Hall of Nations, Pragati Maidan, Raj Rewal

Hall of Nations
Raj Rewal
New Delhi, India
28°36’57”N 77°14’44”E

The Hall of Nations was an exhibition hall inaugurated in New Delhi, India in 1972. Designed by Indian architect Raj Rewal and structurally engineered by Mahendra Raj. It was an integral part of the Pragati Maidan complex, built to celebrate 25 years of Indian independence. At the time, it was the world’s largest space-frame structure built in reinforced concrete.

Post-independence Indian architecture

Raj Rewal and Mahendra Raj are key figures in post-independence Indian architecture. Influenced by architectural modernism, they contributed to the emergence of monumental structures in India. They thrived in a global architectural context that applied to India’s more nationalist politics. Showing structure meant showing technological development and, by extension, socio-economic development.

Hall of Nations and Hall of Industries

The complex of exhibition halls comprises a main pavilion, the Hall of Nations, with a square floor plan, and the Hall of Industries, 4 pavilions with the same architecture but on a smaller scale. The pavilions are linked by a system of ramps and staircases, allowing multiple circulations and accesses between the exhibition spaces. An innovative structural system had to be developed to guarantee a large interior space that was as free and adaptable as possible.
These pavilions were developed by exploring the structural theories of the time, in particular Buckminster Fuller’s experiments with steel. In the end, however, Mahendra Raj chose to design a triangular module, built and cast in concrete on site, which when assembled produces a square pyramid shape.

Half pyramids, half structure, half architecture

The hall of Nations has a base of 73 x 73m, truncated at a height of 30m, allowing a roof span of 39m x 39m. The module used has a large dimension of 4.9m x 4.9m with a height of 3.5m. This maximizes the exhibition space to 6700m², to which can be added the 7500m² of the Hall of Industries.
These mini pavilions were based on the same structural system, but in a more reduced form. The pyramids have a base of 40m x 40m, truncated at a height of 18m, allowing a roof span of 22m x 22m. The same proprotionally reduced modules had a height of 2.6m and a dimension of 3.6m x 3.6m.
The work on these raw reinforced concrete modules is a first of its kind. In addition to their aesthetic harmony, they also meet a need for economic efficiency and used local know-how. This construction method meant that the modules could be cast-in-situ and assembled on site, enabling the complex to be built in less than 2 years.

This three-dimensional structure was also a sun-breaker, inspired by the traditional jali used mainly in Islamic architecture in India. The geometrical pattern allows openings to circulate air, but also to block direct sunlight.
Unfortunately, the building was demolished in 2017, once again raising the question of how to safeguard Indian architectural heritage.

The Hall of Industries
Layout Model, Permanent Exhibition Complex by Raj Rewal
Plan of the complex
Source: Raj Rewal, Architexturez

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