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Throughout the pandemic, Sikh temples have grow to be a mannequin for civic areas


Under is the second of three articles written as a part of the New Voices in Architectural Journalism fellowship, a mentorship-based program developed by The Architect’s Newspaper and the Pratt Institute Faculty of Structure. All three articles have been revealed within the June 2022 subject of AN; a second spherical of items written by the inaugural New Voices cohort—Ekam Singh, Catherine Chattergoon, and Monty Rush—shall be revealed within the July/August subject of AN. You’ll be able to study extra about New Voices in AN editor-in-chief Aaron Seward’s introductory be aware.

In April 2020, an unassuming basement in Flushing, Queens, remodeled in a single day right into a collective kitchen and eating corridor, a meals packaging hub, and a prayer corridor. With assist from group leaders, neighbors, and residential cooks, the power was capable of feed 1000’s of frontline employees and homebound sufferers affected by the consequences of COVID-19.

“We have been packaging 100 meals in a matter of hours,” recalled Bhai Harnek Singh, a group organizer who manages the Sikh Middle of New York in Flushing, one in all a number of Sikh gurdwaras within the metropolis. The next month, the identical basement hosted a small marriage ceremony reception, with the following blessing happening simply upstairs. When COVID surged for a second time, the gurdwara expanded subsequent door into an incomplete one-story construction as operations scaled up. I visited the area this previous January with the intention of asking just a few questions on this ever-adaptive typology. Earlier than I might take out my pocket book, I used to be greeted with a smile and served a scrumptious lunch and tea.

exterior of a sikh gurdwara in nyc
The Gurdwara Sikh Temple Society within the South Richmond Hill part of Queens. (Leonid Furmansky)

Loosely outlined, gurdwaras are locations of worship in Sikhism, the world’s fifth-largest organized faith. Nearly all of Sikhs reside in Punjab, the northwestern area of India, with round 500,000 followers dwelling in the USA. One of many major tenets of the religion is the spirit of seva (selfless voluntary service) and sarbat da bhala (well-being of all individuals). This ethic of service sometimes takes the type of a langar (group kitchen), the place free heat meals are served to all guests, with none distinction as to faith, race, gender, or financial standing. In response to Devinder Pal Singh, the director on the Middle for Understanding Sikhism in Ontario, Canada, in occasions of emergency “gurdwaras act as shelters or refuges for individuals.” He recalled the Fort McMurray wildfires of 2016, when Alberta’s Sikh group got here collectively to gather meals and clothes at an area gurdwara for these affected. Extra just lately, gurdwaras throughout North America opened their doorways to healthcare employees and Black Lives Matter protesters alike.

The custom of seva extends to the structure of the gurdwara. Singh defined that the first North American gurdwara, in Stockton, California, advanced from a group room into an elaborate campus, whereas retaining its important character. A peculiar characteristic of this typology is the perpetual constructing exercise that surrounds it. Via donations and grants, gurdwaras are usually in a relentless state of building. That is the case even for historic examples, such because the monumental Gurdwara Rakab Ganj Sahib in New Delhi, which erected a makeshift hospital on its premises throughout COVID’s second wave in India.

exterior of a sikh center in flushing queens
The Sikh Middle of New York in Flushing, Queens. (Leonid Furmansky)

In stylistic phrases, gurdwaras are eclectic, incorporating parts of Rajput and Mughal structure, together with minarets, portals, kiosks, domes, foliated arches, and bangaldar roofs. These parts have advanced into signifiers of the typology, to be mixed or omitted pending circumstances of value and context. The gurdwara in Queens Village, New York, incorporates none of those parts on its low-lying facade, whereas the Flushing gurdwara encompasses a tripartite brick facade topped by a bangaldar roof, merlons, and arched kiosks. In the meantime, the comparatively giant gurdwara in South Richmond Hill, New York, remembers the grandeur of Nineteenth-century temples in Punjab. (Maybe the one important characteristic of gurdwaras the world over is the nishan sahib, a saffron pendant mounted on rooftops or at locations of entry.)

Whereas most up to date gurdwaras combine the occasional dome or arch on an in any other case flat facade, their distinguishing characteristic seems to be their distinctive extensibility. The programmatic vary is extraordinary and challenges what architects imply by “typology.” The best gurdwara is usually a single room, offered there’s a Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy ebook, inside attain. Or it may be a sprawling campus, full with chapels, langars, sarovars (swimming pools of water), marriage halls, multipurpose areas, clinics, and extra.

exterior of a sikh gurdwara in nyc
A second location of the Sikh Middle of New York  in Queens Village, Queens. (Leonid Furmansky)

Equally fascinating is the pace with which these expansions can happen. As an example, after beginning in a basement, the Flushing middle is nearing completion of a multipurpose corridor. However these diversifications are simply as prone to be ephemeral. Throughout the first shuttered weeks of the pandemic, the Queens Village gurdwara moved its kitchen out of its langar corridor to an adjoining car parking zone, which enabled volunteers to proceed cooking meals. In Sunnyside, Queens, Sikh group organizers established a langar at a protest website the place demonstrators had taken a stand in opposition to the killings of George Floyd and different Black People by police. In Pacoima, Los Angeles, protesters discovered respite beneath a tent in Pan Pacific Park arrange by the Khalsa Care Basis, an area gurdwara. The non permanent construction distributed plates of pasta to anybody who wished it.

exterior of a guardwara in queens
Shri Guru Ravi Dass Temple, a gurdwara in Woodside, Queens. (Leonid Furmansky)

Evidently this centuries-old spatial template is barely gaining in relevance. Civic areas world wide are beneath menace with rising home and worldwide tensions in society partly as a consequence of social inequities, local weather change, refugee crises, and an endemic pandemic. For architect and historian Swati Chattopadhay, who researches non permanent constructions, the power of a group to swell and contract is vital to its flourishing. “Momentary and routinized interventions play a big half in creating group and fascinating gathering areas in cities,” Chattopadhay famous.

Gurdwaras method civic engagement by acts of communal service and solidarity. Architects ought to extra intently contemplate how these acts can take ephemeral, spatial type. At a sure temporal scale, all structure is finite, passing inevitably with the seasons. In modeling future civic areas, practitioners would possibly take that reality to coronary heart.

Ekam Singh is an MArch pupil on the Pratt Institute Faculty of Structure. In 2021–22, he was one in all three New Voices in Architectural Journalism fellows. This system was sponsored by Pratt and AN.



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