Engineering Oneness



The Lotus Temple

Entire New Delhi is famous for its food and excellent suburban connecting metro running through it like veins of a body. In addition to this, it also is the capital of the beautiful nation called India. People would often describe Delhi for the narrow streets named gulleys and the overwhelming pollution there. Yet standing out from these narrow streets are some of the most unique and beautiful buildings ever created, each rooted from strategic causes or religious beliefs through structural forms and designs. May it be the whole area of Lutyens' Delhi, Connaught's Place, Qutub Minar or Ajmeri Gate, the architectural class of them is something that leaves awe on the face of a spectator. Out of these, one architectural genius of the modern time is what pulls most of the attention towards it, making it one of the most visited buildings in the world. Yes, I am talking about the Lotus Temple, the masterpiece from Fariborz Sahba.1


This building was not just inspired by the Baháʼí Faith, but it was a celebration of it. This building is defined by its complex curves that respected all conventional architectural rules but beautifully played with them. The complicated shapes and curvatures were created at a time when computers were emerging as a design entity. Mostly built by marble, this temple is categorized as an Expressionist architecture. The Lotus Temple is open to all, regardless of religion or any other qualification. The building is composed of 27 free-standing marble-clad "petals" arranged in clusters of three to form nine sides, with nine doors opening onto a central hall with a height of slightly over 34.27 metres and a capacity of 2,500 people.


The Beginnings


Back in 1976, the concept model was a simple cardboard lotus flower floating on water. It took around two years for the concept to turn into a replica model on a table. The idea was to construct a temple which will be open to all religions together, reflect, and worship. Because of this idealogy, anyone may enter the Lotus Temple irrespective of religious background, sex, or other distinctions. This is also the case with all Baháʼí houses of worship. The temple was opened in December of 1986 and was completed almost a month before that.2




Ardishír Rustampúr donated the land where the building is situated. What makes it unique is that Ardishír gave his entire life savings for this purpose. (Terrific! Don't you think?) The UK firm Flint and Neill completed the design over 18 months, and the construction was done by ECC Construction Group of Larsen & Toubro Limited. All of this was done at the cost of $10 million.


Flying Buttress?


Imagine you walk into a cathedral or a temple built in Europe. You see a lot of structures and supports on the outside. But once you walk in, there is nothing inside. An occasional pillar maybe but mostly nothing. Just a colossal dome inside which hundreds of people can fit and worship or celebrate God. These cathedrals were built using stones. And stones by nature are heavy. So, this doesn't make sense from an engineering standpoint. To keep the people inside alive, the engineers in the renaissance times in Europe came up with an ingenious solution. They built structures outside and not inside and called them the Flying Buttress. I will dive deep into this topic in a future article. A small paragraph on it will not do justice to the greatness and simplicity of this technology. Meanwhile, you can understand it from this fantastic video linked below.




The Lotus temple was not just any ordinary building, it was supposed to be an expression of the Baha'i philosophy and the celebration of the oneness of God. And so the designers wanted it to be hollow inside like the cathedrals we talked about before. As the temple was to appear like a lotus, the idea of flying buttress is out of the question. To make it happen, the engineers came up with an excellent solution. Arches!


A miniature replica of the temple. The ribs can clearly be seen and how they support the mass.

Just like the Romans used arches to keep the stones in compression, the Lotus temple has arches to hold the concrete and marble into compression. The construction of the temple was done in stages: The inner layer petals, the outer petals, the entrance petals and the arches. The arches, as seen in the image below, hold the whole weight of the structure. In addition to this, the concrete used was reinforced concrete which itself was better in tension.


Elevation view of the temple. (Image from World Architecture.)

The double-layered interior dome, modelled on the innermost portion of the lotus, comprises 54 ribs with concrete shells in between. The central hall has a diameter of 34 metres and a height of 33.6 metres above the podium. It is surrounded by nine arches which provide the primary support for the superstructure as discussed above. With a seating capacity of 2,200, the hall has no idols, no photographs and no priests. Besides the main hall, the complex consists of an ancillary block with a reception centre, a library and an administrative office. The reinforced-concrete petals are clad by white marble panels, done to fit the surface profiles and to patterns related to the structure's geometry. White marble also covers all the interior floors, while the insides of the petals are bush-hammered concrete. The walkways and stairs in the podium are finished in the local red sandstone.3


The cool and light design


The entire superstructure is designed to function as a series of skylights. It glazes at the apex of the inner petals, underneath the outer leaves and on the outer side of the entrance petals. The light thus filters into the central hall in the same way as it passes through the lotus flower. Which is a different experience when you stand in the room!


Interior construction in the temple.

Nine reflecting pools surround the building. Their form is suggesting the leaves of the lotus when it touches the pond. External embellishment is so arranged as to make the lotus structure appear to be floating on water. The building embodies adequate ventilation and cooling techniques. Fresh air, cooled as it passes over the fountains and pools, is drawn in through openings in the basement up into the central hall and expelled through a vent at the top of the structure. Delhi is known for its hot summers, and it is a thermal delight to be in the temple in this climate.


The Fact and the Curious


The temple was opened in 1986, and by 2001 it had attracted around 70 million visitors. This made it one of the most visited buildings in the world. This number has increased to over 100 million by 2014.4 On 25th June 1991, New Delhi celebrated its Diamond Jubilee Anniversary. In the celebration, a stamp was issued by the government of India with the Lotus temple on it. The temple can be seen with the Rashtrapati Bhavan on the postal-stamp.5


The New Delhi Diamond Jubilee Anniversary Stamp.

I am by no means a religious man, but there is something innately spiritual about this construction that I think any person who shares that same awe of our mysterious existence on this planet, will feel. For me, that is the root of all religions. And to me, this building is the ultimate celebration of spirituality through its celebration of oneness.


Now your turn


Thank you guys, for making it to the end of the article. If you think this was a good read, please consider subscribing and share it with your friends. Show them how cool you are. Also, let me know what you want to read about next. You can find the links to the social media below:


  1. Reddit:r/theinvisiblegenius
  2. Instagram: @theinvisiblegenius
  3. Twitter: @notnitinchopra


Reference links

  1. Iranian architect living in La Jolla devoted to creating ‘spiritual space.’
  2. BAHAISM ix. Bahai Temples
  3. Lotus Temple: A Symbol Of Excellence In Modern Indian Architecture
  4. Bahá'í House of Worship at New Delhi
  5. Bahá'í Stamps

Comments

  1. Delhiites do not realise the significance of this masterpiece .
    Hardly anyone visits.But whoever is reading your article will definitely adore it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much! I really hope this article makes people visit this temple and see its magnificence.

      Delete

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