City Monument – Joseph Stein’s Legacy, Central Delhi
An architect’s world
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Pierced with elongated holes, this otherwise simple wall can also be perceived as a maze of air. And along a portion of the staircase, the ordinary afternoon light has miraculously condensed into a pool of pale gold.
Such are the restrained splendours of Stein’s legacy,, here at Triveni Kala Sangam. This building, along with a handful of others designed by him, are most grounded and grand specimens of contemporary architecture in the entire national capital region. Last Friday witnessed the dedication ceremony of the Joseph Allen Stein Archive to the Cornell University Library in New York. The materials spanning 70 years of Stein’s career include drawings, brochures, publications photos, papers and notes, most of which will eventually be viewable on the Internet. “Half of the 5,000 items in the collection relate to his work in Delhi,” the architect’s son J. David Stein told The Delhi Walla on e-mail. A U.S.-based urban and regional planner, he delivered a talk on his father’s work during the dedication, along with Jeffrey Chusid, the associate professor who has organised the archives.
Though Triveni Kala Sangam is in Mandi House, most Steins are clustered a few miles away in Lodhi Estate, where the tree-lined Joseph Stein Lane passes through two Stein edifices, the Ford Foundation headquarters and the India International Centre. It ends at Lodhi Gardens, the landscaping of which was carried out under his guidance. The other Stein landmarks are the offices of the United Nations Children’s Fund , the World Wide Fund for Nature, a conservatory within Lodhi Garden, Gandhi-King Plaza, which is an open-air memorial within the India International Centre, and the India Habitat Centre, Stein’s final major work. He also designed the American International School and the Australian high commission in Chanakyapuri.
Born in 1912 in Omaha, Stein arrived in India in the 1950s, and made our country his karma bhoomi. In Delhi, he created his signature landmarks, gently. A typical Delhi Stein consists of two-to four-storey buildings that fuse effortlessly with trees, vines, gardens and pools. The designs are modernistic, but sensitive to India’s architectural past, and also to Delhi’s hostile climate—harsh daylight always softens on entering the precincts and shaded refuges are never far. Stein’s pursuit of deceptively simple and ecologically respectful buildings found its zenith in the India International Centre, an oasis for the capital’s well-networked gossipers (see photo). Completed in 1962, this is a labyrinth of lawns, pools, walkways, jaalis, porticos, canopies and meeting halls filled with daylight. The storied concrete appears to cascade down to embrace the grassy earth, instead of rushing up to kiss the smoggy sky.
In Cornell University’s sanitised research rooms, architecture scholars would at last be able to excavate through rare drafts of these precious spaces. But to understand the architect’s true scope, those scholars will have to come to dusty Delhi.