The Taj Mahal is an ivory-white marble mausoleum located on the south bank of the Yamuna river in the Indian city of Agra. As a national symbol of India it is one of the most recognisible buildings in the world. The complex is actually made up of several buildings and gardens extending over 55.5 acres.
It was commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to house the tomb of his favourite wife Mumtaz Mahal who died during childbirth. It was designed by Ustad Ahmad Lahauri, and is generally regarded as the best example of Mughal architecture, which is a blend of Indian, Persian and Islamic styles.
The architectural principles the Taj Mahal encapsulates include:
- Rational and strict geometry.
- Perfect symmetrical planning.
- Hierarchical grading of materials, forms and colours.
- Triadic divisions bound together in proportional formulas.
- Uniformity of shapes.
- Sensuous attention to detail.
- Selective use of naturalism.
The construction of the mausoleum was completed in 1643, with the rest of the complex taking a further ten years and a cost estimated to be 32 million rupees (equivalent to approx. $827 m in 2015).
It was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, described as 'the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world's heritage'. It attracts around 7-8 million visitors a year and frequently tops polls listing the world's most admired or beautiful building.
The translucent white Makrana marble tomb of the Taj Mahal is positioned on a square plinth 7 m (23 ft) high. Its four facades are almost identical, each with a wide central arch rising to 33 m (108 ft) at its apex. The central dome is 73 m (240 ft) high and its finial and is surrounded by four smaller domes. Four minarets are positioned on each corner of the square plinth.
The mausoleum interior is organised around an octagonal marble chamber with low-relief carvings and precious stones.
The garden is set out as a square quartered by long watercourses with walking paths, fountains and ornamental trees.
The southern end of the complex is marked by a wide red sandstone gateway with a recessed central arch that reaches a height of two-storeys.
Verses from the Quran are inscribed in calligraphy across many sections of the Taj Mahal, including the soaring arched entrance to the mausoleum. The size of the lettering increases according to its relative height and distance from the observer. This was used as a means of achieving a uniform appearance from the vantage point of the terrace.
The construction process involved 22,000 workers and artisans from all over central Asia and beyond. It is thought that over 1,000 elephants were used to transport building materials. Precious and semi-precious stones inlaid into the white marble include jade and crystal from China, turquoise from Tibet, Lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, sapphire from Sri Lanka, and carnelian from Arabia.
Common legend has it that the emperor had wanted an identical black marble mausoleum to be built in the complex, although this failed to transpire.
Over the centuries, the Taj Mahal was neglected and allowed to fall into disrepair. At the time of the 1857 Indian rebellion, British soldiers and government officials chiseled out many of the precious stones from its walls.
However, at the beginning of the 20th century, a major restoration project was carried out under the direction of the British viceroy of India, Lord Curzon.
The building faced several threats during the 20th century, from Japanese air attacks during the Second World War which prompted the government to disguise it with scaffolding, and from anticipated air attacks during the India-Pakistan wars of 1965 and 1971.
Environmental pollution also became a threat. Air pollution and acid rain caused by nearby factories, oil refineries and traffic was discolouring the marble façade. The Indian government acted by establishing the Taj Trapezium Zone (TTZ), a 4,000 sq. mile area around the complex with strict emissions standards, forcing the closing of some foundries and the banning of motor vehicles.
More recently, the decline in groundwater level in the Yamuna river basin has raised concerns for the tomb's structural integrity. Cracks began to appear in 2010 and the minarets showed signs of tilting, leading to fears that the wooden foundation may be rotting due to water deficit.
 Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Building of the week series.
- Conservation of the historic environment.
- Eiffel Tower.
- Florence Cathedral.
- Hagia Sophia.
- Leaning Tower of Pisa.
- Mahabat Maqbara, India.
- Palace of Westminster.
- Petronas Twin Towers.
- Roman Colosseum.
- Sagrada Familia.
- Shanghai Tower.
- St Pauls Cathedral.
- Sydney Opera House.
- Types of dome.
- Unusual building design of the week.
- Vrindavan Chandrodaya Mandir.
 External references
Featured articles and news
We would like to hear from members with ideas on these matters, and/or any interest in joining an IHBC European Special Interest Group.
The 2nd IHBC Marsh Awards celebrating retired members and successful learners is now open - prizes include £500 and a free place at the IHBC’s Annual School.
Director’s top pick features a call from Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council for a specialist consultant to develop Town Centre Strategies.
Peter Williams, CEO of Better Bankside in London, talks about how these can influence change on a local level in Planning & Building Control Today.
More than half of heritage sites and monuments managed by Historic Environment Scotland (HES) are at risk, according to a recent report.
The review will consider if the system is working appropriately in today’s economy and identify simplification opportunities.
Health and Safety Executive (HSE) concludes there is a role to play for everyone who has a stake or interest in improving health and safety in the workplace.
New social platform and smartphone applications (apps) will be developed by a European consortium to aid the documentation of Europe’s cultural heritage.
Lord Prior of Brampton replaces Jesse Norman, who has become energy minister after just six months in the construction role.
Plans to demolish a 1920s theatre have been approved by councillors amid an angry protest by more than 100 campaigners, according to the BBC.