The cool morning breeze filled with the strong aroma of masala tea poured from one cup to another and the bhajans reverberating from nearby temples is a mesmerizing experience etched in the minds as one thinks of this beautiful city of Ahmedabad. A walk by the narrow gullies cutting through antique stone gateways leading to evergreen market streets buzzed with people bargaining over shimmering ghagra cholis or snacking on the side roads makes one forget the prevalence of the serene riverfront by the Sabarmati River on the other side. The historic rock-cut tombs and mosques hidden amidst the metropolitan city with each standing out from the other is an interesting aspect of this city. Its transition from a fortified empire established by Ahmad Shah to its perseverant path towards freedom from the British led by Mahatma Gandhi is a story intricately woven into its heritage.
Here is a list of 15 Places to visit in Ahmedabad for the travelling architect:
1. ADALAJ STEPWELL
This rock-cut stepwell in the quiet village of Adalaj is a spectacular example of Indo-Islamic architecture with the harmonious fusion of Islamic floral patterns and Hindu-Jain symbolism intricately carved into pillars and walls. This five-storeyed structure built in the late 15th century served as refuge to travelers and local people and offered spiritual sustenance. The three entrances descend from the top floor into a courtyard opening into a picturesque vantage point of the stepwell. The rows of carved pillars on either side on each floor merge into perspective when viewed from the courtyard, making it the ideal photography spot. Descending further down leads to the core of the stepwell with an octagonal skylight letting in natural light and ventilation. The inside of the stepwell is six degrees cooler than the outside as the direct sunlight hits the staircase and landing only for a brief period at noon. The view of the turquoise blue water in the stairwell from above is indeed mesmerizing.
2. SABARMATI ASHRAM
The Sabarmati Ashram established in 1917, on the banks of the Sabarmati River for Mahatma Gandhi to practice his notion of self-sufficiency through agriculture, weaving, and other activities. Converted to Gandhi Smarak Sangrahalaya by architect Charles Correa, the serene and calm atmosphere has never left the place even after seventy years of Gandhi’s death. A stroll by the lush green garden with birds and squirrels coexisting with nature is itself evidence to the brilliance of its architecture. A few minutes spent in this place makes one feel connected to the lifestyle of the ashram, its presence an irony in the buzz-filled city of Ahmedabad.
3. SIDI SAIYYED MOSQUE
Situated in the heart of the city of Ahmedabad, this mosque is an exemplar to the African architecture left behind by the Siddi community prevalent for a brief period in India. Initially settled in India as slaves, their descendants rose into power and known for patronizing art and architecture. Shaikh Sayyid al-Habshi was one such descendant and built the mosque in 1573. The intricately carved jalis that adorn the semi-circular fenestrations at the side and rear ends of this mosque is one of the most artistic stone latticework in the world. “The Tree of Life”, a motif inscribed on one of the ten arch windows representing a tree grown in paradise according to Islam, eventually becomes the symbol of the heritage city of Ahmedabad. The central window arch is walled instead of inscribed jalis could be due to the invasion of the Mughals before completion.
The fabrication of the mosque involved an arcuate system of construction consisting of arches and vaults backing the jali windows, infiltrating light into space.
4. JAMI MASJID
Located west of the Manek Chowk, Jami Masjid brings one into a refuge from the hectic frenzy of the old city with its profound serenity. Constructed in the 15th century by Ahmed Shah, this mosque elegantly portrays Indo-Saracenic architecture with hidden syncretic symbols such as the domes carved in lotus flower symbolizing Jainism and the ‘Om’ symbol carved on the innermost window symbolizing Hinduism. The main entry opens into a wide corridor floored in white marble and a tank for ritual ablutions with the magnificent mosque built in yellow sandstone in the backdrop. A colonnade also built in yellow sandstone with inscriptions in Arabic calligraphy fortifies the mosque complex on either side. The main prayer hall comprises a series of columns arranged in a beautiful maze that fades with distance.
5. SANSKAR KENDRA
Sanskar Kendra is a cultural center project initiated by architect Le Corbusier as part of a larger development plan for Ahmedabad. Established in 1956, it accommodates two museums in memory of the architect. To mitigate the hot arid climate of Ahmedabad, he installed multiple intensive sun shading equipment, intensive planting, and a roof equipped with water basins. The stilts or pilotis lift the entire building, with the entry giving way into a spacious courtyard that connects the other floors by a ramp provided. The pilotis and open plan system are characteristic of Le Corbusier based on his theory “5 Points of Architecture”. The magnificent interior comes as a surprise to the visitor, wittingly tricked by its plain exterior.
6. AMDAVAD NI GUFA
Amdavad Ni Gufa is a beautiful collaboration that makes one question whether architecture is an art or vice versa. Architect B.V Doshi designed climatic responsive Ferro-cement shells, which are to be a series of art galleries for artist and friend M.F Hussain. These shells interconnected on a soulful perspective and functioned as a living organism.
Hussain painted his artworks directly on to the curved surface as hanging the paintings would not be aesthetic on the walls, along with silhouette sculptures and painted glass for the openings. The interplay of light and shadow enhance the bright colors on the walls within Gufa.
7. MILL OWNERS ASSOCIATION BUILDING
Designed by architect Le Corbusier and commissioned by the president of Ahmedabad Textile Mill Owners Association House (ATMA), this building represented modern architecture in a city active in the textile trade. With the understanding of the Indian climate, Corbusier came up with devices called ‘brise soleil’ used in the front and rear facade that could be tilted at a sufficient angle to fight heat and ventilate the spaces better. He also incorporated several vernacular techniques such as thickened walls, shade screens, overhanging ledges, etc.
The hanging gardens and lush trees ornamenting the exposed concrete structure brings life into the building. As one enters the building through the flight of stairs reaching upon the enormous door, taking one into the realm of textile and heritage of Ahmedabad. After a walk through the long tiring labyrinth of the museum, one finds themselves lost breathing in the cool breeze of the Sabarmati River at the rear.
A row of sunken vault structures clothed in china mosaic peeking over a wall at the entrance, Sangath gradually reveals itself in every turn through meandering lanes with the sculpture garden on either side. The word meaning “Moving together through participation”, this building is the personal office space for architect BV Doshi. A series of steps with a small stream of trickling water flowing in a narrow gutter adds on to the journey leading to the vault-like structure with a rectangular opening where one could get a glimpse of the office interior. Unlike most conventional buildings, Sangath can be viewed from above or below, thus creating a sense of walking through mountains or undulating surfaces. Such a journey brings in unique vistas at every turn hence refreshing to the soul. The light wells and skylights above illuminate the signature works of Doshi that take its place on the mere walls of this entity. The mezzanine floors and the small height of the rooms make one feel at home, thus aiding to free flow of thoughts.
9. CEPT UNIVERSITY
The smooth transition from the traffic packed streets of Ahmedabad to this serene campus feels like entering an alternate universe that instigates yearn for knowledge and contemplative mind, so rare in most educational institutions. The welcoming atmosphere while entering the campus brings a sense of collective belonging unified by a desire for wisdom. The exposed concrete structure seamlessly blends with the landscape, like an eternal being with each space working to keep it alive.
Every space within the campus is a bare canvas that enlivens once occupied by students engrossed in books or working out their designs at the canteen, under a tree in the plaza, the bay window of the library, or the dual staircases connecting classrooms. The ventilated classrooms facing the balconies packed with students discussing over sheets and carving soap models is a relatable sight. After sunset, the campus shimmers amidst the trees and is still functional with some working relentlessly while the rest in the cafeteria.
10. JAI JAGAT THEATRE
This theatre resembles a white cloth draped around, built for a Montessori school by SEAlab architects in 2017 as a memory to 100 years of Sabarmati Ashram. Located in a small village in Ahmedabad with mud houses on either side, this project followed the vision of Gandhi of providing children with an all-round education. Breathing in the neem-scented air while entering this space with birds chirping in the distance makes one comforted and secured as if seated in a mother’s arms. The fluid-like envelope structure with a modest human scale and surrounded by lush trees spiral itself into the theatre facing the audience.
11. AHMAD SHAH’S TOMB
Also known as Badshah No Hajiro, this houses the tomb of Sultan Ahmed Shah I is one of the most elegant structures in Ahmedabad known for its intricately carved jalis illuminating the space and dome-shaped building typical to the Mughal style. Situated east of Jami Masjid and alongside Rani no Hajiro, the square-shaped building has a central dome with four chambers in each corner. The well-maintained interior follows the Mughal tradition of placing the main tomb in the center with that of ministers surrounding it along with the cenotaphs (empty tomb) of the son and grandson of Ahmed Shah.
12. RANI KA MAQBARA
Located to the east of Ahmad Shah’s tomb, Rani no Hajiro houses the tombs of the female members of the Royal Family. Colonnades fortify the tomb on all four sides, with the bodies placed in the center of the courtyard formed. The facade of the Hajiro incorporates Mughal style Islamic inscriptions and intricate jalis, similar to the one observed in Ahmed Shah’s Tomb. A row of tightly packed houses with the locals taking charge of the maintenance of the tomb fills the road to the entrance. However, on entering through the blue antique door, the Hajiro shuts out from the hustle and bustle, bringing a sense of comfort and tranquility.
13. SHAKING MINARETS
Shaking Minarets, also known as the Jhulta Minar, was a gateway to the then existing Sidi Bashir Mosque and poses questions that to date remain unanswered. While one minaret vibrates the other vibrates, the connection passage being vibration-free is an architectural marvel, which explains its existence while the mosque crumbled down. There are other pairs of Jhulta Minara in Ahmedabad although much taller but did not resist over time.
Built by the Abyssinian warrior Sidi Bashir in the 15th century, the minarets designed in Indo-Saracenic style consisted of a naturally porous variety of sandstone called itacolumite, which has earthquake resisting properties.
The visitors would once stand on this three-storeyed minaret and demonstrations on its swaying ability was entertainment that never faded for a long time.
14. INDIAN INSTITUTE OF MANAGEMENT
Standing on the ramp ascending towards the majestic structure, one realizes how small they are or how little they know, yet enveloped by warmth and forgiveness for their ignorance. The campus spreads out across the green landscape, like arms welcoming one into the journey of knowledge.
Louis Kahn, together with BV Doshi, Anant Raje, and Bimal Patel, brought the Indian Institute of Management to life in 1974 with a vision to practice modern education systems in India where classrooms set the foundation for education, while the hallways and plazas provide the real lessons.
It is indeed a wonder how the architect played with light and shadow in a simple concrete structure.
15. NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF DESIGN
The establishment of the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad in 1962 was at a time when teaching design was a foreign concept. Initiated with just five disciplines, the first design institute came into being with the help of architect B. V. Doshi, as suggested to the government by Douglas Ensminger of the Ford Foundation.
This exposed concrete structure splits into countless courtyards and open spaces, thus drawing in natural light and ventilation into the building while drawing attention to the elegant spiral staircase. The minimal use of barriers with an open plan brings a fluid arrangement of spaces, thus offering scope for future spaces.