The heritage city of Ahmedabad is a busy one, and the arterial Commerce Six Roads among its busiest areas. Cut off from the hysteria of the city’s arterial route - Commerce Six Roads, yet buzzing with determined energy of its own is Ahmedabad University's new University Centre designed by Stephane Paumier which focuses on student engagement and discovery of the self.
The University Centre began as a concept two years ago - as a hub for students and faculty and to accommodate their growing numbers with time. Inaugurated this year and designed by Stephane Paumier of SPA Design, it now houses spaces for all the formal and informal activities, including meeting rooms, activity rooms, and seminar rooms to areas for leisure activities like food and sports. "The three buildings - School of Arts and Sciences, Amrut Mody School of Management, and University Centre - create the critical mass that is the backbone of the teaching capacity at Ahmedabad University, along with the older spaces dotting the periphery of the Campus," says Stephane. Student activity clubs, the University Bookstore where you can buy University memorabilia, reading areas, sports facilities, art rooms, faculty meeting arenas, the Wellness Centre, and the Career Development Cell - all find their space here. As a conscious thought, there is no direct connect to academics with the teaching and lab facilities parked in the other University buildings. Yet, it is all about interactions that pave the way for the development of the self.
The leitmotif here is interconnectedness - a central hub of spaces that fosters collaborative interdisciplinary exchanges outside the classroom. The University Centre blends seamlessly with the interdisciplinary intent of the University, as a nucleus of not just leisure but also of crucial engagement between faculty and students, as well as between students across disciplines, a potent blend of visionaries and thinkers. The staggering of floors makes the building appear much larger than it is and, importantly, allows students to spot each other from different floors.
The Centre is interestingly placed when one considers access to the Central Campus. Besides the main Ahmedabad University gate on the eastern side, the University Centre is easily the most preferred entry into the University. Stephane explains why basement parking was essential here: "The University Centre allows an ingress for vehicles, and it has an underground parking facility on two levels because we noticed the number of two-wheelers students bring in. The basement facility has liberated most of the Campus from the sprawling scooter parking that used to eat up its open spaces earlier." From the parking area, users directly move up to the food street for a morning coffee or tea before heading to their classes across the central park. The journey reverses in the evening when they pick up their vehicles to go home. Due to this activity planning, the University Centre is the de-facto gate to the Campus, a life-changer for the users offering a pause between their homes and classrooms.
"The culture of street food being crucial to the fabric of Ahmedabad and student life, it was essential to design the food court as an extension of the street, leading to a food street at ground level," Stephane says, explaining the rationale behind the food street that offers four cuisines. The street has a covered passage with outdoor seating and opens towards the central park with three huge verandahs. It also houses a student lounge and the University bookstore at either end of the 100-metre-long street. "The exciting bridge, Galata Koprusu that links Galata to Eminonu in Istanbul and has a string of restaurants below and views on the Golden Horn, inspired us. We visualised that the three verandahs opening to the park can also be used for music performances while sitting under the trees," he adds.
The 1st floor is an extension of the covered street with multipurpose rooms and clubs/activity rooms, immediately accessible from the ground level. The large multipurpose hall on the 2nd floor has a permanent stage for performance-oriented activities such as cinema, theatre, dance, conferences, and music. The seating comprises telescopic sliding bleachers that are otherwise stacked vertically on the wall. "We wanted to keep this place very flexible. As you can see, the sliding bleachers are pulled back to create an indoor open space to encourage sports such as basketball, TT, volleyball, and badminton," says Stephane.
The University Offices are located In the East wing on the 2nd floor, with the Office of the Dean of Students and the meeting rooms overlooking the central cut-outs and the exterior through verandahs. The 3rd floor is almost exclusively the faculty club and café that takes the entire East wing with a peripheral covered verandah facing the central park and the morning sun. On the 4th floor is the quiet reading space and the Career Development Cell. The roof is dedicated to a running track and a 6x6 futsal court.
Light and Space
"The large footprint of the University Centre, 96m x 36m, was a specific challenge to bring natural light inside its core. We worked with 3D models and visualisation tools to ensure adequate lighting by staggering the floors and allowing the natural light to flow down from the top and bounce up from the South-facing verandahs. As a result, the natural light crosses the building diagonally," explains Stephane. The nimble steel staircases that dot the internal space let the sunlight come from the East façade to the ground floor. Watch out for the days (May 1, International Workers Day, and August 15, India's Independence Day) when a direct ray of light comes diagonally at sunrise from the top of the East façade to hit the ground floor.
The University Centre is the first building in Ahmedabad to use concrete precast technology in its structure at a large scale for all the floors with the help of factory-fabricated hollow core slabs using thin cables (12.7mm diameter) instead of conventional reinforcement. The walls and beams are in-situ concrete, while the slabs are all prefabricated. As a result, 20 per cent of steel is saved in slabs versus a conventional building. It is also a dry construction type with limited shuttering waste, limited curing water waste, and excellent exposed concrete.
Besides the structure that uses less reinforcement, the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) systems have been designed to reuse water efficiently. The University Centre gathers the sewage water from the GICT and the School of Arts and Sciences buildings in addition to its grey water recycling for different purposes: irrigation, flushing of toilets, and the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) make-up water tank. The sewage treatment plan is located in the second basement and will be able to maintain the entire irrigation of the central forest. The futsal court on the rooftop is covered by a solar roof dedicated to energy generation, with 450 solar panels generating 140 KW of solar energy. The openings on the façades are all recessed from the façade wall and open on deep verandahs to avoid direct glare on the glass and unnecessary blinds and curtains.
About Stephane Paumier
Stephane Paumier came to India in 1996 as a young professional at the French Embassy in Delhi. He stayed further to open his studio with Anupam Bansal and Krishnachandra Balakrishnan, SPA Design, in 2005. He has taught and lectured in the Paris-Belleville School of Architecture, the Rouen-Normandy School of Architecture, the Societe Francaise des Architectes, CEPT Ahmedabad, SPA Delhi, and MIT. He is the recipient of the Silver Medal, Academie d'Architecture, Paris. www.spadesign.co.in