Architecture setting spatial priorities

Project: Vidya Devi Jindal Paramedical College, Agroha, Haryana

Architects: SpaceMatters, New Delhi

The architects were invited to design a paramedical college in the existing campus of the Institute of Medical Science in Agroha, Haryana. This building is a gift from a reputed industrial house whose roots lie in the city. The brief was to design a modern, state- of-the-art facility within the institute to provide affordable healthcare to a predominantly rural population. The design cues were taken from the existing campus which uses the vocabulary of Corbusier’s Chandigarh; and from the nearby ‘Mounds of Agroha’ which dates back to the glorious Indus Valley Civilization.

The college has been made like a mound emerging from the earth, hence, it is a low, horizontal building. Brown-coloured exposed concrete and red sandstone refer to the earthy colour palette of the prehistoric landscape. A triple height Gwalior-mint marble jaali/lattice-wall greets people at the foyer. The white jaali soothes the eyes in this dry and harsh region, while creating shade and bringing in cool air. The cuneiform symbols of the Harappan civilization make up the lattice wall, making it a site of tribute to the knowledge and prosperity of ancient India.

At the heart of the building lies a courtyard which was scooped out of the ‘mound’ to create a space for informal discussions and learning. The building has been aligned so that wind flows through this space, creating a shaded oasis that can provide a soothing ambience, equally conducive to meditation and debates. By situating an amphitheatre in this void, we create spill-out spaces as well as formal congregation spaces. Learning happens at any time and place, which is why formal and informal merge at the edge of this void.

The programme varies across the floors. There are four wings– north-east, south-east, south-west and north-west. The ground and the first floor host the academic spaces– a generous 7,000sq ft library, 11 lecture halls and seven laboratories. The plan halves into an L-shape from the second floor onwards, gently floating over the south-west side and with the north-east and south-east wings intact. The second and third floors host offices of the teaching staff and smaller libraries. The fourth-floor hosts academic spaces– classrooms and laboratories. All the floors are connected at three locations via staircases. A fourth, grand staircase is placed in the courtyard and to connect the ground floor with the first floor. This staircase was designed since the two floors had large footprints, and the local building norms required sufficient egress capacities.

The L-shaped library takes up the entire north- west and south-west wing on the ground floor. Enveloped in glass, it overlooks the garden on one side and the courtyard on the other. Flared mushroom columns, which meet the ceiling gently with an offset, give the impression of a floating ceiling. Creating this sense of lightness in a heavy, solid structure establishes a dynamic architectural expression making the building come alive!

The region faces harsh summers, and a large overhang is designed above the library in order to reduce heat gain from the west. At night, the library glows like a metaphorical lantern, akin to how education dispels the darkness of ignorance.

The rest of the ground floor has classrooms and labs. A courtyard-facing corridor connects the Nursing Foundation Lab and the Computer Lab in the north-east wing with those in the south- east wing, that is, Nutrition, OBG and Preclinical Science Labs. On the ground floor, all spaces have a line of sight with the greenery outside. On the first floor, the south-west wing houses two laboratories. Densely spaced vertical louvers are designed on the facade to protect the spaces from the harsh glare of the sun. Eleven large lecture halls, seating 50 students each are arranged in a U-shape around the courtyard. The lecture halls facing north-east have generous fenestration to maximise on natural daylight, while those in the south-east have angled corridors to welcome in the sunlight and to provide ample space for students as they move between classes.

The second floor onwards, the rectilinear courtyard plan halves into an L-shaped plan. All faculty rooms are placed here– ranging from tutors to the principal of the college. The angled corridor below opens up into a balcony on this floor, providing break-away spaces for small groups to get together. The north-east wing houses a library, a large common room and an audio-visual room. The library on this floor can seat 200 people and has been placed so as to take full advantage of the north-east light, ideal light conditions for long periods of study. A large common room provides informal spaces for students and faculty to collaborate. Beside this, there is an audio-visual room where students can watch educational movies.

The south-east wing, on the third floor, houses more faculty rooms, a demonstration room and a conference room. The north-east wing houses the third library and a generous multi-purpose hall, more than 300sq m in size.

The fourth floor is the top-most floor, housing four physiotherapy labs along with four classrooms. The angled balconies below become the angled corridors on this floor. The north-east and south-east wings house two classrooms and two labs each. The corridor in the north-east wing gets a beautiful view of the courtyard below while the corridor in the south-east wing gets a view of the rest of the campus. This change of views is crucial to add some dynamism in the everyday life of the users of this college.

Throughout the design, the use of materials has been judicious, and care has been taken to ensure longevity and minimal maintenance. A lighter structure has been designed using autoclaved aerated concrete blocks, thereby avoiding pile foundations demanded by a brick structure of this scale. Moreover, to ensure durability and robustness, the stone on the facade has been fixed with the help of an MS frame and SS clamps using a dry cladding technique instead of a more cumbersome wet the rest of the campus. This change of views is crucial to add some dynamism in the everyday life of the users of this college.

Throughout the design, the use of materials has been judicious, and care has been taken to ensure longevity and minimal maintenance. A lighter structure has been designed using autoclaved aerated concrete blocks, thereby avoiding pile foundations demanded by a brick structure of this scale. Moreover, to ensure durability and robustness, the stone on the facade has been fixed with the help of an MS frame and SS clamps using a dry cladding technique instead of a more cumbersome wet cladding one. Silicone coatings over the facade ensure that the sandstone does not absorb water, thereby delaying damage caused due to moisture. The facade has been designed to allow maximum natural light to enter while reducing heat gain. The louvers located in the west facade reduce the harsh glare from the sun.

What we learnt from these experiences is that good design aids education, infact architecture sets the spatial priorities for learning. Which means children learn from observing and imitating the built environment where they spend most of their day. They develop relationships to the sun, shade, rain, trees and other tactile abilities by observing and responding to how the built environment enables them to operate. We don’t have to create learning aids to teach children within the school, the architecture of the school is a powerful yet subtle learning space for them. It decides what is permissible, what is desirable and what is not.

Photo credit: Andre Fanthome, Noughts & Crosses LLP

Factfile
Client: JSW Group
Principal architects: Suditya Sinha, Amritha Ballal, Moulshri Joshi Design team: Suditya Sinha, Amritha Ballal, Moulshri Joshi, Pradeep Kumar, Harish Singla, Gaurav Gupta, Bharat Bhushan, Akash Kumar Das, Sandeep Singh Rathore, Sony Joshua, Akhilesh Yadav Consultants: Design Roots (Structural); DSR Engineering (Plumbing and Fire Fighting); – Engineering consultancy services (Electrical); TNE Engineering (HVAC); Nishita Mohta (Graphic Design- Facade Screen Motif); Maharaja Agrasen Medical College (Site Supervision); Kamal Modellers (Model maker)
Civil contractors: Rajeev Enterprises
Site area: 2500sq m
Project area: 8360sq m
Cost of project: Rs 21 crore
Year of completion: 2019