Barking gurdwara 'thrills' after modern and traditional rebuild

barking gurdwara

Barking Gurdwara has opened after four and a half years under construction. - Credit: Agenda 21 Architects Studio

Anyone passing Sri Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara in Barking would be forgiven for believing they had stepped into India.

The Sikh temple on the corner of North Street and Northern Relief Road is a wonder of white marble rising three storeys, crowned by a dome topped with decorative metalwork.

dome

The Gurdwara's dome is topped with decorative metal. - Credit: Agenda 21 Architects Studio

Intricate exterior wall carvings celebrate not only the religion's Indian roots, but the Sikh community's Barking home with stone reliefs depicting the town hall, a Thames fishing boat, Barking Abbey and more.

A carving of 19th century Quaker reformer Elizabeth Fry appears next to the "Lion of Punjab" Maharajah Ranjit Singh in a nod to the gurdwara's first home in Barking where Fry preached.

On the temple's east-facing elevation a relief map of Barking and the city of Amritsar in Punjab - home to the holiest Gurdwara, the Golden Temple - appear side by side.

old gurdwara

The former Gurdwara used to be a meeting hall for Quakers but was acquired by the Sikh community in the 1970s. - Credit: Jon King


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The former Quaker hall was acquired in the 1970s, but with the growth of east London's Sikh population and its community work, larger premises were needed.

The Gurdwara has 4,000 members who hail from Barking and Dagenham, Redbridge, Newham and Havering, though it welcomes everyone.

prayer room

There are two prayer rooms in the Gurdwara, including this one. - Credit: Agenda 21 Architects Studio

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Plans were first drawn up for a new Gurdwara in 2013, with building work commencing three years later. The £13.5million cost was covered by donations and a bank loan.

Its former venue is connected via a walkway, while the temple's presence is signposted at the entrance gate with the Nishan Sahib silk flag. This is made of silk and wrapped around a pole soaring upwards of 25 metres.

narinder assi

Narinder Assi, director of Agenda 21 Architects Studio, designed the building. - Credit: Jon King

Architect Narinder Assi, director of Agenda 21 Architects Studio, said: "The community is thrilled and pleased with the result. The old facility was small and run down. This is purpose-built and state-of-the-art."

Mr Assi added that the biggest challenge in terms of the gurdwara's engineering was the maze of underground pipes at the site, which partly sits on land across which Queens Road used to pass.

motif

In tribute to the temple's home, this design showing a fishing boat and the River Thames appears alongside seven other medallions depicting Barking and Sikh culture. - Credit: Jon King

The idea of marrying modern and traditional design and construction formed the inspiration for the building, which is regarded as a second home by worshippers.

stariway

Light streams into the building which cost £13.5million. The money was raised through donations and a bank loan. - Credit: Agenda 21 Architects Studio

While it looks like a traditional temple on the outside, the inside is filled with light, modern decor and kitted out with the latest tech. There are even solar panels on the roof.

One-third of the venue is devoted to religious worship with the remainder dedicated to spaces for community projects.

archways

The building rises three storeys. - Credit: Agenda 21 Architects Studio

During the Covid-19 pandemic - and while building work was still underway - volunteers provided 4,000 meals per week to those in need.

The idea of sewa - or selfless service to others - is a key principle in Sikhism, whose adherents prize equality and unity.

langar

The temple includes a langar which can cater for up to 1,000 people. - Credit: Jon King

With this in mind, the ground floor includes a 4,000-square-feet dining area with a kitchen catering for up to 1,000 people.

Known as a langar, free meals are served twice daily from here to people regardless of religion, gender, ethnicity or class. 

Classrooms, function rooms, offices and two large prayer rooms occupy the bulk of the rest of the building.

guru nanak portrait

Prints of 10 Gurus - including the religion's founder, Guru Nanak - adorn the walls inside. - Credit: Jon King

Printed portraits by Canadian artist Kanwar Singh of the faith's 10 teachers - known as Gurus - are hung throughout along with scenes depicting historic struggles between Sikhs and the Mughal foes who persecuted them.

maps

Two maps have been carved into the stonework. Barking on the left and Amritsar on the right. - Credit: Jon King

The military emblem of the Sikhs - made up of three weapons and a circle - also appears on the temple's surface in honour of the religion's militaristic roots.

cladding

The structure is made of steel with marble cladding. - Credit: Jon King

Marble cladding - which was cut, carved and imported from India - hangs on a steel frame, combining traditional and modern building techniques.

A total of 20,000 pieces of stone weighing 850 tonnes make up the temple, which is entered beneath a deori or gateway tower.

gateway tower

The gateway tower is decked out with balloons for the Gurdwara's opening. - Credit: Agenda 21 Architects Studio

In a room inside this grand structure, the Guru Granth Sahib - Sikhism's central holy religious scripture - is kept.

ceiling

This decorative ceiling forms part of the gateway tower. - Credit: Agenda 21 Architects Studio

Light enters through a semi-octagonal, projecting window - known as a jarookha - which people walk beneath on approach to the Gurdwara's front doors.

These were crafted in Amritsar and are of an embossed, white metal surface on timber.

On first seeing the building completed, the Gurdwara's treasurer, Balbir Singh - who acted as operations manager during construction - recalled: "It was a joyous occasion."

stairs

Stairs lead to a special room where a copy of Sikhism's holy scripture is kept. The book is regarded as a Guru. - Credit: Agenda 21 Architects Studio

This grand temple will be a joy to behold for many decades to come.

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