by Pooja Suresh HollannavarJun 17, 2023
Completed in 2020, the School of Arts and Sciences at Ahmedabad University, designed by Mumbai and Boston-based architectural studio RMA Architects, lay partially empty until the recent lockdowns were reversed. The community programs such as the ground plaza and library were in partial use. With the effects of the pandemic diminishing, students are now heading back to the university campus. This particular building by RMA offers us a unique moment to reflect on the elements of an educational building, when empty and when occupied, and the importance of social spaces within an educational building. Considering the location of the building within the Ahmedabad University Campus in Gujarat, India, the studio chose to design the ground floor of the building as a community space. This particular building is located along the path between the campus entrances and an older historic structure. This strategic location, however, came with its challenges. The four-storey structure is aligned with its longer edges facing towards the north and south.
Designed as a largely rectilinear structure, the cuboidal form of the building is conceptualised as a series of solids and voids, divided as segments across the breadth of the building's mass. With seven ‘solids’ and six ‘voids’, a central circulation spine connects all of the spaces along the horizontal plane. This diagram is perhaps the most pronounced on the ground floor and evolves into break out spaces on the upper levels.
When designing a building within an institutional campus, pre-existing circulation patterns become an important context. In the School of Arts and Sciences, the ground plane is modulated to create seating clusters and gathering spaces and acts as a hub for students to congregate and interact. In-situ seating and an amphitheatre are incorporated into the ground floor plan. In addition to the open spaces, one of the main programs that can be accessed from the ground floor is the central library. Featuring one of the two curved surfaces that can be seen in the structure, the library has an internal staircase that connects it to an upper mezzanine level and a coworking space, which can also be accessed from the first level.
The ground floor of the structure can be accessed from all directions, however, a grand staircase at the centre of the northern edge of the building does create a sense of an entrance. The vertical circulation of the building is strategically spread out to encourage a more dynamic mix of programs. The grand staircase and the entrance lobby, which features a triple-height space, appears to be the only access to the educational and classroom functions of the build. However, there are three circulation blocks, within the ‘solid’ segments two, four and six north of the central circulation that extends throughout the height of the building. The idea of these three staircases, hidden with the solid block, further highlights the grand staircase, which appears as a vertical connection between the porous ground level which seems to be open to all and art and science educational spaces on the upper levels.
Between the first and the fourth level, there are numerous internal staircases in addition to the three circulation blocks. Towards the west and the east edge of the building are two doglegged staircases. The mid-landing of these staircases becomes a separate floor plan. While this creates a break in the horizontal circulation, the importance of the vertical circulation in the educational building becomes more evident. It is also these two staircases that lead up to the terrace. The ground level and the terrace are the two open spaces in the building. In analysing the vertical movements pattern, one would notice that there is a continuous connection between the terrace and the ground.
This would seem to be a strategic move meant to encourage chance encounters. When one considers the fact that this is an art and science college, there is an assumption of there being a programmatic division within the planning of the building. However, the school is not divided into zones that see the labs and studio space as segregated entities. Rather they are designed in proximity to each other to create a rich mix. The large range of functions includes lecture theatres, research labs, seminar halls, classrooms, library and faculty offices.
The diagrammatic idea of designing the building as a series of solids and voids is also visible when one looks at the longitudinal elevations of the north and south façade. The solids feature minimal fenestrations and cut-outs and are finished with a grey colour. The voids feature a mix of glass and louvres in a wooden finish. The voids also have recesses and step back on the upper floors, and make way for the green terraces on the second and third floors. These green blocks add to the transparency of the voids. All the usable spaces feature a façade with a manually operated louvre system comprising six mm thick and 400 mm wide high-pressure laminated board Louvre panels.
Added as a way to control the amount of light entering the spaces, the louvres were added to aid in combating Ahmedabad’s hot and dry climate. The circulation is designed at the centre of the building to help with ventilation and insulation and the plants were added to the façade to help control the temperature through evaporative cooling.
Name: School of Arts and Sciences, Ahmedabad University
Location: Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India
Area: 2,00,000 square feet
Year of completion: 2020
Architect: Rahul Mehrotra Architects
Design team: Principal Designer – Rahul Mehrotra, Payal Patel, Robert Stephens
Design Team: Jay Vadodaria, Prashant Saudagar, Ashutosh Singhal
Interior Designer: Aakruti Architects
Landscape Designer: Amitabh Teaotia Designs