Approach A memorial to war must celebrate peace. It would be a disservice to humanity to celebrate war. Spatial narratives for a war memorial must examine the subtleties of commemoration, treading carefully between glorification and paying homage. War memorials are typically triumphant monuments showcasing the soldier - lone, in death and out of context. Their tone is rarely critical and their spaces such as the eternal fire, sculptural shady canopies - offer comfort to the visitor. We felt that a singular narrative and such architectural treatment normalises war. Weaving layered narratives of war and peace that invited reflection, the memorial does not envision a representative object backed by a formal standing but instead crystallizes the memorialisation process in a spatial and emotional experience. Rather than focus on a single object as memorial, we chose to approach the integrated landscape and architecture of the site as a symbolic gesture.
Metaphor of the Fallen Soldier Traditional war memorials do not permit inquiry and engagement. They instead present a linear narrative of war, a victorious one which demonstrates the fallen soldier as an artifact. War is presented more as an event or a series of events and seldom as a political condition with multiple interpretations, positions and actors where loss is the final outcome. The process of design was an attempt at developing a critical view of war and exploring how multiplicities could be embedded into the memorial landscape. The space must urge a visitor to ask questions such as why did we choose war over peace? where do the soldiers come from? what is the experience of war? Wars are synonymous with destruction, an antithesis to creation. How do we capture destruction? What will be the aesthetics of destruction in a landscape, constructed and managed by the State, a prolific builder with its own eponymous vocabulary? Can we create to destruct within this municipal imagination? A War Memorial in the heart of Bhopal - a city distant from the borderlands and sites of conflict - was an opportunity to juxtapose these diametrically different geographies and landscapes. We chose to evoke the views of a pastoral landscape to refer to the farmlands that our soldiers come from. 15 acres of the open site is put through an active landscape and devoted to agriculture. Food crops would be grown and harvested, sowed and ploughed in the heart of Bhopal where government offices are located. The landscape would change through the seasons and unlike manicured lawns about, need able-bodied people to exploit. Its produce will become souvenirs for visitors to take home. Afterall, the food we grow is a direct result of our peaceful coexistence. It is also befitting that this landscape is the primary stage within which the discussion of war takes place and the soldier laid to rest. “Jai Jawaan, Jai Kisaan” being a slogan that Indian citizens identify with, makes an immediate connection to the sacrifices of the jawaans and kisaans in nation building. We wanted to capture how in the context of war, the jawaan and the kisaan they are oftentimes the same person. The soldier who leaves his farms to serve at the battlefront, and the farmer who battles drought, poverty, industrialized agriculture and back-breaking labor. While a majority of our soldiers come from the villages, decision-making on matters of national defense rests in urban centers. The contrast is also a contradiction. It expands on the idea of cities as secure centers of powers that reap the benefit of farmlands. The landscape that stretches on the east of the ‘guide’ wall, beyond the ramp is intended as an active farmland whose produce will become a souvenir for the visitor to take back home. The grids of the farmland are treated in two ways. The outer periphery is ringed with farms that follow the topography of the land. The fields along the timeline depicting the wars are numbered to depict the soldiers lost in each conflict and are layered to depict an upheaval in the landscape. The architectural design creates a sequence of evocative but poignant moments, laden with metaphors to communicate the grief, both personal and national, to commemorate sacrifice and celebrate valor, to culminate at a two-dimensional edifice of stone, water and fire. This commemoration space carved from the landscape as an amalgamation of the Indian Kund. Forceful through its purity, it evokes the age-old ritual of Shradhanjali. At its rear, two detached planes rise to mark the space for paying respect to the fallen soldiers, framing the axis to the Mantralaya. The solemnity of the memorial is soothed by the flow and sound of water that runs through the landscape in canals and collects in a central pool at the commemoration space, in the heart of which rests the ‘Amar Jawan Jyoti’. Massive stones steps are laid in such a way that each visitor must make his own path down to the commemoration hall and gallery space, rather than a single predicated route. Once below, the visitor is left with only the sound and reflections of water playing against the massive, silent stone steps, the fields ringing the horizon. This is one of our favourite projects as we feel we have succeeded in interpreting the complexity and ambition of the brief in the final design. The linear site is strategically located on the axis along the major civic and political institutions of the city (Mantralaya and Vidhan Sabha) while a second axis connects it to a major traffic intersection, representative of the public sphere. We chose to site the commemoration space at the exact conjunction of these two axes. This gesture sought to underpin our responsibility as a society and polity to ensure that the sacrifices of our armed forces are not in vain. At the entry a long rising ramp edged by a protective wall leads the visitor toward the memorial. The gradient of the site allows for the guide wall to start at a height of 21ft, and end merging with the land into a commemorative space. The wall - a sharp cut through undulating site- functions as a historic timeline, voids on the wall act as markers depicting battles and wars chronologically. This wall built of large-sized stone blocks that diminish the scale of the visitor. It communicates the burden of war and how it dehumanizes. On the wall, wars are depicted by hollowing out narrow human shaped voids through which the visitor can walk through and across to the other side. Both the human size of these figures and the act of squeezing through a shape very much like your own is an important act. Sometimes glorifying the soldier and making him larger than life is an act of ‘othering’. This tactic is used as an architectural filter to distort reality and glorify war. Here, scale and use of the visitor's body is a tool to make empathetic connection and to convey that a soldier is another ordinary human being delivering in extraordinary circumstances. The act of entry, into the world is symbolic, it invites the visitor to actively engage and discover rather than just passively observe. Visitors can walk across into open-air galleries exhibiting information about the event of war.