Postgraduate Research

Himanish Das, an architect, graduated with a gold medal from the Sushant School of Art and Architecture, Gurgaon, India, in 1995, followed by a few years' work experience in the studio of Prof. KT Ravindran, coupled with some private work. These experiences led to a keen academic interest in the traditional architecture of India, fulfilled through the PRASADA Masters course at De Montfort University, for which he gained a Distinction. This was followed by employment at Sidell Gibson Architects, London, a professional venture pursued in parallel with RIBA Part 3 from the Architectural Association, London (2002). Following the completion of his MA dissertation on the Principles of Design in Indian Palace Architecture (focusing on Rajput, Mughal and earlier Indian precedents), he decided to develop the study through analysis of primary data in a specific architectural tradition, through the pursuit of a PhD.

Principles of Design in the Tradional Architecture of Jaisalmer

Abstract of the Thesis (completed February 2006)

TThe study focuses on the sandstone havelis (urban courtyard houses) of the desert city of Jaisalmer, north-west Rajasthan, India. While the city has been much admired by contemporary Indian architects, their understanding has been a Modernist one, based largely on the idea of 'spatial organisation'. This is the first systematic study of the architectural tradition of Jaisalmer. The approach taken is one of detailed formal analysis, through which principles of design have been deduced. Two sources have provided the primary material: the buildings themselves, and the present-day practitioners of the craft tradition, who inherit their practices from the relatively recent, nineteenth-century heyday of haveli­ building in the city. Drawings by the author, both detailed measured drawings, and explanatory drawings, have been an essential analytical tool, and form an integral part of the thesis.

Setting the context of the tradition, the history of Jaisalmer is outlined, and the form of the city and its districts is described. Three distinct architectural schools, or shaili, are then identified. The Sompuriya shaili (the Sompuras are traditional temple builders) has its roots in the medieval architecture known from surviving temples, the Mughlai shaili is influenced by the imperial Mughal style, while the Angrezi (English) shaili brought an influx of western Classicism. Broadly speaking the schools and their respective styles correspond to three phases, but examples can be found combining these styles, for which a number of explanations are put forward.

The buildings are analysed at their various levels of organsiation: formal and spatial planning, composition of elevations (interior and exterior), architectural components and details. It is argued that, as a concept in design, architectural 'form' has traditionally taken precedence over 'space', and that the basic notions of centre, symmetry, and the relation of the part to the whole, are fundamental. Aedicules, miniature representations of buildings, play an important role as compositional elements. Freedom and great inventiveness is demonstrated on the part of the designers, within the medium of the architectural language.

The building craftsmen in Jaisalmer work mainly for the local population, and can produce high quality craftsmanship comparable with the best workmanship of the past. Based on a period spent on site with a group of craftsmen [*], their tools and techniques are described, together with the principles that they use in making certain key components, particularly geometrical jails (tracery screens). Although craftsmen have traditionally worked directly on stone, never recording designs on paper for fear of copying, the author's informants were willing to demonstrate their methods for the present study.

Case studies illustrate the varied application in practice of the design principles. Nine havelis are surveyed, classified typlogically, and analysed in terms of their overall planning and composition. Two further, exceptional examples, from the Patuon ki Haveli group, are treated in greater detail.