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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Vidyalankar Reloaded, Mumbai, India

Planet 3 Studios reiterates radical design expertise with daring addition to a Mumbai college campus
Taking forward the progressive education agenda of the institute, this significant new addition to the larger Vidyalankar campus is an adaptive-reuse of a pre-existing industrial structure that is being retrofitted into a very unusual learning facility.

Enthused by the success of their earlier designed ‘Vidyalankar Institute of Technology’ building, the educators and the students unanimously elected to have Planet 3 Studios Architecture Pvt. Ltd design this 35,000 sq ft space.

The program dictated multiple learning spaces and labs that would be available as a shared resource to the individual faculties of the earlier building. Located across an internal campus street, this structure directly faces the larger institute but differs in scale and significance.

A post occupancy study of the earlier building provided insights into what was appreciated and accepted by the end users. They decided to push the envelope further with more design interventions that challenged accepted notions of educational facility design. In a sense, this building is an intellectual and physical extension of the earlier facility.

Gutted of its core, the bare shell is currently receiving a mezzanine floor supported on an independent steel structure. Walls and partitions of lightweight building materials will bend, twist and turn to become large student work displays, rock climbing walls, graffiti strips, light sources, braille scripted tactile story boards, and above the canteen, outsized lotus petals.

The design language is intentionally indeterminate, almost as a knock on the head to wake students out of mental stasis. A staircase with a railing evoking frayed, open edges of a traditional Indian wicker basket rendered in stainless steel, a slide connecting two levels, game board near the entrance and strategically punctured roof with skylights illuminating the interior corridors, all will reiterate the unique nature of this facility.

While the façade of the earlier building was subtle and quiet in deference to the industrial neighborhood, this building is much more exuberant and makes its presence known. The idea of a striking skin enveloping the structure emerged in one of the early interactions with the faculty and students contributing to the programming process. Some dissenting voices wanted to completely demolish the existing structure and replace with a new one. On a campus photograph lying on the table, one of the educators scribbled out the original structure with a box marker. Their view about preservation prevailed and we saved the scribble as a memento. Later, when the view emerged that this building had to be more visually striking, they borrowed from the interesting graphic quality of the scribble to create the skin.

This skin wraps over an external patio that serves as a partially shaded public space. With street furniture, service from canteen and WI-FI facility, they expect it to be another space that students will accept as their own. At night, the colored glass punctures opening from the canteen and reflective skin surface will add a bit of drama and turn this into a really ‘Cool Club’ of a college. Who says learning has to be serious?..

Design Team: Kalhan Mattoo, Santha Gour Mattoo, Rashmi Pachgade, Roy, Kanwal Deep Kapoor.
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