a country ready to be discovered and wanting to experiment, starting out from innovative and eco-friendly designs. three projects take us to the Delhi area ‒ now a star on the international architecture scene
Places still exist that stir the emotion of being unexplored. An architect is the first person who, by nature, seeks out this feeling, this sense of potential and vacuum able to power creative flair to its utmost. Yet not all architects ‒ just like humans ‒ are the same. Some architects are not driven by exoticism, by a wandering demon, but are coaxed on by a powerful impulse of the soul, by a need that propels them like the wind. This need seems to be an archetype that draws to certain places rather than others, as if they were darkly bound to some unexpressed area of the soul like kindred spirits.
Partly due to this unfulfilled desire, partly because of the situation the West and its cities are experiencing, architects are looking to India today. India is changing while still preserving its traditional identity, and it is backing architecture to slip into a new guise and become a star on the international scene. Our article looks at three symbol projects that highlight the direction the country is taking. Will there still be traditional mud-and-straw villages? Perhaps. But it is nevertheless pertinent (and fascinating) to talk of evolution, since specific Indian architectural features are combined with eco-friendly and efficient structures with a contemporary air.
The House of Three Streams by Malik Architecture, the School of Arts and Sciences by RMA Architects, and the Learning Laboratory at Thapar University by McCullough Mulvin Architects (a project winning The Plan Award 2021) even better illustrate why India is an authentic dream destination for architects.
If you're drawn to a different perspective on Indian architecture, we recommend the book The Master in India by Balkrishna Doshi and Bruno Melotto (Maggioli Editore). This journey reviews and looks into Le Corbusier's and Louis Kahn's approach to local traditions, and is accompanied by a recent interview, published for the first time, with Doshi himself ‒ a stimulating insight into the principles that have always inspired his architecture.
HOUSE OF THREE STREAMS || Layers of history dialogue with the landscape and modernity
This private residence nestled amidst enchanting monsoon forest in a mountainous region is close enough to the urban expanse of Mumbai to make it a welcome retreat; a carefree haven immersed in nature away from the incessant throng of one of India’s largest cities. Standing approximately 830 m above sea level, the house is surrounded by and looks out onto a mountainous context: the natural topography shapes and frames the whole architectural project and stands as an essential element in defining the villa. Indeed, the landscape has coaxed the ripening of ideas and concepts in stimulating and thorough design development.
Adherence to context is completed by observing, drawing on the potential of and using traditional building materials (local basalt stone, timber and brick) alongside contemporary ones (metal and concrete). Every section of the house has been oriented to take advantage of the cool prevailing breezes. The cooling effect of the site's mountain streams has also been harnessed within the design.
The steeply sloping site dictated the cascading multi-level plan: it accentuated the design need for a series of individual blocks that mould themselves effortlessly to the uneven terrain, to generate accommodation in harmony with the various levels. Similarly, the paths and outdoor staircases linking the different blocks follow the land's contours, crossing naturally formed clefts in the hillside.
The design also sets out from another major requirement of the brief: to not deplete the woodland and to build a house without felling trees. Thus its floorplan expands into the natural clearings: the forest comes up close to the edifice and acts not only as a picturesque backdrop to the house, offering a series of views of the surrounding landscape, but also provides precious shade for certain parts of the abode and privacy for its inhabitants. >>> Carry on reading at Issue 108 of The Plan
SCHOOL OF ARTS AND SCIENCES ‒ AHMEDABAD UNIVERSITY || A symbolic melting pot of knowledge
Recently inaugurated, the building housing the School of Arts and Sciences at Ahmedabad University (in the Indian State of Gujarat) is the result of in-depth reflection on what constitutes the essence of architecture. The new construction had to come to terms with its proximity to the pre-existing edifices built over the years as Ahmedabad University developed ‒ its nearest neighbour dates from the initial 1935 campus ‒ and to an adjacent green area. The co-presence of these different elements therefore dictated a significant symbolic role for the new building, as it had to integrate with the established campus while satisfying the need for renewal ‒ a trait made even more important by the new edifice’s position at the university entrance.
The School of Arts and Sciences also represents a new thrust in education, placing under one roof different branches of knowledge and juxtaposing disciplines such as biology, linguistics, humanities, mathematical sciences, physics, and social sciences. At the forefront of new thinking in learning methods and experimentation, this interdisciplinary approach now informs the school’s teaching and training techniques where the accent is on laboratory activities and interactive cognitive learning at various levels.
The building's layout facilitates flexible circulation, synonymous with people coming together and exchanging ideas, enriching interpersonal relations but also broadening the reach of the different academic disciplines as they cross paths. Accordingly, the architectural plan allows for future extensions and variations to the interior layout of the building. A core concept in this reflection on architecture is expressed in the pairing of internal flexibility with permeability towards the outside: the edifice builds on the idea of creating accessibility that 'runs through' a large triple-height foyer, providing connections between the adjacent woodland areas and the school. This atrium is central in the building, which is methodically made up of a volume sitting linearly along an east-west axis. The atrium is a place of 'potential', acting also as a venue representing the value of relational exchange. It offers students socialisation and relaxation areas that are on steps, open, free and immediate, plus access to the central library, with the functional and communicative force of a space that stands apart through its subtle architectural accents (materials and colours, including flooring and walls). >>> Finish reading at The Plan 128 and browse the project gallery
THAPAR UNIVERSITY LEARNING LABORATORY ‒ THAPAR UNIVERSITY || A student city
MCCULLOUGH MULVIN ARCHITECTS WITH DESIGNPLUS ASSOCIATES SERVICES
Thapar University invited this design studio to unify a disjointed campus by providing innovative buildings to deliver new types of learning spaces. Together with DesignPlus Associates Delhi, McCullough developed a masterplan to draw the campus together and designed a number of buildings within it: student accommodation and a 'learning lab', followed by a sports centre, a 'venture lab' and a university guesthouse.
The design 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 ten years. The Learning Laboratory is a new type of meeting space, an engine for education, a city for students; it mediates timeless forms and offers sophisticated spatial adventures. The project includes a library, lecture theatres and the science faculty, each in a tall red Agra stone volume with white marble detail, with the façades treated with louvred stone screens like traditional jali screens.
A podium structure runs between giant ramps at either end, as 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 all have atrium spaces of quite a different character: a zip-like tapering void for the library, and a shaped town square for the science building, while the lecture theatres hover over a built landscape. All three are crossed by dramatic staircases. Light spills from tree-topped 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.
The lecture block houses six halls 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 made of solid geometric forms, evocative of natural geography. The provision of cooling and shade limit solar gain, and the podium with pools creates a local microclimate. Nature runs through the design, from the existing trees (retained) to those on the roofs. >>> Carry on reading and browse the gallery for this project winning The Plan Award 2021