Oswald Hogen Salim Huang
The Underlying

Thesis Supervisor: A/P Tsuto Sakamoto

Site: India, Uttar Pradesh, Varanasi

The Underlying has multiple layers of meanings. On one hand, it means something in concealment, hidden - yet on the other side of the coin, it can be defined as the ‘true meaning’ of ‘something’. paradoxical in its reading, the project I propose is somewhat similar. The Underlying establishes the presence of two worlds, divided and separated by informality - on one hand there is the realm-above. a sacred precinct, a temple corridor for the devout, spectacular rituals are displayed to glorify this blessedness; this realm is light - here, everything is immaculate. It has to be.

On the other hand, there is the realm-below, where labour is  the ritual, sweat the offering, and sustenance the reward; work, that produces ritual objects, practices that drive the narrative of the city forward; the under-realm in actuality provides for the temple corridor, as to allow it to perform its role,The Underlying is precisely that; when the light of the temple corridor burns brighter, then, the more the demand from the under-realm. The greater the demand, the greater the encroachment; the device that becomes an extension of one’s workplace, but also a placemaker. The encroachment that is resultant from the demand from the upper-realm, reflects the very real humanity that constructs the Godliness present in the realm-above.


Located in Varanasi, the project tweaks the proposal of a temple corridor; the upheaval of the old city inevitable, it alternative proposal explores the relationship between two separate stratas as an tool for an alternative urban rejuvenation; on the realm above, you have a sacred precinct. Below, you have production nodes and encroaching entities.

Sustaining the realm above, as the demand for ritual at the upper realms increase, the realm below grows through encroaching unto free space; an informal expansion of programme, which seeks to maximise, and match the required output demanded by the realm above, with the least cost possible; a natural tendency for the local populace. 

As Above, So Below

The realm above; the wood storage, the hospice and the petal processing area(s) are expressed typically as orderly; encroachment submits to infrastructure; as a result it is concealed, unable to distrupt the temple corridor. In the realm below, the encroachment reigns freely. 

The wood market, the death market and the drying zones all grow according to the needs from the realm above,  and resultant from aggregating encroachments together. However; as above, so below - both realms, separate, in their own way work to complete the entirery of the temple corridor.

Through rose tinted glasses

What is seen and experienced by the pilgrim is always the temple corridor first and foremost.  As they interact with only with the programmes created for the realm above, then, they purify the experience of pilgrimage to one that is spiritual, enbellished by rituals and worship.

From the flowers given as offerings, the celebrations held in temple compounds; vedic chants - songs of praise, insightful teachings from sadhus and gurus, the realm above provides for the beholder a spectacle that bedazzles them away from noticing the realm below.

Underlying truth

Yet, the underlying truth behind the temple corridor is the sweat and labour that goes behind the scenes to enable the workings of the temple corrdior.  As above, so below.  The realm below is the minute details, the deconstruction of spirituality into a practical visage and form.

The displaced urbanite, now returning to the site as the labourers for the realm above, populate the realm below in their own personal taste, but also encroach to cater for the realm above, developing into an urban mass that is a bricolage of both old and new.