City Hangout – Joseph Stein’s Magical Terrace, Triveni Kala Sangam
The architecture of shadows.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Look carefully. The building is changing with the progress of the day. The roof expands as the sun moves. You feel its gradual shifting. The outer edges seem to free themselves from the concrete, and to stretch out.
This has to be one of the most wondrous architectures in Delhi. Although the building houses a popular institution, who is aware of this particular magical feature?
Of course, every artistic Delhiite has been to Triveni Kala Sangam at least once in her lifetime — if not to see exhibitions or enrol in classical music classes, then to dine at the atmospheric Triveni Tea Terrace. It is one of the capital’s earliest Stein buildings, designed by the great American architect Joseph Stein, circa 1957.
Like most garden-buildings by Stein, Triveni’s brick-and-mortar subtly strives to fuse with trees and grass. Flowers and vines spill about the walls, which are often a gossamer web of jaalis, whose narrow openings let the daylight sneak in like a secret lover. The entire space is designed so poetically that it enables lights and shadows to entwine into each other in most harmonious patterns. Of course, you see such sublime interplay in Delhi’s other Stein landmarks, too, such as the India International Center.
But it is on stepping on the rarely visited first landing in Triveni that one encounters the astonishing surreality of Stein’s art. Initially, the terrace appears deceptively simple—just an open-air expanse with a strange structure at the center: a mere roof supported by two pillars. But the roof in question is made of narrow slabs that let the sky percolate through them. The sunlight thus creates a geometric web on the terrace floor, that expands and contracts with the passing of hours.
This afternoon, the rectangles of light and pillars of shadows have spread out to the entire floor — the climax of the composition, one would say. The yard is totally bare except for a few flower pots. This scarcity of material elements focuses the viewer’s entire attention to this lovemaking between light and shadows.
The minimalism is so grand it ceases to be minimalist. It’s magic.
While down there, you can see the usual crowd milling about in the galleries and the cafe (a sight so normal in pre-corona days), totally oblivious to the stunning show underway.
Light loving shade