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In the history of architecture, we have seen many iterations in the way religious architecture has been re-imagined. Le Corbusier’s Ronchamp Cathedral in France, Tadao Ando’s Church of Light in Japan, Douglas Cardinal’s St. Mary’s Parish in Canada and many others have further inspired to move away from using traditional elements of Church architecture into their designs.
In India - a place with multitude of religions and sects - the creation of these buildings is usually left in the hands of traditional followers of the religion, and on rare occasions you see an architect involved in the design. The architectural movement for religious structures in India has taken its own time and despite the ever-growing places of worship, baby steps have been taken to maintain comfort and familiarity for the users while also attempting to redefine norms - Sameep Padora’s Shiv Temple and Sanjay Puri’s Iskcon Temple are a few of such examples.
Recently, the progressive Guru of the Sindhi community sect approached Matharoo Associates to design a temple, an ashram (pilgrim guest house) and associated spaces for visitors to stay in Ajmer, Rajasthan. Named by the studio as ‘Man-made God, Prem Prakash Ashram – Temple and Pilgrim Guest House’ is “host to gods from seven different religions and as the spaces could not have had a specific orientation, this posed both a challenge and a cue for the design," says Gurjit Singh Matharoo of Matharoo Associates
The layout of the complex maximises the total area of 55,435 sqft (5,150 sqm) on the small 23,680 sqft (2,200 sqm) site. The accommodation blocks have been aligned to the three skewed site boundary edges, while the front road side and centre have been left as an open courtyard where the main temple stands in the heart of the courtyard with an ‘open-wings’ form in concrete. “The open-endedness of the temple symbolises the belief that religion should always be inclusive and personal,” adds Matharoo. The gesture also creates a sense of welcoming depicted as ‘hands joined as forming a lotus’.
The connecting passages for all 50 guest rooms look toward the exterior of the side, amplifying on capturing views of the Aravalli hills and the city. The windows that overlook the temple on the inside have are covered in jalis (local lattice stonework) and extruded at an angle to cut off direct views into the revered centre.
The congregation hall for sermons is situated at the ground level, providing easy access for the 800 people it is intended to accommodate. The basement includes a kitchen and a large dining hall that can be used during events, and also doubles up as a parking space when not in use. A ramp and staircase circumambulate the hall up to the temple where the cube has been extruded into an open-ended volume that is curved in plan and section. Between these walls, a concave roof inverts and establishes the ‘open-wings’ form of the temple. With a skylight all around the periphery of the central temple space, it appears suspended in space and allows the sun to bathe the warped surfaces with constantly changing natural light. The main idol within the space has also been designed by the architects, and the four-tonne shivling carved in stone represents birth and energy.
Matharoo Associates is known for their experimental approach and applying its modulations in various kinetic forms. In this project, the design respects the serenity of its setting while attempting a secular interpretation of a religious structure. The gestures, geometry and expression bring freshness and progressiveness that can be considered a step ahead for religious architecture in India.
Name: Man-made God; Prem Prakash Ashram – Temple and Pilgrim Guest House
Location: Ajmer, Rajasthan, India
Project team: Gurjit Singh Matharoo (Principal Architect), Mohit Maru (Project Architect)
Structural design: Rajendra Singh Matharoo (Principal Designer), Hitesh Rathi, Matharoo Associates
Interior design (incl. idol): Matharoo Associates
Electrical consultant: Jit Engineering Services Ltd
Plumbing consultant: Aqua Utility Designs and Management Pvt. Ltd
General contractor: Mayur Enterprise
Site area: 23,680 sqft (2,200 sqm)
Total floor area: 55,435 sqft (5,150 sqm)
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