The STC building in New Delhi houses the State Trading Corporation of India owned by the government. This building was designed by the architect Raj Rewal. It is also called the “Jawahar Vyapar Bhawan”. The construction of this building took place between 1976 and 1989 and is a significant building of modernist architecture in post-independence India.
This was the time when the many major architects were inspired by and were following the steps of previous masters that came and worked in India. Some of them include Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn.
Many buildings were designed within the same archetype established during the first two decades of independence of India by these master architects and planners.
Modern Indian Architecture
The architects shortly after the independence tried to mimic the nation’s century-old monuments, particularly when designing government buildings. This can be seen in the buildings like Vishan Soudha in Bangalore, constructed in 1952.
In the following years, the Art Deco style made its way into the Indian subcontinent. The prime location for this expansion was Bombay. And though this was later than that in the western countries, it instantly became widespread. Subsequently, modern architecture too came to India and was blended with select traditional forms. It was in the 1980s when this modern architecture was made truly Indian with regional expressions. That came to be known as “critical regionalism”.
Raj Rewal was one of the first architects who developed and worked on critical regionalism. Much of his work follows these principles including STC building.
Critical regionalism has influenced the postcolonial Indian architectural approach. This concept aims at balancing the local needs with the progressive lessons of modernism. The Indian design elements are not superficially foisted on the building, rather they are blended with the design itself.
STC Building: Design Philosophies
The densely packed building mass breathes through the courtyards and semi-public spaces, inspired by the forts of Jaisalmer and Jodhpur. These courtyards not only make the space more comfortable in the harsh Delhi summer by providing shaded open spaces and air circulation, but they also serve as an interactive space.
Rewal was inspired by Le Corbusier for the idea of adding a courtyard on every second or third floor, to make the whole mass more user-friendly.
The courtyards also offer a splendid view of the city and are the perfect example of the incorporation of vernacular architecture into a modern building. They provide a sense of openness and relief in the otherwise solid volume.
The building has pure cubic volumes. It speaks of Raj Rewal’s idea of modern Indian architecture, expressed with a pure geometric form. Which also has its root in the traditional and vernacular wisdom of India.
Raj Rewal has always used clusters that provide mutual shading and design courtyards in between as an interactive space. But unlike his previous projects, the architect here has provided vertical clusters. Open spaces are distributed vertically. The long narrow passage around the building provides not only easy movement but also a buffer space.
The building elements are broken into many small units that are constantly repeated.
The built form has two wings giving it an L-shaped plan. These ‘L-shaped’ office blocks are in response to the height of the adjoining buildings. A cubic volume is placed on the highest part of the building, at the junction of the two wings.
The space created by the L-shaped adjoining towers is partially filled by a low three-storeyed volume. This space houses a commercial emporium.
The internal space programming is achieved by taking the time of activity into account. The retail and office spaces are made easily accessible. Display areas and interactive spaces in the form of courtyards and semi-open spaces are provided, which by encouraging interaction, connects the whole building as one.
Materials, Structure and Construction
The visual vocabulary of the built form is primarily dictated by red and yellow sandstone. It is unlike the pure neutral white colour that was being used by the modernist architects during that period. The sandstone clad facade resembles that of a Rajasthani fort or a haveli and gives the building a more decorated and ornamented appeal.
The openings are deep octagonal forms that provide cooing and shading. These units too, like many other elements of the building, are repeated consistently throughout. They not only make STC building climate-friendly but also, the repetition of octagonal openings in the bridge like girders resembles traditional jali.
The architecture Raj Rewal is also known for his distinct and to an extent bold structural choices. The State Trading Corporation of India building has a unique structure. The structure of vierendeel girders on the alternate floor of the facade is supported by vertical cores. These cores alose accommodate the lifts and services. This structure permits flexibility and the girders provide support to column-free floor plates that have a 15 meters span.
Raj Rewal’s architecture and his designs were sensitive to the climate in which they were built, an aspect that made the building not only look Indian but also feel the same way.
He was able to achieve an almost perfect synthesis of the new; through form and planning of spaces and the function of the building, and the old; by incorporating small but important elements into his design, that made the form comfortable and pleasant for the users.