Some identify it with brutalism, some recall the Madurai Meenakshi temple when they see it, and the autowallahs know it as the pyjama building — because that’s what the building shape happens to resemble. But for the disparate cooperatives which work out of the National Cooperative Development Corporation (NCDC), the building exemplifies a spirit of cooperation. One of the first institutional complexes on the arterial Siri Fort Road, Delhi, its textured concrete façade stands hidden behind lush greenery and golden amaltas showers.
Designed by architect Kuldip Singh in 1980 with the engineering prowess of Mahendra Raj, the nine-storied structure is testimony to material economy, brave imagination and the finesse of the handmade. Two concrete office wings zig-zag to reach the top, while a central corridor ties the wings and the service core together. “There are no brick walls here. The building carries itself visually and structurally,” says Singh, as he explains how the slim shear walls are part of its structural essence. Talking about the form of the building, Singh says the concept was closer to the leaning forms in some of the south Indian religious structures, as one sees in the gopurams, for instance.
The shutter-finish concrete gives the NCDC building its texture of geometric patterns. “The technique is an expression of handcrafted, rather than mechanical or industrial production. It was a time when labour was cheap and timber easily available. We wanted to reduce costs so we gave the building a permanent finish in concrete,” says Singh.
The zigzagging columns are held together by cables to stabilise the building. And, the column-free office spaces, of 11mx25m, can be configured in multiple ways based on user needs. “Every part of the building is interconnected. If we had ignored this, this structure would not have been possible,” says Raj in his monograph, The Structure. “The working spaces were meant to receive cross ventilation before air-conditioners were fitted. It’s east-west orientated, and the two facades that face the interior atrium are sheltered from the direct sun, making the building cool even in the harsh summers,” says Singh.