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Global Architecture Platform

Mahendra Raj
The Hall of Nations
New Delhi, 1972

In Raj’s work, every detail is an implicit part of the initial conception, final design and actual realization of a given structure.

Mahendra Raj’s work is imbued with a dynamic ease of structural flows, making monumental buildings delicate and gentle through well thought-out details, chiseled to their most expressive and efficient minimum. The rigor of detailing starts with the overall conception of a structural system and ends with a clear understanding of how it will be built on site.

In this article we discuss the detailing of the ‘node’ in the Hall of Nations. The nodes are a crucial element for this large span 73mx73m space-frame structure with cast-on-site concrete as they transfer different tensile and compressive loads from the many members that converge on it.

Detail – of idea

Analyzing the nodes led to the innovative idea of rhombic members for the Hall of Nations and is the key to the slender gossamer-like appearance of this large span building. The rhombic member section is a mere 25cm in every face with a cross sectional area of 585 sqcm. The choice of this optimal shape emerged after an exhaustive analysis that considered the low-tech construction procedures, the fact that a minimum of four reinforcement bars were required to strengthen the concrete, and last, the geometric resolution of slopes and intersections of average nine members that would form one node.

Detail – through drawings

The nodes are a crucial element of this concrete space frame with different loading conditions coming together. To minimize the crowding of an expected 36 reinforcement bars, four each from nine members meeting at a node, an innovative system of lapping bars from four lower members with bars of four upper members accounting for 16 bars and finally, only 20 bars passing through a node was developed. The system of lapping bars was tirelessly drawn and detailed out for every possible node conditions. Nervi’s words, ‘The pattern of steel should always have an aesthetic quality and give the impression of being a nervous system capable of bringing life to a dead mass of concrete’ resonate here.

Detail – of construction processes

The nodes were constructed using welded-lap members with straight length bars to short length curved and bent bars placed in the joint. The sequence was to cast the straight length of a member from joint to joint, place in position partially pre-assembled formwork of the joints along with placed-in-position short-length curved bars. These bars were welded with straight bars of members, formwork of the members up to the next joint was erected and then the next member and joint concreted.

Such detailed sequence of construction thought through for building complex structures alludes to two dimensions of Raj’s work. One, it reveals the particularities of construction technology in India in the seventies and how innovative and indigenous methods made way for complex forms. Second, it also reveals that not only did Raj adapt his methods to technologies available, but in fact he worked with them creating ingenious solutions, fearless of no precedence but with astute precision, economy and aesthetic sensibility.

Posted
18.Jan.2017 426 views 69 shares
Author
Vandini Mehta & Rohit Raj

Vandini Mehta is an architect and urban researcher with a master’s degree from University of California, Berkeley. She is visiting faculty at SPA, Delhi in the Architecture and Urban Design Departments for the last nine years. She worked with McBride Associates and Magnusson Architecture and Planning, a social housing firm in New York.

Rohit Raj Mehndiratta is a practicing architect, artist and urbanist who graduated from CEPT, Ahmedabad and M.I.T. Cambridge. He is a visiting faculty at the Sushant School of Architecture, Gurgaon, SPA, Delhi and has also been part of expert panel committees on Public Arts initiatives at the Delhi Urban Art Commission.

In 2007, Vandini Mehta and Rohit Raj Mehndiratta founded Studio VanRO in New Delhi, an interdisciplinary firm focused on architecture, art, and urbanism. Their work has been widely published, exhibited and awarded. They have recently co-edited,  along with Ariel Huber, the monograph “The Structure: Works of Mahendra Raj” (Park Books, Zurich).