By Vivek Shukla
In a country where politicians, irrespective of their standing or ideology, always look for any opportunity to give new names to areas, roads, parks and building to please their political masters, it is asking for the moon to have a road in the name of some architect.
However, Lodhi Road is one area which should be renamed Stein Road. Joseph Allen Stein was an American-born architect with the heart of an Indian.
Unlike the greats like Edwin Lutyens, Herbert Baker, Le Corbusier and others, Joseph Allen Stein decided to adopt India and designed some of the finest buildings during his close to half-century stay in India. He had created great buildings like India International Centre (IIC), the Unicef building, the India Habitat Centre (IHC), Ford Foundation building, the American International School, Triveni Kala Sangam and a host of other buildings in various parts of the capital.
Considering his outstanding body of work in Lodhi Road area alone, it can safely be renamed as Stein Road. In fact, a small stretch, in and around Lodi Garden, contains seven major buildings that were designed by Stein. Says Deepak Mehta, a leading architect, “Stein was a genius indeed.”
I feel that the concerned authorities must see to it that some road in Lodhi Road area is named after him so that people should know about him.”
Stein was a master of building materials and in almost all his buildings left the construction materials exposed, says (you can add any name) JK Jain, who had worked with him for many years adding there is a lot to learn from what Stein has left behind. ‘‘He went into the minutest of detail. He never imposed his ideas on his juniors and other colleagues. He was a pioneer of architecture who amalgamated Indian urbanisation with landscapes and natural forms.”
Even before his demise a couple of years ago, he used to inspect IIC and Triveni Kala Sangam.Stein believed in using building materials in their original form. He never covered stone with plaster. When stones were not available for the India Habitat Centre, he went to the kilns to order Lakhori bricks and Mughal bricks. Stein integrated landscapes into his structures for IIC. He took inspiration from the Lodhi Gardens next door and gave the building an inner and an outer courtyard. Stein was a contemporary architect who was interested in local culture, conditions and climate.
Stein arrived in India in1952 to head the Architecture and Planning Department at the Bengal Engineering College in Calcutta (now Kolkata). He made his presence felt in a big way after he designed the Triveni Kala Sangam arts complex and the ICC.
Noted artist Ram Rahman said in one of his essays on Stein, “ He and my father Habib Rahman (equally noted architect) became friends during their Calcutta days. Both of them moved to Delhi in the 1950s. Here Stein set up his private practice and my father joined the central public works department. Here both would spend every weekend exploring every ruin and village. This was a living discovery of the great Sultanate architecture of Delhi, in the days when all the sites were still near little villages surrounded by blazing yellow mustard fields in winter. Both developed a fascination for the traditions of Delhi building and its effect on Stein could not be clearer than in the India International Centre (IIC).”
The surfaces and materials Stein used for IIC were local stone, cast concrete jalis, blue and green ceramic tiles as highlights, were an updating of the Sultanate architecture of Delhi, which Stein had learned to love and admire through weekly exploration.
The first architect
“I feel that Stein was among the first architects in India to introduce jalis in buildings in a big way. He used jalis in IIC and Triveni. Take the example of the roof of the auditorium of IIC. It is absolutely unique. It is composed of precast Y-shaped elements. Y-shaped pieces carry the outer layer, provides space for the distribution of lighting and air condition’, says a member and a keen observer of architecture.
Stein was in full flow when he was designing the IIC and Triveni. Here he was given complete freedom to practise his philosophy of integrating the built-form with landscape as a total environmental concept. India Habitat Centre was Stein’s last and perhaps the best work. Every part of the building speaks different language. One can enjoy different moods at different places. The environment in the courtyard gives a feel of freshness.
Stein planned the building in such a manner so as to have clean looks. And IHC stands out in energy efficiency.
The interesting blue sunshade provided between the two buildings in court helps to maintain the environment and gives a cool effect. The trees also help to maintain the environment and give the natural effect. Trees are planted at every part of the court. Fountains make the environment cooler and give an effect of lightness. Stein planned the building in such a way so that the maximum part of the floor enjoys sunlight. He also planned to give sunlight in basement through very interesting ways.