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Form & Content in Architecture

Posted by
on March 02, 2015 at 03:56 PM

A student of Sir. J. J. College of Architecture, Gunali Ajgaonkar - probably the youngest TFOD Member, gives her analysis of a class study on Form and Content! The comparison of two edifices – St. Thomas cathedral and Portuguese Church - with common content and different forms, elucidates the role of form in shaping the perception and perspective of two objects.  

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When observing a particular object through the perspective of analysing it architecturally or artistically, the two distinct aspects that emerge are form and content. Form is the style, technique or medium used to represent the object, showing “how” the process has been implemented and content is the depiction and essence, capturing “what” the object holds. Form and content together help in better understanding of the object under scrutiny. 

There are several ways of depicting a particular thought or object. Here, the thought or object becomes the content and the way it is expressed becomes the form. Effective communication occurs when the mind of the viewer is tested, keeping it active and leaving it to think. 

Two churches in Mumbai, taken as case studies, lead us to understand the form v/s content discussion. 


Located near the famous Horniman circle on Veer Nariman road, this cathedral is about 300 years old. Lying very much in the heart of the city, this cathedral is starkly hushed compared to the busy street alongside. Richly ornamented with marble carvings and wrought iron fixtures, this cathedral takes you to a different era. There are several wall stones dedicated to various great people around India who served in the church. These tomb stones are beautifully crafted with marble and stone etchings done exquisitely, making them appear real. Another notable piece of beautifully crafted stone is the baptistery which stands righteously claiming the attention of anyone who enters the church. There is also an addressing box, again richly ornamented which is at the tip of the aisle right before the altar.

The church is a closed covered structure with thick walls which tend to keep the noise at bay and make the sounds in the church echo. The rectangular-like shape houses all the different rooms namely, confession room, baptismal font, pulpit, a main altar and side altars in the same structure. There is a centrally defined aisle which directly leads to the altar. Tomb-stones embedded into the aisle show that the some of the churches most dearest have been buried there as a mark of respect for their service to the church. The altar is at a higher level and is has stained glass as a backdrop with a gold cross placed before it in the centre.

The main light sources are the huge arched windows on both sides of the benches and aisle. Apart from this, electrical light pendants hang from the wrought iron fixtures on the cylindrical columns. The belfry is situated right at the entrance and has a typical bell tower design with the pointed square-prism roof.  It tends to fit the bill of an “ideal” church as it reflects Christian architectural style in its design is an extremely serene and calm zone creating an atmosphere of calmness which lingers through you long after you’ve left the church.


Our Lady of Salvation church or Portuguese church situated at Dadar west gives you a different take on how a church is designed. Breaking stereotypical norms, with a perfect blend between open semi-open and closed spaces this church creates a sensation of flow and rhythm.  As one enters, an open to sky courtyard separates the main congregational space from the street outside. This creates a sort of “reception area” which connects the different parts such as the pulpit, the confession room, the activity room and the priest’s quarters. Ideally a church has all these enclosed in the same building but Portuguese church has different structures. This gives the church an active atmosphere. The main congregational room has a concrete lopsided dome, a typical Charles Correa design. The ocular end of the dome is covered with stained glass which has a very crude representation of catholic symbols.  This room has a couple of side rooms with smaller domes which accommodate additional people during mass and summons. The church has clean cuts and angular designing without too many soft elements and not much ornamentation. The stone table on the altar and the stone podium are stunning pieces of furniture. 

Another fascinating detail is the lack of a well defined aisle. About 5-7 aisles run parallel to each other separated by benches. These lead to a low and long altar which is open and almost like a low stage which is not centrally aligned. The cross is hung on the dome above and is made in wood, crudely carved. There is a playground at the back of the main prayer room which is used by the kids to play football. A few activity rooms are also used for seminars, value learning and education of the underprivileged.  This keeps the church quite active and constantly bustling with life. Alot of quirky elements make this church standout such as the design of the bell tower. Its symmetry with the unusual shape makes it truly eye-catching even if one is driving past the church.  

The “walls” of the church are large wooden doors which are usually kept open giving a stunning view of the compound which has been landscaped with greenery and small sculptural models of important scenes that occurred in Christ’s life. The door-walls offer air-flow and ventilation making the entire church very airy and also bring in large amounts of light, reducing dependency on electrical lights.  In spite of not having the stereotypical elements that a church has, this church manages to create an abode for prayer offerings, celebrations as well as mourning and inspire me as an architect to build out of the box, but to fit in the box.

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