The heart of democratic India, India’s power corridor – is being remodelled by the Government of India. And only if one is absorbed trying to negotiate the unprecedented and real everyday dilemmas due to the resurging pandemic in the nation will one be oblivious of the development. New Delhi’s Central vista is a precinct of the people, reminiscent of the appropriations that the people and society that is India has curated to the imperial remnants of the Raj. It contains the Sansad Bhavan (the Parliament), the Rashtrapati Bhavan (residence and office of the President), and many important cultural and public institutions. The functional exhibits of a democracy’s intricate every day have recently found a concrete spatial configuration and architectural expression, in the form of a New Parliament, for the nation-state of India. Marred by the questionable conduct of the very democratic ideals the project seemingly embodies, along with a plethora of questions concerning environmental and conservation disregard, the project will still very soon be a reality.
Architecture is as much form and function as it is about the purpose it serves, and as Daniel Libeskind truly reflects it is the biggest unwritten document of history. The Prime Minister of India, during the ground-breaking ceremony of the New parliament, announced that the building would be a symbol of new and self-reliant India (Atma Nirbhar Bharat).
The discourse before this moment has centred around the imperative need for an additive structure owing to the demands of space, amenities, technological and infrastructural up-gradation, and security arrangement. This rational utilitarian modern approach has envisioned the creation of a 64,500 sqm building, able to house 888 members in the Lok Sabha chamber, and adaptable to accommodate 1224 members during the joint sessions. The Rajya Sabha chamber will house 384 seats.
The design consultants for the project HCP Design, have stated that the old (existing Sansad Bhavan designed by Sir Herbert Baker) and the new building would work in conjunction with one another and supplement the functional requirements. The building shall suitably be geared up with all modern audio-visual communication amenities and digital interfaces, and is expected to be completed by the 75th anniversary of India’s independence and estimated cost is 971 crores.
The triangular edifice that is the New Parliament is primarily a pragmatic form, emerging out of the design space of a triangular plot and embodying three essential functional requirements – Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, and the Central Lounge, as described by the design consultant Bimal Patel. But can the discourse of architectural symbolism be left behind when concerning the remodelling of the Sanctum Santorum of our highest democratic ideals?
The triangular shape and the Sacred Geometry
Architect Bimal Patel on India’s New Parliament Building (plans as of Feb 2020) at CEPT University, stated regarding the underlying conceptual framework of communicating design apart from functional reasoning and deriving symbols and meanings. Why triangle? The trinities and triangles are associated with sacred geometries in various religions and cultures.
For example, A Sri Yantra is a form of a mystical diagram consisting of nine interlocking triangles with a central point, used in the Shri Vidya school of thought. The nine constituent triangles vary in size and shape and create forty-three triangles in five levels of concentric circles. This diagram in totality represents the cosmic order according to the belief of the Shri Vidya system. Similarly, ‘Trimurti’ is the trinity of Hindu deities Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. According to the Hindu belief, the cosmic functions of creation, maintenance, and destruction get represented in this trinity.
The subjection to geometric ideas in the design of jalis, as elements in the Islamic architecture, also finds mention by the architect during his presentation. The platonic solids (tetrahedron, hexahedron, octahedron, dodecahedron, icosahedron) are considered to be sacred geometry, and building blocks of the universe, in the Greek Mystery schools. The triangle as a symbol of balance and harmony underlies all these solids. Triangles, philosophically as a tri-part expression would symbolize the cohesion of past, present, and future.
These thoughts get mirrored into the design of the New Parliament, wherein the three primary functions embodied by the building would find relevance. The interiors will have three national symbols adorning the building as essential themes – the lotus (in the Lok Sabha Chamber), peacock (in the Rajya Sabha Chamber), and the banyan tree (the central lounge). The national emblem will symbolically crown the New Parliament building as an artifact. The inside partitions of the New Parliament will have inscriptions of shlokas, and the traditional Dholpur stone will be used, to retain the traits of the existing Sansad Bhavan (Parliament). The classical, folk-tribal art and crafts would find prominence, as stated by the designer while also, considering the architectural language of the Central Vista precinct.
Architectural expressions and form0space configurations have the power of affecting the perception of governments by citizens, and the succumbing of the design to modernist principles of utilitarian and symbolic undertones leaves a gap in expressing the ideals of a true democratic functioning. Transparency as an inherent attribute of democracy drives the ideals of a republic aspiring to move away from imperial clutches and severity, hence when remodelling a built form could express self-conscious civic development, reaffirming design on a simple, almost humble basis.
Could the New Parliament have been everything it is as designed today and more, a place where the public could engage with politics? Could the place and its function have been rethought, not just for the functional requirements for the people’s representatives but for public engagement and through public consultation? Could we have had a model of communicating to the world, the truest and highest ideals of the largest democracy, through the built form? The project is successful at revisiting places of national importance and steering towards new directions but is rendered in the smog of questionable approach, purpose, and timeliness.
Architecture speaks. Its language is truth.
Architect Bimal Patel on India’s New Parliament Building (plans as in Feb 2020) at CEPT University https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2vzkwUyzMxQ&t=14s
Details of the New Parliament Building https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_AOzpFXocKI
New Parliament with 900 seats to be ready by 2024 polls, will have a triangular shape https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nnvGy1vyQBo