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 StructureThe 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.
WallsThe 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.
Roof FormThe 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 EnvelopeThe 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.
InteriorsThe 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 DoorsThe 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.
FlooringThe 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.
LandscapeTo 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)
Furniture and ArtworkThere 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.
ArchivesThere 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.