The San Jose $10
million gurdwara is the largest and
most expensive in the country
San Jose, Jan 20, 2004
The Mercury News
With all due respect to the old saying, form follows culture more
often than it follows function.
The new Sikh temple (called a gurdwara) in San Jose's Evergreen
foothills, which opened in August, proves the powerful influence
of memory and tradition shaping local architecture.
The gurdwara sits foursquare on a rise with a spectacular view
of the valley, one of several prominent monuments (including Evergreen
Valley high school, a retail area designed as an old-fashioned town
center around its plaza, and a planned library) gracing the Evergreen
A tall promenade rings the structure; colonnades link it with two
auxiliary buildings. The columns are fluted with lotus capitals.
The decorative scallops of the arches were originally created to
catch the light and shadow of hot India, and they work just as effectively
in our warm, sunny climate.
This is Phase 1; a larger, 70,000-square-foot addition is scheduled
to break ground in the spring. The gurdwara (which means ``the gateway
through which the guru can be reached'') serves as a gathering place
for the South Bay's large Sikh community.
A century ago Japanese and Indian architecture inspired the enormously
popular craftsman bungalow; the craftsman style is Japanese-inspired,
and bungalow is an Indian word. So we might see a glimpse of Silicon
Valley architecture of the future in this new-old architecture --
if today's architects let themselves create a new fusion architecture.
That doesn't mean that the temple's golden onion domes and scalloped
arches will be the fashion of the future. It means that Santa Clara
County's extraordinary ethnic diversity is introducing new styles
and types of buildings that should enrich us all.
The gurdwara design by architect Malkiat Singh Sidhu doesn't imitate
any particular historic temple but echoes many of the Mughal style
temples in the Punjab region of India, the home of the 500-year-old
Sikh religion. Their domes and ornamental arches are a dignified
classic style that matches the High Renaissance style of St. Joseph's
The temple's main building topped by the large gold dome is a reception
hall. It identifies the building from afar; inside it is painted
with a blue sky and clouds, and the words ``God is One.'' Like the
Golden Temple of Amritsar, India, this building has doors on all
four sides, symbolizing that all are welcome from all directions.
On the second floor is a large hall, now used for reading the scriptures,
as well as a small museum on Sikh history and beliefs.
As at the temple at Amritsar, water plays a major role in the design.
The temple sits in a large artificial lake that sets off the gilded
building and provides a long causeway approach for visitors. In
the Evergreen neighborhood the water is not so extensive, but pools
with fountains flank the main building, and a waterfall plunges
down the steep hill at the main entry.
But of course this is California in 2005, and the stone buildings
of India are translated into stucco. They are ornamented with the
disabled-accessible water fountains, glowing green ``exit'' signs,
fire safety doors and embossed-acoustic-tile dropped ceilings of
contemporary California buildings. The fruitful process that blends
ancient architecture with modern times is a two-way street: the
ethnic architecture of immigrants influences California, and California
influences the ancient ways of architecture. This is how architecture
Everyone made a fuss a few years ago when Mayor Gonzales asked
Richard Meier to add a dome to his city hall design; modern architecture
isn't comfortable with adding something for purely symbolic reasons.
But such symbolism is usually accepted in religious buildings.
The temple's elegant, shapely dome rises in a light and airy gesture
to the sky. It is fluted in the traditional manner, giving it a
plastic energy quite different than the static European domes of
St. Joseph's cathedral, sitting weightily on its base. Smaller domes,
more akin to fabric canopies, perch on the temple's corners; they
are made of glass fiber reinforced concrete.
Clerestory windows at the dome's base bring light down into both
levels of the building. In the reception area, rooms for storing
shoes are provided, as shoes are removed and heads covered before
congregants attend services. Marble floors inside and granite pavement
outside reflect the rich patterns of the Punjabi temples, adding
rich tones of green, rose, mustard and alabaster.
Sikh religious services are relatively simple. Readings by priests
or lay people from their holy scriptures, the Guru Granth Sahib,
constitute most of the service, along with hymns. Though the words
are sacred, the space is not, in the way that a Catholic church's
altar is dedicated as sacred space for the priests and the ritual.
The Sikh temple includes several large halls that can be used interchangeably
for several purposes, including scripture readings, weddings, anniversary
celebrations and dining. There are no seats or pews; everyone sits
on the floor, underscoring the equality of all. Men and women attend
the same services, though they sit on opposite sides of the room.
The person reading the scriptures sits on a platform adorned with
flowers and offerings, indicating the honor given the holy word.
From the reception hall, doors lead out to the two one-story halls
on either side. Finished much like the ballroom of a modern hotel,
with a folding wall down the center to divide the space for convenience,
the rooms are filled with light from windows on all walls.
In a religion and culture like the Sikh's, tradition is not a dead
hand but a living presence in the lives of its adherents. From its
iconic dome to its pewless, flexible gathering rooms, the new gurdwara
is shaped to reflect the needs and beliefs of the people using it.
Growing out of an ancient culture, it shows us another way to look
at architecture. Here's the lesson for us: the past has a place
in the present. Symbolism, meaning, history and memory should be
in every architect's tool box.
gurdwara, or 'house of God,' opens with
festive joy in San Jose's Evergreen district
Posted on Mon, Aug. 30, 2004
By Lisa Fernandez
Sikhs celebrate new temple
A slice of San Jose transformed into an Indian oasis Sunday when
the nation's most expensive Sikh temple officially opened, drawing
thousands to its onion-domed rooftops and cascading waterfall.
The daylong event, which closed traffic for two hours on Quimby
Road as Sikhs and their neighbors marched joyously to the new $10
million gurdwara on Murillo Avenue, took many visitors back to their
native homeland. And, they said, the grand structure perched high
in the hills further welds the South Bay's Sikh community into the
fabric of Silicon Valley.
``I'm very emotional,'' said Amrit Singh Sachdev, 49, a computer
engineer. ``This is bringing back memories for me, when the whole
street shuts down, just like in India.''
The ceremony, which drew about 7,000 guests, signified a happy
chapter in a rocky journey that began in the early 1990s.
Plans for the 40-acre property sparked controversy when Sikhs first
unveiled their goal to move from the old temple on Quimby Road.
A vocal minority of neighbors feared there would be traffic and
noise headaches and criticized the magnitude of the project, which
was scaled back to meet some of the concerns. Public hearings in
San Jose lasted late into the night and at times erupted into name-calling.
Protesters carried signs reading ``No Sikh Jose.''
None of that past acrimony was apparent on Sunday.
For the most part, the non-Sikhs who came to see what all the pomp
and circumstance was about had smiles on their faces. Neighbors
came out of their homes to watch a two-hour, interfaith parade where
barefoot men swept the streets to make way for their beloved gurus,
and the Evergreen Valley High School marching band played ``Louie,
``We think it's great,'' said Karen Skulley of San Jose, whose
16-year-old son played saxophone in the parade. ``All the controversy?
That was so long ago. No one even talks about it any more.''
San Jose Planning Commissioner Jim Zito, who lives in the neighborhood
and was one of the most vocal critics of the project in its early
days, said in a phone interview that he didn't attend the ceremony.
He declined to comment about the opening.
Pattie Cortese said she still hears a smattering of complaints
from people in the neighborhood, but she doesn't share their concerns.
``This place is so beautiful,'' she said, as she searched for her
husband, San Jose City Councilman Dave Cortese, among the throngs
of people on the temple site. ``One of the things I love about living
here in the Evergreen district is the rich cultural diversity. If
we want peace here, we need to be tolerant of each other.''
Tolerance lies at the heart of Sikhism, which was founded about
500 years ago in the Indian state of Punjab by Guru Nanak Dev, who
taught egalitarianism and monotheism. Today, there are about 25
million Sikhs worldwide, 500,000 in the United States and about
50,000 in Northern California, according to Sikh Mediawatch and
Resource Task Force, headquartered in New York. The Bay Area's Sikh
population is about 10,000.
The parade and party at the new gurdwara -- which means ``house
of God'' in Punjabi -- was smoothly run, with more than 200 volunteers
helping direct parking, hand out free ice cream bars and water and
clean up garbage.
The Sikhs worked long hours with San Jose police to hash out a
parade route that wouldn't disrupt the neighborhood too long. An
hour after the parade ended, traffic and noise were back to their
usual Sunday quiet. Residents in the flatlands would have seen no
signs that there was a madhouse of people up in the hills eating,
praying and admiring the new temple.
At the temple site, however, the excitement was palpable. Kids
with blue and saffron-colored balloons scampered about. An airplane
flew overhead towing a banner that wished the new gurdwara well.
Long lines snaked around the property as visitors waited for free
saag spinach fritters and sweet, buttery chick pea cubes in the
langar, or community kitchen.
Men and women took off their shoes, washed their feet and kissed
the ground before entering the prayer hall. There, they bowed before
an altar and dropped dollar bills onto a pile.
Annual donations to the San Jose gurdwara total about $1 million,
money that temple leaders said is crucial to finishing the next
stage of construction. In the next four or five years, the community
hopes to raise another $10 million to build an additional 74,000
square feet for a permanent prayer hall, a Sunday school and museum.
Today, the gurdwara stands at 20,000 square feet and includes three
In one sense, building a gurdwara and holding such an event is
not unusual for the world's Sikhs, said Shamsher Singh, a religious
leader at the temple. In the United States alone, there are 250
``Wherever Sikhs live, the first thing they do is make a temple,
that's where we pray and gather together socially,'' he said.
But for the Sikhs who live in the South Bay, knowing they have
such a grand house of worship to call their own is a major milestone.
``This is a little parade,'' said Bhupinder Kaur Saini, 19, of
San Jose. ``But it's a big thing that we're doing.''