RAJ REWAL: The structural systems, building materials, construction techniques . . . all of that in themselves are also very important for an architect, the craft of architecture. Structure–I’ve always been very keenly interested in because the structure has a logic in mathematics. And I think mathematics is also almost a kind of a religion, if you like, or a spiritual concern to it.
I was very interested to keep the views opened up with small gateways and passageways, so you’re always curious what is next. The whole idea was that we are in the courtyard, which you know it’s a very hot day, but it’s quite cool in a way. Because the air flows through these spaces to keep it cool, so these are some lessons which I’ve learnt from traditional architecture. It creates a sort of microclimate, so you don’t need too much air conditioning. As you can see, the vocabulary of the design is the same, but there is a change in each one of them. And that’s very important for me in doing architecture. It’s not a dull repetition of each building type. There is a kind of sequence of moments along.
The Pragati Maidan, it was to be built in a very short time, One year or one and a half years’ time. Once, I got very annoyed on the site. There was rain. They [the workers] had all come inside the building. They were cooking in there; the hall was being spoiled. You know you wanted to cut shuttering marks or the wood marks to be beautifully kept. And they were putting the flames next to this. I got very angry. And then I realised what a fool I am. You know, people are living here. I mean . . . I, for the first time, came to [know about] the reality of the poverty of India. That made me a different man. So, I think the architecture of, let’s say, humanism; That I have to work towards to fulfil for them something, that’s how I changed when I got the housing projects, low-cost housing. I was willing to take on anything to think about what to do for them. What intrigued me very much was the modernism of the type [of] Le Corbusier, modernism at that time was very sterile, in my opinion. In Europe and everywhere, it was becoming just a box and very . . . I would say functionalism at its worst, but Le Corbusier was functional, was structural, but it had an expression. And that intrigued me, this powerful expression.
I think a building should have a ‘rasa’. So, whenever I’m designing a building that right from the beginning, I wanted to have an expression or a feeling or a flavour. Parliament Library gave me a big canvas to do different kinds of structure for different kinds of spaces which are within the building. The idea of enlightenment . . . The library should enlighten the parliament. I wanted the building to be a kind of a guru to the parliament; the idea of the guru is very much there. A wise man who advises in Asian or all cultures, the king. So, I perceived that the parliament is like a king, democratic consensus of the king today. The library, which is the idea of enlightenment, it’s connected with that.
I’m happy to see many of the younger architects from all over the world who have come here. To understand the values of not making blocks, but to make buildings which have this low-rise, high-density quality, where you meet your neighbours with climate and culture. Somehow, if they all combine and respect the basic expression, I think [that is something that] holds [everything] together. At least, that’s the way I think.
Architect Raj Rewal’s approach to building design synthesises tradition and innovation, a fusion of historical architectural principles and modern elements. As a result, his work is not just functional but also infused with an ineffable emotional quality that he refers to as a ‘rasa’ – a term that embodies his singular vision and creative expression.
The M+ collections are home to an array of design objects from Rewal, including models, plans, and sketches for some of his most renowned projects, including the Hall of Nations, the National Institute of Immunology, and the Parliament Library.
With an intricate balance of form and function, Rewal’s structures achieve seamless integration of beauty and functionality, creating visually striking and efficient spaces. Through his innovative approach, Rewal has reshaped the field of architecture and paved the way for a new era of sustainable, human-centred design.
- Produced by
Kun Kong Wing Vision
- M+ Curatorial Research
- M+ Video Producer
- M+ Text Editing
LW Lam, Amy Leung
- Special Thanks
Raj Rewal, Shirley Surya, Chris Sullivan, Jaye Yau, Kenji Wong