Located 40 km west of Pune surrounded by the Sahyadri mountains, 100 km southeast of Bombay on a plateau, and about 300 feet above the Mula river basin is the UWC Mahindra College. The landscape around the site is historic and is known for its mountain top forts and stone houses. The college is led by Nelson Mandela and Queen Noor of Jordan and houses about 200 students and 25 faculty members during its academic year.   

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Mahindra United World College of India by Christopher Charles Benninger: A Self-sufficient Campus - Sheet1
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  1.   Project Name: Mahindra United World College of India
  2. Location: Kumbhavali village, Pune, Maharashtra, India
  3. Studio Name: Christopher Charles Benninger Architects 
  4. Services:
  • Structural Design: C.E. Godse and Associates, Pune. 
  • Landscape Design: Ravi & Varsha Gavandi Landscape Architects, Pune
  1. Client: The Mahindra United World College India
  2. Completion Date: 1998
  3. Built-Up Area: 19,973 Square Meters
  4. Site Area: 120 acres
  5. Category: Secondary schools
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The structure reflects the mountains around it and mimics the zigzag contours of the site therefore blends with the natural topography of the site cohesively. The campus is divided into a residential block and an educational block. To resolve the scale resolution between the mountain and the structure the concept of one-point perspective was used wherein closer objects appear larger and distant objects appear smaller. It is self-sufficient and sustainable with provisions of tube wells, a water lift system from the river; a water purification plant; an electrification grid which is backed by transformers and generators, a sewage treatment plant; and an independent satellite link for communications.

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View of one of the staircases leading to the main academic quadrangle.

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The plan is derived from the concept of a mandala and hence is centered around a quadrangle with passages that radiate out of it and is oriented along the north-south axis, which intersects the solar east-west axis. The concept of mandala allows for creating views towards the valley at a distance and along the path of the interconnected spaces. The admin, science center, amphitheater, and multipurpose hall are placed along the north-south axis and the catering center, library, and art center are laid out along the east-west axis which sets views for the sunrises and sunsets.

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A view of the academic area

The main entrance called the Mahadwara is framed in wood and continues onto a meandering stone walkway that moves through the reception area, the admin building to the academic quadrangle. The long stone walls help in directing the movement of the person walking into the building and further create an explorative experience for the user. The architect’s idea of this experience of exploring the unknown came from his own experience of exploring an unknown medieval town.

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A social hierarchy is created in the campus plans housing part where the residential village has a central student center, medical facility, and amenities like a walking mall. There are four wadis, each of which has its gates and entrances hence divide the college into four smaller communities, each community consists of a courtyard and a mini-amphitheater. Each wadi consists of separate faculty and a student garden. Since hierarchy creates conflict in spaces, he thought of creating buffer areas where the hierarchy gets diffused and slowly you can get back. The architect has changed the approach in designing a school by incorporating a sense of informality, a place to feel happy, a place where lingering comes in, A place where slowly absorbing comes in as if it is a second home.

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College meeting area 

Five cottages for the faculty and six small cottages each of which caters to approximately 8 students and is surrounded by an inner private courtyard which is a common space for them to socialize, a wet room, a box room, and dormitories for four students each. Each of these small cottages symbolizes a microcosm and creates a complex diversity within it together. Benninger was inspired by the traditional villages of the area which were divided into clusters or wadis hence he designed cottage housing for students and faculty members. The architect created a megastructure in fragments to allow the cosmic forces[light, wind, rain]  to be a part of the structure.

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The movement within the campus is pedestrianized making it more public and attractive. Ottis, ponds, steps give a vernacular sense to the structure and engage the viewer in the visual planes that are created while moving around these elements and encourage interaction and informal meetings set up in these spaces. Networked cross paths are created to allow socializing between the students and other users of the site. To achieve Chaos and control at the same time the architect has provided a sequence of passages, courtyards, stepped platforms, orchards each of which has an individual identity.

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The materials used in the structure provide a sense of language to the structure which gives importance to the local context of the structure. The solidity of the heavy masonry is broken by the square windows. Local stone and exposed concrete are used in the structure with gently sloping masonry surfaces, terracotta tile roofs, and square cut-outs in the walls. To merge with the landscape stone walls, concrete slabs insulated and waterproofed with tiles were used in the interior rooms. The stone walls mimic the shape and form of the mountains in the structure and add color, texture, and depth to the composition. Glass is used in the windows, and structural glass walls are constructed to provide for transparency between the interior and the exterior spaces of the art center to create views for the sunsets and sunrises.

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The structure suggests an alternative approach to the post-modernist style of architecture with its local use of materials and explores regional architecture. The spatial and formal ventures designed in the structure help in overcoming the placelessness and lack of identity to the international style of architecture. The structure holds a strong cultural and geographical context with its progressive design approach that is meddled between global and local languages of architecture.  

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Awards:

  • 1998 – Inside-Outside Designer of the Year Awards
  • 1999 – J.K. Cement-Architect of the Year Awards 

Commendation Award for Public Building

  • 2000 -Journal of the Indian Institute of Architects

Anchor Award for Public Building Category

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  • 2000 -The Business Week

Architectural Record Awards of AIA, USA

  • 2001 – The Aga Khan Award for Architecture Geneva, Switzerland

Finalist for, 8th Cycle

  • 2002 – The World Architecture Awards, Berlin

Finalist

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Author

Ruchika is an architecture student who believes there’s no end to knowledge as it is not a book or an examination that defines its extent rather it is a process that you go through from the moment you are born to the moment you die. She loves to read books and is an art enthusiast. She is open to new ideas and stands up for what she believes in. She is currently working at an NGO that is working continuously with ever-increasing energy and enthusiasm for Community Development especially of the marginalized people.

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