Of new, swanky campuses

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 10 Aug 2017 09:34:31



Vijay Phanshikar,

Those were only models, but they had the capacity to transport you into an altogether different zone -- into the realm of academic campuses, into the almost surreal arena of man’s vision for a brand new law university. 

How should a law university campus be? -- was the question. And the leading lights of the Maharashtra National Law University at Nagpur deliberated on the specifications, which they gave to competing architects who came from across the country.

The outcome was those ten fine model campuses which the competitors envisioned. Only one was going to be the winner, of course. But every competitor made an all-out effort to envision the campus of the new university, its various components such as academic block, the administrative block, the residential quarters, the students’ hostels, the library, the playfields, the promenade, the waterbody, the green area, the internal road-system, the solar roofing, the food courts. Every structure had a specific thought for its purpose and the design.

Each component was weighed properly and positioned in the larger map. There were charts and there were artist’s impressions of how the buildings would look -- from outside and inside.
So much thought. So much deep consideration of various elevations and their respective purposes.

So much thought to energy generation and energy saving. So much thought to ‘sense of arrival’ as well as sense of
freedom from motorised transport on the campus. So much thought also for the students’ conveniences small
and big.

One design, of course, got selected -- on various parameters. Yet, before that decision was arrived at, the jury had to tear its hair off to make the ultimate choice. It is not without reason that architecture is such a complex discipline.

To the raw visitor to the exhibition at the Chitnavis Centre, each design looked terrific. He would select all the designs. He would endorse every competitor’s effort. He would want,
perhaps quite in madness, every design to be accepted and the campuses modeled upon. So, the visit to the exhibition produced only a lot of anxiety as to which of the designs would get ultimately selected.

The whole process was transparent, to say the least, and founded on uncompromisable norms set by the Maharashtra National Law University authorities and followed equally strictly by the members of the jury -- all iconic architects themselves.

One wondered moving around the exhibition why such an approach was not taken while designing the Nagpur University campuses years ago? Of course, the city has had its own good campuses such as the one of the Visweswaraya National Institute of Technology (VNIT), the National Environmental Engineering and Research Institute (NEERI), the National Academy of Direct Taxes (NADT), plus a few private schools and colleges like the Institute of Management Technology (IMT).

Many more swanky campuses are about to come up in the city -- like the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), the Indian Institute of Information Technology (IIIT), the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), the National Fire Service College and the like. Most of these institutions would have much better designed campuses, as per modern norms, as per the changed requirements of the institutions of higher learning.

Yet, the question clung to the mind like a leech does -- why did the people in the times bygone not pay much attention to development of
campuses hosting big institutions? For, even in those days, great architects did design places with innovative ideas to convert open spaces into very neat and disciplined campuses. Then, why did they not do it for all buildings in Nagpur?
Of course, the standard answer to this question is that the promoters of such campuses did not have the right kind of money.

This is bunkum, to say the least. This is nothing but excuse-seeking, or finding an easy way out!
For, those promoters did not want to exert, did not want to chase big dreams, did not see a vision that would transcend time and create an institution whose physical persona would match the purpose for which the institution was being created.

All these thoughts swirled in the mind as one moved around the exhibition, listening to conversations around, plus the explanations the promoters offered about how they went about the organisation of the campuses. The invariable thought was one of gratitude that a new vision is already working everywhere, Nagpur becoming a new place where growth is now taking place.

Yet, the difficulty is that over the years, the people of city did not find time and inclination to evolve a vision of their own. They kept chasing mirages that did not serve a purpose. They dreamt of national institutions to come up -- of course at the Government’s expense -- but did not even dare to harbour dreams of doing things on their own. And the institutional models the Nagpurians harboured were mostly very undefined, very loose, very unthought-of! That is the reason why their institutions were woven around ideas whose definitions they did not have.

A look at the Nagpur University Campus on Amravati Road is good enough to show how things are not to be done.
Against this background, what is being done for the law university campus is something almost out of this world (though not quite so). But one thing would be sure -- all the new development the city is going to witness in the next few years is not likely to gel with the Nagpur we know. This is not a comment on the design and the town-plan, but one on its huge mismanagement.

One reason for this is, as one sees the new things coming up, that the fundamental architecture did not provide enough thought for the upkeep and management. This is, of course, the human failure, and not of architecture.