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Engineering Modern India

Mahendra Raj (*1924 in Lahore, India) is Indias eminent structural engineer. His professional career reads like an architectural history of post-colonial India. After receiving his degree in Lahore he worked as a junior engineer for the Punjab Public Works Department, realizing two of Le Corbusiers central buildings in Chandigarh, the Secretariat and the High Court. These demanding projects raised his interest in complex concrete structures – and in absence of possibilities to proceed with his education in this field in India, he decided to move to the U.S. where he completed his Master of Engineering in Minnesota. Subsequently he worked in the office of the Swiss bridge expert Othmar Ammann (Ammann & Whitney) in New York, where cutting-edge structures like Eero Saarinens TWA Building were calculated at the time.

In 1960 Mahendra Raj decided to move back to India and start his own practice, which would leave a strong imprint in India’s architecture of the decades to follow. In collaboration with some of the finest architects active in India at the time – Charles Correa, Balkrishna Doshi, Raj Rewal, Achyut Kanvinde, Joseph Allen Stein and Louis Kahn to name a few – he was able to realise an impressive oeuvre of spectacular structures, which helped define the architectural language of Nehru’s Modern India.


Mahendra Raj translated highly progressive and experimental structural systems into the Indian reality – in absence of the modern techniques and machinery available in the West at the time. His impressive oeuvre were calculated for a good part without the help of computers, and realised with simplest technical means and impressive manual skills.

One of Mahendra Raj’s best known buildings – the Hall of Nations, built 1972 in collaboration with Architect Raj Rewal for the International Trade Fair in Delhi – is a 80 x 80m column-free exhibition space in shape of a truncated pyramid. The enclosing space frame structure was originally conceived in steel, but soon it became obvious that the amount of steel required for the structure would not be available in the tight timeframe and it would blow the budget. The structure was re-calculated, this time in pre-cast concrete. In the process of tendering the structure it became clear that none of the builders is ready to build such a complex structure in pre-cast elements, which lead to the decision to pour all concrete elements in situ. This required to calculate the entire structure a third time and to develop a joint able to accommodate the steel bars from 11 members. The hall was finally built this way, in a time frame of 18 months from competition to the opening of the exhibition.

The Hall of Nations is currently under threat of being demolished in a sweep of commercialisation of New Delhi’s fairground, to which all “non-air-conditioned” buildings are in danger to fall prey. In absence of a mechanism to protect modern buildings a good part of India’s Modern Architectural heritage is in a precarious situation today.

At the age of 91, Mahendra Raj is still active today, heading his practice Mahendra Raj Consultants in New Delhi. While many of Mahendra Rajs structures have been published widely and form a substantial part of modern Indias architectural history, the buildings were in most cases accredited to their architects and the name Mahendra Raj remained surprisingly unknown.

Events with Mahendra Raj

Mahendra Raj will be visiting Europe in coming October for a series of events related to the book "The Structure - Works of Mahendra Raj" (1)

Tuesday 4.10.2016, 18h00 / Zürich  ETHZ DARCH

Introduction: Prof. Annette Spiro. Introduction to the oeuvre of Mahendra Raj: Rohit Raj Mehndiratta and Vandini Mehta

Panel Discussion: Mahendra Raj, Joseph Schwartz, Johannes Käferstein, Ariel Huber

Followed by book launch

Thursday 6.10.2016, 18h30 / Lausanne EPFL Archizoom

Introduction: Cyril Veillon. Introduction to the oeuvre of Mahendra Raj: Rohit Raj Mehndiratta and Vandini Mehta

Panel Discussion: Mahendra Raj, Aurélio Muttoni, Eric Lapierre, Ariel Huber

Tuesday 11.10.2016, 19h00 / Berlin Architekten- und Ingenieur-Verein zu Berlin

Joint book launch of “The Structure – Works of Mahendra Raj”  + “Chandigarh nach Le Corbusier: Ethnografie einer postkolonialen Planstadt in Indien

Introduction to the oeuvre of Mahendra Raj: Rohit Raj Mehndiratta and Vandini Mehta

Panel Discussion: Mahendra Raj, Bärbel Högner, Ariel Huber

Thursday 13.10.2016, 19h00 / Berlin  Technische Universität Berlin

Introduction: Prof. Regine Leibinger

Lecture by Mahendra Raj

Friday 14.10.2016, 19h30 / Paris  Société Française des Architectes + Librairie Volume, 47

Book Vernissage + Apéro


The Structure – Works of Mahendra Raj

The 430-page monograph, published this summer by Park Books Zurich, marks the first comprehensive publication of Mahendra Raj’s oeuvre. It has been researched in close collaboration with the engineer himself and is drawing from the cornucopia of his archive: Hand-drawn plans, calculation sheets and archival photographs from six decades of work explore the 28 featured projects in combination with recent photographs, showing the projects as they appear today.

Edited by Vandini Mehta, Rohit Raj Mehndiratta, Ariel Huber.

Preface by Mark Jarzombek. Essays by Mahendra Raj, Abba Tor, Sanjay Prakash, Neelkanth Chhaya and Jaimini Mehta

Interviews with B. V. Doshi and Hans Ulrich Obrist

08.Sep.2016 5417 views
Ariel Huber

Ariel Huber (Bern, 1971) studied Architecture at ETH Zurich and ETSA Barcelona. After graduating in 1998 from ETH Zürich, he worked as a project architect at Studio Daniel Libeskind und Barkow Leibinger in Berlin before returning to Switzerland in 2001 and setting up his practice as a freelance architectural photographer. He is currently based in Lausanne. Visiting India regularly since 2002. he has documented works of Mahendra Raj, Achyut Kanvinde, Rahul Mehrotra, Studio Mumbai, Opolis Architects and many others, which resulted in various projects and publications.
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