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  Name   Raj Rewal 
  Born   1934
  Nationality   India
  Official website   rajrewal.in

Despite his rigorous education and training in modernist design aesthetics, Raj Rewal remains rooted in the culture of his native India. As Rewal himself noted, “Our generation has been trying to discover the common thread in which the fabric of Indian architecture has been woven in the past and its significance for our times.”

Rewal’s concern is with understanding the architectural history of India (especially of the Mughal period) and forms such as the haveli (or urban courtyard house) of the Rajasthan region; the attention to materials and climatic design mark each of his projects. Most of the architect’s buildings have been erected in the public sector, mainly institutional complexes and low- to middle-income housing. Most of his buildings are in New Delhi, the Indian capital, although since the 1980s he has built more widely, including outside the country.

Rewal’s early project for the French Embassy Staff Residences (1967–69) reveals his preoccupation with concrete as a structural material with brick-and-stone in-fill. The clustering of the lowrise units and their orientation to the sun and wind are a proto-type for his later, larger housing schemes. This is taken to much greater heights in his Permanent Exhibition Complex (1970–74) at Delhi’s trade fairgrounds, consisting of the Hall of Nations and the Hall of Industries—large single-volume spaces—the largest of which spans 78 meters and is 34 meters high. The structures are articulated as precastconcrete space frames. This experimentation, with the engineer Mahendra Raj, translates the use of steel and concrete, adapting the technology for local conditions and laborintensive building skills.

Rewal’s consistent use of concrete structure with block in-fill, usually clad in the beige and red sandstone used in many historic buildings, gives his architecture a signature quality. The sense of stability and mass in his works are, to some extent, offset by their verticality and cantilevering of forms, as is evident in his office building, Engineers India House (1979–83) and Standing Conference of Public Enterprises (SCOPE) office building (1980–89), both in New Delhi. In the latter project, the fragmentation of volumes and the series of interlocking polygonal structures with their deep recessed opening and sunscreens help to modulate his “metabolic Brutalism.” This form of expression was continually refined until he produced his elegant World Bank Building (1993), built around a central square courtyard.

In another of Rewal’s preoccupations—that of housing—he tries, usually successfully, to reconcile a rationalist sense of function, structure, and fabrication with typologies abstracted from the past. His Sheikh Serai Housing (1970–82), with its cruciform site plan and large central public square connected by pathways, keeps parking in central areas surrounded by housing clusters. The notion of pedestrian streets and the grouping of low-rise units was further developed in the elegant Asian Games Village (1980–82). Comprised of 500 units, the Village is clustered in groups around courtyards, separated by “gateways” and connected internally by a series of open spaces and paths reserved for pedestrians. It provides an insight into his strategy for dense low-rise (up to four stories) development.

Rewal’s notion of the “living unit” as a combination of indoor and outdoor flexible space and patterns of growth that can be multiplied in numerous combinations is taken to new heights in his CIDCO mass-housing scheme (of which 1048 units were built by 2000) in Belapur, New Mumbai, as part of a much larger settlement. The units (each an average of 40 square meters) on a site of 19 acres achieve a density of 55 units per acre. The units are organized in seven neighborhoods, each defined by a system of peripheral roads built along contours of the site. Here, as in all his works, Rewal’s attention to open landscaped (planted and hard) areas is an integral part of his conception of space and movement through the project.

Rewal is perhaps best known for his institutional projects. These complexes respond to the hot, dry climate and urban environment, providing interlocking spaces, streets, pavilions, terraces, and gardens surrounded by buildings. As the architectural critic Razia Grover noted,” [They] are meshed in a system that responds to climate as well as the pragmatic requirements of each scheme.” For example, the National Institute of Immunology (1983–90) uses the rocky site and central courtyard around which to organize the building. Again in the Central Institute of Educational Technology (CIET; 1986–89), the courtyard generates the spatial complexity of the building.

With the Parliament Library (1989–2001) and the World Bank Building (1990–93), both in New Delhi, and the Ismaili Centre in Lisbon, there is a shift in Rewal’s architecture to a concern with what one might term a “symbolic ethos” that reflects the essence of culture in building. Rewal’s term for this is rasa (literally, “the juice of the core”). The Library, won through a major competition, forms part of Lutyn’s Capitol Complex in Delhi. In response to the built surroundings and the climate, the building is essentially depressed under a plaza forming its roof, with parts visible above this plane. This formal contextual gesture is a success. The World Bank also reveals a similar introspective stance and attention to detail with a resolution seldom found in contemporary Indian buildings. This synthesis of classicism with modern sensibilities evokes a feeling that the architect has been able to draw on what the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss called the “deep structure” of society without having to resort to using imagery of the past.

A departure from Rewal’s more familiar imagery, materials, and technology was made in a social and religious complex, the Lisbon Ismaili Center (1995–99). The garden court is surrounded by an expressive steel structure, clad in stone, marble, and more steel, in a more fragmented and Western version of his buildings in India. Here, too, there is a concerted effort to come to terms with the local climate, culture, and built environment.

The vocabulary of interlocking spaces, expression of structure, use of materials and technology, attention to detail, and craftsmanship define the contemporary sensibility that identifies Rewal’s buildings as his work. His work is like a tectonic puzzle that, once solved, reveals the nature and essence of time and place to the people who experience it.



    Born in Hoshiarpur in the Punjab, India, 1934; studied architecture in New Delhi (1951– 54) and Brixton School of Building (1955–61) in London. Worked in Paris for Michel Ecochard (1962–64); married in 1962; returned to New Delhi to set up his own practice (1964–72). Opened a second office in Tehran, Iran (1974); in 1985 founded the Architectural Research Cell with Ram Sharma; curated “The Traditional Architecture of India” for Festival of India, Paris (1986). Received the Gold Medal of the Indian Institute of Architects and the Sir Robert Mathew Award from the Commonwealth Association of Architects (both in 1989); awarded by the Indian Institute of Engineers for the Housing at Belapur, Mumbai, and the J.-K. Trust’s Great Masters Award for Lifetime Contribution to Architecture in the Post-independence Era (1995). Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architecture (RIBA), Indian Institute of Architects (IIA); made an Honorary Member of the Mexican Association of Architects (1993). Lives and works in New Delhi.



Ahuja, Sarayu, “Doing History Proud: Architectural Features of Raj Rewal’s Institute of Immunology,” Indian Architect and Builder (May 1988) “Asian Games Village,” A+U, 148 (January 1983) Bhatia, Gautam, “A Sandstone Citadel,” Inside Outside (October/ November 1987) Chemetov, Paul, La modernité: Un projet inachèvé: 40 architects, Paris: Éditions du Moniteur, 1982 “CIET,” Techniques et architecture, (August/September 1989) Cruickshank, D., “Rewal Rasa,” The Architectural Review (January 1990) Curtis, William J.R., “Modernism and the Search for Identity,” The Architectural Review (August 1987) Curtis, William J.R., “Modern Architecture: Indian Roots: Raj Rewal,” Architecture+Design, 5/5 (March–April 1989) Dalal, Abhimanyu, “Interpretations, Tradition, and Modernism in Three of Raj Rewal’s Recently Completed Projects,” Architecture +Design, 5/5 (March/April 1989) “Engineer’s India House, New Delhi,” Mimar, 18 (October-December 1985) “French Embassy Quarter,” Architecture d’aujourd’hui (October 1979) Gottwald, Sylvia, “India’s Intricately Woven Fabric of Housing, Streets, and Spaces,” Architecture (September 1984) Grover, Razia, “Raj Rewal” in Contemporary Architects, edited by Muriel Emanuel, London: Macmillan, and New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1980; 3rd edition, New York: St. James Press, 1994 Jain, Jyotindra et al., Raj Rewal: Library for the Indian Parliament, New Delhi: Architectural Research Cell/Roli Books, 2002 Khan, Hasan-Uddin, “Rewal’s Asian Games Housing, New Delhi,” Mimar, 7 (January– March 1983) Sen, Geeti, “Raj Rewal: Architect Extraordinary,” Inside Outside, 8 (August/September 1979) Singh, Patwant, “Traditional Elements in Contemporary Form,” Design (April/June 1982) Taylor, Brian Brace, Raj Rewal, London: Mimar, and Ahmedabad, India: Mapin, 1992

Selected Publications

“The Relevance of Tradition in Indian Architecture” in Architecture in India (exhib. cat.), 1985 “The Relevance of Tradition in Architecture Today” in Contemporary India: Essays on the Uses of Tradition, edited by Carla M.Borden, 1989; as Contemporary Indian Tradition, 1989 Humane Habitat at Low Cost: CIDCO, Belapur, New Mumbai, New Delhi: Architectural Research Cell, 2000










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