India crowns the title of the holy land because of its ancient, well preserved and sacred temples. South India is spread on an area with thousands of divine temples that are torchbearers of the glorious heritage of India.

Project Name: Sai Baba Temple
Architects: rat[LAB] Studio (in collaboration with Shilpa Architects)
Location: Koppur (Outskirts of Chennai), Tamil Nadu, India
Design Team: Sushant Verma, Darshi Kapadia, Praneet Mathur (from rat[LAB] Studio, New Delhi) + Sheila Sri Prakash, Pavitra Sriprakash, Amrit Sahasranamam, Joe Paul (from Shilpa Architects, Chennai)
Clients: Urban Tree
Completion Year: 2021-22 (Expected)
Gross Built Area: ~25000 sq.m. (Temple Hall = 10,000 sq m.)
Renderings Credits: rat[LAB] Studio (Sreekanth Damodaran)

©Sreekanth Damodaran

A temple, expressing an inclusion of faith is primed to become an architectural landmark in the Land of temples, Tamil Nadu. Set in the outskirts of Chennai, the Sai Temple is a collaborative project by Shilpa Architects, Chennai and rat[LAB] Studio, New Delhi which revolves around the ‘Master Number’ 11 symbolizing balance, vision, purity; Masculinity as well as Femininity in Indian mythology.

The Sai Temple will be unveiled on an 11.11-acre site that is proposed at the epicentre of a 338 Acre master plan project of Chennai. The client brief had a strict indicative of using the number 11, owing to their beliefs in numerology and vastu – a traditional ancient Indian science. rat[LAB] was invited to join Lead Architects- Shilpa Architects, Chennai as design collaborators and Parametric Design Consultants. Taking an unprecedented approach, the concept design developed with an 11 sided polygon – Hendecagon, articulated as a three-dimensional polyhedron.

Known for their expertise in Computational Design and Parametric Techniques, rat[LAB] saw this as an untapped opportunity to explore computational design for a religious space in a novel manner. Using mathematics, sacred geometry, structural logics, an algorithmic process was developed to use evolutionary computation to create a plethora of forms, using spatial and structural constraints as parameters. Hendecagon was evolved to three-dimensional spaces while evaluating environmental aspects such as daylight, radiation, shadow range as well as structural logics of ‘double-fold’ origami. Geometric constraints of the geometry revolved around number 11, with height of the apex at 11 X 5 = 55 meters; and radius of hendecagon as 11 X 5 = 55 meters.

©Sreekanth Damodaran

The flooring pattern in the main hall is a mathematical looping system using 11 vertices of the hendecagon that folds to form interstitial spaces within the geometry. A recursive division of curves that create an asymmetry towards the deity creates a focal point at the ground level where the pattern curves and guides the visitors towards the deity for prayers and offerings. A pure white space from inside is magically lit by sunlight diffusing from the oculus on top, which maintains the purity and balance of the space by maintaining symmetry.  Double fold origami structure allowed to create a rigid structure with fluidic columns that blend into the interior space while allowing a long-span shell-like structure.

Master plan, developed by Shilpa Architects, has been inspired by the ‘Gode” Neem tree of Shirdi, Maharashtra  with a series of explorations on mathematical progressions resulting in an Agama-shastre based plan as the foundation for the design. The design of the garbhagriha is form-driven while trying to adhere to principles of numerology, Vaastu and powered by computational design.

The concept is to provide a form that is as pure and perfect as possible in colour, texture and philosophy. The proportions and sizing of all aspects of the design rely heavily on the understanding of the golden ratio and principles of mathematics and origami. Surrounded by a series of promenades, podium and lush green landscape, the Sai temple is a reflection of spiritual contemplation that will appear 66m (11×6) above the ground, making a mesmerizing experience for visitors entering the temple. Promenade frames the view to the temple, as well as guide the devotees to the 154 ft (11×14) Sai statue.

©Sreekanth Damodaran

Comprising of 4 zones: Front promenade, Temple Complex, Rear Promenade and Statue, the spiritual temple will be built on the principles of Vastu Purusha mandala. The Front promenade marks the beginning of the temple complex by inviting the visitors into the complex after drop off. The area is spatially divided into counters for storing baggage and shoes, frisking area and ablution area.

The first view of this divine architectural pilgrimage is revealed to the devotees at Gopuram. To keep the interest alive, the view is partly hidden through the landscape. Green strips and shops break the monotony of the 525 ft promenade walk on either side of the pathway.

The area of prayer and meditation is based on the 11 point circle pattern that is reiterated throughout the design of gathering spaces and the roof of the garbagriha. The flooring of the garbagriha is done specifically to shift the focus to the far end of the room rather than the centre beneath the oculus of the polygonal roof intersects. Dividing the outer circumference into 11 equal segments, the position of the deity within the garbagriha is fixed. The arcs that radiate from this fixed position connect to the segment points on the circumference forming a petal-like pattern which is also translated to the oculus on the rooftop. This design measure creates a point of focus that is not the centre of the polygon while maintaining symmetry and sanctity to the Master Number.

©Sreekanth Damodaran

The devotees reach the podium through the maha mandapa from either the VIP room or the general queuing system in place. Once they reach the podium, the devotees are offered a panoramic view of the entire development and could go to the temple, the three shrines in front of the garbagriha, meditation pockets, or gathering spaces as and when they prefer.

This place is destined to be a spiritual centre to seek tranquility and introspection. It is going to be one of the rare projects of this scale where computational design, parametric methods and algorithmic approach is being deployed to design a spiritual space in India, making way for redefining a blend of contemporary and traditional architecture in a heritage-rich country.


rat[LAB] Studio

rat[LAB]  – Research in Architecture & Technology, is an independent research organization and network of designers & researchers specializing in computational design or similar technology-related domains. rat[LAB] is operated as a cloud-based organization with an international network of researchers & computational designers spread across UK, USA, Europe & Asia, with headquarters in New Delhi, India, the research cell functions as a global collaborative and multidisciplinary laboratory facilitating design research that leads to novel spatial tectonics and smart built environments. The research agendas broadly focus on use of computational design & parametric design in architecture, with intersections between design & technology spread across scales and disciplines. rat[LAB] offers collaborations to architecture and design firms to develop systemic models using advanced computational techniques and carry out project-specific or agenda-specific work in all fields of design. As a design studio, rat[LAB] works on projects of architecture, urban and interior design scale and also diversifies in design of furniture, lighting, art installations through use of parametric and computational design techniques.

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