Thapar University invited us to unify a disparate campus by providing innovative buildings to deliver new types of learning spaces. Together with DesignPlus Associates Delhi, we developed a masterplan to draw the campus together and designed a number of buildings within it – student accommodation and a Learning Laboratory, followed by a Sports Centre, Venture Lab and University Guesthouse.
Our design (1million sqft) completes the campus grid with two ‘bookend’ hubs - the Student Residences and the Learning Laboratory. These are linked by a shaded 1.5km pergola walkway which will become the central spine of the campus along which further new facilities will be constructed over the next 10 years.
The Learning Laboratory is a new type of meeting space, an engine for education, a city for students; it mediates timeless form and offers complex spatial adventures. The design comprises a library, lecture theatres and science faculty, each in a tall red Agra stone volumes with white marble detail, the facades mediated using louvred stone screens like traditional Jaali screens. A podium structure runs between giant ramps at either end, a natural extension of the pedestrian route. Below, everything is inhabited within a forked plan; students congregate in the heat of the day around fountains, in the cool shade of a tall concrete structure.
The three buildings have atrium spaces of quite different character - in the library a zip-like tapering void, the science building a shaped city square, the lecture theatres hovering over a built landscape. All three are crossed by dramatic staircases; light spills from tree-filled roofs to the ground below and into the busy under-podium world. The structure is concrete at a series of scales: a grid of giant columns holds the podium, with herringbone soffits. Raked columns in the library touch as they meet. The lecture building has 6 theatres suspended back to back, from a giant order that frees up the floor plans and forms a datum for the dancing staircases.
The architecture is of solid geometric forms, evocative of natural geography. The provision of cooling and shade limit solar gain, the podium with pools makes a local microclimate. Nature runs through the design, from the existing trees retained, to the trees on the roofs.
We try to understand place and what is special about it. The populous cities of India are alternately crammed with busy people in tight spaces, and islands of calm and reflection - generally inside walled gardens, courtyards and buildings. Thapar University is a microcosm of the city outside its gates, generating a series of places alternately buzzing and calm. India is alive with energy and ambition - the requirement for education is like a torrent. The Learning Laboratory reflects this new energy - its architecture makes a new geography of place, about the Punjab, about sheltering from relentless heat; its solid geometric forms extend concepts of Nature to make a series of rocky hills and valleys where people learn, talk and live.
This is a contemporary concept founded on a sense of place, sensible to the traditions of Indian architecture. It is founded on strong sustainability and environmental concerns in a monsoon climate; it is built simply, using local labour and materials.
McCullough Mulvin Architects is a Dublin-based practice working internationally and in Ireland. Our projects express a deeply held ethos that the purpose of architecture is to explore place and time in context. Our work is based on sustainable principles of designing for people and respect for our material culture - which may sometimes mean not building, or building less. A particular expertise is in making carefully crafted new interventions to existing fabric, where our understanding of history combines archival research with years of judgement of individual site conditions. This is evident in a portfolio of work which balances the materiality of fine old fabric against appropriate contemporary interventions. Recent work includes: Butler Gallery in Kilkenny, Ireland (nominated EU Mies van der Rohe Award 2022), Thapar University Learning Laboratory in Patiala, India (DETAIL Reader’s Prize 2020) and Medieval Mile Museum in Kilkenny, Ireland (nominated EU Mies van der Rohe Award 2019).