Cities are formed through the interaction of several diverse forces - social, religious, economic and physical. These forces combine together and influence the form, characteristics and experience of the city and its inhabitants. However, as our cities grow larger and denser the pressures exerted on them by these diverse forces start to become conflicting rather than collaborative. Today, the very diversity that once activated our cities threatens to dissolve them.
Urban growth is increasingly taking on a pattern of fragmentation and seclusion that threatens the idea and existence of a singular urban totality. These cities produce extreme spatial typologies that range from elite compounds to refugee and squatter camps. In Delhi in particular, gated housing enclaves, university campuses, covered shopping malls, all tend to develop into partitioned and controlled zones that retain a connection to the city only through a limited number of access points. Public space, traditionally understood as the ultimate space for social encounter and equality, is being eroded through the conflicting forces of commerce and physical functionality. The challenge today is to meet these commercial and ‘lifestyle’ needs without letting our cities degenerate into concrete islands where no social interaction or balance is possible. ‘Terra-polis’ - the proposed campus design - attempts to address this urgent need to re-examine the idea of an inclusive city and translate it into specific intervention strategies.
As the pressures of urban growth intensify, natural habitats within the city have become the biggest casualty. They are damaged and destroyed as the juggernaut of ‘development’ transforms green covers and natural eco-systems into concrete jungles and glass boxes. Two-thirds of the world’s population will soon be living in cities. In order to make this urban development sustainable, we will need to achieve a balance between the three varied yet potentially complementary urban forces: social, environmental and economic. The key to the success of the proposed campus lies in the ability of the design to facilitate the conflicting elements of urban development and ecological continuity in mutually strengthening each other.
As an academic institution, through its core function, the proposed campus serves as a place for interaction and collaboration. The location and the nature of the institute thus give it the potential to counter the ‘urbanism of exclusion’ and the growing fragmentation of the city and its natural habitat, and instead propose an ‘Open campus’. The ‘open campus’ encourages and facilitates interaction with the city, allowing the city to participate in life on campus. It also encompasses the ecosystems on the site so that this interaction can thrive in its natural surroundings.
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The City as a Laboratory: As a laboratory on the ‘urban condition’, the campus remains profoundly in touch with the city around it. It encourages engagement with the city, it’s potentials and it’s problems, and this interaction is vital for the raison d’être of the institute and its vibrancy.
The proposed campus design builds on the idea of the institute as a centre for knowledge and innovation. It seeks to create an opportunity to analyze and study the dynamics of urbanization not only by observing the city but also by being an intrinsic part of the urban and physical networks surround- ing the campus.
As a part of this urban network, the institution seeks to become a place of participation and negotiation. This means that the conventional idea of the Campus is re-examined here; it’s borders re-defined, and the notion of public space inside and outside the campus reconsidered.
The Open Campus: The ‘Open Campus’ serves as an example of an urban condition that enables diverse groups to interact peacefully, creatively, and productively. The attempt, however, is not simply to create a fine-tuned integration machine. Rather than blending everything with everybody, it draws from the notion of an ‘open city’, which encourages distinct communities and groups to settle, interact, and establish dynamic relationships, thus creating a breeding ground for knowledge, innovation, and balanced growth.
Thus, in the Open Campus, the faculty, students and visitors are made aware of its multidisciplinary aspects and are encouraged to interact within the institute. At the same time, there is a sense of the ‘whole’ – the larger purpose that the campus shares within these multiple disciplines, which helps to guide these interactions.
The design of the Open Campus uses multidirectional building blocks, giving one the possibility to move from one arbitrary spot into another arbitrary spot in the master plan through numerous different routes. These multiple points of access increase the potential for communication in an enormous way. The Open Campus also seeks to create self-generating transitions between public and private realms in which the private colonizes public space and vice versa, so that an almost fuzzy transition between public and private is generated.
‘The battle for a sustainable society is won or lost in the city’
– Klaus Toepfer
Our cities today are a turning point. Many cities, especially in India, face big climate-change challenges: shrinking water supplies, heat waves, rises in water-borne diseases. As these challenges intensify, there is a corresponding decrease in natural resources and infrastructure available to address them. If our cities are to maintain their viability and vitality, urban architecture needs to look beyond current building trends and address the urgent need to develop design adaptations and robust infrastructure systems that draw from stable and sustainable building systems.
With a view to minimize its carbon footprint, the SPA campus has been designed to harness the natural resources inherited along with the site. An innovative combination of traditional passive climate response methods with more recent innovations has been employed. The resultant is an efficient machine that amalgamates with the microclimate, refusing to be a turbulent vortex that that such large developments often turn out to be. The importance of a sustainable design grew manifold as the site lies within the shadows of the ecologically sensitive Aravalli Biodiversity Park. The final output makes use of renewable resources effectively without squandering them, to create self-sustaining biosystems woven within the proposed urban fabric.
The proposed campus design addresses the need for a sustainable design solution through some of the following interventions:
- Reduction of energy consumption -Passive cooling systems
- Control of natural light
- Use of Solar energy
- Effective wastewater management -Effective solid waste management -Rainwater recharging
- Green Roofs
- Efficient material management
Eco-Systems: The location of the site puts the proposed campus not just adjacent to but within the eco-system of the Delhi Ridge. The proposed campus design seeks to maintain and enhance these eco-systems. A variety of landscapes are created using the characteristics of the topography, climate and vegetation cover. In order to reduce fragmentation of the Delhi Ridge important vegetation cover is maintained and increased through the new plantation in significant locations. Bio-diversity within the site is protected and promoted through various strategic interventions.
Location: The location of the site is at the confluence of several urban zones – educational zones (JNU campus and Delhi Public School), residential zones (Vasant Kunj), commercial zones (shopping malls). The proposed campus design seeks to maximize the potential for interaction between the site and these adjoining zones.
A critical design consideration is the two green zones adjacent to the site. The southern zone is a high-tension cable park, which is proposed to be developed into a public recreational park corridor with a jogging track, a cycling route, cricket pitches and babul forests. The northern zone is the Aravalli Biodiversity Park, which is being developed into a park with a great variety of indigenous flora and fauna. This park has a great educational potential for the general public and could become an attraction for the entire city, especially the adjacent local community of Vasant Kunj.
The design proposal is rooted in th belief that space for recreation is essential in a city and that this space should not merely consist of a few designated spots for recreation. The experience of a city can only be positive when the there is an intricate network of open, public and recreational spaces with a variety of uses, ranging in scale and differing in potential activities: play, sports, shopping, walking, jogging, meet- ing, gathering, etc. The Open Campus will add to this network with an almost iconic public space: The Canyon.
The existing canyon on the site, a leftover from past Mica mining activities, has an intimate character because of its enclosed spatial quality and is yet grand in scale. The Canyon can, therefore, become the ‘public face’ of the institute: both institutional and humane. Most of the more public functions of the SPA, such as the library, the gallery and recreational activities are placed along the canyon. Naturally connecting the Recreational Park on the Northern side of the residential area of Vasant Kunj with the Aravalli Biodiversity Park, the Canyon becomes the ‘doorstep’ of the institute. It is a connector allowing pedestrians to walk through it, and experience the city through a multiplicity of routes, thus encouraging interaction between the City and the Institute of the School of Planning and Architecture.
The Future Landscape: On completion of the final phase of expansion, the SPA Campus has the potential to grow three times the original size with a built-up area of 1,20,000 sq.m. This future expansion is factored into the design of open spaces and landscape in the first phase of the project, such that a large portion of the proposed plantation in the first phase takes into account the avenues, smaller parks, and shade requiring facades of the third phase of development.
The first phase: There are a variety of open spaces on the campus in the first phase, each with distinct characteristics. One such feature is the canyon, a shaded cool and refreshing place, enriched by the textures of Mica-stone walls covered with moss. Near the rainwater collection pond at the lowest part of the site, a selection of orchids and ferns provide a thriving habitat for insects and birds. The canyon being the connector to the Aravalli Biodiversity Park, trees that are common in the park, such as the Mahua and Soapnut, are planted in the canyon as well to achieve a continuity of vegetation.
Another feature is the Rock Garden - situated between the Central Library Building and the Canteen Building, the Rock Garden exposes the rocky terrain with cracks and fissures typical of the Aravalli Mountain Range. The lean-ness of the Indian Coral Tree enhances the meditative character of the Rock Garden and gives it a seasonal colour.
A third feature is orchards planted with the Bael, Indian Laburnum and the Purple Orchid. These trees, along with a butterfly garden will give the landscape both the seasonal pleasure of fruit-bearing trees as well as the visual excitement of festive colours.
The existing woodland on the site, comprising mainly Babul trees will be maintained and will be enriched when required. Along the Southern and Western facades of the buildings, it is proposed to create a buffer of deciduous trees which shed leaves only in the winter season, such as the Pipal, the Wavala, and the Shirish. In winter, these trees will allow the winter sun to penetrate deep inside the buildings and warm them while providing shade during the extreme hot summer months.