B.S. Abdur Rahman University by architectureRED

With our cities growing at an incomprehensible pace, reformative delineations negotiating our built fabric often manifest into dense, ad-hoc environments with rocketing skylines and misplaced
socio-cultural semiotics. Responding to a consequential influx, the revival of B.S. Abdur Rahman University by architectureRED presents a case of place-making that attempts to restore an institutional culture by thriving on the nitty-gritty of a radically transformed, peripheral Chennai.

 ‘With just 2% of the global land area and 17% of the world’s population’, there is immense pressure on India’s urban land. Imagining a radical transformation of the fringes within same extents of land poses layers of complexities in the opportunities it introduces. Inspired by the Collage City by Colin Rowe, the architecture of three new Faculties and a Students Activity Center at B.S. Abdur Rahman University dwells on an existing context in a way that aspires to contribute to as well as enhance the built environment through design.

The analogy to a city is pivotal owing to similar challenges of a developmental growth- the case of verticality and reinterpreting figure-ground relationships in which, “The juxtaposition and layering of smaller designs into a whole, rather than a totalitarian, fresh slate approach, would allow for the city to be free of the unchangeable finality of a post-modern composition- lacking prescription, shifted contexts, recycled meanings, and metamorphoses.”

The economics of building today brings with it complexities as dualities. Departing from a conventionally prescribed abstraction, Master Planning of the Campus commits to the cultivation of a ‘place’, where the imageability of a seemingly overbearing architecture is surmounted by the porosity of the skin and the affability with which the ground transitions from the street outside to a ‘vertical street’ inside.

Some instances terminate in a sunken courtyard providing respite in the middle of a busy spire and in some places, dissipated voids culminate into intensely articulated congregational spaces.  A restraint in massing is visible in pockets of The Department of Aeronautics to stimulate pedestrian movement along adjoining streets, “leading to different volumes being created to consciously try and control the notion of being inside a vertical building, with the help of large spill out spaces internally.”

Additionally, a critical factor which governs a lot of the preliminary design stage is the pattern of occupancy. The architecture indulges in meticulous spatial planning with institutional buildings getting occupied much before completion. Interconnected volumes, generous but controlled fenestration and a comprehensible movement pattern, induce a sense of familiarity with much ease amid the new ensemble of spaces.

In the absence of a campus culture, the architecture of the individual Faculties is articulated with the intent to inculcate a social culture which extends to the entire campus. Acting as a spatial frame for processes that takes place within, materiality is purposed to mark transitions. Within confines of a restricted ground cover, the new augmented volumes interlock into an existing or a projected mass. In the Department of Life Sciences, for instance, the proposed module conjoins with the existing module in a way that the combined roof area becomes a common ground for interaction in light of the limited available resources.

The contemporary architecture of educational institutions has the potential to positively influence a cultural pedagogy of a school by the purposeful creation of largely flexible, mobile and diverse learning environments.  A campus is essentially composed of two distinct spaces – the programmed and the incidental. Today, design has consciously replaced complex, closed systems of corridors, with a central multi-use space of an open spatial configuration- diffusing thresholds and integrating landscapes. The development of a university campus is as much about creating a small scale community as it is about developing a functional environment to work, play and rest in.

In this pursuit of a responsive environment, it is at the human scale that one finds nuances in the design which propel reactions- in the wedged pockets along the corridors of The Department of Aeronautics, the staggering of terraces of the School of Architecture and the cascading staircase defining the distinct corner of the Department of Life Sciences. The holistic vision is to deinstitutionalise the formal, frontal forms (teacher-oriented) of tuition by linking pedagogical and behavioural science with architectural design.

Amidst a scenario of changing densities, education systems and dynamics of construction, the renewed architecture of B.S. Abdur Rahman University is a gesture that seeks to address the innate inhibitions associated with myopic delineations of city limits, through a demonstrated design approach to improve, if not solve urban problems. ♦


Client: B.S. Abdur Rahman University
Location: Vandalur, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India.
Total Site Area: 61 acres
Architects: architectureRED, Chennai

Department of Aeronautics
Site Area: 66,170 square feet.
Built up Area: 1,50,000 square feet.
Height: 30 meters
Year of Completion: 2015

School of Life Sciences
Site Area: 14,000 square feet.
Built up Area: 70,000 square feet.
Height: 30 meters
Year of Completion: 2014

School of Architecture
Site Area: 36,650 square feet.
Built up Area: 1,00,000 square feet.
Height: 30 meters
Status: Ongoing

Images & Drawings Credits:
Photographs: Courtesy architectureRED
Feature Image: Courtesy Matter.
Drawings: architectureRED, Chennai

Text: Hrushita Davey

Department of Aeronautics: Wedged corners occupied along the corridors.

Site-visits are project reviews on Matter. visited by the writer of the review and scripted after a detailed dialogue with the architects. Write to us on think@matter.co.in if you wish to review a project you know or if you wish your project to be reviewed by Matter. 

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