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For three years, workers in Gujarat, India, have been constructing a massive statue of the country’s first deputy prime minister, the freedom fighter Sardar Vallabhbai Patel. The steel and bronze figure, named the Statue of Unity, is designed to rise nearly 600-feet-tall, or twice the height of the Statue of Liberty. Upon completion, it will represent the world’s tallest statue.
The project was conceived of nearly a decade ago by Prime Minister Nahendra Modi, who was then Gujarat’s chief minister. The figure, designed to appear stoic, with his head held high and arms by his sides, is the vision of Indian sculptor Ram V. Sutar. Its design and construction is now being realized by a multi-firm consortium that includes Michael Graves Architecture & Design (MGA&D) and Turner Construction, which previously developed the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. The project’s total cost: 2,989 crore rupees, or $460 million US.
In February, MGA&D announced that the team had hit a major milestone in the construction process, with the completion of the statue’s main structural support of twin concrete cores. Built around these will be steel scaffolding, to serve as a support system for the statue’s outermost surface, which will consist of a series of cast bronze panels.
The world’s current, tallest statue is the Spring Temple Buddha in Henan, China, which will be about 100 feet shorter than the finished Statue of Unity. Beating this record is, of course, no simple feat. Aside from its sheer height, Sutar’s design proposed a unique logistical challenge. The statue is supposed to appear as if it were “walking upon water,” as MGA&D’s associate principal, James Wisniewski, told Hyperallergic. The site is on Sadhu-Bet island, a rocky outcrop in the middle of the Naramada river bed, and the team had to engineer and reinforce it in a way that artfully integrated the sculpture’s base with the surrounding body of water.
“The aim was to create a naturalistic rock outcropping that gently merged with the water line, and that has been highly successful,” Wisniewski said.
Also under the charge of the construction team is a sprawling complex of buildings to supplement the towering statue. These include a museum dedicated to Patel, restaurants, a hotel, and a welcome center.
“The Statue and the Welcome Center act as two book-ends that are connected by a long pedestrian bridge,” Wisniewski said. “The experiential component of the walking journey to the statue is extremely important. The layout included strategies on creating areas of shade and respite, and places to frame spectacular views of the statue, enhancing the entire pedestrian promenade.”
Patel, who grew up in the countryside of Gujarat State, is known for his leadership in India’s struggle for independence from the British Crown. Called the “Iron Man of India” for his relentless and uncompromising activism, he worked to successfully integrate over 500 princely states to form a unified, newly born India. The statue in Gujarat draws its name from this extraordinary feat. It is scheduled for completion this October, to coincide with Patel’s 138th birth anniversary.
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