India and the United States: Reflections in Architecture

Posted by Martin Perschler
February 18, 2015
Akshardham temple, in New Delhi, India.

A couple of weeks ago I posted a photo of a corbel arch that I made out of some extra bricks lying around the house on a social media site. “Remodeling?” a friend asked. “Building a Hindu temple in the kitchen,” I replied.  A corbel arch is a construction element that depends on the staggering of bricks or stone blocks towards each other to make door and window openings and roofs. It was a primary building block of ancient Hindu architecture.

Building that arch in the kitchen was an attempt on my part to understand more fully why Hindu architecture looks and feels the way it does. It was also an attempt to get at the essence of Indian culture through a language that I understand -- the language of architecture.

Martin Perschler 's kitchen building block of a Corbel Arch. [State Department Photo]

Architecture is a language of forms, functions, building methods, and symbols. Remarkably, that language -- more visual and experiential than written -- transcends cultures and time. When viewed through the lens of architecture, India and the United States share a lot in common.

Tomorrow, ECA’s Collaboratory, in partnership with the Cultural Heritage Center, Academic Exchange Branch, and PBS LearningMedia, will host a web chat with high school students both in Indore, India, and Washington, D.C., on the topic of Hindu architecture. This is the second in a series of three web chats in Ancient Civilizations. We will begin with some basic architectural design concepts and then talk about architectural symbolism, the Ramayana epic, and some other ancient Hindu writings that have influenced the design and construction of buildings for more than a thousand years. We will also look at a couple American buildings for comparison. The students will then document and share in photographic essays some examples of architectural symbolism applied to architecture in their communities.

Last January, in his remarks to the people of India, President Obama said that "we may have our different histories and speak different languages, but when we look at each other, we see a reflection of ourselves." We can see that same reflection of ourselves when we look and learn about each other's architecture. This program will strengthen the U.S. commitment to the Indian people, a relationship that is critical for America’s success in the 21st century.

Join the web chat tomorrow, February 19 at 10:15 a.m. (EST) and ask your questions live here.

About the author: Martin Perschler is a Program Director in the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.


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