Mr Ar Christopher Charles Beninger,
India House, Sopan Bagh, Balewadi, P
7th October 2017
I am writing as an alumni of the batch of ‘91, a student of Prof Varkey and Prof Doshi, an apprentice of Prof Varkey and Prof Vasavada, as an architect and finally as Campus‐in‐charge of the CEPT Campus Development Cell way back in late 90s. I am someone who also respects you and your ability to produce sound works of architecture. My concerns are surely sounded of, amplified and articulated by many of my batchmates; colleagues; teachers and the community who have become sort of guardians of what all we have come to believe of CEPT.
The campus at CEPT is not the buildings only, but its trees and birds and water that flows on it and the ground it occupies. As Prof Raje taught us, a building has two ends, one that meets the ground, and the other that meets the sky. He fondly used to ask “how is your building talking to the sky?” The building on CEPT campus, and those in the city that you drew reference from in the beginning of your presentation amply justify what I mean. WE grew up on an architecture dose of simplicity; multiplicity; frugality; open and transparency of spaces. We were shown these tenets of architecture not only in words but in actions, by buildings.
I enumerate some of my concerns for you to consider as you have so whole heartedly invited suggestions and comments.
- Vision diagram. While we (essentially Prof Varkey and myself in guidance of Prof Doshi) were developing the extension of CEPT, sometime in October 1998, Prof Doshi hand drew a diagram of CEPT campus, with all its buildings and trees and water and their relationship. That formed the basis of the work we did for the next few years. A close look at this ‘vision’ of CEPT development will throw light on what he meant by ‘the philosophy of CEPT’. There was a world view in it that encompassed all the development present and proposed. It incidentally outlines all that you are proposing.
- The Kund. The diagram I am referring to, will show you how the Kund actually was always connected with the buildings. And how the ground fed it with rainwater. It is relatively “not” visited as you say, is due to its very nature. It is a repository of excess water during the monsoon, and remains dry with natural vegetative growth all year round, till the water floods it again. It is the most sanctified and rarefied portion of land on the campus. So near to the hustle and bustle and yet so secluded. Hydrology tells us that all water body have an inlet and an outlet. Similarly, this kund is fed by water all the way diagonally across the campus. My feeling is that the new development including the canteen as well as the way the plaza has evolved presently, completely cuts off the water channel to the kund. The 3‐d so clearly shows how the kund is actually being confined by the retaining walls of the new building. The cases of many small and big lakes in and around Ahmedabad‐‐Sabarmati as it earlier was—seems to be forgotten. Again, the water you so well have shown in your 3‐d may not actually come there so easily. Note: The water management system that you want to put in place needs much more actual data crunching and ground work. I request, that this need not be done by a ‘specialist’. Us architects, as simple common people are very capable of handling water and its ways.
- The approach & the lawns. The axis from the north gate takes you under the FA building towards the central open space, the present plaza—‘the dust bowl’ as you say. To me that is the soul, however dusty. But is hard landscape the only solution? Creating the new movement path, the campus promenade as you call it, is only going to bring confusion. There exists a clear path imbibed in the students and users as to how to go to the canteen quadrant of the campus. That is through the basement of the FA building. Thus, you can easily come out on the other side of the building climb the stairs and reach the new facility. More importantly the ground is saved. All this while, the lawns has a very gentle termination of brick edging. Carefully maintained; I recall, Prof Varkey’s sketches when we were designing the North Approach. How the horse grass should be grown alongside the ‘badoli’ creepers. One with yellow flowers. How, it will cover the ‘harsh’ brick edge of the pavement. Thus, as you enter the campus, you had a soft start to the lawns on your right, and a low concrete coped brick wall to the left. Beyond that parking. It was unambiguous, direct. You walked down the stairs and turn left. No need to find directions. By creating two movements, immediately at landing, will dilute the clarity of movement paths. You will also have to remove the ‘champa’ groove; as you have inadvertently done. Again, the ground is treated very gently at this point. Three steps, leads you to the ground, that is partly grassed and partly open, depending on the activity that has taken place there. But always, the lawns takes over as you see the horizon. You run to the slopes of the lawns.
NOTE: The brick paving in front of the lawns is very recent!
- The lawns. The lawns has two mounds, the valley specifically created and placed in order to be able to see the road and thereby some movement, from under the building, if you are sitting on the north steps of the FA building, now of course, that is gone. The valley was once much narrow and deep, for water to go across during heavy rain events. Now that does not happen. The stark concrete low walls/seats that are seen in the presentation is actually going to create a huge barrier between the ground and rise of the lawns. My fondest memory of the lawns is rolling down it! By the way, the flowers that have become point of contention, will actually not grow, since it’s in the North! No sun falls at that location; just under the facade of the building. In fact, the whole facade get very little direct sun; we used to sleep in the afternoons just outside the building there.
- The hinge. The place where you have hinged the new building, actually could have been just ahead on the same alignment, but in front of the FA building. You could have produced a very gently connection with the double volume of the existing Architecture building to the new design. No need for the elevated bridge! Advantage: Your anxiety for the railing is solved.
- The building. I feel, it’s too large for the available land there. Humble request to refer to the CEPT vision diagram. Due to lack of clear drawings –plans and sections I am unable to say much. However, a smaller building with perhaps a little less studio and seminar spaces, may have to be accepted, but in the process, the trees will do the job that the screens will have to do. You will not need any protection from the east or west. And perhaps even the south, since tree number ‘02’ may do the job for you. The new building may fit in snugly in the available open land, and the hinge and the movement will be automatically sorted out in the existing scheme. Advantage: You don’t need to alter the topography of the lawns and the kund at all.
- Green measures. I hold back, as I believe you would certainly make the building truly viable, responsive to the needs of the day and worthwhile than the measures you have enumerated. Note: A simple white wash on the roof is as valid and viable today as it was ever before. And pv panels, is anyways going to cover large part of the roof and therefore protect it from any kind of solar heat gain. Why insulate the roof?
- Openings. I agree to your idea of movable screens so that light can be controlled to the requirement. However, Ahmedabad has a long tradition of crafts. Some master carpenter can create this system. A school of architecture should be the right place to produce a system that is worthy of emulation and discussion and improvement later by the society at large; that shows the sense of exploration of material and assembly. A full scale experiment. Why bring off the shelf readymade screens? I here remember late Prof MC Gajjar and his unique masterly solutions to such building assembly. (I am misty‐eyed as I write). Here’s a chance to create a path‐breaking solution to control light. Perhaps, that’s why we remember Golconde, Pondicherry even today.
I have written these suggestions in all earnest so that it can possibly help you to refine and articulate the new additions to the CEPT campus. Hopefully it will also help maintains its spirit, that we all have so well imbibed and carried it to wherever we have gone and whatever we are doing.