Formal Structure in Indian Architecture

Formal Structure in Indian Architecture

Formal structure is the underlying system of order that unites the visible elements of architecture such as walls, columns, and roofs.  This book takes a deep dive into selected examples of Hindu and Islamic architecture of pre-colonial India.  As a companion book to a traveling exhibition by the same name, this book encourages readers to go beyond the visible aspects of Indian architecture to a deeper understanding of its formal structures.

Formal Structure in Indian Architecture, Book by Klaus Herdeg. 
New York: Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 1990, 54 pp., $ 35.00. 

The visible aspects of architecture

As people visit famous monuments, they are fascinated by what they see – the visible aspects of architecture such as facades, forms, and spaces.  They record these aspects by taking pictures, selfies, and videos to post on their social media accounts and to brag about their journeys.  Some may even read an online travel guide or take a guided tour to learn a little more about the history and culture. 

The underlying formal structure of Indian architecture

In their whirlwind tour of famous monuments most people do not pause to understand the underlying system or order that gave form and structure to the visible architecture.  The author of this book – Klaus Herdeg – believes that an understanding of formal structure is necessary for both appreciating as well as designing the built environment.  A considerable effort was made to study, document, discover and articulate formal structures in Indian architecture.

Hindu Architecture of pre-colonial India

The book focuses on selected examples of Hindu and Islamic architecture of pre-colonial India. It begins with the Temple and Reservoir complex at Modhera, a village reservoir at Kapadvanj built in the 12th century and the stepped well at Adalaj built in the 14th century.  These examples exhibit architectural manifestations of deep-rooted Hindu traditions of formal access to water and Sun worship.

Islamic architecture of pre-colonial India

The examples of Islamic architecture include a royal retreat at Sarkhej (1446-1451), mosque and royal tombs at Mandu (1430-1450), palace of Sultan Baz Bahadur at Mandu (1508), and the city and citadel at Fatehpur Sikri built from 1569 to 1585 and abandoned in 1601.  The complex formal structure of Fatehpur Sikri, characterized by its system of high and low panoramic viewpoints and shifting axes forming a cluster of magnificent buildings and courts, completes the book.

Historical and cultural context

Although this book examines historical works of architecture, it is not about the history of architecture. Discussions on historical context as well as cultural and social attributes are kept to a minimum, to isolate and recognize formal structures.  An understanding of formal structures will certainly illuminate aspects of architecture that are not visible to human eye, but a deeper understanding of historical and cultural context will further enrich the experience.

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