City Hangout – India Habitat Center Architecture, Lodhi Road
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Head to the tranquil atrium at the India Habitat Centre (IHC). Enter through gate 2. Make sure you reach around 10.15am, when the morning shift staffers are sprucing up the courtyard floor with water.
Now look down at your shoes. This is one of the most amazing sights in Delhi.
You’ll be standing upon the pattern of a beautiful art mural (see left photo).
These are actually the building’s multitudinous ceiling panels, or “sunscreens”, reflecting off the wet floor (see right photo).
Now look up to the distant wall on your left. It is decked with the shadow of these same ceiling panels.
Now walk to one of the decorative pools that adorn this calmly yard. Those same ceiling panels are lying submerged in the fish-filled water.
Now look at the facing installation. Its glasses are also flooded with the reflection of these same panels.
It’s like being in an echo chamber, but instead of sound, its like the same image is bouncing off different walls with varying pitches.
Driving to IHC is a routine pilgrimage for sophisticated Delhiwallas. Nowhere else in our Capital do we find such a collage of exhibits and performances, book launches and film fests. Without doubt, IHC’s greatest exhibit is its architecture. Closed spaces entwine with the exterior, gently nudging the city’s harsh daylight to mellow down to a restful luminosity. The whole effect is so Stein.
Designed by architect Joseph Stein, this Lodhi Road haven plays subtly with the senses. The airy light-filled tracts nonchalantly fuse with trees and gardens; the occasional pools stay placid with lotus leaves and gold fish; and vines spill about all over.
Built in the late 1980s, the vast complex was the American-born architect’s last major work in Delhi. He linked a series of blocks with shaded courtyards, stairs and walkways, screening them from the sun as well as the noise of the outside world. You see the elements of this seclusion in his other Delhi creations as well, such as the nearby India International Centre and Ford Foundation headquarters, and Triveni Kala Sangam at Mandi House.
The evening scene at the aforementioned atrium is as full of feeling as it is in the morning. The setting sun’s diffused rays enter the atrium discreetly through the panels — Stein called these space frames — and then, the night descends.
Tonight, the moon is certainly up there in the smoggy Delhi sky, but the panels are blocking its view, making you feel slightly less enchanted with contemporary Delhi’s most harmonious architect. Suddenly you spot the moon.