralling staircase of the lighthouse at Kovalam beach, Kerala was unparalleled. The 35m tall red and white tower atop the palm-covered Kurumkal hill was a spectacular sight. Officially known as the Vizhinjam lighthouse, it is now a major tourist destination. But once upon a time it was one of the important lighthouses dotting India’s coastline. However, that is when I realised that there is a lot more to a lighthouse than mere fantasies which used to surround it.

The guide at Kovalam introduced me to the basic fact that a lighthouse is always located at a dangerous place with respect to navigation since its two main purposes are to serve as a navigational aid and to warn boats of dangerous areas.

Just as traffic signs on the roads or traffic policemen guide vehicular traffic, lighthouses are built to guide sea travellers. The hairpin bends when roads are carved through mountains are one of the most dangerous zones of road travel.

Similarly, rocky patches in the sea can prove to be detrimental to a ship or even icebergs as in the infamous case of the Titanic. Hence, the importance of lighthouses requires no justification.
The tall structure consists of a sturdy foundation, the central slender body and a head. The most important part of the lighthouse is the topmost zone which houses a system containing lamps and lenses that throw light which can be seen easily in the darkness.

The presence of a lighthouse itself warns travellers of the probable presence of dangers along the coastlines or dangerous reefs. However, along with this, these structures also mark the safe zones for ships to enter into a harbour or port or any place where the ship can be safely anchored.


In olden days, sea trade was the only mode of transport across continents since air transport was not widely used. With the passage of time, the dependency on lighthouses has declined considerably owing to the invention of more progressive navigational systems like the electronic ones.

Many of the existing lighthouses are now more famous as tourist destinations than serving their primary purpose. Also, in many cases the expenses incurred for maintenance of lighthouses have turned out to be more than its practical usage.

However, this does not mean that they have become obsolete since their role in facilitating seamless sea travel since centuries cannot be challenged.


The birthplace of lighthouses was Egypt and this is where the tallest lighthouse of that era was built; it soared 900 feet above sea level. It guided thousands of ships for over 1,500 years. In the beginning, their light source was usually from wood pyres or burning coal since those were the commonly used raw materials for generating fire.

With the advent of a new era of technology, a Swiss scientist revolutionised illumination by creating a method which generated smokeless flames. With the passage of time, in 1822 the first modern lighthouse lens was invented by a Frenchman.

The following year, a Fresnel lens was invented which could capture more oblique light from a source. This resulted in the generation of a stronger light which was subsequently visible over greater distances in the sea. This particular system is used in several lighthouses till date.

It is apparent that the modern era of lighthouses began as the world entered the 18th century. The primary factor behind this was the practical need of lighthouses since trade by the sea routes had increased manifold.

New inventions could provide an answer to this growing need. Radical improvement in structural engineering resulted in creating stronger lighthouses in more challenging site conditions.

A lighthouse named Winstanley at Eddystone Rocks in the UK marked the beginning in a new phase in its development.

The rocks were responsible for numerous shipwrecks and were considered a terror by marine travellers.

The first lighthouse was an octagonal wooden structure and proved to be a milestone as it was the first in the world to have been built in the sea. The new lighthouse was built in granite following the profile of an oak tree. A key contribution of the engineer was that he extensively used hydraulic lime, a form of concrete that set under water. A fixing detail for granite blocks using dovetail joints and marble dowels had also been developed by him.

Another famous lighthouse is the world’s oldest surviving one, built on Bell Rock, Scotland, 18 km from the shoreline. It has been in use since 1811. The challenges faced in building this 35 m tall lighthouse were tremendous. It is described as one of the Seven Wonders of the Industrial World.

The story of its construction is indeed eventful. In 1807, a group of men were to be at sea for 2 months. In those days pick axes were used to cut the blocks which were to be used for foundations. This laborious and time consuming work ran throughout the week. Within 2 years, a large part of the tower had been completed. The following year, work was finally completed.
In sheer contrast to the Bell Rock Lighthouse is the modern Jeddah Lighthouse designed by a firm called UAP for the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia.


It stands at a pinnacle along the Red Sea and can even be seen from across the sea from Egypt and Sudan. It has received international acclaim owing to its magnificent form. The tower comprises hexagonal punctures on its surface creating a dynamic pattern for a 60 m height of its total length.

This is an epitome of development and puts the construction capabilities of the country on a pedestal. The tower is made from individual pre-cast concrete blocks which create the hexagons on the facade. In this way, the methods of construction of lighthouses have undergone a sea change since its inception.

With every new record, man has surpassed the previous lapses in technology and presented the world with structures which would go down in history.

Tallest lighthouse in the world: Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, 436 feet (133 m) – Built in 1990

Most famous lighthouse: Statue of Liberty, New York city (early in its existence, it was a lighthouse).

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


Our regular architecture feature focuses on the importance of dams around the globe

Words: Revati Rajwade

Tehri Hydro power complex


If one goes through the pages of history, it is apparent that dams have always been misinterpreted, literally and figuratively. The Nigerian proverb ‘In the moment of crisis, the wise build bridges and the foolish build dams’ and the worldwide protests against dams provides evidence regarding this fact.

However, in spite of this, throughout history man has been building dams for various reasons, such as to prevent floods, generate electricity or for water supply. Starting thousands of years ago in the Middle East as small walls, today dams are immensely huge power generation facilities that fulfill a number of tasks and take years to build.

In some cases they have had an adverse effect on the environment and inhabitants owing to which they are often met with skepticism.

But in the larger scheme of things, they are extremely beneficial to mankind.

Dams can be classified either on the basis of their function or their structure and design.

On the basis of function there are storage dams, diversion dams, detention dams, debris dams and coffer dams, which are indeed self-explanatory.


The following are the classifications on the basis of their structure and design:

• Gravity Dams
• Earth Dams
• Rockfill Dams
• Arch Dams
• Buttress Dams
• Steel Dams
• Timber Dams.

In a gravity dam, by using concrete, the weight of the dam is actually able to resist the horizontal thrust of water pushing against it. Gravity essentially holds the dam down to the ground, stopping water from toppling it over.

An earth dam is made of soil built up by compacting successive layers of earth, using the most impervious materials to form a core and placing more permeable substances on the upstream and downstream sides.

A rockfill dam is built of rock fragments and boulders of large size. An impervious membrane is placed on the rockfill on the upstream side to reduce the seepage through the dam.

An arch dam is curved in plan, with its convexity towards the upstream side. It transfers the water pressure and other forces mainly to the abutments by arch action.

In a timber dam, as the name suggests, the load-carrying structural elements are made of wood, primarily coniferous varieties such as pine and fir.


Buttress dams are further divided into three types – deck, multiple-arch and massive-head. The architecture and engineering of each of these types of dams is different from the other and requires analysis prior to designing. It is essential to construct a type suitable to the existing site conditions.

As it is already known, dams are undoubtedly a feat of engineering and have aided mankind in several missions towards progress. The massive challenges faced during construction and the design detailing required for it is unparalleled.

One of the best examples of this is the Tehri dam on the Bhagirathi river near Tehri in Uttarakhand. With a height of 855 feet, the dam is the fifth tallest in the world and the tallest in India. It is a multi-purpose rock and earth-fill embankment dam which withholds a reservoir for irrigation, municipal water supply and the generation of 1,000 MW of hydroelectricity.

The Tehri Hydro Power Complex (2400 MW), comprises many components including the Tehri Dam & Hydro Power Plant, Koteshwar Hydro Electric Project and Tehri Pumped Storage Plant. The complex provides irrigation to an area of 270,000 hectares, irrigation stabilisation to 600,000 hectares and a supply of 270 million gallons of drinking water per day to the industrialised areas of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

The 1800 ft long expanse of the dam is majestic and what makes it extraordinary is that it is located in the Central Himalayan Seismic Gap, a major geologic fault zone. Hence, there have always been concerns regarding the dam’s geological stability.


However, this geology has been taken into account; it is a rock and earth filled dam which enables it to withstand an earthquake of 8.4 magnitude. Also like other dams, in case of breakage, the Tehri has been constructed such that it will not collapse suddenly.

The highlight of this project is the successful rehabilitation which is considered Asia’s most comprehensive and successful programnme. The dam has led to the relocation of more than 100,000 people from the area. A well-planned modern town called New Tehri nestles at a height of 1,550 m overlooking the dam.

The other renowned example in the world is the Hoover dam in the Black Canyon of the Colorado river, on the border between two states. It is a concrete arch-gravity dam. Construction began in early 1931 when such a large concrete structure had never been built before. Some of the techniques were unknown and untested.

Construction within the strict timeframe proved an immense challenge, as the workers had to tread into carbon monoxide-choked tunnels and dangled from heights of 800 ft to clear canyon walls. Capable of irrigating 2 million acres, the 17 turbines of the Hoover dam generate enough electricity to power 1.3 million homes.

The dam’s generators provide power for public and private utilities in Nevada, Arizona, and California. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1985 and one of America’s Seven Modern Civil Engineering Wonders in 1994.

Tehri Dam


This is one of the dams in the world where minor detailing has been given equal importance as the mega structure. The facade had been planned out along with the structural details. However, the initial plans for the facade of the dam, the power plant, the outlet tunnels and ornaments clashed with the modern look of an arch dam.


Hence, Los Angeles-based architect Gordon B. Kaufmann was brought in to design the exteriors. Kaufmann streamlined the design and applied an elegant Art Deco style to the entire project.

He designed sculptured turrets rising seamlessly from the dam face and clock faces on the intake towers set for the time in Nevada and Arizona — the two states are in different time zones.

The interiors were given equal importance as the façade; an artist was also hired for the internal walls and flooring design. The entire scheme revolved around Native American culture and to impart knowledge about the construction, machinery of the operation had also been incorporated.

Further to the two examples cited above, there are several such constructions across the world which have radically changed its surrounding areas and filled them with electricity and year-round supply of water. These are a few of the essentials of life; it is of prime importance that the world sheds its inhibitions about dams and embrace their true power.


Largest Arch Dam in Asia: Idukki dam, Periyar, Kerala
Largest Dam in the world: Three Gorges, Yangtze, China
Tallest embankment dam in the world: 300 m high Nurek in Tajikistan
Costliest dam in the world: Grand Inga, Congo
Country with the highest number of dams: China


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