â€œThis project was more than just a building,â€ said Rohit Patel, construction manager. â€œI am from India, and I knew some key people in the BAPS organization who told me that they were planning to build this massive structure, and asked if I would like to help. I had similar experience building temples. I was honored that they chose me to do this. For all of us, this was a little beyond construction and engineering.â€
Once Patel committed to the project, he received several preliminary drawings from India. â€œIt would be a complete limestone and marble structure, with wood used for the doors,â€ he said. â€œThere is no structural steel or no nails -- steel can create corrosion. The logic behind the stone structure is that you can build it, and it lasts for 500 to 1,000 years.â€
After receiving the plans, Patel then started to recruit design firms. â€œWe worked with the county,â€ said the construction manager. â€œThis was all new for them. This was a massive project. They went to a special structural committee. We finally got a building permit. [Next], we started to secure stone. The carving process had already started back home in India, where BAPS has a special division. There was in excess of 3,000 carvers. They were such minute carvings. The 40,000 pieces were hand carved in a record time of just under two years.â€
â€œA total of four individuals from our team went to Turkey for the selection of the Turkish stone,â€ said Patel, explaining that he traveled with Sanjay Parikh, his counterpart in India; Bharat Patel from the U.S.; and Vinubhai Bhattessa and Sagoon Patel from London. â€œWe did an extensive search of what stone we wanted to use. We were looking for a stone that had the least water absorption ratio. In Chicago, snow falls, and water can create ice crystals. We were thinking that we are working on a special project, so let's try for excellence.â€
The design team's search led them to the Finikie region of Turkey. â€œWe took that limestone and ran up to 300 freeze/thaw cycles,â€ said the construction manager. â€œWe also made sure that the grains of the limestone were consistent. We wanted to make sure there were no cracks in the blocks, because we had some large-sized pieces. We were also looking for consistency in color. The stone looks white, but when you look closer, it is somewhat beige, which makes it even more beautiful.â€
Also, the design team did not want any uneven settling in the foundation. â€œ[BAPS] wanted to make sure that anything and everything we did, would not create uneven settling,â€ said the construction manager. â€œWe couldn't use rebar, and regular concrete could create a lot of cracks -- we wanted to avoid that.â€
In the end, a university professor, Dr. Kumar Mehta, was brought in to assess the situation and offer technical advice, explained Patel. â€œWe used a special mix that had less cement and more flyash,â€ he said. â€œIt was a real surprise to all of us. It worked so wonderfully.â€
â€œThe blocks were cut into sizes that they needed for fabrication,â€ said the construction manager. â€œThe stone would then go to one of 26 locations, depending on the fabrication that needed to be done. They were doing carvings for months and months.â€
All of the finished pieces were shipped to a final location for polishing, and then they were sent to another facility for packing. â€œEverything was numbered, so we could track the stone at any given time,â€ said Patel. â€œ[After packaging] the boxes were shipped back to port and stocked there until a container was filled. The container was then shipped to Virginia, where it went through [U.S.] Customs or Homeland Security. From there, the boxes were put on a train to Chicago.â€
It took two months to ship a container, according to the construction manager. â€œThe journey of the stone was unbelievable,â€ he said. â€œThis building is more than just a building. I had one person in the department whose job was to track the stone. That's all he knew. It took an excess of two years to ship all the stone.â€
The success of the project was largely due to the dedication and hard work of all those involved. More than 1,700 volunteers offered their services throughout the building of the mandir, and in excess of 2.5 million man-hours were logged, according to Patel. â€œThere were two main people besides me,â€ said the construction manager. â€œMr. Sanjay Parikh and Bharat Patel were involved in day-to-day coordination of stonework related matters. I was the overall design/construction person. Below me, I had a huge team of about 35 people -- 80 to 85% of them were volunteers.
â€œOn any given weekend, there would be in excess of 250 people working on this project,â€ he continued. â€œDuring the last two months of the project, the number went as high as 500 people. We would get boxes and boxes and boxes [of stone]. We had a crew just to cut the boxes open and take out the stone. The smallest stone pieces were 15 grams, and the largest weighed up to 5.2 tons. Because of the numbering system we had, we knew what was in each box.â€
Installing over 40,000 pieces of stone was similar to assembling a jigsaw puzzle, said Patel. For obvious reasons, the numbering of the stone pieces was crucial during the installation.
The mandir was entirely con-structed according to ancient Hindu Shilpashastras. â€œIt was done the old fashioned way,â€ said Patel. â€œOne stone is put down, and after that, the surface is made rough on the top and on the bottom of the stone being laid on top of it. After the stone is down, grout is put on the backside, which is basically white cement. Copper clamps are secured in the back and between the stones.â€ There are two clamps used for each stone, making it four in total.
â€œThe installers came from India,â€ said the construction manager. â€œWe brought approximately 40 to 50 craftspeople here.â€ Patel explained that the workers were sent from India to match the carving. They did not do any physical work.
â€œThe design is completely different than any other temple,â€ said Patel. â€œIt is so pretty. This is the first temple done with a heating/air condition system, elevators and fiber optic lights, and the beauty is that you can't see anything else, just stone.â€
BAPS is a worldwide sociospiritual organization in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. It is dedicated to community service, peace and harmony. The temple near Chicago is among 9,000 centers worldwide operated by BAPS under the direction of â€œHis Divine Holinessâ€ Pramukh Swami Maharaj.