By Sam Lubell
Raj Rewal's Parliament Library, located in the heart of Sir Edwin Lutyens's and Herbert Baker's colonial New Delhi, is a hugely important project for India. This is especially true at a time when the country is rapidly developing its industrial and information-technology sectors. Not only does the library furnish vital research and meeting capabilities for the government, but its architecture attempts to establish an Indian identity within the once British imperial capital. The circular and rectilinear geometries of its plan, forms, materials, and decorative motifs recall the architectural patrimony of Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist temples more directly than buildings by the early-20th-century British architects.
Since the library was designed by an Indian, who is adapting traditional forms to modern technology and functions for the symbolically important site, Rewal's conscientious endeavor is very much a statement about the direction architecture should take here. Most new architecture in the country is not based on Indian tradition, Rewal argues, but is rootless, and if anything obsessed with novelty, or, at the other end of the stylistic spectrum, ends up being a "silly historical pastiche."
One of India's most established architects, Rewal has completed several important projects in this city, including the World Bank Regional Mission (1993) and a campus for the National Institute of Immunology (1988). But this $45 million, 590,000-square-foot complex appears by far to be the high point of his career. It took more than a dozen years to realize: In 1991 Rewal won the commission for the much-needed addition to India's Parliament—a Classical-style building designed by Baker in 1927. The program for the sprawling library called for offices, meeting rooms, and study spaces for members of the Indian legislature. As a major state building, it needed to express grandeur and solidity, but as a house of learning it also needed to be calming, quiet, and inspirational.
The triangular 10-acre site for the Parliament Library lies north of Lutyens's Viceroy's House, now known as Rashtrapati Bhawan, the presidential palace. Designed and built from 1912 to 1931 by Lutyens as the seat of British imperial power (which existed until India's independence in 1947), its arresting architecture is often referred to as Delhi Classic, owing to its monumental forms and Mughal motifs. Today the palace and stately government buildings, plus the streets, such as the expansive, tree-lined Rajpath, form a cohesive urban context that Rewal had to address in
Project: Parliament Library, New Delhi, India
Owner: Government of India Architect: Raj Rewal Associates—Raj Rewal, principal; Arvind Mathur, Anshu Mahajan, H.S. Sandhu, SanjeetBose, Pratap Talwar, Arun Rewal, Ankur Mathur, Vipin Thakur, design team
Engineer: India Central Public Works Department (CPWD); R.F.R. Engineers (for domes) General contractor: Larsen & Toubro
Consultants: Satish Khanna (landscape); CPWD, Satish Khanna (lighting); CPWD (acoustical)
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