“Castles In The Air” – A Review

Cover copy copy

Architecture is one hell of a profession, but is undoubtedly one of the noblest.Building a roof and a shelter over man, Architecture provides joy in habitation.

Author Sangeet Sharma says:

“While Architecture is in itself a spiritual exercise, the practice of the same may not be. The pleasures and pains experienced by me and many others needed to be penned—I did it. The courage required to do so inspire me to lead, and I thought, this was the right path to spew the venom that my heart, and hearts of many others had stored for long.”

It was important to communicate and regale at it.Laughter is said to be the best elixir and the book is a satire on architecture written by one who knows the bricks and concrete of the profession by heart.  The author, an architect himself, delves into the journey of a professional practice. The book is witty with acerbic humor.  Word by word, sentence by sentence, page by page, every scene unfolds like a screenplay, leaving the reader amazed with the brutalities of life in architecture, and life itself.

Says the author “Writing this book was necessary: Necessary, because the nature of this profession was on a somersault. It was important that someone bell the cat— I became the bell; and I become the cat.

The book is not for architects alone; it is for the clients who initiate jobs establishing noble and worthy projects. It is for the builders and contractors who execute them; it is for the craftsmen and the masons, who, by the dexterity of their hands create magic in details. It is for the services consultants and allied engineers who ensure the smooth functioning of the buildings. It is for the sculptors, painters, and artists who induce art into architecture.

It is for the students of architecture who will be in the profession in times to come and should be well-prepared to face the challenges ahead. It is for lay readers who are curious to know how architecture and connected vocations function.

The most important thing about “Castle in the air ” is that, it’s a cocktail of a student’s experience and a experience of a professional architecture. The story of the book is narrated in such a way that the reader can easily get everything about architecture. It also deals with all those problems an architect faces in both student life and professional life.

The book is for the eager housewives who misconstrue design with decoration. It is also for the politicians who are the kingmakers and implement the magnanimous visions into reality.

It is for all who are even remotely connected with the building industry.

As Architecture is all about habitat and human comfort, the book is therefore about life, and its challenges.

What we learnt in schools and what we practice are often in contradiction. Beginning from college days, to thesis, to opening of an office, procuring a job, interaction with the clients, payments, competitions, running of the office and bearing the challenges of the daily strain in Architecture—all these and more became the basis for this book.”

Many contributed to make the framework of this narration:

Author’s observant eyes, naughty banter at parties, agonized clients, contriving builders and contractors, jealous fellow professionals, vindictive teachers, unprofessional colleges, unsupportive professional bodies, lecherous girls at architects’ meets, conniving staff members, clueless government officers, sadistic engineers and high-headed bureaucrats, flawed architectural agreements, uninterested students, unconcerned hostel wardens, aggressive principals, brutal seniors, scheming invigilators, heartless examiners, nagging wives, incompatible families, interfering patrons, egoistic couples, partial journalists and opportunist vendors formed fodder for this book.

Says Sangeet Sharma, “The book is purely a work of fiction, but, the incidents in it are not. Stories that unfold in the book may have many parallels in reality.”

Some of the occurrences narrated here, without doubt, would have happened to him or others. All said and done, Architecture is not full of pitfalls and hurdles alone but good things don’t need be written about—the unsavory aspects actually glue the readers to a book.

The author candidly sums up:

“I may be wrong—but not untruthful.”


The book is available in all leading stores and on Amazon and kindle.



Sangeet Sharma is a well-known practicing architect in Chandigarh.

He is widely published, awarded, quoted and celebrated for his sustainable and contemporary modern architecture.

Sangeet is a multifaceted personality: An architect, poet, architectural critic, artist, author, motivational speaker, thinker, and a musician.

He has authored four books on Architecture: Architalks,(A3F Publications) Step by Step Hospital Designing and Planning(JayPee Publications), Architecture Life & Me (Rupa & Co.), and Corb’s Capitol (A3F Publications).  He has also published a book on English poetry titled ‘The touch of moon’.

Recently his latest book Castles in the Air was awarded the “National Book Honour Award” under the category of ‘Faction’. The award was given on 10th January 2018 in Mumbai.




(This is Synopsis of Ultra- Tech India’s Next Competition, 2016-17 entry by Pappal Suneja & Associates with Status of First Runners Up: North Zone)


The Garli village in Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh is one of the first villages of India to have ‘heritage zone’ status. The village is the original homeland of Sood community. They showcased their opulence for by building monuments, villa & bungalows in their local village Garli. The structures in this village have a blend of many architectural styles with Indo-Saracenic as a predominate one. Most of the building in this village represents power & influence of Britishers who chose Shimla as their summer capital.

Most problems in rural India are universal and can be addressed where ever one is with simple and innovative Architectural Interventions, on the contrary, Re-modeling of the village on a hill for a smart society calls for several additive contextual factors like Landslide Prevention, Smart Sourcing, Use of Animal as a Resource, Zoned Construction etc. Thus, the basic concept for SMART Society undertaken is this development is Transforming settlements from within by focusing on Regional & Community Design, Water Conservation, Energy Flow & Energy Future, Judicious Land use & Site Ecology, Bio-Diversity with ‘Highest Sustainability’ as a Concept at stake in an Architect’s Hand.

Garli Village Panel 1

The predominant simple and powerful innovations undertaken in this proposal include Solar Community Kitchen, Twin-Pipe Latrine system to enable the use of basin water for flushing, use of Vetiver plant for waste water (Domestic generated) treatment which could be utilized for gardening purpose and Storm water could be treated for drinking purpose or recharging of the water table. Further, one of the 5 HP submersible pumps could be replaced by Bull driven borehole line shaft pump. This pump is a positive displacement screw pump that is driven by two bulls connected to the pump rotor through a gear and chain and pulley arrangement. Furthermore, Bull driven oil expeller and flour mill demonstrate the utility of bulls and this helps to make oil and flour in an Eco-friendly fashion.

Garli Village Panel 2

Also, use of bio-digestorsenables theuse of Biomass as a renewable energy resource derived from the carbonaceous waste of various human and natural activities. Biomass does not add carbon-dioxide to the atmosphere. Moreover, Symbiotic Recycling Model calls for utilization of the waste generated within a stipulated time frame, for instance during day time hens could be fedwith muggets and the left out of the same could be eaten by frogs during the night and fish leftovers could be consumed by ducks. Ultimately the waste generated if used at right time for right resource development we may end up with the production of eggs in the morning. On Similar vision, we may sanitize dumping ground waste with Natural & Herbal enzymes, with this the natural waste shall be decomposed with flies’ action and the scrap & plastic shall get segregated on its own to be sent to the recycling yard.

Alternative Energy; Bio Gas

Cost saved = Money earned. We would like to give a brief idea as to how shifting to bio gas generation may help us cut down costs. Below data is as of Dec 2016 for Garli Village.

Number of LPG cylinders saved per month




Amount saved per month on LPG cylinders

(Cost of cylinder is Rs 1300)


Rs. 78,000


Savings from Slurry per Month

(Market value of raw Materials, saved)


Rs. 11,000


LPG procurement costs

(For shuttling between Town and Village)


Rs. 4000


Amount saved on Fuel per month


Rs. 2000


Total savings and revenue


Rs. 95,000




Salary for 1 person Rs. 5000


Maintenance cost Rs. 3000


Fuel Cost per month


Rs. 6000


Diesel cost per month for running the pulveriser and blower


Rs. 4000


Total Cost incurred


Rs. 18,000




Net Savings per Month Rs. 77,000


Besides these, the evolution criteria’s include smart sourcing that is to reduce the overall carbon footprint, 90% of the materials can be sourced from within  50 km radius of our facility. Then, Zoned Construction enables that the Construction activity is not allowed to spread all throughout the village. It should be restricted to only some areas with all the sun-dried brick production units strategically placed near those areas to minimize transportation activity.Further, Garli Village shall focus on the behavior and impact of the occupants, with less reliance on technology for generating energy. Everything from choices made during construction to the way occupants eat and sources of food is governed by local resources. On a Concluding Note, the need of the hour states that wastewater management system and Symbiotic-Recycling model, linked with bio gas generation on site, Water Conservation, and Organic Farming etc. should be basic parameters for design consideration of Rural India.




Architect Sanjay Goel – First Nominated Director Of Any Smart City In India


Architect Sanjay Goel is the first nominated Director of any smart city in India as Chairman of a Chapter.

He was nominated in SPECIAL PURPOSE VEHICLE (SPV)  meant for running affairs of upcoming smart city of Ludhiana which is one the largest city in Northern India after National Capital of Delhi and is also known as Manchester of India.

Goel who has worked hard in past decades to uplift standard of art , architect and architecture was chosen by state and district administration in SPV along with many senior IAS , IPS and Political persons.

Out of 100 smart cities to be made in India Ludhiana was chosen in first list of 20 cities and Sanjay Goel was chosen as Director to guide all as Architect.

No IIA Member has till today joined as Director SPV in any other upcoming smart city of India.

Goel was awarded many times for his contributions as Director Ludhiana Smart City Ltd.

He also attended video conferencing with PM Narender Modi in the past.

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He has successfully set the trend for other architects to be chosen in future for smart cities. Goel is also former chairman of IIA Ludhiana Centre & is presently chairman of IIA Punjab chapter. He has delivered many lectures in international, national and state level architectural events.


Architect Sarbjit Bahga Conferred With First Friday Forum Award For Creative Excellence

Ar Sarbjit Bahga
Architect Sarbjit Bahga receives FFFACE Award from Dr. SS Bhatti

First Friday Forum Award for Creative Excellence in architecture and journalism has been conferred on Sarbjit Bahga – a Chandigarh based architect, urbanist, author, and photo-artist. At present, he is Principal Architect at BAHGA DESIGN STUDIO LLP, and India Reporter for worldarchitecture.org.

The award citation states as, “We are pleased to confer on Architect Sarbjit Singh Bahga First Friday Forum Award for Creative Excellence in recognition of his diverse contribution to the practice of Architecture. His work reflects his rich experience in architectural research and journalism beside his uncanny ability in authoring valuable books on Architecture.”

“Unlike many other architects he has kept his calmness and composure unruffled by unhealthy competition, and pursued architectural creativity as his lifelong mission for the amelioration of the human condition through the power of Building Design. He has imparted to many building-types the serene grace of disciplined creation. He brings to his work the veracity and variety of seasoned designing skill illuminated by rare self-culture.”

Bahga has 37 years of experience in designing of various building-types, complexes and campuses. He has worked in the Department of Architecture, Punjab; Punjab Health Systems Corporation, Punjab Mandi Board. His completed works include administrative, recreational, educational, medical, residential, commercial, and agricultural buildings.

His architectural designs are interesting and responsive to function, climate, and materials. A monograph on his selected works titled MODERN REGIONALISM: The Architecture of Sarbjit Bahga has been published. Bahga is a staunch modernist and an ardent, yet not blind, admirer of Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret, and Louis Kahn.

Bahga is a keen researcher, and a prolific writer. He has eight books to his credit: Modern Architecture in India; New Indian Homes; Le Corbusier & Pierre Jeanneret: Footprints on the Sands of Indian Architecture; Contemporary Architecture beyond Corbusierism; Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret: The Indian Architecture; Trees in Urban Habitat; Contemporary Indian Houses, and Landscaping Human Habitat.


He is three-time recipient of World Architecture Community Awards. His name has been featured in Guinness Book of World Records for designing “longest covered concrete corridor” in Vidya Sagar Institute of Mental Health, Amritsar.

First Friday Forum was established in October 1999 to provide an open platform for experience-based discourses. Initiated by professionals from different fields of human endeavour to evoke interactive participation from people of diverse backgrounds and occupations for  lateral thinking and mutual enrichment in the pursuit of general public good through the beautiful means of versatile creativity.

The Forum acts as an Art Nursery for Interactive Propagation of Creativity, Culture, and Civility. It has been regularly organizing lectures and audio-visual presentations, on the First Friday of every month, on the themes and issues a varied as Indian Classical Music, Rainwater Harvesting, Art & Culture, Heritage, Architecture, Theology, Vāstu, Yoga, and Modern Urbanism.

The Built-Environment, as an offspring of Architecture-the Mother of all Arts, is the product of multi-aspected, many-layered, collaborative creativity of architects, planners, engineers, landscape-designers, administrators, and builders. When put to active large-scale use, it comes alive by many vital inputs from litterateur, writers, poets, painters, sculptors, theatre-artists, musicians, photographers, educationists, etc.

 It is this hard-to-define exceptional individual talent for the promotion of Psycho-Social Urbanism which First Friday Forum constantly endeavours to identify, articulate, encourage, and honour in the old and the young alike covering all walks of life-transcending the artificial barriers of innumerable disciplines and the so-called modern-day specializations.

First Friday Forum Awards for Creative Excellence (FFFACE) were instituted in 2006 to honour those professionals/select individuals who have, without hope or desire of reward, contributed selflessly but significantly to the aesthetic enhancement of the Built-Environment through outstanding work in their own diverse fields.


Remembering Architect H. S. Chopra

Sarbjit Singh Bahga

Ask any educated person who are the planners and designers of Chandigarh? The instant reply will be, Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret, Maxwell Fry, and Jane B. Drew. But if you ask who were the Indian members of these foreign masters’ brigade? Perhaps a few, barring some knowledgeable  ones, shall be able to tell the names of A. R. Prabhawalker, U. E. Chowdhary, Jeet Malhotra, Aditya Prakash, M.N. Sharma, H.S. Chopra, M. D. Mande, R. S. Lall, Amar Rajinder Singh to name a few at random. In fact, it was this group of youngsters (at that time) who actually helped the great masters to translate their dreams into reality. None can deny their contribution to Chandigarh in particular, and modern Indian architecture in general.

For us the new generation of architects these members acted as our godfathers telling old tales of Chandigarh and its planners, thus linking out past with the present. But how far we shall remain lucky to avail this opportunity. With the demise of architect H. S. Chopra on 23rd March, 1994, we have lost not only our most revered master but also a vital link with our past. The author having been worked in close association with H. S. Chopra shares his views (about him) with readers.

H.S. Chopra (Harbinder Singh Chopra) was one of those geniuses who unlike their flamboyant contemporaries, opted for a low profile, for the reasons best known to him. He had worked on one of the top most posts (Additional Chief Architect) in the Department of Architecture, Government of Punjab. Chopra also served as Principal of the Chandigarh College of Architecture for a brief period, Senior Architect in the Punjab Agriculture University (PAU), Ludhiana and Senior Architect to Chandigarh Administration. During his stay with PAU he was Adviser to the Agriculture University, Trichur in Kerala.


By virtue of having worked with modernists like Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret, Maxwell Fry, and Jane B. Drew, he had acted as a torch bearer to promote the principles of modern architecture in this region. Jane B. drew recorded her comments about H. S. Chopra as, “He has unusual feeling of form… and if he is given opportunity, this man can be relied upon to produce a building of real merit.” Pierre Jeanneret too was quite optimistic about him. In a commendation certificate to Harbinder Singh Chopra he wrote in 1957, “He has a real capacity for architecture and has developed plastic sense, and I am sure he will become a good architect.”

During his marathon career in service he was popular as humorous and humble, talented and true professional architect. His works eloquently stand as testimonials for excellence in architecture he had achieved. Prominent among these are, M.S. Randhawa Library, Museum of Rural Life of Punjab, Prithipal Singh Sports Centre in Punjab Agriculture University, Ludhiana, Anglo-Sikh War Memorial, Ferozepur, and Batra Cinema, Officers’ Apartments / Yatri Niwas, Nehru Hospital in PGI, Kairon Administrative Block, PGI, Chandigarh, Shopping complex on Madhya Marg, Sector-9, Chandigarh besides Dhillon Cinema at Manimajra to name a few. These works are representative of Chopra’s vision, creativity and ability to handle materials and technology to create functional as well as aesthetically pleasing built-forms.

70614312M.S. Randhawa Library, PAU Ludhiana

scan10001-copyPrithipal Singh Sports Centre, PAU, Ludhiana

anglo-sikh-war-memorial-at-ferozeshahAnglo-Sikh War Memorial, Ferozepur

2036759Anglo-Sikh War Memorial, Ferozepur

dsc04475Batra Cinema, Chandigarh

dsc04448Officers’ Apartments / Yatri Niwas, Chandigarh

dsc04456-copyNehru Hospital, PGI, Chandigarh

dsc04452Kairon Administrative Block, PGI, Chandigarh


Kairon Administrative Block, PGI, Chandigarh

dsc04463Shopping complex on Madhya Marg, Sector-9, Chandigarh

These buildings have largely been built after 1960s and 1970s when the Indian architects were on the threshold of rejecting the blind following of the so called “International Style” and were striving hard to evolve an architecture suited to the local imperatives, of course, with internationally acclaimed technology and materials like reinforced concrete, brick, glass, steel, etc. This later on gave birth to what is more appropriately termed as “Internationalism.”

Like most of his top ranking contemporaries  Harbinder Singh Chopra contributed his share, but unnoticeably for the development of new form of architecture. Being endowed with tremendous amount of clarity in his vision he had conscientiously avoided hybridism in architecture in his pursuit to create an “esprit moderne.” He had neither let himself in a state of waveringness nor attempted irresolutely to alienate the traditional building elements or motifs and transplant them on the otherwise modern structures. Instead, he had tried to develop details to suit the function, materials, and technology. Contrariwise, whenever there was a need to create a traditional milieu, he had skilfully evaded the induction of modernistic expression. This is evident from his design of Museum of Rural Life of Punjab in PAU Ludhiana. The building of the Museum of Rural Life of Punjab is though a contemporary structure yet it is designed in a traditional way so as to create a sense of rural milieu and to reminisce it with ancient Punjabi House. Inside the museum typical old Punjabi way of life has been stilled in the form of full-size dummies of beautiful Punjabi women performing routine domestic chores. Other household goods and artifacts have so precisely been displayed in a natural manner that everything looks like ‘as it where it was.’

image04Museum of Rural Life of Punjab, PAU, Ludhiana

H. S. Chopra had always inclination for the use of brick and reinforced concrete as main building materials. In continuation with the tradition set by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret he exploited these materials as much as he could. In consonance with the prevalent doctrine in 1960s and 1970s that natural, rough textured surfaces have more endurance than the smooth stucco surfaces, most of his buildings are either in exposed brick, concrete or combination of both. His understanding and ability to handle these materials was simply superb and can be equated with, if not excelled his foreign masters. Apart from the functional and technological precision, his works evoke distinct appeal in aesthetic values. In the pursuit to create beauty in architecture his approach was in consonance with his own personality. Harbinder Singh Chopra, a tall-built, vigorous, robust but polite man often loved bold, monumental, simple yet sculptural expressions. He had craving and commitment for achieving something intangible rather than mere fulfillment of physical scope of works. He had always attempted in his own way to accomplish the artistic urges in himself and gave the society magnificent and splendid pieces of architecture which the future generations may have the legitimate claim to feel proud of.

Remembering Patwant Singh – Voice of Modern Indian Design

Sarbjit Singh Bahga

When we talk about the subject of Architectural Journalism in India the first name which prominently figures in our mind is that of Sardar Patwant Singh. A multifaceted personality – an architectural journalist, writer, editor, historian, publisher, conservationist, political commentator and philanthropist , he single handedly launched his first monthly publication – The Indian Builder in 1953. The magazine was aimed to highlight the achievements and problems of newly independent India’s burgeoning building industry and its vital role in national development.


Going ahead, unveiled the famous Design magazine in 1957 which he published and edited for 31 years till 1988. It was a revolutionary magazine, first-of-its-kind in the world at that time. Design critically covered architecture, urban planning, industrial design, graphics, and the visual arts. These subjects were the ones that, till that point of point had isolated audiences which rarely seemed to mix into each other. The magazine became a platform for the convergence of world famous architects and artists such as Peter Blake, Walter Gropius, Philip Johnson, Richard Neutra and Eero Saarinen.

scan0003Title page of one of the Design magazine.

Our association with S Patwant Singh commenced in 1985 when we were aspiring to learn architectural writing. We submitted some articles to him in 1985 for consideration to be included in Design magazine. Though we were not good at writing but somehow the contents and substance in these articles appealed to him and we were called to his Delhi office for discussion. Perhaps to encourage us in the field of architectural writing, he guided us to rewrite the articles in the format explained to us. We happily did the rewriting and resubmitted these articles which were published in the subsequent issues of Design from 1985 to 1987. It was a matter of great privilege for young architects like us to get published in such a pioneer magazine. But to our dismay the magazine discontinued in 1988 but his blessings remained with us throughout his long journey.

Patwant Singh was born on 28 March 1925. He was a son of a rich civil contractor and a prominent builder of Lutyens’ New Delhi. He grew up and got educated in Delhi in 1930s when Lutyens’ capital was being built. Singh began his career in family business of construction and engineering. He discovered a natural ability to write at an early age. His thinking, view points and opinions on the matters of architecture, urban design are timely recorded in the editorials of The Indian Builder and Design magazine which he published for 35 years. It is our wishful thinking that The Indian Institute of Architects takes the initiative and gets these editorials republished in the form of a book as these editorials are truthful reporting of history of architecture in India between 1953 and 1988.


When he started the publication of Design magazine in 1957, the construction of Le Corbusier’s Chandigarh was in full swing. He covered the progress and growth of the city in a befitting manner and wrote many editorials of the impact of the city on the  contemporary architecture of India. In one such editorial he wrote, “Corbusier’s work in this country—Chandigarh more specifically—shook India out of the architectural stupor it had been in since long. It needed that shaking. Not that India lacks design talent, but just that it was the right time to point to the possibilities which lay beyond our obsession with burgis, chattris, and domes. We were beginning to look on these forms as representatives of the Indian tradition, while ignoring the true definition of tradition: the creativity inherent in the sensitive temperament of people. We had a tradition of creativity we were devaluing by plagiarizing the past. Chandigarh was the catalyst which pulled us out of that rut.”

Singh was a fearless thinker and writer. He was a regular contributor to the leading international newspapers, including New York Times, The Globe and Mail, The Independent, The Asian Age, Indian Express. He was known for his fearless writings and unbiased opinion as noticed in one of the articles that he wrote on New Delhi titled  “Capital plans that destroy a city”.

Singh’s contribution to the field of architecture, urban design, and conservation of historical built environment was not limited to writing, editing, and publishing. He was also instrumental in setting up the Urban Arts Commission in Delhi. He undertook series of discussions with the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1974, and convinced her to set up a statutory body to monitor new building projects and conserve historic structures in Delhi.

Apart from editing and publishing Design magazine, Singh has written about a dozen books on diverse topics, ranging from history, politics, and international affairs. Prominent among these are India and Future of Asia, Delhi: The Deepening Urban Crisis; The Golden Temple; The World According to Washington: An Asian View; Gurdwaras in India and Around the World. At the time of his death Singh was working on another book, “Beyond Forgiveness: The Destruction of Delhi’s Priceless Heritage”. The great legend left for his heavenly abode on 8 August 2009 at the age of 84.

In spite of his very busy life, Singh was able to spare some time for philanthropy too. He also travelled to many countries like Germany, USA, UK, Sweden, Australia, Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippine, often as the guest of their governments.

Patwant Singh will always be remembered for the valuable contribution he has rendered to the world and especially to Indian society as a whole. Most importantly, he gave the landmarks in the form of institutions dedicated for the social upliftment and also his valuable books which speak of his rich experience and aesthetic sense. To honour his services to the field of architectural journalism, the Indian Institute of Architects must constitute an award in his memory, something on the lines of –  ‘IIA Patwant Singh Gold Medal for Lifetime Contribution to Architectural Journalism’  which should be given annually to a towering personality who has excelled in the field of Architectural Journalism in India. This will be a true homage to a person like Patwant Singh, who, though not an architect himself served the profession of architecture more than any architect.

Some of the title pages of Design magazine:







Some of the books authored by S Patwant Singh:




Preservation of Architectural Heritage in the Hills

Sarbjit Singh Bahga


Hills have and will remain one of the most attractive tourist destinations worldwide. Be it the serene landscape, pleasant weather or the beautiful architecture that hills are an abode to, the excitement to capture their view will never drop. Year on year people throng the hills in search of peace, adventure, fun and knowledge. All this while what has been deteriorating are our Mother Nature and the man-made beauty – our Hill Architecture. We need to protect them both, for a sustainable future and a memorable past. However, the current focus of this article is on the heritage we built hundreds of years back. The unique design, structure and variety of architecture in the form of Dhajji walls, Kath-kona walls, wooden temples, Dzongs ghats, British architecture, etc. can be found in the hills of Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, West Bengal, Bhutan, etc. It speaks volumes about the effort, intelligence and meticulousness of the olden times. This article explains these various forms of architectural designs vividly. The urgent need to preserve and maintain this heritage has been stressed upon. This article suggests various ways and means, which if adhered to, can be the building blocks for a change which our heritage lying in the hills is longing for. 

Architecture is a social art. It represents living styles of people, their resources, material and techniques of construction relevant to the physical, topographical and climatological needs of any particular region in a particular time-span. Ruins of historical buildings not only link our past with the present but also make us knowledgeable to maintain harmonious continuity in our culture. What our fore-fathers have built is a source of inspiration today and what we built today will inspire future generations. Our culture has an uninterrupted continuity from pre-historic times to the present. If we want to ensure this continuity in future we must preserve “anything which can be looked on as artistic, picturesque, historical, antique or substantial, any work, in short over which educated artistic people would think it worthwhile to argue at all; as William Morris father of conservation movement in England said it. On preservation, Indian Constitution under the fundamental duties states,” it shall be the duty of every citizens of India to value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture.”

The traditional hill-Architecture with its vitality in crafts and skills is a valuable cultural resource. Any neglect of this resource will not only reduce the potential diversity of material artifacts but also make us poorer in the confidence with which they could continue to create knowledge. To create awareness for its preservation we must, understand its essence, rationality and appropriateness. When we talk of Hill-Architecture the first impression which comes to our mind is its vernacular style with organic character – the use of local building materials like mud, stone and timber without any artificial covering. The indigenous construction techniques like, Dhajji walls, in which mud and stone pieces are packed into wooden frames and the surface finished with coat of mud and lime plaster, or the kath-kona system of wall construction with alternative layers of wooden beams and courses of locally available stone without any mortar.

Then came the high pitched-slanting roofs made in timber and covered with stone slates or wooden shingles forming an interesting skyline in harmony with the mountain peaks in the background. This most dominating and stimulating feature of Hill-Architecture is the outcome of centuries old solution to the acute problem of controlling high rain/snow falls in the mountainous regions. All these features, coupled with high quality of craftsmanship and traditional skills to use the local building materials not only for functional purposes but also for fulfilling the artistic urges of the people in accordance with their rituals, beliefs and customs, make the Hill-Architecture perfect.

As testimony to this blend of function and beauty, there are still numerous pieces of architecture which have survived over a long period of time and unlimited forces of decay. Prominent among these are some wooden shrines in Himachal Pradesh which must have been built since early time e.g. Lakshana Devi Temple in Bharmour, Shakti Devi Temple in Chhatrari both in Chamba District and Markula Devi Temple in Udaipur in Lahoul-Spiti District. Though all of them were renovated to lesser or greater degree in subsequent periods of history yet these are worthwhile examples still available for study to research scholars. Towards the East in Bhutan there are some old architecture wonders called Dzongs, which are perfect examples of site-structure and surrounding unity. Prominent among them is Paro Dzong in Paro Valley in inner Himalayan Mountains of west-central Bhutan. This composite administrative and monastic centre having court of justice, revenue offices, monastery of the prevalent Vijraina Buddhist sect now dominant in Bhutan and royal palace for visiting royalty is a legacy of great architectural tradition of this mountainous region. The structure though a dominant one with massive white washed mud walls, yet blends well with dark hill slopes and snow clad mountains in the background. Its massiveness is well punctuated by decorative touches like carvings on the wooden windows and balconies painted dull red, the balustrades carved and painted in other primary colours.

lakshana-devi-temple-in-bharmourLakshana Devi Temple in Bharmour

shakti-devi-temple-in-chhatrariShakti Devi Temple in Chhatrari

Markula Devi templeMarkula Devi Temple in Udaipur in Lahaul-Spiti District

In Darjeeling the Ghoom Buddhist Monastery situated 6 kilometres away from town and Bhutia Basti Monastery situated below Chowrasta are some of those Buddhist shrines in the region which can be considered as landmarks in the traditional hill-architecture.

ghoom-buddhist-monastery-darjeelingGhoom Buddhist Monastery, Darjeeling

One of the beautiful examples of the community architecture and urban planning in the northern part of Himalayan region is the densely built-up portion of the city of Srinagar along the river Jhelum. Though developed in a long time-span of more than six hundred years, yet the cohesiveness and proportional harmony are the unique features of this built urban form. The river and parallel streets running behind the buildings abutting the river edge, on both its banks act as main circulation arteries. Cross bridges at regular intervals interconnect these streets. Narrow cross lanes emerge from these streets and descend in flight of steps (ghats) down to the level of water in the river, which are the major areas of community activities. Delicately built in timber frames and brick masonry, the three to four storied houses along the river front have endless variations in the treatment of façade and steeply sloping roofs. The other typical feature of these houses is a cantilevered bay window forming three or five sided seating alcoves inside these river-front houses.

Another feature of the river front is the low-income housing in boats-moored along the river edge near ghats. Locally known as doongas, these house boats have linear arrangement of multi-functional rooms with kitchen at the end. Walls of the doongas are of wooden panels inserted between frames and roofs are gabled and covered with wooden shingles with ridge running along the length of the boat. For ventilation purposes either some panels in the walls can be slid out or some hinged sections along the ridge of the roof can be lifted up. These doongas and river front houses are great assets of our traditional craftsmanship.

doongas-or-house-boats-in-srinagarDoongas or house boats in Srinagar

Later in the history, from end of 18th Century till the beginning of 20th century, the hill architecture underwent as enormous change in its form and character under the British Rule. During this period, the Britishers developed more than six dozen hill stations all over India. Out of these Mussorrie, Dalhousie, Nainital and Shimla are some prominent stations in North India. Shimla, the jewel among all of them have numerous buildings built in the Elizabethan style of Architecture. Viceregal Lodge, Rothney Castle, Barnes Court, Auckland House, Wildflower Hall, Gorton Castle, Legislative Assembly Chamber, Christ Church, Kennedy House and Gaiety Theatre are some of the majestic and enchanting buildings having architectural, historical and archaeological importance. Among these the Viceregal Lodge is most magnificent and fascinating piece of hill-architecture. Built by Lord Dufferin in 1888, this stone house continues to occupy a privileged position. Presently, it houses the prestigious Indian Institute of Advanced Studies. Situated amidst the dense forests and lush green lawns on a hill top, it commands a panoramic view of the picturesque summer hill. The masonry of the walling is light blue limestone and wrought stone work is all of sandstone of a very fine grain having a beautiful light grey tint. It is famous for its décor and amazingly beautiful woodwork in teak and walnut.

viceregal-lodge-shimlaViceregal Lodge, Shimla

The Gaiety Theatre which was built in 1887, served as cultural centre for the English residing in Shimla. It is the finest example of the 19th Century theatre- architecture. The small stage stands on the end of dome-ceilinged hall. The acoustics are so fine that the smallest whisper is clearly carried to the audience as far back as last bench of the 250 capacity hall. It was built when public address system was unheard of and voice culture was needed to convey the exact emotions.

The Kennedy House, named after its owner Captain Charles Pratt Kennedy is the first permanent house built in European style in Shimla in 1924. Subsequently, it acted as a trend-setter in the hill architecture that developed during the British Rule. This substantial Villa presently houses several Government/Semi-Government offices.

In short, we have countless such examples of built forms having historical, architectural and archaeological importance. All of them have their own significance and contribution to our rich cultural resource and strongly need to be protected against the forces of modernization. The migration of population, from the villages to the cities for better employment opportunities, the advent of new inorganic building materials and technological advancements, rising land prices and commercial exploitation of space, more frequent contacts with international influences and rapidly changing land uses are some of the factors posing serious threat to our traditional hill-architecture, and immediate efforts should be made for its preservation.

Fortunately, we have many government, semi-Government and voluntary organizations working in the field of preservation of our built cultural heritage in India. Prominent among those are Archaeological Survey of India (A.S.I.), Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), National Research Laboratory for Conservation of Cultural Property (NRLCCP) at Lucknow, Indian Heritage Society, Conservation Society of Delhi, The Golconda Society and Save Bombay Group. Besides, there are several academic institutions and voluntary action groups engaged in the field of conservation. Though the emergence of these Organizations, evidence a healthy professionalism taking root in India, yet a lot needs to be done to make the conservation/preservation a broad based public movement in the spirit of the fundamental duties laid down in the Constitution of India.

We should assert and use our influences and resources to create awareness in the society to value and preserve historical-built-environments of which hill-architecture is a part. The electronic and print media should come forward in making the preservation of our rich cultural heritage a peoples’ movement. Ours is, still largely a traditional society and the conservation of tradition or its elimination is an important issue in defining the nature of our future development. Any laxity on our part will result in break with the tradition, raising questions about the appropriateness of change.

To make conservation and preservation more effective and a peoples’ movement there is a need to thoroughly consider and implement the following points:

  • There should be special heritage cells in the Central/ State Government’s Town Planning Departments, Architecture Departments, Urban Development Authorities, Municipal Corporations etc. These cells should be entrusted with the job of identification of heritage zones and buildings of archaeological, historical and architectural importance required to be preserved and work out the necessary strategy plans.
  • To involve the people, Advisory Committees should be formed at City/Town levels. These Committees should comprise of prominent citizens from the concerned fields like History, Geography, Archaeology, Town Planning, Architecture, Engineering, Economics and Law etc. These Committees will keep an eye on the new urban development taking place in their respective areas and inform the authorities of any victimisation of any historical-built-environment.
  • Technical Universities, Art and Architecture colleges and similar Institutions should introduce special subjects on conservation/preservation in their curriculum so as to give greater emphasis to the study of the history of Architecture.

These measures will help a great deal in creating mass awareness not only to protect and preserve our historical-built-environments but also to plan our future in harmony with our past. Only then we can ensure an uninterrupted continuity in our culture.

ConclusionWe can summarize that hills are home to a plethora of architectural designs and techniques. Therefore, we need to strive for continuous improvement in maintaining the Hill Architecture treasure and develop innovative ways of doing so. A collaboration from all fronts of life – academia, government, private entities, individuals, is required to create a future where our children can have a wholesome view of the past with a lot more to learn and remember!