‘The Structure: Works of Mahendra Raj‘ is an elaborate account of the significant career of one of the predominant structural designers of India – through an archive of images, drawings and writings on the prolific structures envisioned by Mahendra Raj.
“We often forget that beautiful and graceful bodies cannot exist without finely crafted skeletons. To transform buildings into great architecture, the architect should not only look at the surface, skin and form but also its structure which needs sensitive engineering. Luckily for me, Raj is such an engineer who discovered the right systems and the book showcasing his work represents such virtuous creativity.” – Balkrishna Doshi, 2015
Fifty years later, with over two hundred and fifty projects and an ongoing practice, Mahendra Raj continues to be one of the most inspirational figures to have set a benchmark for engineers and architects to aspire to. A narrative of his personal and professional journey – ‘The Structure – Works of Mahendra Raj‘ revisits twenty-eight of his most distinguished projects.
From working on the buildings designed by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret in the Capitol Complex of Chandigarh to designing Usha Kiran – the first high rise in India, Mahendra Raj’s practice has been integral to the glorious time of nation-building in post-independence India.
Authored and curated by people who are closely associated with Mahendra Raj, this book is a record of his lifelong passion for structural design and architecture. The monograph has been appropriately titled to reflect on the intersection between architecture and structural design. Vandini Mehta, Rohit Raj Mehndiratta and Ariel Huber, give the reader an insight into the context in the first few spreads of the book. The intriguing plumage of over a hundred drawings and over four-hundred photographs exemplify Mahendra Raj’s immeasurable contribution to the field of structural design and engineering. The book includes essays by academicians and conversations with his contemporaries that capture the radical ideas of Mahendra Raj through his career. Additionally, Mahendra Raj pens down his experiences on the process of resolution of these projects from their inception to execution and the forces that shaped them.
A rigorous and notable visual content exercise led by Rohit and Vandini compares recent photos by Ariel Huber with the archival images of the structures from the time they were constructed building a narrative that refers to history against the present context. The crisp photographs curated by Vandini Mehta and Rohit Raj Mehndiratta give a greater understanding of the fine structural details at various levels that have endured the test of time and stand unique to the context. The construction of large span structures required the engineers at the time to establish confidence in the contractors with no previous experience. This was successfully achieved through the detailed layers of his drawings. The structural drawings reproduced in the book are meticulously composed and packed with details of the smallest elements as part of larger structural systems that are prevalent even today.
Mark Jarzombek mentions in the preface, “His career was defined by the great period of India’s post-independence modernisation, which saw a vast construction boom that changed the look and feel of a young nation.”
Mahendra Raj comes from a pioneering group of modernists who were entrusted with a challenging task of constructing an identity for the nation.
Having worked with the modern masters like Le Corbusier and Achyut Kanvinde and having collaborated with Charles Correa, Balkrishna Doshi, Raj Rewal, Kuldip Singh and Louis Kahn, Mahendra Raj’s presence has been constant in the making of India’s post-independence fabric that has enabled architects to execute their visions. These quintessential and one-of-a-kind projects like The Hall of Nations, Hindustan Lever Pavilion, Salvacao Church, Akbar Hotel and Ahmedabad Municipal Stadium are the results of collaborations between the architects and the structural designers. Mahendra Raj and Balkrishna Doshi reminiscing form and structure in an intimate conversation is a valuable inclusion to the book. Perhaps, reading Mahendra Raj’s interview with Sanjay Prakash (originally published in 1986, almost thirty years ago) – in precedence to the dialogue with Balkrishna Doshi would have made it more plausible for the reader to comprehend the influences behind the works featured in the book.
In my reading of this monograph, apart from it being a unique compilation on the works of a structural designer, the book has the potential to enable contemporary practices of the present and the future to evaluate and reflect on the prospect of a practice that is enriched by a collaborative development of design between an architect and a structural designer ♦
Title: The Structure: Works of Mahendra Raj
Curated and Authored by: Vandini Mehta, Rohit Raj Mehndiratta, Ariel Huber.
Publisher: Park Books
Year of Publication: 2016
Reviewed by: Isha Raut
Drawings: © Mahendra Raj
Photography: Ariel Huber unless otherwise mentioned.
Spreads: From the book; © Park Books (The Publishers)