Natural touch to soften urban edge

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By PARTHA RANJAN DAS The author is an architect and urban designer
  • Published 19.05.06

The last of a three-part series on Joseph Allen Stein, the American architect.

Joseph Allen Stein’s most widespread and dramatic use of steel lattice shells has been in a series of industrial buildings constructed for Escorts on the outskirts of Delhi.

Here, steel lattices in a variety of configurations ? domes, vaults and prismatic roof forms ? have created an uplifting atmosphere for workers employed in various industrial processes.

An example of the refinement and clarity of Stein’s structural expression can be found in the Indian Express Tower built in 1968 at Nariman Point in Mumbai. One of Stein’s best-known buildings, it was also among the first skyscrapers to be constructed in India.

From the late 1960s, Stein had shifted his attention from designing individual buildings towards a concept he called “total landscape” design, where buildings, gardens, open spaces and wilderness are conceived in their totality. He had focused particularly on the regional environment of the Himalayas.

The scope of Stein’s efforts in the Himalayas had ranged from attempts to encourage restoration of Kashmir’s famed Mughal Gardens to a tourist development plan undertaken with architect Balkrishna Doshi for the Gulmarg and the Dal Lake areas.

He also conceived plans with French anthropologist Corneille Jest and others for implementing a national environmental policy and establishing a resource-conservative “modern” architecture in Bhutan.

Stein’s best-known work, The Habitat Centre in New Delhi, perhaps sums up his ideologies developed during his stay in India. Here, the built-form, the open space, the shaded courtyard and the use of local materials helped create a contemporary Fatehpur Sikri.

A unique feature of the Habitat Centre is the “vertical garden” or a series of planters on the surface of the building. In Stein’s own language, it is “an endeavour to find new lodging places for nature in an urban context”. What a wonderful way to soften the hard edge of a city!