“As architects’ we bring to the context more than just the utilitarian goals…we seek the poetry in the place, the lyricism in the built-forms and vibrancy in the inhabitants’ lives.” (Prof. Christopher Charles Benninger) 

A ‘Great Master Architect’ award recipient and an alumnus of prestigious universities like Harvard and MIT, Prof. Christopher Charles Benninger is the founder of Christopher Charles Benninger Architects (CCBA). He has worked upon multiple Urban planning projects, low-cost housing in various Asian countries, housing complexes, institutional buildings, and corporate headquarters. 

In 1999, along with Founder Director Ramprasad Akkisetti, he built CCBA, an internationally renowned architecture firm, notably for excellence in design. Prof. Benninger is an eminent professor at CEPT, Ahmedabad and is one of the Statutory Members of the Board of Governors of the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi. 

Prof. Benninger grew up in America where he was influenced by the works of Frank Lloyd Wright, hence, can still be seen in his design. His experience with the “European School of Thought” exposed him to the concept of nature and built form which still plays a significant role in the designs of CCBA. 

One such project is the YMCA International Campsite in Pune, where Prof. Benninger has successfully integrated the outdoors into the interiors.

YMCA International Camp Site

Nilshi, Pune, Maharashtra

Conference In The Wilderness (New Conference Centre At Ymca Camp Site) by Christopher Charles Benninger: A sustainable campus - Sheet1
YMCA International Campsite, Pune by CCBA ©ccba.in/project

The 66 acres of YMCA campsite is set upon a promontory jutting into the Andhra lake, surrounded by the Sahyadri Mountains in village Nilshi, near Pune. This multi-functional wilderness retreat for environmental education focuses on providing camping and outdoor experiences such as trekking, rock climbing, archery, swimming, boating, etc., to the street children of the metropolitan cities of Maharashtra who may have never been in contact with nature. 

The facility also includes corporate executive training, conference programs, and meditation or a spiritual sanctuary. This 7,500 sq. ft of a natural complex of subterraneous structures including cabins, hygiene cores, tent-plinths, multi-purpose hall, a guest-house and a catering facility, blends harmoniously with its landscape while maintaining the existing green ground cover. The only marks of human interruption amidst this forested plateau will be of the ventilators and skylights which emerges from the slopes as sculptors. 

Conference In The Wilderness (New Conference Centre At Ymca Camp Site) by Christopher Charles Benninger: A sustainable campus - Sheet2
YMCA International Campsite, Pune by CCBA ©ccba.in/project

The recent addition to this institution is the underground conference hall or the multi-purpose hall which accommodates around 80 people. This is where all the social activities such as extensive training for outdoor activities and other unique programmes take place. The structural system is a composite one of reinforced concrete, with a well-executed coffered slab, and in-filled walls of local Basalt stone. 

By providing a generous number of skylights, adequate daylight fills the interior space and turns it more active. Further, from here, the ramps lead to a circular, sky-lit foyer, wrapping around the curved edges of the hall consisting of toilets and other storage spaces. Skylights are also provided here to light the toilet spaces.

Conference In The Wilderness (New Conference Centre At Ymca Camp Site) by Christopher Charles Benninger: A sustainable campus - Sheet3
YMCA International Camp site, Pune by CCBA ©ccba.in/project
Conference In The Wilderness (New Conference Centre At Ymca Camp Site) by Christopher Charles Benninger: A sustainable campus - Sheet4
YMCA International Camp site, Pune by CCBA ©ccba.in/project

A floating column supports a white canopy-like tensile structure that covers the catering facility including a dining hall and a kitchen. Thus, help to let in the natural light and ventilation from the edges. 

Conference In The Wilderness (New Conference Centre At Ymca Camp Site) by Christopher Charles Benninger: A sustainable campus - Sheet5
YMCA International Campsite, Pune by CCBA ©ccba.in/project
Conference In The Wilderness (New Conference Centre At Ymca Camp Site) by Christopher Charles Benninger: A sustainable campus - Sheet6
YMCA International Campsite, Pune by CCBA ©ccba.in/project

One can see that the majority of habitable spaces of this complex are underground hence reduces the need for air-conditioning. As we move further into the site, the tortuous paved walkways lead us to the descending ramps and stairs which link the whole organic arrangement of the campus and forms a unique pattern resulting in structures being merged under the earthen mounds and within the slopes. The twisted ramps and pathways invoke a curiosity that directs the person for further exploration of foyers and cottages which opens out to the adjacent lake and surrounding vegetation. 

Conference In The Wilderness (New Conference Centre At Ymca Camp Site) by Christopher Charles Benninger: A sustainable campus - Sheet7
YMCA International Campsite, Pune by CCBA ©ccba.in/project

This modest campus is one of the best examples of the sustainable and energy-efficient projects seen in India. The project showcases the ideology of Prof. Benninger wiz is the integration of the built and natural forms. The use of local materials like local stone Basalt and forest wood delivers a natural feel to the campus. 

Prof. Christopher Benninger believes that “the project supports the movement toward sustainable built landscapes, challenging conventions of the box upon box assemblies. Though a small project, it attempts to frame architecture within a larger context of existing natural and built-form fabric. The structure calls for inherently “place-based” approaches embracing the greater site and imbibing the surrounding environment.”

Ann Rajesh
Author

A recent architecture graduate and an unfeigned admirer of Antoni Gaudi and Dan Brown, Ann firmly believes that architecture can be perceived well through the art of writing. Apart from being with her pup, for this bibliophile, travelling is bliss! Especially to historical places which extend countless stories (and food!)

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