Vault Architecture: 10 Stunning Classical and Modern Vault Designs

Vault architecture emerges as a compelling and diverse facet, weaving through the ages and across a multitude of cultural landscapes. From the ancient rock-cut caves of Ajanta and Ellora to the Colonial presence, vault architecture in India stands as a testament to the ingenuity and artistic fervour.

The utilization of vaults extends to the modern era, where contemporary architects embrace and reinterpret vaulted forms. In the bustling urban centres and evolving skylines, modern India witnesses the fusion of traditional craftsmanship with cutting-edge design principles.

Let’s unravel the Vault Architecture of the ancient medieval and modern realms, thus reflecting India’s architectural evolution.

5 Classical Vault Architecture in India

1. Victoria Terminus, Mumbai

Vault Architecture
Ceiling at the Victoria Terminus, Mumbai (Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons)

The Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, formerly known as Victoria Terminus, in Mumbai, India, stands as an iconic architectural masterpiece that seamlessly blends Victorian Gothic and Indian traditional architecture. Built in 1887, the terminus continues to serve as a bustling transportation hub and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Designed by Frederick William Stevens, the structure is renowned for its ornate facades and grand domes. The interiors feature impressive vaulted ceilings that contribute to the station’s overall architectural grandeur. As one steps into the station, the concourse and ticketing areas reveal a network of ribbed vaults supported by a series of ornate pillars and arches. Its vaulted ceilings not only showcase the architectural brilliance of the era but also contribute to the station’s status as a symbol of Mumbai’s rich history and cultural diversity.

2. Karla Buddhist Caves, Maharashtra

Vault Architecture
The Chaitya Hall at the Karla Caves (Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons)

The Karla Caves, located near Lonavala in Maharashtra, India, are a magnificent complex of ancient Buddhist rock-cut caves that date back to the 2nd century BCE. These caves, carved into the rocky hills, showcase remarkable examples of early Buddhist architecture. The main Chaitya (prayer hall) in Karla Cave 8 is a particularly notable example, where the ceilings are intricately adorned with wooden beams forming ribbed vaults in the shape of barrels, reflecting the architectural and artistic brilliance of ancient Buddhist craftsmen. The Karla Caves are not only significant for their religious and historical importance but also as examples of early architectural experimentation in ancient India.

3. Basilica of Bom Jesus, Goa

Vault Architecture
Interior of the Basilica of Bom Jesus, Goa (Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons)

The Basilica of Bom Jesus in Goa features a remarkable ribbed vault ceiling in its main nave. The ribbed vaulting is a characteristic element of Gothic architecture and is particularly notable in this historical church. Sturdy pillars support the ribbed vaults of the Basilica of Bom Jesus, creating a sense of height and grandeur in the central nave. The intricate detailing on the ribs and the spaces between them add to the overall decorative scheme of the basilica. The use of ribbed vaulting was a common feature in Mannerist and early Baroque architecture, and it provided both structural support and a visually appealing design element. The church is a significant pilgrimage site and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, attracting visitors from around the world to witness its historical, cultural, and architectural significance.

4. Lotus Mahal, Hampi

Vaults of Lotus Mahal, Hampi (Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons)

The Lotus Mahal in Hampi, part of the Vijayanagara Empire’s architectural legacy, showcases unique vaulted ceilings. This ornate structure, built in the 14th century, features a blend of Indo-Islamic and Dravidian styles with captivating vaulted domes and arches, creating an elegant and harmonious architectural composition.

5. St. Paul’s Cathedral, Kolkata

Image Credits:

St. Paul’s Cathedral in Kolkata is renowned for its impressive vaulted ceiling, a key feature of its Indo-Gothic architecture. The cathedral’s nave, or central area, is characterised by a series of pointed arches and ribbed vaults that soar overhead, creating a sense of verticality and grandeur. The vaulted ceiling, adorned with intricate tracery and decorative elements, adds to the cathedral’s majestic and awe-inspiring ambiance. The use of Gothic architectural elements, including pointed arches and ribbed vaults, is a distinctive feature of medieval European design, giving St. Paul’s Cathedral a timeless and dignified appearance.

5 Modern Examples of Vault Ceilings in India

6. Maya Somaiya Library, Maharashtra

Image Credits: ArchDaily

The Maya Somaiya Library in Maharashtra boasts captivating vaulted ceilings, designed by Sameep Padora and Associates. The vaults, featuring a combination of modern and traditional architectural elements, add a sense of grandeur and elegance to the library space. The interplay of light and shadow on these vaulted surfaces enhances the overall aesthetic, creating a unique and immersive experience for visitors. The Maya Somaiya Library stands as a testament to the innovative use of vault ceilings, seamlessly blending contemporary design with functional elegance.

7. Haven: The Pavilion, Kerala

Image Credits: ArchDaily

In this innovative architectural project located in Peermade, Kerala, a remarkable Timbrel vaulting structure was employed for the cowshed. The Timbrel Vault technique, pioneered by Ar. Senthil Kumar Doss, was utilised to create a stable, full-compression structure without the need for steel or concrete. The vault, with a maximum span of 6.6m and a height of 3m, follows the natural landform, integrating seamlessly with the surroundings and using locally available materials such as Sithu Kal (small bricks). The structure not only respects the natural landscape, leaving landforms and trees undisturbed, but also addresses environmental factors like heavy wind flow and rainfall through strategically designed openings that direct rainwater towards the valley. This vaulted roof stands as an exemplary fusion of innovative design, sustainability, and contextual integration.

8. Sangath Architect’s Office, Ahmedabad

Vault Architecture
Image Credits: ArchDaily

Sangath in Ahmedabad showcases vaulted ceilings that are integral to its unique design. Completed by the renowned architect Balkrishna Doshi in 1981, Sangath features domed and vaulted roofs, employing a combination of traditional techniques and contemporary design principles. These vaulted ceilings not only contribute to the building’s distinctive aesthetic but also play a crucial role in natural lighting, ventilation, and the overall environmental sustainability of the space. The innovative use of these vaulted ceilings exemplifies Doshi’s commitment to blending cultural context with modern architectural solutions.

9. School of Dancing Arches, Gujarat

Vault Architecture
Image Credits: ArchDaily

This formative school features a distinctive and innovative use of vaulted ceilings. Conceptualised by Samaira Rathod Design Associates from a child’s early scribbles, the dancing arches form an experimental yet playful expression of freedom and creativity. The asymmetry of the arches not only challenges the conventional but also encourages critical thinking and curiosity. The irregular plan incorporates lopsided vaults covering the corridors and is gracefully strung in a sequence of modules, creating a dynamic and sustainable architectural entity. The reuse of shuttering material made from waste steel and the use of locally sourced terracotta reflect a love for indigenous elements. The interplay of light adds another layer to the architectural experience, creating a perpetual play of hiding and seeking within the school’s unique design.

10. The Vaulted School, Aurangabad

Image Credits: ArchDaily

The vaulted roof of the structure plays a crucial role in providing ample lighting and ventilation. Designed with a stand-alone sanitation facility, a kitchen for midday meals, and an overall conducive environment, these ceilings contribute to the ‘play and learn’ ideology. The roof’s design leverages the Venturi effect, ensuring a natural breeze for the students. Additionally, the outer side is made of non-reflective roofing material to reduce heat gain. The metal sheet roof used in the vaults also allows the addition of another floor, showcasing a forward-looking approach to expansion. Overall, the vaulted roof in this school structure combines functional design with environmentally conscious elements, fostering a favourable learning environment.

In conclusion, these Vault Architecture ceilings inspire contemporary architects and designers, influencing modern structures and interiors. India’s vaulted ceilings unfold a narrative that spans centuries and styles.

From the timeless elegance of classical wonders like the majestic cathedrals to the avant-garde contemporary designs, each ceiling encapsulates a unique chapter in India’s architectural saga. The classical vaults echo the craftsmanship of bygone eras, while modern interpretations showcase the nation’s evolution. These soaring canopies not only exemplify architectural mastery but also serve as symbolic bridges connecting India’s rich past with its dynamic present.

The intricate patterns and symbolic motifs found in Vault Architecture continue to captivate, serving as a timeless source of inspiration. Since innovation often blends with tradition, vaults remind us that the past and the present can also integrate seamlessly. Meanwhile, how can the elegance and symbolism of Vault Architecture enhance the atmosphere and aesthetics of modern spaces?

Content Writing And Research By: Ar. Ishita Jindal

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