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Monday, December 05, 2011

Khalsa Heritage Centre

Khalsa Heritage Centre in Anandpur Sahib, India by Safdie Architects, 2011

Photographs are courtesy of Ram Rahman.

Moshe Safdie may have made a name for himself in 1967, when his Habitat 67 opened as part of Expo 67 in Montreal, but 2011 will surely go down as an important year for the now Boston-based architect. This year has seen the opening of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City, the United States Insitute of Peace Headquarters in Washington, DC, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas, and most recently the Khalsa Heritage Centre in Anandpur Sahib, India. "Whew!" seems like an understatement, given that each project is quite large and bespoke, far removed from Habitat 67's prefab construction.

Of those, the Khalsa Heritage Centre (KHC), a new museum located in the holy town of Anandpur Sahib, in Punjab, India, celebrates 500 years of Sikh history and the 300th anniversary of the Khalsa, the scriptures written by Gobind Singh, founder of the modern Sikh faith. It is also a return to Safdie's pre-67 roots, since he worked with Louis I. Kahn on the Indian Institute of Management in the 1960s. Safdie's design for KHC is more sculptural than Kahn's brick buildings, but the geometrical roots of the the design are still evident. Safdie was commissioned to design KHC in 1997, but it was dedicated on November 25, 2011.

Two sets of buildings comprise the museum campus, each on either side of a network of reflecting pools: The south/west side is the gateway to Anandpur Sahib, and it contains galleries, a library, an archive, and an auditorium; the north/east side houses the permanent exhibitions "presenting Sikh history, religion, and culture." Formally the former is orthogonal, an L-shaped plan punctuated by the auditorium, a cylinder apparently carved by another cylinder, one that has disappeared. Across the water and bridge, the form is a bit more complex, as rectangular and circular volumes rise from a curving walkway.

These forms, and the choice of materials -- sandstone and stainless steel -- are meant to evoke the fortress cities of Rajastahan, Gwalio, and Punjab, as well as the gold domes of Sikh buildings like the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Regardless of these influences, the petal-like forms create a strong sense of enclosure and an even stronger sense of place. It is a design that attempts to bridge old and new, the traditional and the contemporary. Like Kahn, Safdie uses cylinders, cubes, arches, and manipulations thereof to create architecture on a grand scale. It's a fitting return for Safdie to India many decades later.

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