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Neelkanth Chhaya

Practice based in Ahmedabad, India.

After having practiced in Nairobi, Kenya, from 1975-82, Neelkanth Chhaya moved base from Africa to India. Started Mandala Design Services in Vadodara, with partners Kallol Joshi and Sohan Neelkanth. He retired in 2013 as the Dean of the Faculty of Architecture, CEPT, Ahmedabad after a 24-year teaching sojourn at the School.

   Sensing Place



- Place: Chaos and Cosmos (undefined and unstructured reality, well-ordered world.)
- Separation and categorization (land, water).
- Measure and Geometry (geo-metry: earth measuring).
- Body and Form (inside outside a single enfolded space creating places).


- Perception: randomness and regularity, repetition and pattern, Gestalts.
- Memory: Connecting perceptions and patterns, expectation and surprise.
- Language: Shared Meanings of Pattern.
- Operational Grammars and Vocabularies.


- The Rhythms of Atmosphere (Sun, Wind, Rain….Day, Night….Light, Shadow).
- Body and Gravity.
- Durability and Ephemerality.
- Ageing, Weathering


FORM: As VERB, not NOUN. Natural and Human Actions result in FORMATIONS. From the play of the random interactions, PATTERN emerges. STABILITY is achieved, momentarily or for a thousand years.

ORDER: Many small parts, a few rules of combination. An environment of diverse demands. With time, the diversity sets into Characteristic Patterns. Order Emerges. This occurs at all scales. A whole becomes a part at the next level. And this goes on infinitely.

CIRCUMSTANCE: The environment and the context create the flux: Pushes and Pulls. Patterns adjust to this flux, and reach dynamic equilibrium. A relative stability is achieved.

a) EARTH Gravity pulls at our body, the feet, the spine. Ears and the eyes feel the HORIZON and the the UPRIGHT. Our artifacts, including buildings, become the counter-body in which we take our stance and relate to the earth. Our bodies, our artifacts and the earth in mutual play give the sense of repose and action, retreat and venture, depth and breadth, inside and outside. A geometry of place is sensed.

b) AIR, SUN, SHADOW AND LIGHT Sun beats or glows. Shadows welcome and light beckons. Rain washes, lashes or inundates. We seek shelter or exposure. The senses and the atmosphere continually make each other, And perhaps the patterns we make record the interplay. Place begins to take shape.

All configurations are matter in a particular state of relationship,subject to forces of cohesion and dispersion. Our bodies sense them as qualities.Of permeability and impermeability, Hardness and resilience, Roughness or gloss. But our bodies also sense origins and remember or foresee possibilities: whether the matter is of earth or the vegetal world, processed or raw, whether ancient or fresh. With body and memory we sense and shape the quality of places.
If we are made of the same stuff as the world,the laws of its making are the same as the laws governing our bodies. As we sense and tune ourselves to these laws, we make places. In that case every perception constantly makes and remakes our world in continuously shifting patterns. Making architecture, making places, then means continuously learning and forming sufficiently durable yet vibrantly responsive configurations of matter.


Place, then, is the interplay of self, world and artifact in continual coming-into-being. The locale, the body and the cultural form are stabilized, appropriately oriented and scaled, built with material revealing its order, connected to the history of its making in a history of a culture. Place records and reveals the perceptions and experiences of a people and a location.

All interactions happen in particular ranges of size. Size is sensed in relation to the extent of our bodies. Measure is a concrete bodily experience which enables repetitions, differences and similarities to be seen. Pattern begins to be felt. Direction of movement or of grain or fibre emphasizes the possibility of sensing relationship. All these create the rhythm of pattern, and connect us back to concrete bodily experience as well as to memory and expectation.

Place is the operation of sensing ourselves and the world as related in space and time.


From a lecture delivered at FEED, Pune, India 2012. All images are paintings of artist Paul Klee, sourced from

Architect's Retreat, Alloa, Gujarat

Khamir Crafts Resource Centre, Kutch, Gujarat

Lecture at CEPT given to students of the fourth semester (housing), jointly conducted with CARE school of architecture, Trichy.

Mandala Designs, the erstwhile partnership had attempted and won several compeitions through the 80's and 90's. Here is a selection of such.

Anegondi Palace

A design competition organized by INTACH, near Hampi.

Centre for Environmental Education (CEE), Ahmedabad

Sohanbhai etc.