25 years old BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir (also commonly known as the Neasden Temple) in London is well known for its stone carvings not only in London but all over the world. Adjoining this temple is BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Haveli, a multi-function cultural centre. Whereas the mandir is carved from stone, the haveli is constructed from wood. Apart from the wooden material used in its construction, this haveli has certain uniqueness of its own. Do you know what are the uniqueness of this haveli?
Gujarat is known for Havelis and these Havelis are mostly built out of wood and that too Burmese teak. Burmese teak is preferred because of its durability and water resistant qualities. Even for this London Haveli, Burmese teak is used for the exterior as its texture was ideal for the delicate carvings both inside and on the façade. For the load-bearing beams and structural framework, English Oak was chosen because of its sturdiness and durability.
The Burmese teak used was harvested from sustainable forests. To compensate for the 226 English oak trees used, over 2,300 English oak saplings were planted in Devon. The haveli also incorporates energy-saving features such as light-wells.
It has been designed according to traditional Indian haveli architecture, to evoke feelings of being in Gujarat, India, where such havelis were once commonplace. The Haveli covers over 17,760 square feet of woodcarving. 169 craftsmen were engaged at 8 workshops across India – in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Bengal. Within a year and 8 months, the entire building with its intricately carved wooden features was ready for the opening.
Behind the traditional wooden façade, the cultural centre houses a vast pillarless prayer hall with space for 3,000 people, a gymnasium, medical centre, dining facilities, bookstall, conference facilities, and offices.
It should be noted that before implementing the project, architects and structural engineers from both England and India had visited examples of older havelis in India to see what could be possible in London. After much research, deliberation, testing and innovative engineering, working drawings were finalised in late 1992 for a functional and distinctively traditional haveli facility.