Set against the vast, arid landscape of Wardha, the Mahatma Gandhi Antarrashtriya Hindi Vishwavidyalay [M.G.A.H.V.] Student and Faculty Housing does not flaunt its existence, despite a seemingly overwhelming scale. Designed by the Mumbai-based MO-OF Architects, the project is an attempt at a ‘non-design’ process in which “architecture is no longer either implicitly or explicitly seen as a dominant system, but rather simply as one of the cultural systems.”
Amidst central plains of India, lies the inconspicuous town of Wardha – among the most historically significant centres of the Indian Independence Movement and Gandhi’s avant-garde socio-educational experiments. In this spirit, it nurtures the growth of the Mahatma Gandhi Antarrashtriya Hindi Vishwavidyalay [M.G.A.H.V.], established to globally promote and develop Hindi language and literature.
Spread across a sprawling 212 acres, the master plan consists of institutional, residential and recreational programmes. MO-OF Architects along with an Ahmedabad-based studio drafted the master plan strategy as joint winners of an open National Competition in 2002. Comprising of Student, Faculty and Non-teaching staff accommodation and a Health Centre, the Housing is executed by MO-OF Architects in three phases.
The design philosophy emerges as a dual concern attributed to – a Gandhian way of life encompassing communal living, and the nature of rhizomatic organisation. Across Gandhian ideals, there exists one commonality: a natural way of life by the fulfilment of bare necessities, striving for human endeavour.
The idea is of a collective education where the learning process between a teacher and a student is not possible without harmony among society and its environs.
“Typically”, write the architects, “institutional cultures adapt to a building that is already designed. Opposed to that idea we envisioned a social construct based on community interaction.” Adhering to this premise, the architecture of the buildings evokes a simple, frugal design sensibility. The rusticity of the aesthetics is a filiation of a historically determined individual subject in which the non-design is the result of a social construct.
At the core of a rhizomatic organisation lies the idea of unity in multiplicity. A rhizome is unbound, heterogeneous and distributed. Deriving from the rhizome theory of learning, knowledge has neither a beginning nor an end and is said to be in the middle of things. These ‘non-programmatic’ spaces such as courtyards, terraces, gardens, walkways, and corridors, facilitate multiple exchanges in a non-hierarchical manner. Across student housing typologies, often the layouts are minimal yet holistic with adequate focus on day-lighting and ventilation.
The assessment of design is in the way by which the architects have facilitated interaction in-between the architecture of the built and the un-built.
Wardha is characterized by hot summers and general dryness throughout the year with a bout of southwest monsoon showers. The architects have further explored possibilities of encounters by weaving the landscape into the built by gradually moving over the tall buildings creating a soft, green roofscape. As “opposed to the idea of a static & inflexible organization, the ‘timing’ & ‘sequence’ of planting becomes integral to a constantly varying experience by the students & faculty. “
The non-design attribute is in the social semiotics embedded in the layout of the housing. Throughout the scheme, apparent multiplicities of ‘non-programmatics’ implicitly animate movement in different directions and in-between nodes.
Each of the housing typologies and their shared spaces is designed to appropriate user-specific needs and concerns. While the clustering densities are fittingly varied, there exists a pattern language in the architecture of these buildings. Rhythmically lined corridors with geometrically punctured parapet walls, stark profiles of staircases scaling double heights, recessed openings and unidirectional sloping roofs set the tone of the architectural composition. A reflection of the Gandhian expression is apparent by way of extension of every space lending itself towards the outside – to the trees, birds, and landscape.
The lower floors house the ‘day-spaces’ which are tucked away into the hill with minimal fenestrations while the upper floors open into horizontal terraces which become gathering spaces during the pleasant evening hours.
Sloping roofs follow the natural gradient to maximize the efficiency of rainwater harvesting. Extending outwards as shading devices, they create deep verandas casting considerable shadows and providing momentary respite from the prevailing hot and dry climate.
Provision of clerestory openings helps the hot air to escape, keeping the indoors cooler. The buildings are clustered compactly, shading enclosed open courts.
One of the primary intents of the construction process was to achieve building performance and economic efficiency. By eliminating the use of traditional mud bricks owing to concerns of soil erosion, the buildings are designed as load-bearing structures with fly ash bricks – considerably minimizing the use of concrete. Employing conventional weather-proofing techniques such as brick bat coba treatment helped in insulating internal spaces and to achieve the required slope on the terraces. A milky sheet of china mosaic acts a reflective surface, bouncing heat off the roofs.
The palette is an outcome of a thick rough cast plaster, which casts ‘micro-shadows’ moderating surface temperatures. Establishing a symbiotic relationship with the surroundings, local materials attuned to simple construction techniques make up this housing – random rubble masonry, fly ash bricks from a nearby thermal power plant and wooden joinery for insulated openings. The architects have ensured that “all materials used are available or manufactured within a 100 km radius making them local. The project tendered cost is estimated at INR 8000 per square meter.” Every footprint is uniquely calibrated to create diversity; it is the palette of colours, materials and the composition of volumes and openings which tie the buildings together.
Among the design concerns, flexibility and sustainability were at the forefront. Introspectively, the architectural language of the project has legible abstractions that can explain ecosystems. Situated on an undulating terrain, contour ploughing is practised to minimize erosion of topsoil, reducing cut and fill in the process. The placement of buildings is evidently a result of topographic adherence. The resulting scheme is fragmented with interconnecting levels that create a dramatic visual interplay.
The M.G.A.H.V. Housing project is reassuring of an unambiguous architecture whose sombre exterior instigates curiosity.
In retrospect, if the concept of space is educed from an understanding of a value-based education system which is inherent in the contextual cultural practices, it is observed that the emerging architecture restrains its role to the finer details, as means to larger cause. ♦
Site Area: 212 Acres
Student Housing: 120000 sqft
Staff Housing: 75000 sqft
Project: M.G.A.H.V. Student and Faculty Housing
Location: Wardha, Maharashtra
Architectural Firm: MO-OF Architects
Architects: Shantanu Poredi and Manisha Agarwal
Client: Mahatma Gandhi Antarrashtriya Hindi Vishwavidyala
Consultants & Contractors: Central Public Works Department (Executing Agency), Parag Nerlekar (Structural Consultant), Sheth Techno. Consultants (MEP Consultant), Dongre Associates (Quantity Surveyors)
Year of Commencement: 2002
Year of Completion: Phase 1 & 2 completed in 2008
Images and Drawing Credits: MO-OF Architects
Text: Hrushita Davey