In the midst of this barren landscape and its extreme climatic conditions, we imagine the Maharashtra National Law University as a place of retreat. The Oasis has always been a metaphor for a Paradise that is found in the middle of nowhere. Our main idea is to create such a contrast by making a typology that indicates a monastery-like dwelling, containing an oasis. Though it’s a time-tested typology, its expression is contemporary. This is a place that offers peace and tranquillity, for the collective as well as for the individual – a place that allows nurturing of the self.
A simple idea of resurrecting the dry landscape through gardens has guided the design process. These gardens provide shade, serving as a kind of retreat from the scorching sun. This subtle tension between the man-made and natural is like the archetypal tension between law/order and freedom. While moving through the ensemble, moments and atmospheres are also created by these light-filled voids – the garden courtyards.
Through creation of garden courtyards, the campus – which is of such large scale – is able to retain a scale of community living. These gardens act as intangible nodes, comprising surprises and secret nooks, to facilitate sudden encounters between students and faculty, which is a crucial catalyst in learning. It’s easy to imagine students walking, resting, and interacting in these spaces, enjoying different gradations of light and shade. While a large quadrangle – that doubles up as a play arena – lends the ensemble a centrality and an institutional scale, the more intimate meeting courts that surround this quadrangle allow for smaller groupings and spill-outs, creating opportunities to form a close-knit community. These courts are important centres of the campus life.
Dense, mixed typology
We envision the Maharashtra National Law University as a new type of educational campus. As a student-centric place, the proposal questions existing typologies of educational campuses to strive for a more non-hierarchical and decentralized typology. It does so by breaking away from traditional campus planning, whereby academic and residential life are treated as silos. Instead, learning and living form a single integrated whole here. More informality and mixing between zones allows for cross-fertilization between ideas, creating a perennially vibrant campus. The proposed campus deliberately subverts the institutional scale, being modelled instead on a compact settlement. The garden courtyards, with differential spatial intents, organize the whole campus as a dense, rather than dispersed, ensemble.
How does one create a welcoming campus in an unwelcoming climate?
The surrounding context of the university is barren. While taking a glance around the site, one may spot a few animals grazing on a land that is scarcely covered by shrubs.
Concentration, density, synergy, simultaneity and critical mass are the main features of the campus, not because of nostalgia for a traditional settlement, but out of absolute necessity in this climate. The campus reaches for the opposite of hierarchy, to create more flexibility and interactivity between spaces. While transcending a singular logic, it still maintains a sense of order in its overall configuration. A pluralistic approach helps to iterate the project’s volumes and create variations. The configuration strives to create memorable, interlinked spaces, instead of iconic ones. In such an informal and interactive setting, one can perhaps strive to express and encourage the manifestation of such principles of ‘justice’ as equality, human dignity and respect for diversity.
The morphology of the ensemble and its scale is based on studies of settlements in extremely hot and dry climates, like in Morocco and Rajasthan. On the basis of these studies, the morphology has been made concentrated and dense, instead of sprawling. The contiguous ensemble ensures that it is continuously self-shaded, making it comfortably walkable.
At the same time, the importance of the void in structuring a sense of community in a town is understood by observing crucial plazas in Pompeii, Siena, Fatehpur Sikri and Egypt. This interconnectivity between courts and paths allows one to walk and discover the unfolding ‘oasis’. At the same time, the density is released into a large void, which becomes a crucial public square.
The moment drops of rain strike, small channels of water flow through the site organically, as a result of the subtle slope towards the east, ending in two water bodies. To maintain this flow, uninterrupted by the buildings, was one of the generative ideas for the campus so that these two water bodies can serve to fulfil the needs of the campus throughout the year.
The site plan attempts at establishing a coherent order, while at the same time allowing for the informal sense that such towns have, which create opportunities to cultivate a sense of community. By creating a defined matrix and determining its proportions, the organization establishes a ‘rule’ that, at the same time, allows for freedom through variations – made possible by the ways in which the garden courts and streets form interconnections and networks. Overall, there is a clear relationship between the main void and the internal courts, which helps to anchor the entire ensemble together around the central space, while at the same time allowing for multiplicity.
A pre-fabricated approach towards construction is appropriate in the context of this seems harsh and remote land. A modular steel frame structure saves time and money and is energy-efficient. It is particularly suitable for this kind of a scale and climate, as undertaking normal construction under the scorching sun of this region could be detrimental, as well as time-consuming.
Looking at contemporary modular approaches by Eames, Mies and others, one quickly realises that a well-proportioned module, when repeated, produces not only aesthetically powerful spaces but also very flexible spaces – an aspect that is important for an evolving campus. The expression of the campus thus comes directly from the material deployed – steel.
In order to produce rational and flexible buildings that will stand the test of time, they are designed to be as simple as possible. With few exceptions, all buildings are conceived as straightforward rectangular volumes that change in length and depth to accommodate the different types of programmatic requirements. These self-contained modules form the units of the organization.
The few buildings that do not follow these rules are either the special pieces (like the library) or places where the uses imply a particular form (like the indoor sports facilities). The simple form of the buildings allows for efficient floor plans.
Considering that the campus will be built in an incremental method, deployment of a simple and repetitive module allows different programmatic components to grow in phases without constraining the functional and operational autonomy that a campus of this scale should normally have.
Services are optimised due to the compact nature of the campus and their network can grow in increments due to the inherent order of the campus.