Exterior Side View of the Stepped Balaji Temple in Andhra Pradesh / Sameep Padora & Associates

© Edmund Sumner

In 2020 Sameep Padora & Associates completed the design of the Balaji Temple in  Andhra Pradesh. A stepped temple for the residents of villages around Nandyal that marries the socio-cultural expectations with the ecological framework and dynamics of the site.

Balaji Temple Technical Information

The architectural philosopher Andrew Benjamin wrote that every act of design was an act of repetition and that architecture is about exploring what not to repeat. This building, too, repeats or emulates certain tropes of the Hindu temple so that it is recognizable as a temple. Yet, it doesn’t replicate those tropes but instead breaks them down to constituent parts to then again reconstruct it.

– Praveen Bavdekar

Balaji Temple Photographs
Top View of temple

© Edmund Sumner

Aerial View of the stepped temple

© Edmund Sumner

Aerial View of Hindu temple

© Edmund Sumner

Front View of the temple

© Edmund Sumner

Celebration

© Edmund Sumner

Interior of Balaji Temple in Andhra Pradesh / Sameep Padora & Associates

© Edmund Sumner

Text by the Architects

The brief was to design a temple for the residents of villages around Nandyal. The immediate context of Cotton and chilly farms in the region was fed by a natural canal system that had dried up.  The ecological strategy for the temple thus began with recharging of groundwater.

Water overflow from the limestone quarries was led to a low-lying recharge pit or ‘kund’: the banks of which was imagined as a social space, in the manner of a traditional ghat, a flight of steps leading down to a waterbody. This negotiation of land and water with steps is a significant part of India’s architectural heritage, as is seen in the ghats of the ancient city of Benaras.

The planning of the temple itself was based on a 10th-century temple for the same deity at Tirupathi in Southern India and similarly includes the Balaji & Varahaswamy shrines and a Pushkarini (water tank).

The construction process uses locally available black limestone slabs corbelled to form the main body of the temple. The same corbelled profile also incorporates soil and planting in the lower half of the temple body to buffer against the heat. Finally, this stone corbelling turns into a ghat, i.e., the steps that access the water.

Hindu drawing of Balaji Temple in Andhra Pradesh / Sameep Padora & Associates

© Sameep Padora & Associates

Text by Praveen Bavdekar1

The Balaji temple in Nandyal explores and abstracts the long tradition of the temple typology in India.

The architectural philosopher Andrew Benjamin wrote that every act of design was an act of repetition and that architecture is about exploring what not to repeat. This building, too, repeats or emulates certain tropes of the Hindu temple so that it is recognizable as a temple. Yet, it doesn’t replicate those tropes but instead breaks them down to constituent parts to then again reconstruct it.

One looks at the relationship of the temple and the Kund (stepped water tank), as a contradictory yet complementary one of binary opposites. It is a relationship between a solid and a void between reaching out to the sky and going deep into the ground about accretion and excavation.

This relationship, which is so apparent, often is unnoticed. Here, by employing the same architectural device (steps or corbels), one makes this explicit and yet delightfully abstract. Suddenly, it becomes evident that the Kund (stepped water tank) is the inverted negative of the shikhara (spire), and it leads one to reread this whole debate between the two, even in the temples of the past.

The use of horizontal layers or corbels is an abstraction of how Hindu temples have employed these corbels to achieve verticality. Yet, at the Balaji Temple, by making the form rise gradually from the ground, it destabilizes the notion of the temple as a simple figure-ground.

This gradual rise echo’s perhaps the protohistoric roots of the shikhara (spire) as a pure gravity-driven primordial mound/pyramid.

Jacques Herzog talks about how he encountered an architecture in India, which has a very different concept of space. Unlike the western or Islamic project of space where they try to achieve maximum interior spatiality through the minimum structure, in India, he encountered an architecture where the interiors were almost carved out, and the buildings had an intentional heaviness to them. While he was very facile at some level, this ‘weight’ and ‘carved void’ seems to find an echo in the Balaji Temple.

Temple of Steps in Andhra Pradesh
Floor Plan of Temple

© Sameep Padora & Associates

Section of the temple

© Sameep Padora & Associates

Project Image Gallery
About Sameep Padora & Associates (sP+a)

sP+a approach is to look to context as a repository of latent resources connecting production process and network’s, appropriating techniques beyond their traditional use while allowing them to evolve and persist not just through preservation but more so through evolution.
Other works from Sameep Padora & Associates

  1. Principal, Third Space Studio I  MArch. DRL Architectural Association
Cite this article: "Balaji Temple in Andhra Pradesh / Sameep Padora & Associates" in ArchEyes, August 17, 2020, https://archeyes.com/balaji-temple-in-andhra-pradesh-sameep-padora-associates/.