Louis Kahn to Taj Mahal


Last week I discussed Louis Kahn’s sophisticated manipulation of light in the Kimbell Art Museum in Dallas/Fortworth, Texas.  That reminded me of how Mughal architects were conscious of the setting of their buildings and controlled the way the buildings would be viewed.   Mughal rulers  of India (1526-1857), descendants of Mongol and Turkish nomads grew into great patrons of art and especially architecture.  They loved to build great monuments mostly to themselves and built them in grand style.  Taj Mahal in Agra attest to their sophisticated taste and penchant for the monumental.

The Taj Mahal was a mausoleum built (1632-1648) by the Emperor Shah Jahan for his beloved third wife Mumtaz Mahal.  Over the centuries Mumtaz was shortened to Taj which means crown and mahal means palace, so it is now known the world over as the Taj Mahal.  I do not think that the mausoleum was named as such when it was built.  This building now visited by millions was a private and personal tribute by a husband to his wife whom he loved dearly since she bore him 14 children and died in child-birth.

The Taj Mahal complex is huge and you can see that in this aerial view filmed by AIRPANO.  The Taj Mahal was built of white marble, an unusual choice since the Mughal’s prefered material for construction was red sand stone.  Actually the walled garden, the two side buildings and the entrance complex of the Taj Mahal is constructed of red sand stone with white marble accents.

As I started out talking about the Kimbell Art Museum and how Louis Kahn’s manipulation of light influenced our perception of that building, similarly Mughal architects used light in a subtle way that we may not even notice, but the effect is there.  If you have visited the Taj Mahal, you notice that you can not see the Taj Mahal from surrounding streets since it is surrounded by a wall. The only way to approach the building is to walk through a separate entrance complex and then enter an elevated entrance gate which faces the Taj Mahal. As one passes through that entrance hall you come out at the other end facing the building while looking over the reflecting water pools and garden walkways.

Entrance gate seen from Taj Mahal over the reflecting pools.

Entrance gate seen from Taj Mahal over the reflecting pools.

This entrance gate is an elaborate building and is rather large for a gateway.  That structure does two things, first it forces your first glimpse of the building the way architects wanted you to see it, framed through an arch.

The view of the Taj from the entrance gate (ARCH DAILY)

The view of the Taj from the entrance gate (ARCH DAILY)

The second thing that entrance building does, is to hold a visitor for several minutes as he admires the interior wall decorations. While the visitor is focusing on those elaborately decorated wall panels and ceiling muqarnas his eye pupils open up to take in the details in the dimly lighted entrance hall.  When the visitor makes his way out of the entrance hall towards the Taj Mahal court-yard, he sees the Taj Mahal building framed by the arch as the architects intended the building to be viewed. But this first glimpse of the building is subtly enhanced because the visitor’s eye pupils were opened up in the dimly lighted entrance hall. That first glimpse seems more vivid and magical because the viewer comes out of a closed dimly lit room to a bright opening.

This method of framing a building through the entrance can also be seen in the royal mosques of Delhi and Lahore, both Mughal buildings.  If you have noticed this aspect of the Taj Mahal please post a comment  on this blog. Thanks.

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