“How to be modern and to continue the tradition, how to revive an old dormant civilization as part of universal civilization.” – Paul Ricour

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Responding to critical regionalism notion with his philosophies, Architect Raj Rewal has helped bridge the gap between Modernism and Traditional Architecture of India. There is something about Architect Raj Rewal’s design that keeps one riveted. Throughout his architectural career, he sought to meld poetic elements of space and natural light with empirical virtues to create his designs. 

In his 36 years of architectural career, Ar. Raj Rewal has been instrumental in changing the traditional design landscape through his projects. His work balances some of the radical departures from modernist dogma while developing a peculiar grammar of his own. In a country whose architectural inheritance is ancient and modern and whose society is both conservative and pluralist.

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“There should be some poetry about the building” – Raj Rewal

His architectural works have been called poetry in stone. His humanist approach to architecture symbolises different facets of life. Where it’s much more than bricks and mortar while responding to the complexities of a developing country like India. This distinctive grammar of amalgamation of technology and the essence of historical context is reflected through one of his recent projects – Jang-e-Azadi at Kartarpur.

Jang-E-Azadi Memorial At Kartarpur by Raj Rewal: Stories of Freedom Struggle - Sheet1
Jang-e-Azadi at Kartarpur |©https://www.shutterstock.com/

About The Project

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The project is conceptualized as Punjab’s Freedom Movement Memorial. The unparalleled sacrifices of Indian’s for the independence of India, aimed to be translated in this memorial complex on the 25 acres of land of Kartarpur. 

The site was carefully selected by the state government as it’s easily accessible to visitors traveling to the Golden Temple in Amritsar adding another tourist destination and broadening the perception about the heritage of Punjab. Under virtue of its setting, it attracts immense footfall throughout the year. Besides, the memorial additionally showcases the life and history of all those personalities thanks to whom we tend to stand on the head of social, political, and economic greatness.

Jang-E-Azadi Memorial At Kartarpur by Raj Rewal: Stories of Freedom Struggle - Sheet2
©www.tribuneindia.com

The sprawling area of 300000 sq ft of the Jang-e-Azadi memorial-cum-museum is very prominently designed by Raj Rewal, devoted exclusively to the freedom struggle.

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The concept of the Jang-e-Azadi is based on a circular enclosure that holds the focus of the memorial layout and houses a harmonious ensemble of components like the galleries, auditorium, library, and restaurant that can be accessed and function autonomously. Making it convenient not only for the community but also for the tourists.

The other components include a 150-seat movie hall, a 1000-seat open-air-theatre, a 300-seat auditorium, and a 45-meter-high tower known as ‘Shaheed-e-Minar’, which has a torch burning inside as a sign of tribute to the fire that burnt in the heart of the fighters.

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Layout of Jang-e-Azadi memorial | ©https://worldarchitecture.org/

About the minar, Raj Rewal explained, “When I was asked to do the minar I was a bit reluctant as minars in modern architecture are very rare. Here it is supposed to be a symbol of victory, so we have also added a flame. Many people come and pay their respects. Young couples come to seek blessings for a strong and courageous baby.”

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The tallest tower in the complex acts as a symbol of victory against colonial rule in Punjab. The eternal flame honours the martyrs.

Jang-E-Azadi Memorial At Kartarpur by Raj Rewal: Stories of Freedom Struggle - Sheet4
©https://jalandhar.nic.in/ 

The Motion

The circulation of the complex is primarily conceived as a pilgrimage centre, influenced by the Golden Temple without imitating its forms. The planning incorporates dynamic open spaces that fuse the varied requirements of the complex. 

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The entrance hall leads to a series of open courtyards, comprising an amphitheatre, the tall minar, surrounded by the widely spread greenery and the railings which connect the various galleries and buildings. For the circulation of the memorial and entrance hall, Indian precedents such as the Sanchi Stupa where a circulatory movement related to the life of Buddha is an important factor was the inspiration.

The motive behind designing the galleries at two levels was primarily to achieve the circular motion and the second entrance which can also be approached independently.

Jang-E-Azadi Memorial At Kartarpur by Raj Rewal: Stories of Freedom Struggle - Sheet5
©http://www.rajrewal.in/

The entrance hall, surrounded by shops, administration, and seminar rooms, leads to the first courtyard. The entrance is connected to the cafeteria, food courts, and library. An auditorium that can hold 300 people at one end and a transitional gallery with exhibits are enclosed in the second courtyard. The open amphitheatre is the core feature of this courtyard. 

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View of the open courtyard | ©http://www.rajrewal.in/

The Light

The play of scale and form, carrying people through a narrative of courtyards and bold structures, which diffuses the harsh sunlight and promotes social gatherings. The light within the memorial complex became the guiding factor.

“I realised that for me true inspiration comes from traditional Indian architecture. In this kind of architecture, there was a lot of wisdom about how to conquer the heat and how to live well. Fatehpur Sikri in Agra is one of my favourites.” – Raj Rewal.

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The Expression

The expression of the freedom movement is imparted not only by design but by the utilisation of local material. The use of white marble for the Martyrs’ Memorial is an important element because of its association with sacred temples in Punjab.

“Traditional Indian architecture based on craftsmanship has always respected and exploited the nature of materials such as stone, bronze and wood, and made no distinction between the functional, the decorative and the symbolic.” – Raj Rewal

The Elements 

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The Jang-e-Azadi’s circular memorial and the entrance hall are rested on doubly-curved concrete shells in the form of four petals that support the steel domes within. Patterns of flowers and petals give a sense of the lyrical rhythm of Punjab. The other source of influence on design was the strong and vibrant rhythm of the regional dance, i.e., Bhangra which is echoed in the dynamic form of the complex. The museum displays 9 main galleries and 5 outdoor exhibition spaces.

The buffer spaces between the Memorial and galleries display the heart-breaking stories of the heroes who fought for various events like Jallian Wala Bagh(Massacre) and other events of the freedom struggle.

The galleries take one through the key moments of Indian history, various scenarios from history, promoting a greater understanding of the struggle, and the rich culture of Punjabis are utterly extraordinary.

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Interior view of the exhibitions | ©www.tribuneindia.com

A building’s spirit

Jang-e-Azadi memorial and museum exhibit the various facets of Punjab’s role in the freedom struggle of India. The museum not only stands as the clear depiction of the victory over the shackles of the British regime of the unsung heroes and “sons of the soil” but also portrays Rewal’s principle of “every building has a spirit.” 

“Every building has a spirit, called rasa in architecture, and the design of a building complex needs to come together and create an ambiance that has a certain spirit.” 

– Ar. Raj Rewal.

Author

Sweta Singh is a final year Architecture student. Who believes that Architecture is the way to life. Her architectural journey has taught her the importance of unlearning to learn. She hopes her critical thinking and passion for Architecture will lead her towards social welfare.

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Rethinking The Future Awards 2022