Over the last few years, there has been a rise in architectural competitions that invite practices to design premier institutional projects in the country. From IITs and IIMs to other large scale educational and public projects, this growing demand for international campuses reveals a promising future for the architecture fraternity. It’s an opportunity unlike any other, where one can explore new design languages in master planning, spatial design and built forms while navigating the evolving needs of these modern campuses.
Often these projects are assigned a nondescript land far away from metros. In fact, many institutes and campuses emerge in the outskirts of tier 1 and 2 cities. While these sites may not have the global character of a metropolis, the expansive availability of land is a significant plus in developing an enriching environment that caters to both primary needs like education and accommodations as well as social and community needs. Being separated from the buzz of city life also ensures that the design enjoys the best of both worlds — a global campus with a local, contextual flair. Hence, institutional projects usually employ locally sourced materials, crafts and labour in its build.
One of the most promising trends in this sphere is contextual and sensible architecture. A quick glance at some of the recently unveiled institutional projects showcases the rise in brick and exposed cement facades. For instance, for the Skill Centre building for Symbiosis in Lavale, Pune, the clients asked IMK Architects for “a natural, original, and permanent finish on the building”. So, partner and principal architect Rahul Kadri decided to create a textured building using bricks for the facade. Instead of ordinary brick walls, the team created a brick artform tilted on the inside as well as on the outside — a design that went through trial and errors before it could be perfectly executed.
“What could normally have been done easily using concrete was made possible in brick and looks highly impressive. Naturally compressed earthen bricks were used throughout the building and methods like brick-boxing were incorporated. The skin was designed with care and displayed exposed concrete and brickworks that flattered the green hills beyond,” elaborates Kadri. Brick as a facade material is ideal for such projects given the natural terrain on which these campuses stand, creating a pattern of continuity as he land evolves to serve a new purpose. But evident from this project, architecture firms are approaching the humble brick form with an experimental bent.
Besides materiality, the explorative nature of institutional architecture coupled with the climatic conditions of the site have made the need for secondary facades a non-negotiable element in design. Building screens and jaalis have been in use for decades but the way they are conceived and executed has changed drastically over the years. When conceptualising the Sandip Foundation campus, Sanjay Patil, principal architect of Environ Planners, gave equal emphasis on devising a contextually responsive facade design. Playing with light and shade, cement silica fibre board sheets are used as horizontal slats to create an envelope that provides relief from the harsh glare of the sun as well as protection from heavy rains. “This was also used to speed up construction as opposed to conventional chajja details. It separates the structure from the skin, generating a recurring pattern that gives an identity to the campus,” explains Patil.
Patil believes that architecture trends in such projects stem more from the human aspect than the need for avant garde forms. “A college campus plays an important role in a student’s formative phase of life. A sensitively designed one provides comfort, fun, and nurtures many young and fertile minds,” he shares.
With his extensive experience in the domain, Abin Chaudhari also emphasises the social element of institutional architecture that transcends fleeting trends. “It must address contextually the economical and sustainable conditions. Institutional designs should first address changing human behaviour and also allow more human interactions,” elaborates the Kolkata-based architect. Courtyards, landscape, amphitheatre style outdoor spaces remain crucial aspects. Spaces, inanimate as they are, are designed to be more humane and emotive when it comes to institutional campuses.
It was the question “can a space teach you how to care?” that transcribed into the design intent for IQ City Nursing College in West Bengal, a project from Abin Design Studio’s repertoire. “It is essentially an institution that nurtures young people to be empathetic efficient care givers. Effective communication, cultivated over time through interaction with people from various walks of life, plays a major role in sensitising one on the issues of others. The design focuses primarily on spaces that fosters such interaction and the exchange of ideas through communication,” explains Chaudhari. Creating spaces with an interactive angle is the defining trend in modern institutional projects — often achieved through subtle maneuvers in the schematics and planning.
Manit Rastogi and Sonali Rastogi
While the visual aspects impress, the role of building physics cannot be ignored. Budget constraints often demand that campuses rely heavily on passive strategies to maintain optimum thermal comfort indoors. Studios like Morphogenesis use their technical know-how both in traditional architecture and modern technology to ensure campuses enjoy the best thermal comfort and require less energy to operate. In the end, more and more structures today are informed by building physics than merely by the need for an “iconic” facade. However, it hasn’t prevented architects to envision striking facades for such projects, and provide the campus with an identity of its own.
“Better value does not mean building cheap campuses, rather it’s about creating demonstrative and sustainable environments. It should enhance teacher and pupil wellbeing, and limit future operational and maintenance costs while allowing architects the creative freedom to design spaces that are conducive to learning,” summarises Manit Rastogi, founding partner, Morphogenesis.