Barking gurdwara 'thrills' after modern and traditional rebuild
- 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.
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.
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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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In a room inside this grand structure, the Guru Granth Sahib - Sikhism's central holy religious scripture - is kept.
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."
This grand temple will be a joy to behold for many decades to come.