In 1993 the Indian Industrialist, Harish Mahindra, approached Christopher Benninger to design the new college the Mahindra family wanted to create as a gift to India. Affiliated with the United World Colleges movement, the college would be the tenth such institution worldwide, under the Presidency of Nelson Mendela, with Queen Noor as the Chairperson. Mahindra and Benninger shared values which grew out of their common educational experiences at Harvard, merged with their love of Indian traditions and culture. Both had an utopian image of an ideal, independent community of scholars who would address global issues. For Mahindra, this represented a chance to mirror his corporate journey from a national group of companies, to a multi-national conglomerate. He saw the future in terms of an expanding world economy, tempered by sustainable growth and humanistic values. He wanted this philanthropic initiative to act as the visible torch bearer for these values. For Benninger, the design offered an opportunity to integrate his quarter century of experience in the sub-continent with the lessons of his gurus in the West, who included Jose Luis Sert, Constantinos Doxiades, Jerzey Soltan, Shadrack Woods, Jane Drew, Maxwell Fry, Kevin Lynch, Yona Friedman, Barbara Ward and Jacquline Tyrwhitt. Benninger maintained close relations with his teachers throughout his career saying, “The only good luck in life is having good teachers.”
At the outset of their venture Harish Mahindra called upon Benninger to, “Create a gift to the world of lasting beauty and quality.” In true Renaissance style, the Mahindra family tripled the size of their donation during construction to see that the campus emerged into a reality. To quote Benninger, “Great architecture requires the vision of great clients. I call them patrons of the arts. Without them an architect’s concepts remain mere dreams.”
Benninger first arrived in India in 1968 on a Fulbright Fellowship, returning back to Harvard in 1970 to teach design. In Cambridge he worked in Sert’s studio and completed his MIT degree in urban planning. He settled in India permanently in 1972 as a Ford Foundation Consultant. Some labeled this as a ‘self imposed exile’(1). It was toward the end of the Indian Golden Age. Mahatma Gandhi was still ‘alive’ in people’s hearts and minds. Benninger often quotes Gandhi’s indicative, “Live in a village and plan for the world.” He founded the School of Planning at Ahmedabad  and the Centre for Development Studies and Activities, Pune . He often noted that he craved the a life of “being in reality,” as opposed to studying it from afar. “Being an outsider is elemental to seeing problems in new ways. It leads to more creative insights and angles from which things can be seen and related,” Benninger opines that, “Architecture involves social, spatial, cultural and technological relationships, and being an outsider allows one to throw off the given truths, to re-consider them, and to re-think what the nature of things are. We can never know the truth in architecture, but we can search the ‘good’ in architecture. We can search pleasure, beauty, balance and comfort etc.”
THE MAHINDRA UNITED WORLD COLLEGE OF INDIA
I. LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS
The Mahindra United World College of India is affiliated with the United World Colleges movement founded by Lord Mountbaten and headquartered in London. Including the new Indian college, there are nine other campuses spread around the world. The United World Colleges teach the two-year, International Bacheloriate program, based on the globally recognized Geneva curriculum. The college is designed for an annual induction of one hundred candidates, hailing from over sixty countries. Thus, my mission was to create a community of scholars, housed in its own facilities, adequate for two hundred residential students, twenty-five faculty members and about thirty support staff. I envisioned this as a unique institution for India, integrating value systems of the East and the West, while seeking an integrity between empirical thought and the human spirit. Like the Centre for Development Studies and Activities, which I founded with Barbara Ward as the Patron in 1976, I wanted to create a milieu which imparts value-based education, while building competencies within a framework of constructive humanism. The shared experience of international education and community service creates responsible world citizens, wherein students enhance their skills and knowledge through the International Bachelorate course and participation in development projects. Personal discovery and global awareness prevail over classroom education in the arts, sciences, languages and mathematics. Human relations and integrity are amongst the qualities the college enhances. The architecture must do more than reflect this, it must catalyze this!
I often cite the influence of C.A. Doxiadis and the Delos Symposium Group on my later work. At the 1967 Delos Symposium we were infused with hope and commitment, woven into a fine fabric…a vision of the world as a single human community. Everyone was analyzing this from a different perspective. Barbara Ward was linking the global economy with environmental sustainability; Buckminister Fuller saw technology and science converging for the enhancement of the human condition, Margret Mead drew lessons from cultures and contexts to form hypothesis about future societies; Arnold Toynbee picked history apart into trends and events, pinpointing concerns and opportunities. Doxiadis had a holistic vision, we know as Ekistics, which pulled all of these world views into a global vision. As a young person this was all very heady stuff, and I left with my own vision of the future and my own image of what I could personally do. The college concept matched the Delos idea very well! Doxiadis always wanted to give a concrete shape to ideas. He wanted concepts to be mirrored in a physical vision of reality.
The academic program called for a classroom cluster, a library, centers for science and fine arts, a multi-purpose hall, a catering facility and an administration area. In addition there would be a separate residential area for all the faculty and students, clustered around a common medical facility and student center.
In a letter to Harish Mahindra I proposed that, “the campus must provide practical shelter for functions to be carried out, while also standing for experiential space in which the spirit moulds minds into attitudes and expectations. Built form is a true reflection of our image of reality and our lean on the absolute.” I insisted that, “the core faculty group at the MUWCI must be committed to a life style which is charged with idealism, but based in programmatic approaches. In the end analysis the success of our venture depends on the inspiring capability of the core group, and the allure of the environment. Each catalyses the other”(1).
Through our correspondence the strategies became clearer. We both felt the use of local materials in the design would embody universal truths. “While building from local stone and clay tiles, we shall search out forms which reflect the forests, the mountanious landscape above the site, and the rice terraces below. We would attempt to form spaces which are human in scale. We would provide for all of the functions and tasks which both join people together into common pursuits, as well as offer them spiritual privacy in their search for the ideal in themselves.”(2)
Harish Mahindra often pondered over the nature of inspiration and the meaning of education. He pondered over what role architecture could play in their realization.
I felt that, the campus must address an inherent contradiction: the focussing of life toward institutional aims and objectives, and the liberation of the ‘creative’ in each individual toward the discovery of what is uniquely humane in them. This contradiction involves a dynamic tension between the wandering mind, which is always searching, and the demands for concentrated effort, which is always focused. This tension is a force which must be understood and expressed(3).
The college held out the promise of being a strong partner in an international movement, synthesizing its global orientation with India’s traditional universalism.
My terms of reference included identification of the site. I explored the ancient mountain trails of the Marathas and the heardmen’s upland pastures, searching for an ideal location for such a community to be created. I was intrigued by the vast open spaces of America, as utilized in the layouts of Mount Vernon, Monticello, the University of Virginia, and Taliesin West. I explored the mountanious region between Mumbai on the Arabian Sea, and Pune up in the Sahayadri Mountains. I wanted a place accessible to Mumbai and Pune airports, hospitals, libraries, book stores and entertainment, but adequately insulated from pollution, urban sprawl and distracting amusement. I yearned to create an enclave in the high pasture lands, which separate India’s vast Deccan Plateau from the sea. The ancient Maratha Empire had constructed walled forts and administrative settlements on such plateaus, perched over the verdant rice fields and meandering rivers below. I felt this would be a way to bring the students close to nature, yet isolate them from the distractions of city life. Finally, I selected a hill ridge in a village called Khubavali, about three hundred feet above the Mulla River valley, dotted with a patchwork of green patty fields, affording the campus dramatic views through a valley, which is surrounded by high mountains.
My visits to American campuses made me critical of current architectural trends. With a sense of nostalgia I pondered what happened to the ideal of the university? Each ‘discipline of study’ wants to be separate from the ‘university.’ The objective seems to be the opposite of the goal! Each architect wants to make his own statement, through his own isolated building. Each faculty has its own, isolated plot in the university sub-division. Just as they have isolated their own little lives in suburbia, people want to isolate their own little minds on campuses! Everything is broken into components, into compartmentsm, and then it’s packaged into little boxes and little things! Instead of integrating and catalyzing, the entire exercise seems to be to close off and to ‘block out’. That’s the problem with nations-states; with corporations, with urban opportunities and with suburbia. The New Urbanism is a fine example of this decay! It is neither new, nor it is urban! It is an expression of personal gain---all isolated into a personal investment, all expressed in little houses! In the end what can not be hidden is that the entire design is just an investment package, for an isolated, homogeneous group of investors to lock their dreams into something which can be sold later for a profit. Everyone’s investment is safe from the dangerous people. This is not ‘communitas,’ this is not a goal, and this is not where we should go!
The Mahindra college offered an opportunity to make a counter statement about what we ‘are’ and what the world is all about. It was a chance to put community before profit; a chance to put ideas above greed! One had to pick up the idea of built-form, and say look…we can start all over again, we can build a habitat which centers around mankind; around context and around sharing! The plan became a kind of counter-blast to what was going on! Everyone was confusing globalization, de-regularization, and privatization with some kind of goal. It was as if ameliorizing past errors was a vision of the future! It was not! So the Mahindra college design was a chance to go back to basics; back to history to define relevant traditions again, and most of all, back to humanism!
Architecture does not emerge from imagination alone! It is part of a continuum of history, and is born from the evolution of society and its technology. It is essential to look back in history and to see how ancient schools, learning places and universities evolved from the same climate and terrain. I have been interested in the early Buddhist centers of learning in India, which include Taxila, Nalanda and the Ellora-Ajanta cave complexes.
Though they exist today only as archeological ruins, there were Buddhist centers of learning in the sub-continent built over two thousand years ago. Their plans can be visualized from excavations which make their spatial qualities and functions fairly obvious(4), and speak of design principles which are relevant even today.
Scattered over the Ganges basin of India were Hindu Gurukulas which educated young boys in the fundamentals of mathematics, ethics, mythology, warfare, language, cosmology, philosophy, agriculture and social mores. These schools were usually set within a walled court with an entrance at one end and a pavilion at the other. In more evolved residential schools, study cubicals were lined along the two remaining walls, where students and teachers also slept. Most important was the garden courtyard, shaded by generous, broad trees. These, and other types of residential schools were always located in an isolated place(5). Gurukulas were common even until recent times and would be the oldest type of educational institution found in India.
Perhaps the oldest known university in the world was at Taxila [600 BC – 200 A.D]. Subjects ranging from archery, astrology, medicine, mathematics, Buddhist philosophy and the Hindu Vedas were taught in various ‘colleges’ spread along a main boulevard(6). These ‘learning centers’ were dispersed within a complex, cosmopolitan trading center which linked Asia to the West. In each center a respected teacher, assisted by senior students, ran the learning programs. The method of learning ranged from the memorization of ‘slokas’, to didactic discussions and debate. Students and faculty lived together around a common assembly hall. The Maurya Empire’s expansion provided an impetus to Taxila, as did the influx of the Greeks during the third and second centuries BC. Like many universities today, Taxila was an urban university, whose built form was integrated into the urban fabric.What is relevant to me is the “courtyard plan.” At Taxila all the learning centers, or colleges, were constructed as a series of courtyards, in which indoor and outdoor spaces merged almost inperceptively. Though this integration took place in a highly urban context, the idea of an inside-outside continuum caught my imagination.
The Buddhist university at Nalanda was founded by Ashoka, the great Mauryan emperor and patron of Buddhism. Nalanda, unlike Taxila, has a university campus which includes a number of monasteries and temples. Temples in India have always been centers of dance, music, philosophy and ethics. For Westerners who find it difficult to accept a mixture of scientific reasoning with subjective theology, one must look no further than Oxford or Harvard, which have chapels centrally located within their plans. What interests me more about Nalanda is the grouping of user spaces around interior courts, and the further grouping of monasteries into a cluster. Various courses of study were all taught at Nalanda from the Third Century BC, right up to the 12th Century AD, including mathematics, logic, grammar, medicine, Hindu and Buddhist scriptures. Buddha himself visited Nalanda and Mahavira, the founder of Jainism, spent fourteen years studying there.
Nalanda was the first planned university with a large central library in three structures. There were seven large halls for teaching and three hundred smaller class rooms. About three thousand monks, and even more students, lived in residential “quadrangles(7).” I feel strongly about the quadrangles and the way monasteries were grouped with stupas and academic structures. The over-all plan is interesting not in the manner in which it creates ‘negative’ spaces, but in the way the building masses, containing independent enclosed spaces, were aggregated in a lineal row, with other activities clustered around them. Landscaping also played a strong role, which tempered my ideas in the Mahindra College. There was an enclosing wall and a system of lotus ponds.
Ajanta and Ellora Cave Monasteries
Unlike Taxila and Nalanda, the cave monasteries at Ajanta and Ellora were isolated from distracting urban centers. As schools for monks, the complexes included assembly halls [Chaitya] having a stupa within, a central dome and relics of the Buddha. There were ‘viharas” which were living-cum-study halls. I was quick to acknowledge the similarity of these monastery sites to that of the Mahindra College, located in the same Sahayadri Mountains. Ajanta is set in a horseshoe, semi-circular scarp, overlooking a gorge within green fields and a river below. The campus which flourished from the Second Century B.C. until the Seventh Century AD interested me due to its link with nature, use of natural materials, exploitation of views and isolation from urban areas(8).
Through history architects have always dealt with the same realities and problems. We have always delt with gravity, with foundations of stone, with doors and windows, with people moving, with living, with working or sleeping in these places. Walls have always been there, and they will always be there. The column has always played a transcendental role, as well as a structural one. A new structure is always determined by an old precedent, either from history, or from within an architect’s own evolving ‘ouvre’ which is, or should be, in the nature of experiments. In addition to physics and natural forces we are dealing with issues of social cohesion and humanistic qualities. One has to see his work as laboratory, life-sized experiments, wherein the successes and errors of history---and of one’s own work---feed into further work.
III. ARCHITECTURE: AN EVOLVING CRAFT
In addition to the influence of these historical examples, my own work developed slowly over several decades. There are two aspects of my life in India that allowed my work to evolve.
In India, until the Internet arrived recently, we were isolated from Western fashion and ‘trend swings.’ US architectural magazines were just too expensive! We frankly did not know what was going on which was a true blessing. Benign neglect, would be a proper way to view it. Post Modernism was kind of a joke, which we never took seriously. We looked at modernism critically, but we never lost sight of its origins: social and technical issues; community and the human conditions! Another blessing was that I never earned a living running a practice. I ran a studio more as a ‘play thing,’ or as a kind of personal laboratory. I was never in a hurry to ‘be fashionable’ or to sell ‘design.’ I was doing social science research, building a new institute, studying rural development trends and the environmental system. Architecture was more of a craft which had to find its place in all of this. But I learned from my craft, and my craft evolved.
The Theological Library at Ahmedabad
In 1972 I was approached by a group of priests to design a library to house a rare collection of religious books, written in the vernacular Gujarati language. This structure of inter-connected spaces illustrates most of the features I have integrated into my architectural language. Water spouts, window boxes, courtyards, exposed bearing wall materials, and form finished concrete work are all precursors to his present language. The project employs a rigorous structural system which is exploited spatially with sky lights, parallel beams, and other ideas prominent in current works. The circular stair, bridge and interior balcony all “move” people in space. The free standing column in the center of the two-storied main hall generates the “figure ground” movement I employ widely today. The “plug-in” toilets have been resolved into pure geometry, strangely reminiscent of archigram arrangements(9).
The entire system is based on human proportion of seven feet - six inch ceiling heights, and square paving patterns, from which the plan is generated. These aggregate into the fifteen-foot square floor grid. When reflected in the ceiling’s structural system, these are divided further into five foot on center, fifteen foot long beams, which in turn “pop up” as skylights! The massing of this very small structure is used to enclose a small courtyard, between two Nineteenth Century brick structures. Most of the elements, motifs and proportional systems have been carried on into the Center for Development Studies and Activities at Pune, and later into the Mahindra College. The ‘light shafts’ of the Student Center at the College find their origins in the skylights of this early work.
The Centre for Development Studies and Activities [CDSA]
The CDSA campus at Pune, India was created in 1988 as my own work place, campus, where students came to study and to carry out research on development issues, strategies and plans(10). CDSA was an experimental piece of architecture wherein I, as my own client, could test out many of the ideas which later appear in the college. For example: “bas relief” form finish murals; exposed random rubble stone walls, tile roofs; class rooms facing on to a court or garden, via glass sliding panels, and numerous other features are evident. Many of these devices and motifs can be seen in the Theological Library  also. There is an evolution of ideas, rather than random trials. CDSA, in fact, lies within the same micro region as the Mahindra College and the use of the “borrowed landscape” at CDSA, wherein one focuses on distant views, was later evolved further in the college(11).
CDSA’s campus plan and activities are conceived from the concept of a Greek gymnasium, and in that spirit are set in a suburban environment, on a terrace of land along the fall of a hill slope. The campus includes facilities for both intellectual and physical development, keeping the holistic development of the human being as an objective. In the Clouds, Aristophanes describes the ‘Academy’ with its trees and its terracing on a hill slope, as a typical suburban Athenian gymnasium:
“But you will below the Academe go, and under the Olives contented.
With your chaplet of reed, in a contest of speed with some excellent rival and friend.
All fragrant with woodbine and peaceful content, and the leaf which the line-blossoms fling.
When the pine whispers love to the elm in the grove in the beautiful season of spring.
In ancient times, Athens was almost ringed with these pleasant spots in which garden parks, athletics, social and intellectual life blossomed freely. These were also places where statues and art works were commonly found. By the fourth century B.C. each of the three main suburban gymnasia of Athens had become the seat of a philosophical school of thought. Political and ethical discussions were frequent topics of concern amongst the members. Socrates frequented the Lyceum and Plato established his school next to the Academy. The cynics found their home around Antisthenes at Cynosures. Aristotle and the School of the Peripatetic identified with the Lyceum. Because of their importance in Athenian life in general, but more particularly because of their association with philosophical schools, the gymnasia have an equally intense significance for the history of humanity as the acropolis or the agora(12). In Maharashtra, the CDSA is a centre of the pragmatist school of philosophy, and the institute is deeply involved with very real development efforts.
The gymnasium of Delphi was magnificently situated high on a hill beneath higher slopes, and it was required to adapt the slope for the gardens by creating terraces. Along the lines of Delphi, CDSA’s hill slope near Pune has first been terraced into a dense garden. The flat court of the academic quadrangle reflects the podium of many Greek structures. The ‘grouping’ of buildings around this podium, focused on views and statues, also draws its roots from the classic Greek tradition. Superimposed over these references are elements of a strictly Indian origin. The ottas [sitting platforms], Kund-like steps, courts and tile roofs all draw their inspiration from the traditional Indian milieu. The Center’s art collection includes statues by contemporary Indian artists like Piraji Sagara and Ghanshyam Gupta Prasad. It includes ancient brass statues, priceless Mogul and Rajput miniatures, and original screen prints donated by Balkrishna V. Doshi. All of these enrich the building fabric woven from classical roots.
Set in the Sahaydri Mountains, the campus consists of eleven structures, including four “houses” which group around and bridge over an internal street. There are also a “club house” for cooking, eating and symposia, and a cluster of classrooms, a library and study/offices around a central “Podium.”
As a plan pattern, or foot print, the CDSA campus is also a link between the Theological Library and the Mahindra College designs. It is composed of parallel stone walls. These east-west oriented elements protect the interiors from sun and heat. Running perpendicular to these stone walls are glass sliding panels which separate the interior spaces from the exterior gardens. These transparent screens lead on to the verandahs, which draw-in gardens, courts, platforms and other devices integrating interior and exterior spaces. The verandah ceilings also serve as “basins” to catch water running off of the tile roofs. All of these elements are found in the Mahindra College, yet the two campuses are indeed very different, each having a very unique use of “space molding,” shaping of forms and sequencing of events. At CDSA the pitched tile roofs are “held” by stone walls which prestage the Mahindra College sloped roofs in their angular shapes. I made the roof slopes to the west significantly steeper [45 degrees] than the slopes facing east [30 degrees], as the heavy rains pour in from the West! This unusual change in slopes generates asymmetrical ‘end’ walls in elevation. Ideas like these are further exploited at the Mahindra College. Clustering of the five structures around the podium follows a strict, discipline. The east-west elongated spaces enclosed within parallel Basalt walls, open up to views of the mountains on the west, and the growing metropolis of Pune to the east. Tiled roofs are laid on marine plywood, supported by steel rafters with an exposed teak wood vineer aesthetic on the ceilings inside. The sloping roofs accommodate mezzanines connected through interior balconies and two-storied interlocking spaces. An interesting play of spaces has been created where the classrooms open out into their own private landscaped courtyards, which again visually connect to the main court through square openings(13).
In the choice of materials, finishes, detailing and spatial design, I am attempting to consolidate the wisdom of the past, while searching for new relationships and patterns. The inertia of Post Modernism, that is becoming narcissistically oriented around the single building statement, is rejected. In this small complex the “single building” is being destroyed, and fused into a more complex fabric. Yet, there are very individualistic expressions for various functions.
Dhamma Hall and Meditation Pavilion at Nagaloka
In Nagpur a Buddhist campus known as “Nagaloka” has been coming up over the past decade. Nagpur is the center of modern India’s Buddhist movement. The campus includes a Dhamma Hall, or discourse room, where lectures and discussions are held. There is also a library, administration hall, dharmashala, multi-purpose hall, monk’s communities and meditation pavilion. All are set around a large open space, centered on a statue of Lord Buddha. I was influenced by the Deer Park at Sarnath where the Buddha gave his Sermon of the Turning of the Wheel, outlining the Five Fold Path. In this spirit the interior park is an unstructured gathering space, which will be planted informally with shady trees.
The Dhamma Hall
The Dhamma Hall at Nagaloka is the main public meeting hall where the Buddhist triad-Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha-are brought together. Buddha, or the image of ‘enlightenment,’ is positioned at the end of the central aile of the hall, with a clearstorey over the Image. This anti-space in which the image rests is a kind of shrine. It is where the pious can do their ritual rounds of the image. It is a ‘purer’ space than the main hall, which has more sanctity than the entrance porch.
The Sangha, or the ‘community’ can meet in the Dhamma Hall to discuss and to practice the dharma, or the ‘law’ of Buddha. This large hall is spamed by five concrete shells, which rest on columns, framing the Buddha image. The columns visually suggest a separation between the Buddha’s realm and the realm of the sangha, or community. Meditation, and the image of the Buddha as a vehicle of transcendence, are essential elements. Hollow exposed brick bearing walls, enclose three sides of the hall. Glass folding doors open on to the large entrance pavilion, which is also sheltered by a twenty meter long shell.
Thus, the configuration is one of seven, twenty meter by four meter structural concrete shells. The Kotah stone floor, detailed in white marble, is patterned to reflect the structural divisions of the shells, with the central shell connecting the main entrance door to the Buddha image. The hall is used for discourses, meditation and public gatherings. The entry porch, or pavilion, derives its origins from pindhi, or open verandahs which are “separators” between the house and the street, or at a grander scale between a city and the vast wilderness beyond. A pindhi can be a humble shed to comfort a tired passer-by, or it can be a dignified symbol of a whole city(14).
Thus, the structure communicates three levels of sanctity in the form of a pindhi, the actual dhamma hall and the shrine. Each has a distinct function, and is a distinct place. There is a stark classicism about this structure which I purposefully employed to sanctify the amluance. It is a twenty meter square hall, with two twenty meter long shells defining the ‘ends.’
While the Dhamma Hall is functionally very removed from the Mahindra College function, one can see the same language at work: natural expression of bearing materials; form finished concrete, the motifs and classic proportions. The round columns separating the Buddha shrine from the sangha, also are static references, which make other features move when the human body moves. The Buddha image is also anchored into a static position, forcing each individual to visually align with it!
The Meditation Hall
The meditation hall is a Vihara for monks. Vihara, in Sanskrit, relates to wandering about, or movement. As a verb it means to ‘go around,’ contemplating, or visiting a reclusive grove of trees or a garden. In short it is a place for retreat and isolation. It is cut off from the world. Originally the monks wandered about India, and beyond, to propagate to Wheel of Law, or Dhamma, settling in retreats during the monsoon. These monsoon retreats, or avasas, gradually became permanent establishments know as viharas. During the Buddha’s time Veluvanarama was a vihara in a forest grove and Jivakarama was a vihara in a mango grove of Rajagriha in northern India, which Buddha himself visited. As these institutions began to be established in cities, they had to physically seclude the vihara from the surrounding settlements.
The meditation pavilion is, thus, completely surrounded by a wall, forming an interior court. There is a vestibule, or entrance structure and there is a shrine area. This division of elements can be found even today in the balrals of Kathmandu Valley. Unlike the Dhamma Hall the Sangha and Buddha share the same sacred space; for the monks the dhamma has fused their sangha life with that of the Buddha ideal!
The plan is a spiral, with the intention of confusing participants’ orientation. Moving in a circular pattern, one immediately looses their sense of direction. The need for orientation is replaced suddenly by the Buddha image! The image sits in a small pavilion, which is placed geometrically in the center of the courtyard. In this way the garden atmosphere of ancient times is recreated. The experience is of sitting in an isolated green area, if not a forest.
This is a place for contemplation and for meditation. All materials are naturally expressed. Harmony is achieved with other structures in the campus through common materials, motifs and proportions, engendering an architectural language.
IV. LESSONS AND PRINCIPLES
Movement in Space
These historical examples, and my earlier works, are precedents upon which the Mahindra College design is based. For me, the individual moving in space, is the focal concern. It is this concern which generates a spatial framework for design. I attempt to use highly controlled visual-spatial confections to achieve what Lefaivre and Tzonis have termed a design strategy of arranging masses of artifacts in controlled disequilibrium in “a manner that is portent of a changed state(15).” My idea is not the form of space, not moulded or flowing shapes…..but the kinetic juxtaposition of forms, channels, vistas, stairs, walls, columns, etc., which heighten a sense of awareness of both space and one’s place in space. As Siegfried Giedeon noted, “space should be conceived relative to a moving point of reference, not as relevant to some absolute and static entity.”(16) The central column in the Theological Library, used extensively as a visual device in the Mahindra College, creates a moving point of reference. Such a column must continually change its placement reference to walls and other elements, heightening one’s sense and awareness of movement. One does this with building masses also. They frame each other into compositions which continuously change.
I would contrast this ‘kinetic fabric’ with the stand-alone ‘plan-mass’ statements being made today, particularly in American university campuses. In such cases one finds architecture as an alienating idea, as a static and as a forbidding visual force. Each structure is trying desperately to say something about the architect [of all people], and not much about the users and surrounding context. At best I find these static boxes and forms interesting abstract compositions and arrangements, presumed to be aesthetic.
We are not concerned with planning parcels of land, or individual building statements. We are concerned with the communities who will live in our works, and how these communities reflect the larger societies they mirror. We are concerned with human inter-action; with human emotional inter-dependencies; with understandings of ‘publicness,’ with civility and with behavioural norms. These are the fundamental concepts of ‘society’ and of ‘civilization.’ Architecture can both contribute to and distract from these.
Movement in space, and the visual noting of movement through various devices, is the most dominant theme which ties this diverse group of work together. In addition a group of design principles are applied.
Integration with the environment has been a design theme in all of my work. Site features and the local ecology help focus and mould other design themes. At the college I was fortunate to have a potential site which could be apportioned between productive cultivation and natural landscape, with a variety of terrain and vegetation, for a creative living space.
While there was a clear mandate and program of activities through which objectives were to be met, some principles for a ‘built-environment’ emerged were applied applied to the design. These were:
1.The architecture should be a natural expression of available resources, through the use of indigenous materials like terracotta tiles, Basalt stone for walls, Shahabad stone for external paving and lintels, and Kotah stone for interior floors. These materials are all expressed naturally, without the application of plaster or paint. Form finished concrete was also a way to express the reality of materials. Honesty of expression was thus a design principle.
2.Employment of human scale, as opposed to the monumentalism so often found in institutions, is another principle. No building should dominate the landscape through brute size, or heavy architectonic statements. The architectural milieu must provide personal spaces which belong to the inhabitants and engender interaction. This infers a ‘low-rise’ fabric wherein the roof-shape should be a humble reflection of the landscape.
3.Continuity and harmony should be achieved through consistency in the architectural language and the environment. It is important that common building systems tie a complex group of structures into an integrated whole. For example, one building can not be of reinforced concrete, and another of brick bearing walls, and yet another of pre-fabricated concrete elements, and still another of steel, which we observe in American show case campuses these days, where each architect is competing with the other for attention.
4.An architectural language must be evolved through the selection of appropriate motifs. Motifs can include functional components like door lintels, window shade boxes, ventilators, water spouts and various built-in components. These reflect the demands of climate and culture on lifestyles, customs and habits. Murals cast into natural, exposed concrete enrich the design. One can not ‘design a language’ over night. Elements, ideas and components may emerge from historical examples. An architectural language must evolve through a number of projects and experiences.
5.A sustainable environment must be created. A college can not just be a cluster of buildings on parcels of land. It has to be an integrated man-bio system where nature thrives and people learn. The sun, rains and winds must all temper the orientation of walls, roof coverage and openings. These are not issues of style or fancy, but facts of the environment.
6.A circulation system must separate vehicles from pedestrians; and visitors from regular participants. Noisy and polluting vehicles must be kept at a distance. Movement must be pedestrian and service/visitor vehicles must be separated from this network. The circulation system must also be a lattice, allowing choices of how one moves from place to place in the work area. In the living areas there should be a tree like structure, lending privacy and security to the most basic residential units. A campus is not a city, and the circulation system must honour this distinction.
7.The architectural scheme must establish a main structure through the circulation pattern and the building technology pattern which reinforce each other, integrating into a framework. The main structure must respect the need for short span areas to gather together, and for long span spaces to act as focal points and nodal centers. Such an integrated circulation network-cum-structural system works to separate casual visitors, vendors, and suppliers from serious participants and key actors. In its subtle manner such a system reflects the daily schedule, requiring quiet zones to later become discussion, music or even loud zones, or visa-versa. Space and movement; place and sense of being; form and sequence are all part of this integration of movement networks and building systems. These elements are all linked and integrated through a main structure.
8.Most of all, the ambience will be one of global thinking. This does not mean the projection of a cold, cultureless image through an industrialized ‘international style.’ It does not mean McDonnel’s hamburgers will replace rice and dal. It means applying principles which can unite mankind into a world community: honesty in expression; sustainable environment; respect for the individual; encouragement of constructive group action; use of appropriate technology and creating balanced eco-systems. It is in its role of promoting group concerns and life styles that architecture contributes to a future vision.
The college is based on the ‘vision’ of a secure, safe, and enjoyable environment. In such an environment national, racial, religious and other ‘boundaries’ loose their devicine meanings. Architecture and planning are not merely geometric problems. They are problems in which time, space, life and purpose all become part of one reality.
A small diversion is required here! I must emphasize that I am not a Post-Modernist. I look back with nostalgia to a great modernist tradition filled with Wright, Le Corbusier, Kahn, Sert and other expressionist, modern architects. I feel that modernism was highjacked by bureaucrats and developers to save and make money, and then this boorishness was kidnapped by the post-modernists as their antithesis! Instead of booking the rapists, they labeled the abused as whores! The post-modernists have misrepresented modernism to make themselves appear new, when they are just a continuum! The roots of architecture lie in social purposes, in technology, physical movement, in nature, in visual and mental stimulation. Architecture is the beauty which emerges when all of these elements are mixed together.
The modern movement finds its basis in a social agenda and in an understanding of technology. Technology, in the modern sense, does not mean the tallest, largest or longest structure! Technology does not mean steel and glass. Technology means the fusing of quantitative systems and value systems toward an appropriate application. Because labour in India is plentiful, and highly skilled in stone work, it would not be appropriate to build a tensile structure, where a stone wall would do. That would not be ‘modern.’ The so-called Post Modernists have disjointed quantitative and value systems. They use techniques merely as a form of gymnastics to attract attention. The so-called ‘Post Modernists’ have abandoned a social agenda. At the College social interaction, social hierarchies; community and privacy; provision of ‘settings for interaction’ and ‘places of exchange’ are formative aspects of the plan. This is why it is modern architecture.
We are still very much a part of the modern movement. Perhaps we are late modernists, but modernists we are! Post-modernism is a ‘word’ used by historians and critics to fit their own personalities and identities into a framework. The architects they write about are flattered to be cited as new and different. Post Modernism is not a period, or a movement, like modernism. It has been created by academics to resolve their own identity crises. Post Modernism is not the product of ‘architectural oeuvres’ created over time, which culminate in a true movement. If it is a movement, it is a movement of superficial style, of packaging, of decoration, of cold monuments and of ‘things.’ Recent works on American campuses isolate people, isolate intellectual disciplines, and alienate one building from another. This is the opposite of what a university stands for. It is preposterous! We must break this tragic historical trend. A campus must work as a whole, as a total organism, with a purpose. Animals have needs, people have purposes! Why do we see so many campus designs which are mere expressions of need?
V. APPLICATION OF PRINCIPLES
Hierarchy of space plays an important role in the organization of the college plan. The academic campus is organized around a central quadrangle with passages radiating off of it. One enters the campus through the “Mahadwara,” or an ancient wooden carved door, set within a massive entrance wall, which acts as a symbolic ‘guard,’ or a sentinel to the campus.
Inside a world of meandering stone walkways, takes one through the reception area, the Administration Building and on to where a long view up to the Catering Center chimney tower, stops the eye. It is the stone walls which carry one along, as if exploring a medieval hill town. The walls are massive, angular, bent in and thrust out---all in a conceived scheme of movement and experience. One is attracted to an opening into the Academic Quadrangle at the end of this sequence, but not before one’s view is diverted up a pedestrian ramp, leading to the porch of the Science Center.
This porch rests on columns, at a pivotal point, dominating the open area below it, as a Greek temple would preside over a village. With a circular opening in its roof, and five round columns holding it up in the air, the porch literally turns space around it. These two events, the ‘long view’ and the ‘turning porch’ add excitement and discovery to one’s journey deeper into the fabric of the campus.
The sequence from the Mahadwara ends as one moves into the academic quadrangle. This is the hub of the campus, where all of the classrooms are located. Each of the four corners of the quadrangle opens out to views, and to different activity areas, such as the campus lawn, which spreads down the western axis, toward a grand vista of Mulshi Lake with its dramatic sunsets, all framed by the strong, directional Library wall and the heavy masonry of the Art Center. To the east, the quadrangle opens through a narrow passage, focused on a small pyramid with students perched on it. A ramp moves on up from the pyramid to the Catering Center. In similar ways the quadrangle opens to the south, down the amphi-theatre steps, ramps and gardens to the Multi-purpose Hall. These are all flowing, “lattice” spaces, inter-connected with one another, unlike the more ‘tree-like’ cul-de-sacs in the residential village.
Social Hierarchy and Spatial Patterns
Just as villages in this region of India are divided into hamlets, or ‘wadis,’ so the residential village of the campus is divided into four ‘wadis.’ Each wadi entrance has a wind tower, in which antique wooden carved doors from old Maharashtrian ‘wadas’ or large houses, are fixed to signify “passage” from the unstable universe into the stable space of household life. In each hamlet there is a Common Room with telephones, kitchenette, T.V., launderette, etc. This common area is a spatial pivot between a Student Yard and a Faculty Yard. Each student yard has six houses or wadas around it. Like the traditional wadas of the region, these also have an internal, walled-in court, using verandah to link rooms together. Again, in local vernacular, these enclosed courts are known as chowks.
These four communities are clustered around a landscaped Mall where amenities, such as the Students’ Center, Swimming Pool, Medical Center and Nurses’ Quarters are located. Sitting areas and walkways are used to link the hamlets together. The Mall is the highest social gathering space, next are the four Common Rooms, next the eight Yards, and finally the twenty-four wadas and twenty faculty cottages. Each wada and each ‘cottage’ has a chowk, where household social units gather. Thus, there is a social scaling of various sizes of inter-action within groups, which is also reflected and strengthened, through the spatial pattern of the college, embracing the entire community. The scaling is reflected in built-form in a hirearchy from village, wadi, wada and then chowk!
Within the ‘wadas’ each student has their own spatial domain: an individual sleep/study area. Four of these spaces form a dormitory room, in which the most basic social group lives, originating from four different countries. Two dorm rooms, an entrance area, a box room and a wet core are linked by the verandah and chowk, forming a ‘house.’ These houses are very similar to the small courtyard houses, one finds in the villages of western India.
Integration of Open Spaces and Interior Spaces
At the college external gardens, connecting walls, passages, courts, ramps and quadrangles serve to integrate interior and exterior spaces. Each classroom has its own private garden court where the learning process can spill out-of-doors. The result is the penetration of nature into the built form. In the Library and in the Administration Building, entrance porches and glass atria twist exterior space into the interior. In the Academic Quadrangle and the Science Center, interior quadrangles are employed, with low covered passages around them. In the Student Center, Catering Center and Multi-purpose Hall and other structrures verandahs are used as ‘in-between’ spaces which integrate the interior with the exterior. Thus, the school is conceived as a sequence of low and high walls, gardens, passages, verandahs, sit-out platforms, courtyards, atria, ramps, steps and orchards, creating the ambiance of a natural park in which activities seem to be incidentally set. This idea is similar to that of Mogul complexes where the structures are actually “pavilions” opening into gardens. In such compositions the definition between interior and exterior areas is vague and nebulous. A number of Indian devices are employed, like “ottas,” or sitting platforms, or “kund-like” steps. Even low walls are employed to bring people together as “sitting walls,” rather than as barriers.
Movement, Time and Perception
In all of the designs at the college an ‘apparent,’ yet deceptive, informality in order is used to create a dynamic tension, which keeps the eye moving, exploiting kinetic sensations. Columns are used as static benchmarks to demarcate space, with the walls as moving backgrounds. In this manner the mobile human being becomes the focal point, as a ‘third force,’ whose location, or ‘situation’ is marked by stationary columns, against walls which appear to move behind the columns.
Unlike my earlier works, which are organized around a modulated Cartesian grid, the MUWCI is organized around ‘patterns’ which are integrated through the use of a common language of build. This has allowed us to ‘plug in’ new structures, in a flexible manner, along the radial paths leading out from the Academic Quadrangle. This can be linked with the Indian perception of “time.”
Time in the West is very different than in the East. A Hindu will reincarnate in to another manifestation at a later date! He must live out his present dharma and be sincere in the duties it bestows on him. In his life he will be a bramhachari, or virgin student, a householder, a sanyasi, and then he will retreat to the forest and die. He knows who he is. He knows what he must do. He knows where he is going, and that if he is true to his ‘station’ in the cycle of birth, death, and re-birth, some day he shall surely reach nirvana! He is not rushed for money, achievement, fame, celebrity and immortality, because he is part of a continuum. Time is something to be experienced, enjoyed---and lived! Time is not making it to a deal at 10:45, or the EMI on a loan! The Buddha envisioned reincarnation like a flame blowing from one candle to the next. The soul flows on through various manifestations! In such a time frame movement and perception become sources of enjoyment and experience.
In Slowness, Milan Kundera transposed a modern couple into a Sixteenth Century setting. His twentieth century man had no time to consider where he was going, he was concerned only about the speed he moved. He never asked why? He was only concerned about ‘getting there.’ In India, historical time frames are laid, one over the other! A new building will overlay a colonial building, which overlpas a Mogul structure, which overlays a Vedic structure! The artifacts of history are part of the theatre of life. A building complex must have a threshold, there must be ‘in between’ spaces which allow people to absorb the change between one space and another. There must be ‘ottas’ to sit on and to think about life! Time, space and movement temper our conception about the nature of the world.
In most of New York City there is no place to sit down, or to just saunter about. Slowness may even catch the eye of a security guard, who may question ‘what are you up to?’ Unless we design places for slowness, we necessitate speed. And when people rush to a destination there will be no place to sit down and to think! We live in a paradigm in which we are either hyperactive workaholics, or we are drugged into the unconscious by alcoholic! We are either working, or “on vacation.” There is no place to sit down! Vacations are for people who feel guilty about slowness, who do not contemplate, and who have no place to sit down. Architecture must celebrate transition, it must welcome a pause. It must engender contemplation and provide for slowness. A glass box with elevators, with air-conditioned passages, with cubicles that have no chairs for visitors…these confections are the opposite of architecture. In New York I saw a building full of ramps behind a glass wall. But one ramp only lead to another ramp, and then to another! Even a device made for slowness, became a contraption for the hyperactive...everyone moving, but to nowhere! And there was no place to sit down!
The school design employs what the I call a ‘magical visual trick,’ which is to utilize the vast mountains in which the campus sits, as the ‘designed spatial environment.’ The buildings themselves are reflections of mountains. It is almost as if the campus is a miniature model of the
mountain ranges and hills, so that when one views a distant mountain behind a structure, it appears to be the same visual scale, and to be of the same size, as the mountains! Angles reinforce this illusion, as do earth mounds, which straddle the buildings. What results is the harnessing of the vast natural landscape into the visual imagery and architectural illusions, as if these monoliths were designed themselves to enhance an existing architecture, instead of the other way around!
Just as a Mogul miniature painting brings a wide range of elements of vastly differing sizes into the same visual milieu on a flat canvas, so also the designer scheme uses the ‘flat canvas’, or ‘visual plane’ concept in a new and innovative manner.
A unique visual feature of the school is the employment of bas-relief murals, cast in the form-finished concrete ceilings. The images, drawn from nature, include birds, snakes, lizards, fish, turtles and people. There are also stars the sun, moons and other cosmic images. A cosmic river flows around the ceiling of the entire academic quadrangle. There are also imaginary primordial beings, and beings eaten by other beings!
Systems of Order
While individual buildings enjoy considerable variety in terms of their plans and generic order, the campus is bound together by a strict system of dimensions, proportions, and a highly consistent visual language. It is the manner in which the supporting elements within the language interact, that adds variety and intrigue. Columns and walls are used in counter point; square windows in heavy masonry lend a sense of playfulness to serious masses; motifs [water spouts, ottas, ponds, steps, lintels and windows] are used to engage the eye’s vision and to catalyze movement on visual planes.
Just as Indian women place a bindi on their foreheads to denote one of the most powerful energy centers, spaces are ‘marked’ and then aligned with one another in ways which interlink centers of energy in the campus complex. For example, the four openings of the Academic Quadrangle are aligned with the four cardinal directions of the earth, such that one’s line of vision coming into the quadrangle from the East, is focused down a narrow passage, through a square opening, which frames a small image of Mulshi Lake, in the distance West. This energy line draws in a far off landscape, more than ten kilometers away, making it a miniature painting within an architectural composition. The alignment is by no means obvious, nor is it accidental. It is subtle, almost hidden---a reality known only to those who live and work within the campus. The relationship is an abiding one.
VI. COMPOSITION, COMPONENTS AND DESIGN
In our studio work there is always a large team. I do not have the luxury of painters and writers to sit alone and ponder. Ours is ‘an art of mobilization and management,” equally as it is of sensitive manipulation of forms and spaces. For this teams are essential. In our studio senior architects study, search and ‘re-search’ the initial sketches I make. When the pattern and its employment of language is clear we call in the air conditioning, structural and services engineers. At this point a ‘re-think’ is inevitable. Then the specifications, quantities and costs have to be considered, and maybe we start again. Design is not a lineal proposition. We try to involve all of these people as early in the process as possible. That is the meaning of a ‘studio.’ In a studio everyone is part of ‘art making.’
What is important in team work, is that the studio has established its own values and rules. Everyone works within the same language, and follows the same principles. Extensive and complex designs can not be realized unless the work is divided amongst a group of like-minded architects. This stimulates constructive debate and discussion from which appropriate alternatives emerge. Making buildings is a lineal process where one stage of work follows another. It is difficult to go back into a previous stage. But design is an iterative…a back and forth process! The two are at odds! There is an art in resolving this contradiction between making buildings and making designs, also.
While the campus is a single, unified composition, like a symphony, it has its own ‘movements,’ or components, with their own internal rationales. Some of these components merit analysis.
The Mahadwara is the main entrance to the college. It is the portal! The centerpiece is an ancient wood door from a wada. The door is so large that it needs a door within a door for daily access. A large masonry structure holds and orients the door. It induces one into a movement system, leading one down a meandering lane closed in by massive stone walls, into the heart of the campus. The feeling is very medieval, as if one were in an ancient Maratha Fort, or an Italian hill town.
The door opens due North, and one enters the campus on the auspicious North-South cardinal axis. The Mahadwara has its own unique shape and mass, much like the entrances to Egyptian hyperstyles along the Nile River. The use of such an “anchoring” device to set up directionality within a diverse and complex design, adds a unique sense of place to the campus. The Mahadwara sets one in motion, establishes a landmark, fixes a cardinal point and lays out an axis. It is the beginning of a system of signs, or ‘mudras’ which give meaning to the composition.
The Academic Quadrangle is the heart of the College. It houses three large faculty rooms, an open student lounge, and twelve classrooms. These are all connected by a low pavilion which skirts around the interior quadrangle, which is densely planted. On the outter side, each classroom has sliding glass panels facing private courtyards and gardens where learning activities can extend out-of-doors! Again, as in CDSA, low verandahs protect the glass panels and act as basins to collect water from the sloped roofs. The cardinal directions which rule the campus layout, radiate out from the center of the Academic Quadrangle, moving North [toward the Mahadwara], South [toward the Multi-purpose Hall]; East [toward the Catering Center] and West [toward the College Lawn framed by the Library and Art Center]. The views and sight lines which link all of these interior and exterior spaces are highly articulated and moulded. One means of doing this was in the treatment of the end walls of the four enclosing components of the Academic Quadrangle. In one case the two walls turn at 45 degrees leaving only a narrow, eight foot wide passage focused toward the Catering Center [East].
On the opposite side [West] the two walls are perpendicular, providing a wide open, generous view toward the College Lawn and on to Mulshi Lake, with the mountains in the distance. The North-South openings are intermediate conditions, with one wall turned at 45 degrees and the other at 90 degrees. The subtle manipulations of the openings in to the quadrangle create an illusion that the Academic Quadrangle is a free form structure. In fact it is a very tight pattern, composed of parallel bearing walls facing into the open quadrangle, much as large farmers houses orient toward a central work court. Views through the four open corners add intrigue to visual sequences. There is a ‘bas relief’ mural, depicting a mystical river, meandering around the low ceiling of the connecting pavilion in the quadrangle. The edge condition between the central garden and the covered walkway is handled with stone bearing walls, and cylindrical exposed concrete columns. These are all positioned to control views and emphasize sight lines.
The Administrative Building was designed after the Academic Quadrangle was fully functional, so I started the design by extending one of the large, opening walls of the Academic Quadrangle, which I wanted to pull right up to the Mahadwara. This ‘long wall’ would pull people along with it! Right from the beginning I wanted some kind of central atria with the offices projecting off two sides, as if half the Academic Quadrangle was repeated as a cellular growth off one of the Academic Quadrangle walls! The scheme called for a Headmaster’s room, three Directors’ rooms, a Faculty room and two large work areas for reprographics and accounts. These, and a Board Room, would all be connected by a low secretarial area, with sitting and waiting spaces. Early on in the design the “long wall” was shifted in a parallel manner, mid-way, to provide an entrance porch. This break accentuated the narrow entrance passage connecting the Mahadwara with the Academic Quadrangle. Finally, the Board Room was “freed” from the main structure and turned at an angle. Like the Academic Quadrangle, verandahs between the offices and the gardens are employed to shelter the glass sliding panels. The verandah roofs, as at CDSA, act as water collectors from the inclined tile roofs over the offices. Though the plan is very strongly determined by programmatic requirements and functional considerations, there is another compositional layer of thinking which was equally determinant in fixing the final scheme. Massing, forms and spatial relations were all studied, altered, manipulated and re-structured to give the desired result. The roof of the Board Room was kept flat so that the diagonal, due west view from the Science Center would not be blocked when it transversed over the Administrative Building to the Mulshi Lake in the distance. In a similar manner the entry, waiting areas and secretaries area were kept low. This also provided a very human scale in the entry ensamble, and a generous scale change upon movement into the offices. All of these low areas spin around a glass wall, bringing a small garden, and light, into the center of the composition. Thus, spatial manipulation, light and movement were other layers of thinking. The Amphi-Theatre
The college campus is as much an out-door environment, as it is an indoor one. A number of landscape features are used to link various structures to the gardens, earth mounds, orchards, tree grooves and lawns. These structures are used as visual devices which tie diverse shapes and forms into a unified whole. The Amphi-theatre is essentially a wide staircase, which I would compare with the Spanish Steps in Rome. It is a humble reflection of the same concept.
Steps are more than a way to go up or down, they are an event! I romanticise such elements as land locked beaches where people can gather to sun themselves in the winter air, or to lounge about and admire one another.
The Amphi-theatre space is divided by a wall, with “cut-outs” to peep through, placing a ramp behind it. Young people like to look at each other, and to be looked at! They are at an age where physical beauty and the challenge of beautiful ideas vie for their attention. How one dresses---sloppy or neat---carries meaning! A college campus must address this need to ‘be seen’ and ‘to see,’ as it is an important aspect of personality development. It makes the experience of architecture a very real, and a very personal one. Perhaps only the Greeks understood this.
The Amphi-theatre opens onto a wide-open stage, composed of a paved platform, with a green carpet of grass beyond. The jagged mountains act as the backdrop. The Amphi-theatre serves as a connector between the Academic Quadrangle and the Multi-purpose Hall, which sits eight feet below. The containing walls, which are continuations of the Multipurpose Hall and the Academic Quadrangle tie the elements into a unified composition. It is like bringing Miami Beach to the Sahayadri Mountains, or Rome to India!
The Multipurpose Hall
The design of this vast interior space has to meet a number of diverse requirements. It has to house the annual International Baccalaureate exams, with specified table sizes and spaces between each table, in addition to the air temperature and light levels. It has to function as an auditorium with a stage, green rooms, focused lighting and seating. The space is used for yoga, dance, music programmes, drama, lectures and convocations. Most important, a clear span space of 5,500 square feet had to be provided, and the air conditioning system had to be housed in an unobtrusive manner.
The high ceiling is spanned by a triangular lattice structure, with smaller triangles set within still larger ones, in order to generate a hierarchy. Each of the six larger structural triangles has a skylight over its central small triangle. The result is a honeycomb effect articulating the large area into human scale modules.
The air conditioning system plays a formative role in the design, with the air diffusion louvers forming a continuous ring around the interior space to ensure balanced temperatures. Compressors in different towers can be utilized singly, or all together, so that one can optimize energy consumption, yet diffuse air through the same distribution ring. Thus, integration of the services with the structural system was a formative aspect of the design.
Four large towers house the mechanical equipment above and provide space for green rooms and storage below. Between these towers are glass sliding panels, opening onto terraces on the east and west, and onto covered verandahs on the north and south. These huge glass panels frame vast panoramas of the distant mountains. The sloped roofs over the verandahs and towers reflect this dramatic landscape, and tie this large structure in with the theme of the campus. Most of all, the various forms, slopes and openings are deployed effectively to break down the mass of what otherwise would have been a huge box! We have located this structure on the lowest elevation, keeping its roofline under the adjoining building line, connecting them with walls, amphi-theatre steps and a generous ramp.
The campus is envisioned as an organism which can live like a city or a town. Mass education, and mass media begin to numb our senses when a learning environment is placed in an infrastructure grid, such as an American high school, or into a megastructure concept.
It is a basic principle of cognition that, the universal can be perceived only in the particular, while the particular can be thought of only in reference to the universal(17). The homogenizing effects of mass media tend to simplify everything. In architectural schemes a similar trend occurs. Megastructures tend to say “everything is the same: a room is a room.” Structural glass walls have a similar message. This over-generalizes everything. On the other hand people are making these obnoxious individualistic statements on their isolated little plots. Both are uniforms, when a pluraform is needed!
I designed the Library a few months after I designed the Academic Quadrangle. I was worried that our campus would become monotonous, over generalized and boring. In such a situation it is the nuances of the general which provide meaning. A library is not a classroom. It needed to be celebrated in a different manner, yet it required the same kind of generalized language, a language which grows out of the landscape, materials available and the craftsmen’s technology.
Thus the materials, the motifs, the proportions and scale are a mere continuation of the over-all college generality, while the “foot print” and pattern take off on their own. They are particular. A long wall boldly directs the view toward the valley, distant mountains and sunsets. As in the Administration Building, the wall is broken in the center, and half the wall is pulled on to its own parallel alignment, providing an opening porch. A parallel line of sky lights, columns, beams and ceiling light tracks run through the structure, while the glass atria and folded, enclosing wall take on their own, yet rigorous, geometry.
The hill slope is used to provide a higher ceiling in the reading room, as there is a split-level from the entrance area, which one stepping down into the reading room. The shear glass wall which twists external space into internal atria space, contains a dense garden and acts as a light well. It fills the walled-in volume with radiant greenery. Again the design works on a number of distinct, yet inter-related planes of thought. One plane is how the internal space is sculpted, and how the external form contributes to the over-all experience of the campus. Another layer is the structure of bearing walls, parallel columns and parallel skylights. Another layer is the pattern of function, movement and program. Finally, there is a layer of “light,” and how various components of the language integrate “visual demands” [sight lines; atria focus; structural alignments; kinetic columns] with lighting. For example, the vertical slit windows bring light directly onto columns, which use their curved surface to diffuse this light back onto the interior walls. Finally, all of these layers are integrated into a stable and unified composition.
Repetition is an important concept in music and in architecture. In a fugue a series of notes becomes a thematic pattern, which is repeated over and over again in a manner which explores the potentials of the pattern! The same concept is employed in Indian classical ragas, wherein the musician has more choice in his personal exploration of a given set of notes. Interpretation plays a greater role. In architecture the language is one of the systems where repetition occurs. That is like a fugue. But the patterns provide more freedom, like a raga, as the architect has to understand what is articular about each structure! At still another level, architectonic elements can be repeated. For example, the turning glass wall connected to an entrance porch, formed of a main wall broken in the center, and set on two parallel lines, was used later in the administration building.
The Anjali Anand Art Centre
While I believe I find my roots in the Rationalist School of Design, I feel one can extract tremendous variety out of very logical paradigms. The three studios of the Art Center fly out from a central courtyard like the huge wings of a mysterious, prehistoric bird, taking the visual gymnastics of the campus to extremes, yet maintaining a very logical organizational fabric. The studios are used for multi-media work---painting, print-making, sculpture and sketching. There is a small pottery court with a kiln attached.
The courtyard verandah and studios have characteristic murals in their exposed concrete ceilings. Either a flock of birds pass overhead, or various reptiles appear to swim above. Two giant snakes intertwine each other, as they move about verandah ceilings. Celestial stars, moons and “faces in moons” play about on the studio ceilings.
At the most generic level, my early sketches for this structure were composed of simple parallel walls, with glass sliding doors opening to the central courtyard. The parallel stone walls turned in a “U shape,” enclosing three sides, using skylights to illuminate the deep ends. The large glass walls at the ends of the studios evolved later. In fact the students of the college, who I was interacting with, demanded them! The studios focused into a courtyard, which is articulated by kund-like steps, focusing down into Mulshi Valley. These parallel walls gradually shifted, as did the elevations and roof angles, until a totally new composition evolved. Large structural glass windows allow light from the north-east, north and north-west to flood the studios. The result is a very powerful, apparently free form, composition. This structure was one of the last we designed for the college. While some of the elements [a “light pilon” to be seen from the valley below] are not complete, the structure epitomizes what our studio has been attempting throughout the campus. The language is still tight, yet the pattern is very particular, molded to a specific activity. It is functionally structural, while visually unstructured.
The Science Center
Several components of the campus are purposely Cartesian; they are on a strict grid. This is in blatant contrast to the angular composition. The introduction of this “difference” gives meaning to the norm. It was also fitting for the program of the laboratories, which had to be “fed” by preparation rooms and accessed separately by students. Three covered pavilions, at a low [7’-6” high] level connect the entrance, the internal quadrangle, and an informal gathering space at the deep interior. Each is penetrated, above by a circular cut-out opening. The alignment of these circular cut-outs, and the movement of people, is purposefully contradictory to the grid of the plan layout. A diagonal alignment is created. This “alignment” also creates a direction and vista line, focused over the Administration Building directly on to Mulshi Lake ten kilometers away. This reflects, and reinforces a similar diagonal axis and vista running from the Catering Center, through the Academic Quadrangle, across the College ….to the Lake. Again, repetition is important to bring out visual themes!
I like to repeat visual and movement experiences at different locations and scales, to emphasize their auspicious qualities, and to link people with nature, as these lines all relate to the sun’s path, to natural vistas and to elevational shifts. I believe spaces are very important in the realization of architecture. A very low space is an excellent introduction. There is then a transition to higher spaces! The movement from low to medium heights, makes medium feel large! People begin to live space, to feel it, to enjoy it. They begin to understand the architect’s game with space. They begin to analyze what the architect is doing, just like music lovers go again and again to hear the same composition. They get more out of it each time! What people find in the Science Center is that they have to move on a diagonal, and there are strong sight lines on the diagonal, but the “built space” is a Eucledian idea on a Cartesian grid!
Again, a contradiction is nesseled within the concept, and this contradiction demands a reaction! People are moving one way and working in another way! The circular “cutouts” into the entrance pavilion, into the quadrangle, and into the back nitch all act as frames. One sees the moon; a variety of cloud forms, or at night the stars glimmering---all framed and made important. Herein enters the concept of place! The Science Center is a unique functional and movement experience. It transcends, in the user’s psyche, into a special experience. It develops a personality of its own and one relates to it! That’s what a place is all about, as opposed to spaces, good or bad!
One other point. The porch, or the pavilion, is very classical. It portrays the same formal message as does a Greek portico, with columns and pediment. Again, this pavilion “presides” over the campus. It is a kind of statement that empiricism is a ruling force. It is not an absolute force, because other human values temper empirical facts, and channel these facts toward application. It is important that we know that the only truths which exist, must be subject to testing and to repetition! Such truths are rare indeed. It is more meaningful to search the good! This is what this composition is all about.
The Catering Centre
The Catering Centre is composed of dining, entrance, and serving handwashing/plate disposal areas. There are also washing-cooking-preparation areas; dry, wet and cold stores, as well as an office, electrical room and a laundry.
The central feature of the scheme is the large cauffered triangular ceiling, sixty feet on its three sides, broken further into four triangles, thirty feet on the sides, with each of these being further sub-divided into sixteen triangles. The central cauffers in the four intermediate structures are sky lights.
Sitting nooks are created by attaching 30-foot stone masonry triangles to the sides, with the remaining thirty feet being glass-sliding panels opening to generous verandahs. The complex is the highest in the campus, and has unobstructed views out to the mountains and valleys. The low verandahs framed in the massive stone nooks and dining hall work to bring human scale into the scheme. The large exhaust chimney over the kitchen is used as a landmark for aligning vistas.
The Student Centre
The Student Centre illustrates the diversity of ‘publicness’ in today’s society---the influence of building context and function on human interaction(18). Public spaces that sensitively reflect context and function instill in their users some underlying public bound, or a collective subconscious. The recognition of a collective subconscious is one of the intangibles that breathe life into true architecture. It turns spaces into places. Tucked into the hill slope, the Student Centre acquires its genius loci from its given context. Just as a Greek gymnasium engendered both physical and mental development, the Student Centre caters to a wide variety of activities, including aerobics, games, hobbies, refreshment, the college newspaper room, music, and discussion groups. There is a small hall for parties and discos. This facility is the center of the residential cluster, allowing students to use it around the clock.
The Student Centre is an ‘energy centre,’ from which energy lines radiate out. The campus is formed of energy centers and energy lines, along which people move.
The design is based on a folded stone retaining wall, which holds the upper hill slope. This wall is composed of six vertical light shafts which reach up into the sky. Each shaft holds a room, or niche, for activities. A folded glass wall separates these spaces from a generous verandah, which frames a dramatic view of the Sahayadri mountains.
The Student Centre is not an area for amusement, or time pass. It is an area for ‘re-creation’ and entertainment. It stimulates the mind, stimulates skill development and develops character. The building catalyzes stimulation. It has to generate activity! The activity rooms curve around the large verandah. The light shafts, with sky lights, follow the sun! Again, the walls and bearing structure have one pattern; the column and radial beams another structure, the spaces still another and, again, movement another. The sense of place created is the constant force!
Where Do We Go From Here
The design of an object can be just that! It can be a solid, fluid form which looks like it is moving, but it is not! Such plastic shapes are conceptualized on one layer of thought, which is that of photogenic form. Even sculptors have moved away from such a simple conception, introducing moving parts. Caulder’s work not only looks like it is moving, it does move, and as one walks past a Caulder, everything around moves! Kandinsky moved away from static images through his kinetic sketches. But architecture is a magazine hungry art, and has regressed back into the exercise of object design, not be experienced, but photographed.
Architectural design has to be conceptualized through the design of elements on different layers, which are then integrated through an accomodating concept. These layers would include the architectural language, the functional plan-diagram, the external form and its response to context, the circultion network, light, the kinetic movement idea, the assembly of structure, the network of services and many more layers. Each has a structure, or pattern, which has to adjust to all of the other layers. This final integration, or accomodation, is achieved through the device of a main structure, or a concept which integratres these layers. Analysis of these layers, and the adjustment into a main structure happens at all scales of design ranging from miniature paintings up to regional plans.
There is a continuum of design thought ranging from regional plans, urban plans, campus and neighbourhood designs, individual building designs, murals and furniture. Design is similar to the Russion dolls which fit one inside the other. But there is a major difference. Each design has scale boundaries which limit its size and articulates edges, internal structure, and networks. Even an ‘endless grid” like Manhattan meets its river boundaries abruptly, demanding a park or a marina! In other words while our dolls within dolls are similar, they are also very different! Yet the themes and principles, which integrate and give meaning to buildings and campus designs, are also relevant at the city and regional levels. In a campus plan we have a rare opportunity to ‘try out’ ideas which have relevance to the larger society, and to the far vaster canvas of regional and city planning. There is also a link with smaller spaces and objects!
Campus plans are micro cosmos of much larger ideas and concepts. What we achieve, or fail to achieve, in such a confection casts a shadow over the potentials of larger scenarios. An individual building becomes a more annal retentive kind of exercise. It is the small child struggling with its own reality and its own identity. That is the way campus plans are conceived today. A campus plan which is merely a group of annal retentive children, each put in its own crib where it can yell and scream for attention is a tragic kind of failure. Whether it be the University of Cincinnati, or Harvard University, clients are not building environments. Rather they are collecting things. They have one piece by Pei, another by Sterling, another by Gehry, yet another by Venturi! All of the annal retentive infants are yelling and screaming. Entertaining as infants are, there is a colossal cost involved here. A campus must do more than mirror the narcissism of suburbia! A campus, like a university, is a microcosm of the whole. It is a fragment of the cosmos, making a statement about the nature of man, about mankind’s future!
The very nature of culture and communitas is at stake here. I propose that culture means patterns of behaviour which persist over time. Artifacts ‘fix’ that behaviour, and contribute to the determination of traditions. What we design and what we build, and what we infer, and what we ‘fix,’ IS THE NEW CULTURE.
What architects and planners are saying today is that each one is on his own; they are saying ‘get what you can while you can.’ They are saying that self gratification is the goal of society, and the purpose of culture! This is a historical reverse and a tragedy. This a contradiction to the essence of Ekistics!
The campus of the Mahindra United World College of India is a counterblast to these false preachers of New Urbanism and Post Modernism.