Architect Surinder Bahga

Tete-A-Tete with Experts Dated:  April 2, 2015
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Architect: Surinder Bahga

Inspired by his brother, Ar. Surinder Bahga took up Architecture with a vision of bringing Architecture to the masses. He is a renowned Architect in India, who has designed many religious centers, namely churches, temples, gurudwaras beside other projects. Below are my excerpts from my chat with him:-

Please tell us a bit about you as a person?
I belong to a family of farmers in Punjab. My elder brother Sarabjit Bahga is an architect. He inspired me to join architecture. I graduated from Chandigarh College of Architecture in 1984 and worked with eminent architects. I believe in hard work and in serving my motherland with utmost honesty.

When and how did you start Saakaar Foundation?
Sarabjit Bahga had founded Saakaar Foundation in 1979. I joined it in 1984. We felt that all architectural firms in the country were doing only projects but no architecture school or practicing architect had done significant work to publish literature on Indian Architecture. So Saakaar Foundation was established to provide consultancy as well as research work on architecture and allied subjects for publication.

What is your design philosophy?
We believe in taking architecture to the masses. It should not be restricted to elites only. So we worked in remote areas where there are no skilled labors and nobody understands drawings. We work to produce climate-responsive buildings suiting to different climatic zones and keep our design simple, so that it can be implemented easily.

What kind of projects are you currently working on?
We are currently working of a various kinds of projects. We are designing one of the largest Gurudwara in Haryana, a private university in Punjab, Town Centre at Panipat, Mother and child care Hospital at Mohali, a multi-purpose hall at Pipli in Haryana, and a few more projects.

Two of the Churches designed by your firm were selected for an international exhibition at the V-Asian Congress of Architects at Lahore, Pakistan. Please tell us a bit about those projects?
Saakaar Foundation has designed Baptist Church, Chandigarh. It is one of the 41 Energy Efficient Buildings chosen by Ministry of Non-Conventional Energy Sources and TERI. The building admits light and ventilation through openings which are either below or above normal eye level so that activities outside do not distract the worshipers. It has a well-lit interior.  We used cavity walls and minimum glass light colors on the exterior walls to reflect sunlight.

Another church “Church of God’’ in Chandigarh enjoys a very sculpturous form. It has been designed within a fixed volume in accordance with the rather restrictive building bye-laws of the Chandigarh Administration. The projecting porch of the Church reminiscent of a steeple is designed to symbolically ‘welcome the worshipers with folded hands’. It has got thick walls, small slit openings which help in ventilation. Both the buildings are extensively published.

Which has been your most exciting project so far?
Out of all the projects Shiva Temple Complex at village Tirlokpur in Himachal Pradesh was the most exciting one. There was no road to reach the site. I had to walk for three kms everytime. There was no shuttering, no technical know-how, no skilled labour. We did shuttering by cutting ghee tins at the site. It was very exciting experience indeed.

And the most challenging?
MAP Housing at Jaipur was one of the most challenging projects. Site was difficult and low lying; there was no sewer, water or electricity. We had to build nearly 900 houses of different categories for Indian Army. Project had to be cleared by five central government departments. We executed the biggest rain-water harvesting scheme in Rajasthan on that date.

You have won several awards since 1989. Which is the one most special to you?
All awards are important always. We got Sir Viswesvaraya Award for designing energy-efficient housing for composite-climate. We got Sir Michael Ventris Award from Architectural Association London for documenting “Astronomical Observatories of India”. We also got prize for preparing city plan of urban extension of Jaipur. But getting honour from the Architectural Association of U.K. was most satisfying my achievement.

Of all the varied projects that you have been working on (religious/ educational/residential/interior design/master planning), which are the ones you personally enjoy the most? Why?
We have enjoyed working on religious buildings the most.  We are lucky that we have designed churches, temples and gurudwaras. And hope to design a mosque someday as well. We are lucky that we got opportunity to create holy centres.

Where do you get your daily dose of inspiration from?
Life is very short. Daily I feel that I must do something good for society. When my work or ideas start shaping up, it gives me a lot of satisfaction. And I get tempted to do more and more.

Please tell us something about the traveling exhibition "A Dream Realized"?
In 1998, Swiss Arts Council and Saakaar Foundation signed an agreement to research and document all Indian works of Swiss-born Architects Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret and their influence on India’s modern Architecture. We have written a book titled, “Le Corbusier & Pierre Jeanneret” and produced a travelling exhibition “A Dream Realised”. It was shown in most of the major cities of India for seven-days in each city.

If there was one thing you wanted to change about the current architecture scenario in the country, what would that be?
India still needs a large number of Architects. To achieve that target, more and more architecture schools are being opened. Those which are functional from sometime, their intakes are increased. But there is acute shortage of good faculty and good students. We have to maintain some balance. If given a chance, I would like to improve this scenario. Secondly creating glass/aluminium clad structures in tropical climate of India is really very damaging. It is sad situation. Government must form bye-laws to design climate-responsive buildings to minimize damage to environments. Likewise using fertile land for urban development haunts me a lot. I would like to change all this, if given a chance.

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