A retrospective to fete City's acclaimed architect

Designing wonders

There is probably no Delhiite who can claim to have passed Mathura Road without doing a double-take on the unique design of Pragati Maidan’s Permanent Exhibition Pavilion.

And the same can be said of the X-shaped Indian National Science Academy on Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg and the truly marvellous Doordarshan Kendra in Mandi House. But how many of us can even name the man who is responsible for having conceived these architectural wonders which dot our progressive Capital city – Delhi – today? 

Raj Rewal – the man behind these fantastical creations – is now the subject of an expansive exhibition being held by the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA). ‘Raj Rewal: Memory, Metaphor and Meaning in his Constructed Landscape’ is spread over two full galleries - the Jaipur House and the Temporary Exhibition Gallery in NGMA’s new wing – and charts over five decades of the celebrated architect’s practice, research and thinking. 

It is jointly curated by acclaimed architects AG Krishna Menon and Rahoul B Singh, and is open for public view till June 16.

Known for hosting the works of modern and contemporary visual artists primarily, this is NGMA’s first ever architectural exhibition; and they have undoubtedly done a laudable job of it. It comprises not just photographs and explanatory notes, but films, maps, models, charts and catalogues which satisfactorily describe Rewal’s works and philosophy. The exhibition divides his oeuvre into four functional categories: Houses and housing projects, research and educational buildings and campuses, offices and public buildings. A timeline records the sequence of his commissions. 

Some of the landmark projects to be noted in this exhibition are the Library for the Indian Parliament (2003), Asian Games Village on Khel Gaon Marg (1982), the SCOPE Office Complex on Lodhi Road (1989), the National Institute of Immunology on Aruna Asaf Ali Marg (1990), CIDCO Low-Cost Housing Complex in Navi Mumbai (1993), the World Bank Regional Mission in Lodhi Estate (1995), the Lisbon Ismaili Centre in Portugal (2000) and the Indian Embassy in Beijing (2011), among others. 

Each presentation creditably elucidates the science and architectural aesthetics Rewal bore in mind while designing these. A few examples would be his love for the use of sandstone in Government edifices to exude the rasa (emotion) of power and grandeur. The Doordarshan Kendra in Mandi House is a matchless structure, narrow at the base and flowering on top.

 It was done to allow a larger ground area to be used for landscaping and provide better protection from the sun and the rain. His recently designed Metro Bhavan on Barakhamba Road, on the contrary, has a façade of stainless steel for a sci-fi look which goes well with the Delhi Metro’s image and reputation.

Rajeev Lochan, NGMA director, says, “Raj Rewal’s architecture is an experiential phenomenon in space and form. Deeply influenced by the Indian aesthetic order and spirit, Rewal’s works are rooted in the ethos of the land, and are significant landmarks of Delhi’s ‘modern’ architectural heritage.”

“This exhibition makes a long due contribution to Indian architectural studies which we hope will benefit students, researchers and scholars to gain a deeper understanding of Raj Rewal’s oeuvre.”

 “Finally it also marks a significant step towards portraying the intrinsic relationship between art and architecture.” 

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