back to the homepageAll material is copyrighted. Click to read the details.find an artistwhat´s going downwho are we and what do we do?
back to the homepageback to the homepagewhat´s new & the site all about itOrdering Back issues of Arts Dialoguesubmit material / help with our work
find: Architecture U.S.A.

Fariburz Sahba  

architect, Canada.

Fariburz Sahba. Detail of a photograph by Francisco González Pérez

Water and light:

two works by Bahá'í architect

by Eliza Rasiwala, Israel.

In recent years, many a visitor to New Delhi, the capital city of India, has come upon a white, lotus-shaped structure standing amidst vast gardens, on the outskirts of a busy commercial section of the city. This is the Bahá’í House of Worship of the Indian subcontinent, popularly known as the Lotus Temple, and often described as the "Taj Mahal of the 20th century". Inaugurated in December of 1986, the Bahá’í House of Worship in New Delhi is the latest in a chain of seven temples built by the followers of the Bahá’í Faith in different parts of the world. Its architect is Iranian born Fariburz Sahba, who is now a citizen of Canada.

The architect conceived it as a lotus flower, a completely symmetrical form. But the choice of a design for the Bahá’í Temple was a difficult one, as he explains:

"On the one hand, a Bahá’í House of Worship should be designed to symbolize the freshness of the Bahá’í Faith, the world’s youngest religion. On the other hand, it should act as a constant reminder to the basic Bahá’í teaching that the spiritual essence of all the religions is one. Therefore the challenge before me was to prepare a design unique in form, nevertheless appealing to the aesthetic sense of people of different backgrounds."

Photograph by Raghu Rei.

Based on these considerations he undertook a study in the hope of preparing a design which, while it would in no way imitate any of the existing architectural schools of India, would still remain familiar and relate to the heart of the Indian people.

From ancient times the lotus has been revered in India as a symbol of purity and a manifestation of the divine. Mentioned in the oldest Veda, Rid-Veda, it plays a prominent part in the mythology of Brahmanism. In the epic Mahabharata the Creator Brahma is described as having sprung from the lotus that grew out of Lord Vishnu’s navel when that deity lay absorbed in meditation. In Buddhist folklore one of the Bodhisattvas is represented as born from a lotus holding a lotus bloom in his hand. In Islamic architecture the shape of a lotus often appears in the prayer niche of mosques. In fact, the dome of the Taj Mahal is shaped like a lotus bud, and the flower appears as a recurring motif in the interior of this monument. Today, the lotus is recognized as the national flower of India.

The Indian Bahá’í House of Worship designed by Fariburz Sahba. Photograph by Francisco González Pérez from his book: Arquitectos de Unidad (Architecture of Unity) featuring his photographs of the seven Bahá`í Temples around the world.

"The lotus seemed the perfect choice for the design of a Bahá’í House of Worship in the Indian subcontinent, representing as it does India and Indian culture, and yet, never given an architectural form" says Sahba.

The superstructure of the lotus shaped building consists of three sets of nine petals each, arranged concentrically on a podium. Two rows of inner and outer petals curve inwards like a lotus in bloom,

the inner petals rising 33.6 metres above the podium to form a central dome 34 metres in diameter. The outermost petals face outwards and serve as entrance to the central prayer hall. Nine pools of water surround the structure at ground level, and appear as floating leaves. The pools also play a basic role in the natural ventilation and traditional cooling system of the main hall.
The ancillary block housing a reception centre, library and administrative office is located on a series of terraces on either side of the main entrance steps, and is almost camouflaged by landscaping. The petals are formed with white reinforced concrete, their inner surface is bush hammered and on the outside the petals are covered in white Greek Pentilikon marble.

Light and water have been used as the two fundamental elements of ornamentation in place of the large number of statues and carvings to be found in other temples. The principal landscaping feature is the nine surrounding water pools, and the external illumination of the building has been so arranged that with the light falling on the upper edges of the petals, the lotus structure appears to float on water. The entire superstructure is designed to function as a skylight; light is thus filtered into the central hall in the same way that it passes through the inner folds of the lotus flower.

Photograph by Francisco González Pérez from his book:
La Reina del Carmelo (The Queen of Carmel), published in 2003 by Arca Editorial. This shows a detail of one of the terraces.

Fariburz Sahba is now embarked upon another project, this time in Israel. In 1987, he was assigned by the Universal House of Justice, the highest governing body of the Bahá’í Faith, the task of designing the terraces to complete the gardens surrounding the Shrine of the Báb, one of the most holy places of pilgrimage for the Bahá’ís of the world.

Elaborating the design concept of these gardens on the slopes of Carmel Sahba explains:

"The terraces have been designed to create an appropriate setting and approach for the Shrine of the Báb. The Shrine is envisaged as a precious gem, for which the terraces provide the setting, like a golden ring for a precious diamond. Designed as nine concentric circles, they appear to emanate from the Shrine of the Báb. All their lines and curves direct the vision and the senses towards that central edifice. The geometry of parallel surfaces and lines have been employed to create the most agreeable and comforting setting for the spectator along the entire landscape."

Like the Bahá’í House of Worship in New Delhi, the architect has employed the natural elements of light and water as the main decoration of the terraces. He elaborates:

"The significance of light can be appreciated when we consider the different parallel mirror-like surfaces reflecting light from the rays of the sun in different shades. As the visitor traverses the terraces, each perspective will provide him with myriad shades of light together with the strong symmetry of the parallel lines and surfaces, and will serve as an instrument to comfort, discipline and organize the thoughts, and bring about spiritual upliftment. "

Photograph by Francisco González Pérez of Fariburz Sahba with some of the terraces behind him.
Photograph by Francisco González Pérez looking down onto the terraces from the top of Mount Carmel in Haifa.

"The element of water has been used as the main concept of the landscape, which follows the visitor from the top of the mountain to the bottom in a continuous cascade along the sides of the central stairway. The sound of water provides a soothing effect conducive to tranquil enjoyment and reflection."

The terraces stretch about a kilometre up the mountain reaching a height of 225 metres, and their landscape spans the mountain from 60 metres to almost 400 metres. The uppermost terrace joins an existing promenade at the top of the mountain, Louis Promenade, through a pedestrian tunnel. At the foot of the mountain, the entrance plaza to the first terrace joins the historic German Templar Colony, currently being restored, which commences from the sea. The projects create one of the longest and most attractive urban developments in the Mediterranean region.

Excerpts from, Arts Dialogue, February 2001, pages 16 - 19


Arts Dialogue, Dintel 20, NL 7333 MC, Apeldoorn, The Netherlands