These innovative new education buildings at Thapar University in the Punjab represent a modern, international 21st century India, with a strong contemporary architecture, and evolution of typologies which accommodate both the intense climate and the intricate rhythms of academic life.
Working with Irish practice McCullough Mulvin Architects, who have delivered several projects at Trinity College, Dublin, and DPA Architects in Delhi, The University was determined not to fall back on established precedents, seeking iconic structures which would reflect its ambition.
The University’s brief included an overarching masterplan for the campus and several key buildings within it - including two sets of student residences, a sports centre and a large learning centre to incorporate a new library, lecture theatres and a computer science building. The project is a unique experiment, deeply embedded in time and space, construction and ideas extending over a series of years.
The Patiala site is a section of fertile Punjab plain. In the Punjab, flatness does not equate with lack of identity, which here is embedded in small natural adjustments and man-made changes; rivers, drainage, towns, roads set against and echoing the colours of the earth. The particularity relates to plan and low sectional adjustment, banked earth, raised causeways, formed from the earth around it. The mountains always stand in the background, a distant boundary, where the earth folds up. Choice of space is a man-made one. The enclosed university site is flat and rectangular, with a dense eucalyptus forest down one of the longer sides. The new architecture considers the whole campus as a landscape, and makes a new, more evocative natural geography out of the constituent buildings. These evoke and extend nature to form rocky heights and shaded valleys, and create a route through them from one end of the campus to the other. The project exemplifies strong environmental concerns, with ample provision of cooling and shade, and references to Indian design typologies and walled gardens.
A new covered walkway links everything for pedestrians, reversing the circulation pattern of the site. The Learning Centre is positioned towards the eastern end of the campus and forms its iconic gateway. The main Student Residence One is located at the western end, pulling the main route down to that end of the site. The second 500 bed Student Residence Two is positioned between them. The other facilities, along with existing buildings, stand along this ‘route through nature’, offering students and staff the opportunity to progress through the Patiala campus in a radically new way; protected from the weather whilst enjoying all the amenities of nature.
The first phase of student accommodation for Thapar University delivers space for 1200 students in 4 towers ( 3 further towers under construction ) around a new public space on the campus in Patiala. The L-Shaped towers are linked by an elevated garden podium which shades the public spaces and pavilions beneath from the intense heat of the Indian sun. Each of the towers contains generous double height and inter-locking social spaces on all floors while all bedrooms have access to a private sun-screened balcony.
The Student residences are conceived as one anchor of the overall masterplan, linked to the Learning Centre by a shaded walkway which connects the main teaching buildings of the campus. Looking at traditional buildings where shade and privacy is created with jali screens around verandahs or by cutting down into the ground, we made an artificial geography by creating a podium level linking our towers, under which all kinds of social exchange could take place.
We wanted to create a specific sense of place for students to live together, on a range of scales from the individual to the community. Using GRC (glass reinforced concrete, locally manufactured - and translating the red ochre soil of the Punjab into a filigree of red GRC screens, a unitary massing is created which lets light through to balconies and allows the massive concrete structures to read clearly from the social spaces to create a strong background rhythm to daily life and patterns.
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 campus is a microcosm of the city outside its gates, generating a series of places alternately buzzing and calm.
Valerie Mulvin and Niall McCullough founded McCullough Mulvin Architects in 1986, since then they have been joined by fellow directors Ruth O’Herlihy in 2006, and by Corán O’Connor and Ronan O’Connor in 2017. Together with other long-term collaborators, they work at a range of scales on public and civic projects including cultural buildings, libraries, healthcare, schools and University buildings, with a particular focus on place-making, context and innovative conservation. McCullough Mulvin’s approach is thoughtful, their way of building applicable in any culture and society. Combining contemporary insight with highly developed conservation skills, the practice creates innovative projects that fully integrate old buildings with new architecture. The studio’s work has been recognised both nationally and internationally, with award winning buildings, and is extended by publication, teaching and research.