Thursday, February 14, 2013

Death of an Architect

Cambridge, February 14, 2013

There are so many fascinating stories connected with Bombay's Taj Mahal Hotel! One of them has to do with the orientation of the building.  Now the entrance faces the water, but when it was built, it faced the other way, inland.  As the story goes, the architect was on a holiday when he signed off on the drawings and didn't noticed that the floor plan had been turned around.  Construction is well underway, he becomes aware of this monumental mistake, climbs to the fifth floor of the building and leaps to its death.

Now you know it: the orientation of a building can be a matter of life and death.

In the story, sometimes the architect is an Italian or a Frenchman.  Actually, the architect was an Indian, Sitaram Khanderao Vaidya, and he did die before the completion of the building.  But don't worry, his death had nothing to do with the orientation of the plans.

In fact, the entrance from the city side made perfect sense.  Although the building appears as a slab, it's really a u-shaped volume, enclosing a large inward-facing courtyard on the street side.  The sequence of access begins on the street (also a most reasonable decision from the point of view of transportation,) crosses the entry court that serves as a transition space, goes through the interior of the building and culminates with the expansive views of the harbor.  A most memorable experience.  Also, the outer side of the u-shaped plan has more than twice as much perimeter as the inner side, so in the way the hotel is oriented, the majority of the rooms face the harbor. 

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