The façade of Gandhi Bhawan is deemed iconic due to its structural innovations, exterior finishes and profile. The building envelope comprises of concrete columns and beams with brick infill as the walls that support a concrete roof. The combination of concrete and brick make it a composite structure. This section describes the building elements and their locations and materials used.
The materials and technologies that were used in the Gandhi Bhawan show a departure from the commonly used systems of construction within the campus during the time. While the external building surfaces are covered with cladding panels, just as was done in most of the academic buildings located in its immediate vicinity, the actual cladding materials used are quite distinct. The thickness of walls in the external envelope vary between 590-630 mm, thereby indicating that many of the construction systems were being used for the first time in Gandhi Bhawan. According to members of the original team, masons and specialised labour was sourced from Rajasthan, particularly for the flooring and cladding of the Gandhi Bhawan, while the carpenters and labourers for timber work and furniture were sourced locally ( Singh 2016, refer annexures).
The specifications for materials for the structure can largely be traced to the Panjab Public Works Department Schedule of Rates published in 1958. Brick was sourced locally. The other local material used extensively was Ghaggar sand, sourced from a neighbouring river. Further details on the exact specifications of material used can be seen in the original specifications documents. Archival research was undertaken, along with on-site surveys and testing, to determine the exact nature of the structural system and the materials used.

The Structure

The basic structural system as laid out in the construction drawings and the specifications can be broadly described as a combination of a framed reinforced cement concrete columnar structure with masonry infill that has been used along with load bearing masonry walls. The structure is reinforced with ring beams that tie together the external envelop of the building. The entire structure sits on what is essentially a raised platform, which sits within the pool. According to the specifications document, since the original depth of the pool was envisioned to be six feet (1.8 metres)deep, the foundations of certain portions of the masonry walls and columns abutting the pool were designed for a greater depth.


The exterior walls are 600 mm thick and are composed of brick infill within an RCC frame of columns at 2.8 meters centre to centre distance and horizontal ring beams at approximately 1.8metres. The investigations (Infra-red images and RADAR scans) reveal the distribution and organisation of the structural elements as shown below.
The red squares represent the locations of columns and the lines indicate the inverted beams on the roof. Three walls on each wing extend beyond the structural system of columns and are 630 mm thick (due to cladding on both sides). These walls are composed of brick with rings beams paced horizontally, continuing from the main structure. Presence of concrete beams and columns as part of the structural system in the building locations have been confirmed using IR scans and RADAR scans, and these findings are commensurate with archival documents of architectural and structural drawings.

Roof Form

The roof form that spans the interior spaces, slopes from 5 metres to 10 metres at the centre of the building, creates the notion of ‘the structure as a sculpture’. The roof is a sandwich slab system in RCC, with brick-on-edge used within the gaps. According to Mr. Joga Singh who was present when the roof of the Gandhi Bhawan was being laid, setting out the complex form was a challenge, but was undertaken systematically, using bamboo scaffolding and timber formwork. The roof of the building is composed of a network of RCC beams placed in a grid. IR scans confirm the presence of this unique structural system in roof with air cavities. But, the number of beams and pedestals observed are not commensurate with what is shown in archival structural drawings. IR scans taken from above and below the roof of the structure confirm the presence of reinforced concrete beams and brick stiffeners in the roof. However, the total number of beams and stiffeners seen in the IR scans are less than that suggested by the structural drawings.

The Envelope

The iconic nature of the Gandhi Bhawan is also due to its contrasting white colour that sets it apart from its surrounding structures. However, originally, the structure was to be clad in red Agra sandstone to match the Fine Arts Building and other similar structures (Specifications Document 1959). However, keeping in mind its symbolic value, it was felt that Gandhi Bhawan needed a different material vocabulary. The inspiration for the use of white has been attributed to the use of marble in Salim Chishti’s tomb in Fatehpur Sikri (Bahga and Bahga 2000) and to represent purity and truth reflecting Gandhian principles. Marble was discussed as a possible material choice for Gandhi Bhawan as well, but the final decision was to use grit-finished concrete panels, with white marble/ river stone chips set in white cement. As a result, the structure has a textured white surface. Panels of varying mixes of grit were tested on site.
Two types of panels are used. These measure 300 X 900, 40mm thick (Type A) and 600 X 230, 90-100mm thick (Type B). The Type A, or the bigger panels, are placed next to each other, along the width, and are stacked over each other in two rows. A row of Type B or narrow precast panel placed along the length is then located over the two rows of type A panels. This pattern repeats itself all over building with an exception of the bottom and the top level. The total no of Type A panels are 2700 and type B panels are 660 , total no of cladding panels are 3350 .The panels are installed with help of mortar at the back and brass clamps that connect panels together on each side. The panels are 40 mm thick, composed of two layers; first an RCC, 35 mm thick layer that supports the grit finish. The latter is 5mm thick, and applied as the finishing layer of aggregate set in white cement. This top layer is also reinforced with metal bars. As a result, the structure has a white textured surface. During the time of construction, panels of varying mixes of grit were tested on site.


The base of the building that also forms the plinth is located in a large pool. It is made of concrete and is covered with cement plaster. It is, in all likelihood, tied to the columns and beams of the structure but can only be ascertained after excavating a section until the foundation.


The internal walls are composed of bricks and RCC. Internally, the spaces are finished in cement plaster and paint. The use of vibrant colours in the interior volumes has been maintained in successive repairs and upgradation exercises undertaken in the building, though there may be minor variations of hue and intensity from the original colour scheme. Some walls have a number of openings for doors and windows and some are large plastered surfaces. All the doors are made of wood and have the same design with an exception of main door. The window openings are located within concrete fins that have glass fixed between these fins. A triangular skylight is also present in the auditorium area. The building is covered with white cement terrazzo flooring. Black cement terrazzo is present on floor as well as walls in the auditorium area.

Windows and Doors

The external doors and glazing details use cement concrete fins and reveals and mild steel door and window frames. The internal doors have been made in CP Teak. The sizes of the exterior openings are not standard. The cement concrete fins are a typical detail used in many structures designed by Jeanneret within the campus and the colour scheme of the doors and windows is typical of the Modernist buildings in Chandigarh where primary colours have been used to break the monotony of a single colour like white or the grey of exposed RCC surfaces.


The exterior flooring of Gandhi Bhawan was originally executed in hand chiselled red sandstone set in a bed of cement mortar, in a specially designed pattern with panels of varying sizes based on the Modulor. This – just as the ‘Undulatory Glazing’ – was also ubiquitous in the early years of building Chandigarh. The flooring has since been replaced with new slabs of red sandstone. Though it is machine cut, the original pattern appears to have been maintained. The interior flooring -- just as in all Jeanneret constructions not restricted by cost -- is a combination or black and white terrazzo. According to Joga Singh, the black pigment for the terrazzo flooring was especially imported from Belgium. Thin brass strips have been used to separate panels.


To the northeast of the library stands a small building in a pool of water. Rounded forms and a lotus flower-shaped roof distinguish the Gandhi Bhawan from the surrounding building... the building has been placed in the pool of limpid water to create a quiet and meditative atmosphere. (Bahga and Bahga, 2000)
In part, the visual setting of the Gandhi Bhawan has been preserved by one of its central features, the pool. The large, but shallow pool offers the Gandhi Bhawan a reflective counterpoint when it is full and is often compared to the Mughal device of using water as a reflective mechanism for monumental structures in places like Agra and Fatehpur Sikri. The metaphor of Gandhi Bhawan as a lotus is also supported by the design of the pool in which the building was sited. Considering this from the perspective of Landscape Design during the Modern Movement in India, it is on record that the efficacy of such design devices was already proven in Le Corbusier’s observations after visiting the Mughal monuments during his early days in India and their incorporation in the design of the High Court and the Legislative Assembly at Chandigarh’s Capitol. What is interesting and unique in the case of Gandhi Bhawan is not only the complete reflection of Gandhi Bhawan with its pure white lotus form, but the deliberate juxtaposition with the reflection of the red sandstone building of the Fine Arts Building in the background. So, the contrasting materials and setting of Gandhi Bhawan on grounds gets further enhanced through these reflections in the pool.
The design of the pool as described in the detailed estimates documents found in the Architect’s Office of the Panjab University, reveal that the pool was originally intended to be much deeper, six feet (1.8 metres) instead of current two feet (0.6 metres)( Ram, 1958). Two separate estimates accompanied by drawings for the pool also show that there was some debate as to the actual profile of the pool as well. Verbal accounts by Jeanneret’s team members suggest that the burgeoning cost of the pool was also an issue during its construction, but possibly the architects were able to convince the clients that the pool was central to the concept of the Gandhi Bhawan. Currently, the pool is 5000 square metres and 3750 cubic metre in volume.
The pool layout delineates both the physical and visual extents, limiting chances of future encroachments into the ‘view-shed’ for Gandhi Bhawan. The plantation of Roystanea Regia, along the pool, accentuates the planning axis and minimises leaf litter in the pool itself. A vast lawn separates the pool from the surrounding buildings and evergreen trees have been planted in the vicinity.

Furniture and Artwork

There are several details, such as the mild-steel railing, the cove lighting, the large light fixtures in the library and the sculptural light fixtures outside the structure that contribute to the overall architectural significance of the Gandhi Bhawan. Each of the details has been meticulously drawn and executed on site.
It is interesting to note that the concept of uplighting has been used to reverse the appearance of the building at night against that during the day when the sun-drenced surface would be in dark and the deep-set openings would glow under the impact of the interior lighting. Positioning of the fixtures below the tail-end of the wider roof projection ensured spread of the illumination to the entire ceiling, again lighting up a surface that would otherwise be shaded during the day. The funnel shape of the fixture heightened the dramatic effect and its reflection in the pool, acting as a ‘black mirror’ at night, would make a climax setting The technique of indirect lighting adopted by concealing the source of light is also noteworthy.


There is a substantial set of records available in various offices of the Panjab University related to the project proposal, sources of funding, design, conception, construction, use and history of development of the Gandhi Bhawan, including original office records and drawings. All such original files, records, drawings, models, etc. need to be located and collected, carefully restored, digitised, catalogued and documented properly. The original documents should be safeguarded from future weathering and secured from vandalism and misuse. All archival material, thus, also needs to be stored in appropriate storage situation such as compactors/ rooms with dehumidifiers and data-loggers, etc. as prescribed by material conservators. Research on collections should be encouraged and disseminated. One of the specific objectives of conserving Gandhi Bhawan is to establish benchmarks and systems for the documentation, assessment and conservation of twentieth century architecture in India. To that end, the archival research, documentation, conservation processes, etc. should be made available as academic resource material.